Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Guest post, Thriller

Death at Eden's End Jo Allen 4*#Review #DCI Jude Satterthwaite @JoAllenAuthor @Aria_Fiction @HoZ_Books #CrimeFiction #PoliceProcedural #Thriller #BlogTour #BookReview #GuestPost #Cumbria #EdenValley #LakeDistrict

A brand new DCI Jude Satterthwaite crime mystery from the bestselling Jo Allen.

When one-hundred-year-old Violet Ross is found dead at Eden’s End, a luxury care home hidden in a secluded nook of the Lake District’s Eden Valley it’s tragic, of course, but not unexpected. Except for the instantly recognisable look in her lifeless eyes… that of pure terror.

DCI Jude Satterthwaite heads up the investigation, but as the deaths start to mount up it’s clear that he and DS Ashleigh O’Halloran need to uncover a long-buried secret before the killer strikes again…

The second in the unmissable, Lake District-set, DCI Jude Satterthwaite series.

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

My Thoughts…

Set in Cumbria, which always provides an atmospheric background for crime fiction, the second in the DCI Jude Satterthwaite series, provides an engaging police procedural, with a cast of characters worthy of any classic murder mystery.

The story begins with a violent death, and then whilst the reader is wondering what will happen next, the pace is slowed as the story switches to the police investigation team, two-members of which, are still emotionally damaged from past relationships. Their close proximity and the nature of their profession throws them together, but although attracted, they are reluctant to take things further.

In the midst of this inconvenient physical attraction, and elderly lady’s death is flagged up as suspicious, and the investigation that ensues draws the reader into the historic world of WW2, where the answers may lie.

The detailing and pacing of the story equate with the medley of murder mystery and police procedural. Similarly, to the first book in the series, the personal lives of the police team featured significantly, and much of this is introspective. This is an original aspect of this story, which identifies it.

The plot is good, and satisfactorily resolved, and each of the cast of characters has traits which make them believable and relatable. An absorbing balance of murder mystery and police procedural, with an interesting detective team.


#DCIJudeSatterthwaite #1

Read my review of Death by Dark Waters

Death at Eden’s End is the second in the DCI Satterthwaite series — and writing a series has been something of a challenge.

Before I began I’d mostly written either standalone novels or linked novels, which are essentially standalone but involve the same setting and the same characters. Writing a series in which the various characters’ lives unfold over a period of years is a whole different kettle of fish.

The main thing, as a writer, is to think of what the reader is looking for. With crime, you need a complete story with a satisfactory ending in which the villain gets caught — but in the lives of the detectives and their families and friends, it’s not so simple. These stories can take several books to reveal and with several characters, not all stories will be developing at the same time.

Jude is the main character in the DCI Satterthwaite series and his tribulations are years old. On the romantic side, there’s Becca, the ex-girlfriend who (despite what he pretends) he still loves and who poses an ever-present reminder of how he lets his job dominate his life, and there’s his colleague Ashleigh, who’s attractive and available but comes with complicated emotional baggage of her own in the shape of a possessive ex-husband who won’t let go. Then there’s Mikey, the much younger brother who’s going off the rails and for whom Jude is effectively a father-figure in lieu of their real father, from whom Mikey is entirely estranged. And there’s Adam, the former best friend who ended up in prison as a result of Jude’s unshakeable conscience and who will never forgive.

As a reader, I plan Jude’s story, and those of the other characters such as Ashleigh and Jude’s friend and colleague, the gay and quietly celibate Doddsy, well ahead. They take years of their lives and years of mine. But as a reader, I find it frustrating when a part of the story is left hanging.

In my experience, most readers are pretty tolerant. “I only wish there had been a bit more Jude/Ashleigh romance but I understand why it was so tame. Got to build into these things, right?” sighed one reviewer (who, by the way, gave it five stars). And it does seem by the reviews that many readers are only too happy to join these characters for a longer journey.

