Jenny Starling is spending Christmas in a snowed-in country house cooking all the traditional food she loves. But the family she’s working for are not full of the seasonal spirit. In fact, they seem to hate each other. On Christmas Eve, someone is found dead on the kitchen table. And the head of the family is blaming Jenny! But with an incompetent detective called in, and seemingly no motive for the murder, Jenny will have to give the police a hand. She will stop at nothing to clear her name and find the real murderer.
THE SETTING A snowed-in farmhouse in rural Oxford. A big Cotswold-stone Georgian house with stables, outhouses, cobbled courtyard and resident sheepdog. Charming, but cold and uncomfortable in winter.
JENNY STARLING In her late twenties, Jenny Starling is an impressive woman. Physically, she stands at 6ft 1inch and has shoulder-length black hair and blue eyes. Curvaceous and sexy, she’s a modern single woman, living the lifestyle that suits her – that of a travelling cook. Her famous (and now very rich) father, is a ‘celebrity’ cook, divorced from Jenny’s mother. Jenny drives a disreputable cherry-red van and is happy travelling the country catering events and cooking great food. She is on a one-woman crusade to bring back ‘real’ food. And definitely doesn’t like having to divert her attention from achieving the perfect Dundee cake or creating a new sauce recipe by having to solve a murder. She finds crime very distracting, especially when there is chocolate to temper or pike to poach. Nevertheless, she is very good at reading people, and with a quick and agile brain, becomes very good at unmasking killers. And her always-undaunted sense of humour goes a long way in keeping her sane when all around her people are dropping like flies.
This aptly named mystery is the perfect book for a cold, Winter’s afternoon. Jenny Starling is a strong, likeable character with a talent for crime solving. The cast of characters in this particular mystery is not easy to empathise, but when the most likeable of them is murdered, Jenny is first on the scene and becomes involved in solving the crime.
This is an old-fashioned crime mystery with false clues, numerous suspects and a particularly nasty murder. The slow pacing fits the story and the reader, aside from reading an interesting story can try and work out #whodunnit.
An easy to read, but cleverly plotted mystery with complex, realistic characters, and a memorable amateur detective.
I received a copy of this book from Joffe Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A Happy Christmas to everyone who reads my blog. This story has the perfect sentiments for this time of year.
Can a single act of kindness change a life forever?
To many people, Ruth Ryans has everything: the perfect job, a home to die for and a loving family. But it’s all lies. As Christmas approaches, Ruth feels lonelier than ever.
Then Ruth meets Michael. A man who, on the night of her father’s death the year before, she showed kindness to during his darkest moment. That one single act, his miracle, helped change his life forever.
Can one act of kindness really change a person’s life? Ruth decides to find out and plans to make this Christmas the most perfect one ever, opening up her home to those who need her help – the lonely, the lost and the ignored.
This Christmas actions will speak louder than words and Ruth Ryans’ kindness will create little miracles for everyone … including her own battered heart.
If you’re looking for a heartwarming, poignant festive story, ‘ A Miracle on Hope Street’ is the perfect book.
Ruth Ryans is a national treasure, an agony aunt who spends her life solving other people’s problems. She ignores her own issues, which eight days before Christmas take a tragic turn, sending her in a downward spiral. Her random act of kindness on that night is forgotten, in her sea of grief, but a year later it may be her only salvation.
This is a story of despair and hopelessness countered with courage and kindness. The characters are complex and believable, and you empathise with their situations. The story charts Ruth rebuilding her life by helping others and is a charming often tearful read, but the ending is positive and uplifting and underscores the true meaning of this time of year.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Impulse via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Christmas has never been Katie Seddon’s favourite time of year. Whilst everyone else shares memories of families coming together and festive number ones, the soundtrack to Katie’s childhood wasn’t quite so merry.
But since she moved to the village of Budbury on the gorgeous Dorset coast, Katie and her baby son have found a new family. A family who have been brought together by life’s unexpected roads and the healing magic of a slice of cake and a cupful of kindness at the Comfort Food Café.
This year, Katie’s new friends are determined to give her a Christmas to remember, and with a gorgeous newcomer in town, Katie’s Christmas wish for a happy home for her son might just come true.
It’s always worth visiting the Comfort Food Cafe, whatever the season, but this one is extra special as it has a festive twist. The book reads perfectly as a complete story, but give yourself a treat with the rest of the series, if you haven’t already done so, they are worth reading.