As a writer I want my readers to buy into the characters as much as I do. I hope that when you’ve finished reading Death at Eden’s End you’ll be satisfied by the way the criminal element of the plot is resolved and agog to find out how the Jude-Ashleigh-Becca relationship is resolved, whether Jude can manage to keep Mikey out of trouble — and how long Adam is prepared to wait for his revenge.

#JoAllen

Jo Allen was born in Wolverhampton and is a graduate of Edinburgh, Strathclyde and the Open University. After a career in economic consultancy, she took up writing and was first published under the name Jennifer Young in genres of short stories, romance and romantic suspense. In 2017 she took the plunge and began writing the genre she most likes to read – crime. Now living in Edinburgh, she spends as much time as possible in the English Lakes. In common with all her favourite characters, she loves football (she’s a season ticket holder with her beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers) and cats. Twitter Facebook

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Gangland Crime, ganglit, Guest post, Noir, Thriller

Ruby Heather Burnside #TheWorkingGirls 4* #Review @Aria_Fiction @heatherbwriter #ganglit #Manchester #UrbanFiction #CrimeFiction #Thriller #BlogTour #BookReview #GuestPost @HoZ_Books

The stronger sex.

Ruby has always been strong. Growing up with a feeble mother and an absent father, she is forced to fight the battles of her younger siblings. And when a childhood experience leaves her traumatised, her distrust of men turns to hatred.

On the streets.

With no safe place to call home, Ruby is desperate to fit in with the tough crowd. She spends her teenage years sleeping around and drinking in the park, and by the time she is sixteen, prostitution has become a way of life. But Ruby has ambitions, and she soon moves up the ladder to become the madam of her own brothel.

The brothel.

But being in charge of a brothel has its downsides, Ruby faces her worst nightmare when an enemy from the past comes back into her life, and gang intimidation threatens to ruin everything. Can she find a way to beat her tormentors? And will she be strong enough to see it through?

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#Ruby

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

My Thoughts…

Another chapter in the gritty urban thriller set in Manchester and focused on working girls.

Ruby’s story is told in two timelines, the past, reflecting how her childhood and a teenage, drew her into the life of prostitution. The present, where she has everything thing she’s worked for but is in danger of losing.

She is not a victim. She had a plan and was prepared to use prostitution, as the means to give her the lifestyle she wants. Formerly, working for the pimp Gilly, a heinous character we met in book 1 The Mark, now she runs her own business. She hates men, because of her past experiences in her childhood and teenage, and revels in her role as a brothel owner. When her livelihood is threatened by men from her past. She demonstrates how courageous she is in defending those she cares about and her hard-fought-for business.

Like most people she has different facets, the gentle, loyal side which she shows to her lover Tiffany and her friends, The other side is driven and ruthless. Determined to keep what she owns and prepared to endanger herself to protect it. Ruby is a believable character, who commands your respect. She does want is needed, and that is admirable.

I have read the first book in the series, but this is a complete story, with enough backstory on the cast of characters and their situation for it to read well as a standalone. However, it is an addictive, action-filled series that is worth reading in its entirety.

The story reflects the lifestyle it portrays, so it features, bad language, sex and violence. It explores the darker aspects of society, but only to move Ruby’s story forward. Written engagingly, with realistic characters and situations. The adrenaline-fueled drama is addictive, as is the characterisation.

A must-read for those who enjoy relentless, ganglit in a contemporary urban setting.

#TheWorkingGirls #1

Read my review of book 1 The Mark

Guest – Post – Heather Burnside -How One Book Became a Series

I am so excited to be releasing Ruby, book two in The Working Girls series. It’s funny to think that initially, the idea for this book didn’t exist at all. It was actually through writing book one, The Mark, that I developed the concept for a series of books. 

My vision for The Mark came from a popular TV detective series that I watched back in the nineties. In a particular scene, the female detective is sitting in a seedy pub with a group of prostitutes trying to obtain information from them. Because she looks so out of place in that environment it made me think about how susceptible she was to all kinds of criminal acts from some of the dodgy characters that frequent the pub, and the book took root from there.

Because I have scant knowledge of the world of prostitution I carried out my research by reading a number of books by former prostitutes and watching online videos. A series on prostitution by the BBC was particularly poignant and a real eye-opener.

In this series, working girls were interviewed and they gave a candid and raw depiction of their lives. The girls had many things in common such as abusive childhoods, time spent in care, and drug addiction, which had led to their lives of prostitution.

A lot of the girls had entered into prostitution for similar reasons; a need to earn lots of money quickly either to make a living or to feed a drink and drugs habit. Drink and drugs were viewed by them as both a driving force into prostitution and a result of it, and some of the girls described how it helped to dull the senses to what they were experiencing.

There was one particularly sad character. She was an ageing prostitute who looked much older than her actual age because her appearance had been ravaged by drug abuse. She had developed a really bad chest infection, bordering on pneumonia, because her body was so depleted. Yet, despite her poor state of health, she still felt the need to service clients so that she could earn money to feed her drug habit. I have based the character of Angie on her. She appears in book one and also features later in the series.

While watching the programmes it occurred to me that each of these girls has their own story to tell. Then ideas for each of the characters started to form in my mind. Once I had thought of the characters their stories seemed to follow, probably because their personalities had been shaped by their life experiences. I also decided to give most of them a jewel name because their pimp wanted them to sound more exotic.

Book two is about Ruby who goes into prostitution purely to escape a life of poverty. Although she isn’t hooked on drugs, she does dabble a bit in the early days as a working girl. She isn’t as vulnerable as many of the other girls and has tremendous strength of character. I decided to feature Ruby in the second book as she is so formidable and interesting, and many readers commented that they would like to see more of her.

Currently, the series stands at three novels; The Mark, Ruby and Crystal (to be released in June 2020) but I have outline ideas for two more novels so it could possibly turn into a series of five in the future with each of books two to five based on a different girl. For the moment though, the focus is on Ruby who is one of my favourite characters out of all those I have created. I hope readers will take to her as much as I have.

#HeatherBurnside

Heather Burnside spent her teenage years on one of the toughest estates in Manchester and she draws heavily on this background as the setting for many of her novels. After taking a career break to raise two children Heather enrolled on a creative writing course. Heather now works full-time on her novels from her home in Manchester, which she shares with her two grown-up children.

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Posted in Author Guest Post, Blog Tour, Book Review, Family Drama, Friendship, Mystery, Romance

The Girl Who Came Home to Cornwall Emma Burstall 4* #Review @HoZ_Books @Aria_Fiction @EmmaBurstall #FamilyDrama #Cornwall #VillageLife #Secrets #Tremarnock #BlogTour #GuestPost #BookReview

#Tremarnock

In the quaint Cornish village of Tremarnock, Chabela Penhallow arrives for a holiday and to discover more about her Cornish ancestors. But, as always with newcomers to the small seaside town, rumours start to fly about this beautiful stranger. Is there more to her than meets the eye?

Meanwhile, Rob and Liz Hart’s marriage is on the rocks, but only one of them knows the real reason. Once the secret is out, will they be able to handle the repercussions or will it destroy their life together?

For the residents of Tremarnock, the revelations will either bond or break them – forever.

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#TheGirlWhoCameHometoCornwall

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

My Thoughts…

This is a further instalment of the Tremarnock series, I read book 4, ‘A Cornish Secret’, and this one has the same wonderful description of characters and setting. The plot is full of secrets, which threaten to disturb the tranquillity of the Cornish coastal haven.

The arrival of a beautiful Mexican woman causes a predictable stir in the coastal village, the initial impact of her arrival on one resident Rick, makes you realise she will ruffle some feathers, and make some inhabitants wish for younger days.

The writing style invites you to curl up and enjoy the escape into another world, full of diverse characters and picturesque scenery. The reception Chabela receives is typical of a small community, some friendly, others inquisitive and some wary. Her reasons for visiting seem genuine, but she is hiding unhappiness and seems to be seeking something that will only be found in Tremarnock.