This story will tug your heartstrings, Katie is a single mum who’s had a difficult life, Christmas was one of her worst times, but she values her friends at the cafe and is willing to let them make it special with a little persuasion.
Festive cheer, heartwarming friendship, with a little bit of poignancy make this the perfect Christmas read.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Impulse via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Lara Weeks is heading to New York with best friend Susie for the Christmas trip of a lifetime.
A festive break in the snowy Big Apple visiting the tourist hotspots, not to mention the shopping, seems like the perfect way for Lara to get over her ex-boyfriend. Or maybe make him so jealous he begs for a second chance.
Enlisting the help of gorgeous actor, Seth Hunt, doesn’t quite go to plan, but there’s something about him that has Lara wishing for a different kind of happy ever after…
Lara’s practical, no-nonsense attitude to life hides a certain emotional vulnerability. A contemporary romantic heroine, she drives trucks for a living but also finds time to look after her father, and as she describes him’nearly brother Aldo. Travelling to New York for Christmas isn’t on her festive agenda until her boyfriend betrays her and her supportive friend Susie makes her an offer too tempting to turn down.
Lara is a likeable character and her fun-filled adventures in New York are romantic and thought-provoking. Seth is on an emotional journey of his own, and meeting Lara is unexpected but perfectly timed. Both characters are trying to find out what life has in store for them and together they experience a romantic, poignant Christmas experience in New York.
The descriptions of New York are detailed and vivid, letting the reader experience the city’s vibrancy at this special time of year.
A Christmas story with realistic characters, but a fairytale plot filled with lots of Christmas magic.
I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House UK – Ebury Publishing via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
It’s the most magical time of the year, and for travel agent Sarah it’s also the busiest! But this year one man threatens to ruin Christmas for Sarah’s customers – Mr Grinch, Will Armstrong.
The Shooting Star Mountain resort is a magical place, and Sarah has fond memories of Christmas here as a little girl – visits to Father Christmas, husky rides in the snow and hot chocolate by a roaring fire. But as the resorts new owner, Will refuses to play snowball or to deck the halls with anything remotely resembling tinsel!
With customers complaining their Christmas is ruined, Sarah decides it’s up to her to convince Scroogey Will just how magical Christmas can be….
But getting Will into the Christmas spirit is hopeless – he is Bah Humbug personified! But as Sarah gets to know him better, she realises that underneath all the gloom is a man struggling with a pain of his own.
With the big day approaching, Sarah realises that the magic and sparkle can wait. This year, she’s going to spend Christmas day with someone special her very own Mr Scrooge…
Funny, festive and fabulous, everything you want in a Christmas holiday read.
Sarah is such an authentic, believable character, her sense of responsibility makes her confront Will, co-owner of a holiday resort that is threatening the reputation of her aunt’s travel agency. The emails soon turn from caustic to cosy, and when she decides to visit the resort, the fun really starts.
Will has secrets and hides them well under a Mr Scrooge persona. The romance is slow to build but so worth waiting for and really threatens to melt the snow. There are plenty of poignant moments, as Sarah lets go of past hurts and finds out things are not always right or wrong but somewhere in between.
All the supporting characters are vivacious and add to the story’s imagery. The setting is well-described and breathtaking and the plot is full of twists, turmoil and tenderness.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Impulse via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Nothing short of a miracle can restore Eliza Hayward’s Christmas cheer. The job she pinned her dreams on has gone up in smoke and now she’s stuck in an unfamiliar little town for Christmas.
Enter Aidan Caine. He can help Eliza find the perfect Christmas project – the renovation of his lakeside guest lodge. Soon he sees how quickly he could fall for her. But is he’s willing to risk his heart on a festive romance that could lead to forever?
A lovely small town, festive romance with some characters from a well-established series. I haven’t read the other series, but I still enjoyed this book. The story is emotional with a simple plot, perfect for Christmas romance. The characters are realistic and easy to empathise and the setting is a small town at a festive time of year. I received a copy of this book from Mills&Boon via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
After recent heartbreak, Skye Jackson finds herself homeless and on the road with only a classic Airstream trailer to her name. A surprise inheritance of a rundown little lodge in the grounds of beautiful Willow Tree Hall forces her to change her plans. However, there is a problem…
The lodge is co-owned by care-free, playboy Will Harris, who finds himself unemployed after a recent tabloid scandal.
Syke desperately wants a home to call her own and needs to move on as quickly as possible. Will doesn’t want to stay at his family home either to face the ghosts of his past. So they decide to put aside their differences and renovate the cottage together.