An engaging, emotional tale, with detailed knowledge of Cornish village life and interesting snippets of life in Mexico. A lovely mix of humour and sadness, which makes you reluctant to leave when the story comes to its satisfying conclusion.

#BlogTour
Guest post – Emma Burstall – FROM LITTLE ACORNS, OAK TREES GROW

Readers often ask where I get my ideas for novels from, and I usually give the same answer: a seed from somewhere or someone somehow plants itself in my brain. The seed starts to germinate and if I’m fortunate and tend to it carefully and lovingly, it may eventually grow into a lusty plot.

I remember quite clearly the day that the seed for my latest book, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME TO CORNWALL, took root. It was during a walk in my local park one morning with my Mexican friend, Yael, who lives with her English husband, Jonathan, and their children in London.

Yael happened to mention that when she and Jonathan first started dating, she told him about a little town about two and a half hours out of Mexico City where she said they sold the most delicious, rare delicacies that you couldn’t find anywhere else in the country. These were snacks called ‘pastes’, available on almost every street corner, and the couple set off on a romantic mini-break, partly to try out the unusual food.

When they arrived, however, Jonathan was most surprised and even a little put-out. On biting into one of the snacks, encased in pastry, he exclaimed: ‘It’s a Cornish pasty!’

The only difference was that the Mexican version included ingredients such as chilli and avocado, as well as beef, onion and potato.

It soon transpired that the pasty was brought to the town by Cornish tin miners, who travelled there in their droves in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Back then, Cornish miners were considered among the finest in the world and were employed to work in the silver mines. Many eventually went home, much richer than when they arrived, while others married local girls and stayed.

Sometime later, I was lucky enough to visit the little Mexican town and the cemetery just outside where many of the Cornish miners and their families were buried. The graves bore traditional Cornish names such as Pengelly, Skewes and Carew.

I was moved by the thought of these brave men, women and sometimes children, who travelled so many miles to such an unfamiliar and sometimes hostile land to make a new life for themselves.

Before long, a character sprang to mind – a vibrant, independent, beautiful but ultimately unhappy Mexican woman called Chabela Penhallow Maldonado, who is desperate to escape from heartbreak. After receiving a letter from a stranger, she decides to visit the seaside village, of Tremarnock, where my latest series of books is based, to take her mind off her troubles and discover more about her Cornish roots.

She soon causes quite a stir and not everyone is happy to have her there. Of course, there are lots of twists and turns, shocks, secrets and surprises along the way, but does our heroine finally find what she is looking for? You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens to her and all the other characters in the end!

I hope you enjoy reading The Girl Who Came Home To Cornwall as much as I enjoyed writing it. Do drop me a line at www.emmaburstall.com and let me know J.

#EmmaBurstall

Emma Burstall was a newspaper journalist in Devon and Cornwall before becoming a full- time author. Tremarnock, the first novel in her series set in a delightful Cornish village, was published in 2015 and became a top-10 bestseller.

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Posted in Author Guest Post, Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Family Drama, Guest post, Murder Mystery, Mystery, Psychological Thriller, Suspense, Thriller

The Scorched Earth Rachael Blok 4* #Review #GuestPost @MsRachaelBlok @HoZ_Books @Aria_Fiction #CrimeFiction #Suspense #PsychologicalThriller #PoliceProcedural #DCIJansen #BlogTour

#TheScorchedEarth

Who really killed Leo Fenton?

Two years ago, Ben Fenton went camping with his brother Leo. It was the last time they ever saw each other. By the end of that fateful trip, Leo had disappeared, and Ben had been arrested for his murder.

Ben’s wife Ana has always protested his innocence. Now, on the hottest day of 2018’s sweltering heatwave, she receives a phone call from the police. Leo’s body has been found, in a freshly dug grave in her own local churchyard. How did it get there? Who really killed him?