But when a storm hits, Skye and Will are forced to stay on to ensure that an important wedding goes ahead. Can Skye finally find a home of her own? Can Will stop running from his past and help out his family when they need him the most?
The magic of winter at Willow Tree Hall is about to change everything…
A Way Back Home is the third book in my Willow Tree Hall series.
The idea for Willow Tree Hall actually came from watching Downton Abbey! I watched the programme and wondered what it would be like to live in a grand stately home in the present day. As I researched the subject, I realised that many of our country estates had fallen into disrepair due to the high running costs. And thus became the ‘eureka’ moment that began the plot for Book 1 in the series, A House To Mend A Broken Heart.
The renovation and transformation of Willow Tree Hall will take place over all four books, although you don’t need to read them in any particular order as each story is standalone. I was a tiny bit worried about writing a series – my first ever! But all of the books have been huge fun to write as I loved having the chance to catch up with my characters each time.
Will Harris is the hero in A Way Back Home and I’ve been desperate to write his particular story from the very beginning! He is the younger brother to Sam, the heir to Willow Tree Hall. Will has always felt like the ‘spare’ and surplus to requirements over the past few years. Instead of helping with the renovations, he has stayed abroad, building up his playboy image, complete with an Aston Martin! But when he loses his job, Will is finally forced to come home.
The trouble is, the rundown lodge he calls home has unexpectedly received a new co-owner, a stranger called Skye Jackson. Skye is as surprised by the inheritance as Will is and both of them want the matter dealt with as quickly as possible. But, as always, it’s never that easy…
The book was great fun to write as I had already given Will a wickedly dry sense of humour. Therefore it was only right that the heroine of the story would be free-spirited Skye who is his total opposite!
Do they find common ground and even love over a long, cold winter? You’ll have to read A Way Back Home to find out!
Opposites always provide exciting romantic opportunities with lots of fireworks as they learn to trust each other. This story has an added dimension, showing love’s healing qualities and how people can grow and mellow when they find the place they’re meant to be.
Skye’s family circumstances force her into early responsibility. When this unexpectedly ends she finds herself homeless, but with many opportunities for happiness if she’s brave enough to take them. Will comes from a privileged background, but he’s always felt superfluous. Definitely the ‘spare’ in the ‘heir and spare’analogy. His lack of responsibility contrasts sharply with Skye’ way of doing things, but gradually they see value in each other and accept they both have something to learn.
With wonderful supporting characters, that you will be familiar with if you’ve read the other books in the series. This heartwarming, romantic story has a festive twist and would be a great addition to anyone’s Christmas stocking.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Then the sash window was closed once more.
‘My sister fusses over me,’ said Arthur, with a warm smile as he turned to Skye. ‘Would you care for a cup of tea?’
‘I’d love one,’ she replied. ‘Thank you.’
Reeling from all the information her brain was trying to process, Skye needed a few minutes to try and take it all in. She had no idea what any of the talk about a lodge meant and couldn’t quite believe it was somehow linked to her as well.
She was secretly pleased to be invited indoors as the damp of the chilly autumnal afternoon was beginning to seep through her woollen cape and make her feel cold. She was also very interested to see the inside of such an elegant stately home.
However, she could feel Will’s eyes glaring at her back as they walked towards the big house. It sounded as if the lodge had been his for a long time and she had obviously caused him yet more upset after already having dented his beloved sports car. She felt mortified that her visit had brought about so much trouble for him.
Following Arthur inside the double fronted red door, Skye couldn’t help but stare around the huge entrance hall in admiration. Despite the deep red walls, the room still felt light and airy. A wide, dark oak staircase curved up to the first floor. All along the stairwell were portraits of presumably countless generations of the Harris family. From the double height ceiling, a chandelier hung high above them, glittering despite the gloom of the day. A fire was lit in the large stone fireplace, its flames bringing warmth to the chilly air.
She caught Arthur watching and waiting for her reaction.
‘It’s lovely,’ she told him, nodding enthusiastically. ‘A really nice example of the Georgian era.’
‘Isn’t it?’ said Arthur, beaming as if pleased that she had noticed. ‘Do come into the drawing room and meet my sister.’
He led the way towards the entrance to the wing on the left-hand side of the hall. They went into the first room on the left, the drawing room.