St Albans police, led by DCI Jansen, are soon unpicking a web of lies that shimmers beneath the surface of Ana’s well-kept village. But as tensions mount, and the tight-knit community begins to unravel, Ana realises that if she wants to absolve her husband, she must unearth the truth alone.

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#BlogTour

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

My Thoughts…

The second book featuring Dutch detective DCI Jansen, who finds himself mystified by the close-knit English village community. It seems no one believes in plain-speaking, preferring closing ranks, and relying on innuendos.

The story is a sad one. Two brothers take a camping trip two years earlier. One is presumed dead, the other convicted of murder, but is it that simple. Ana, the accused brother’s partner. believes not. She has no chance of proving this until the missing brother’s body is found buried in the village. Now, his brother can’t be the murderer. DCI Jansen has to find the real killer, but although gossip is rife in the village, there is nothing of substance, and everyone is keeping secrets.

DCI Jansen suffers a personal tragedy, which he has to conquer, to stop his emotional state having a detrimental effect on the case. Ana wants to help her partner but doesn’t want to reveal what she knows. She feels threatened, and the suspense and menacing ethos surrounding her are well-written.

There is a strong psychological element to this story, particularly from Ana’s perspective, as events from her past invade her present situation. Events are revealed, from Leo’s point of view, in the past, and Ana, Ben and DCI Jansen’s points of view, in the present. The two timelines create dramatic irony, the reader knowing things the characters don’t at that time.

Scene setting and character dynamics form the first part of the book, this slows the pace, but the short chapters and active voice, keep the story moving satisfactorily, ensuring reader engagement. There are several viable suspects, and even though you may guess who did it, early on in the story, there are plenty of smoke and mirrors. to make you doubt it.

Clever twists and a final reveal, make this a good story, with its solid police procedural theme tempered with psychological suspense.

#RachelBlok

Rachael Blok grew up in Durham and studied Literature at Warwick University. She taught English at a London Comprehensive and is now a full-time writer living in Hertfordshire with her husband and children.

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Guest Post- Rachael Blok – ‘The Scorched Earth’, and Ana: where she came from.

The Scorched Earth has a number of different voices, but my protagonist is Ana, a woman struggling with grief as her partner is in jail, and then ghosts from her past emerge: she begins to hear footsteps behind her in a car park late and night; she begins to look over her shoulder…  Ana’s experiences are both ideas I’ve wanted to write about for a while. It was a pleasure to see her come to life on paper.

Women are told to shout ‘fire’ instead of ‘rape’ if they’re being attacked…

As a woman, I’ve felt on more than one occasion a burst of fear walking home in the dark, or walking into a car park late a night. My mum, my sister and I all took a self-defence course years ago, and we were told to shout ‘fire’ instead of ‘rape’ if we’re attacked – people respond more if their property is threatened! I have no answer for this, but I find it terrifying. This fear resonates in the novel and I think, it’s fear men and women should both be aware of. I always tell my husband that if he’s walking behind a woman on her own, late at night, he should drop back – make sure she doesn’t have to look over her shoulder or be concerned about a threat. And the very real issue of stalking is taken more seriously now than it has been in the past, but there is still some way to go. When relationships break down and men find it hard to let women go, it can be a very scary time, and women find it difficult to get concerns taken seriously, often until after an attack.

They locked him up, but they locked her up, too…

Whilst researching the novel, I spent some time in prison, which is not at all like I imagined! My main experience had been from movies and the TV. I found the reality much scarier. I saw homemade weapons; I heard stories of attacks on officers and other prisoners; I spoke to many different people from all aspects of prison life, and it was such an eye-opener. I think as a society we lock people away in all respects – there’s a sense of being forgotten, completely. Women whose partners are in jail spoke of the shame, and also the halted grief – they miss their partners, but can’t grieve for them, they can’t move on. This grief is something Ana wrestles with, and I hope I’ve done it justice.