Skye didn’t think she had ever been in such an elegant room, with its walls painted in soft green, oak floorboards, and comfortable looking sofas and chairs. The large sash windows overlooked the grounds at the front. There were framed photographs, antique ornaments and candlesticks everywhere. Along with lots of rugs and cushions, it felt homely, warm and welcoming.
‘Right, who’s for tea?’ said the dark-haired elderly woman who had called out from the window. She was now sitting next to a coffee table which held a packed tea tray of cups, saucers and plates. The bejewelled rings on her hands glistened as she held up a teapot. Then she spotted Skye and paused. ‘My goodness, that hair colour is magnificent! Do you think it would suit me? They say older women shouldn’t wear purple, but I’ve never followed the rules, have I, darlings? Mind you, I haven’t had a colour rinse since the eighties, but on you, it’s utterly glorious.’
The whole speech had been said in the same clipped aristocratic voice as Arthur. But whereas he had a gentrified, olde worlde style about him, this lady was highly sophisticated and wearing what looked like a classic bright pink Chanel jacket, wide trousers and many strings of pearls around her neck.
‘This is my sister, Rose,’ said Arthur, with an indulgent smile. ‘Rose, let me introduce you to Miss Skye Jackson.’
Rose put the teapot down with a clatter and rushed to stand up and sweep Skye into a bear hug. ‘Darling girl!’ she said, finally releasing her to hold her at arm’s length and study her with dark blue eyes. ‘What an absolute joy to meet you at last. We were so sorry about dear Norman. What a wonderful man he was. You must still be utterly bereft. Do sit down.’
Skye was somewhat overwhelmed by the warm and exuberant welcome that Rose had given her. But the tears pricked at her eyes as she realised how nice it was to be amongst people who had known Norman so well.
‘Such a shame Annie and Sam aren’t here to meet you, but they’re both out until later,’ carried on Rose, rattling on with her monologue. ‘Sam’s my great-nephew, big brother to Will here and Annie is his gorgeous fiancée. But I’m just an aunty, never a great-aunt. So old sounding when I’m still only middle-aged!’
Skye smiled, especially as it was obvious up close that Rose had to be at least seventy.
‘I love your poncho, by the way. Primark?’ Rose continued.
Skye shook her head. ‘I knitted it myself.’
‘How marvellous! And so unique, of course. Although you can’t beat a bit of Primarni, can you? Now, do I take it that you’ve come to claim your half of the lodge?’ asked Rose, placing a gentle hand on Skye’s sleeve.
‘You knew about that?’ said Will, going to stand in front of the fireplace and look at his aunt in amazement.
‘Of course, darling!’ said Rose, beaming up at him. ‘I think I’d just left my first husband so I was back home for a time. My goodness, we were steaming drunk that evening! That gorgeous magnum of champagne from the wine cellar, wasn’t it, Arthur? Such fun.’
‘I still can’t believe Grandad would put something like the lodge up as a bet,’ said Will, shaking his head.
Rose waved away his disbelief with her hand. ‘We were all young and frivolous once upon a time,’ she said. ‘And it didn’t seem to matter until you began to use it more frequently, these past few years. But fair’s fair, half belongs to Norman.’
Will turned to look straight at Skye, his blue eyes burning into hers. ‘But you’re not technically Norman’s family, is that right?’
Skye could feel herself blushing under his scrutiny. ‘Well, you see, it started off when he became my landlord around ten years ago,’ she told them in a small voice. ‘I rented one of his spare bedrooms.’
Arthur nodded thoughtfully. ‘I remember when he told me that he had rented out a couple of his rooms to top up his pension.’
‘That’s right,’ said Skye. ‘For myself and my younger sister. Anyway, we stayed there for all that time and became close to Norman. I used to help him with the shopping and cleaning when his arthritis became too bad.’
And they had kept each other company in the evenings when the loneliness took hold. But she wasn’t going to tell these strangers that, however nice they were.
‘And these past few years after he had that massive stroke?’ asked Rose gently. ‘How did you cope then?’
‘I tried to take care of him,’ said Skye, looking away to stare down at the rug. ‘But it was just too much. We tried to use carers at home, but if they didn’t show up then he was left alone until I came home from work.’ She gulped away the guilt that she had utterly failed him after all of his generosity towards them. ‘Norman told me that it was for the best that he should go into a nursing home so we chose the best one that we could find.’
Alison Sherlock enjoyed reading and writing stories from an early age and gave up office life to follow her dream. Alison lives in Surrey with her husband and a daft golden retriever.