The prison scenes almost wrote themselves after I’d visited. Even the smell is distinct. My prison officer guides me into the contraband room, where they keep the confiscated drugs. Spice is the drug they have the most problems with at the moment, which is synthetic cannabis. It’s smuggled into the prisons in all sorts of ways. One of the ways is through books and magazines. The pages are soaked in the spice, and so prisons have to scan all books now. So many ideas for plots!

It’s been a pleasure to write the guest blog and thanks to Jane Hunt for giving me the opportunity to mull over the ideas for the novel. I hope you enjoy The Scorched Earth!

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Friendship, Guest post, Romantic Comedy

#No Filter Maxine Morrey 4*#Review @BoldwoodBooks @Scribbler_Maxi #romcom #Instagram #NoFilter #Relationships #Friendships #LifestyleBlogger #Vlogger #JustBeingYou #SelfDiscovery #ComingofAge #BlogTour #BoldwoodBloggers #GuestPost #Extract #BookReview

#NoFilter

Popular lifestyle blogger, Libby Cartwright, is being boggled by business when help shows up in the shape of gorgeous but shy, Charlie Richmond. Libby’s determined to keep it at ‘just good friends’ – she’s dated someone from ‘Corporate Land’ before and it didn’t end well. As she and Charlie begin spending more time together, Libby is starting to waver  – until she discovers something which makes her question if she’s ready for love.

Still reeling, she suffers another blow as her blog is attacked in a national newspaper, for promoting unachievable perfection. Libby knows it’s not true – but the only way to prove that is to strip off the armour she’s been wearing for years.

Is she brave enough to show the world she’s far from perfect? And will Charlie be by her side if she does…

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Extract from #No FilterMaxine morrey

Chapter 1

‘That’s it! I am totally going to jail. I’m going to get it wrong, owe thousands, not be able to pay, and go to jail!’ I flung myself backwards with an overly dramatic sigh and lay sprawled on the paperwork I had been looking at. ‘And seriously? Me in an orange jumpsuit? I don’t care how on trend they are; I could never pull that off! Orange is so not my colour.’

Amy topped up her wine glass before reaching a hand down to grab my arm, tugging me in the direction of the sofa. I slid along the floor for a few moments in my prone position, like some sort of beached, four-legged starfish, until I eventually bumped into the furniture.

‘I think that’s more America, hon,’ she said, yanking me upwards. ‘I’m not sure what ours are like. Something much more subtle, I expect. And don’t worry. I’ll hide a file inside the first cake I bring you. You’ll be out in no time.’

I paused in my clambering from the floor onto the sofa, and gave her a look. She made a sawing motion with one hand, accompanied by an over-exaggerated wink as she held out my wine glass. Flopping onto the couch, I took the glass and swigged a large mouthful, before laying my head back onto the soft cushions.

‘Seriously though. I really don’t know what I’m doing with this. I thought I was handling all this business stuff OK until now.’

‘And you are!’ Amy interjected. ‘Your blog is doing amazingly well! I can’t believe the difference in a year – it’s incredible! Seriously, Libs, you should really be proud of yourself.’

I sighed. ‘Thanks, Ames. And I am, and of Tilly. I couldn’t have done it without her. But I’m so frustrated! I’ve taken on this insane learning curve and, for the most part, got the hang of things. I think. But this?’ I kicked a piece of paper with my bare toes. ‘This, I just cannot get my head round! Why does tax have to be so bloody complicated? They send you this stuff so that you are supposedly able to do it yourself, but write it in the most confusing language possible! How is that even remotely helpful?’

Amy just shook her head and took another sip of wine.

‘So, what are you going to do?’

‘I don’t know. I guess I need to start looking for an accountant.’ I twiddled the wine glass stem in my hand.

Amy leant over and bumped her head gently on my shoulder. ‘You know; it is OK to ask people for help sometimes. We can’t all be amazing at everything. Creating all this in such a short space of time is brilliant, Libby. Finding that you need some extra expertise in one area is perfectly acceptable, and perfectly normal.’

‘I guess.’ I put the glass down. ‘Before I forget, I have something for you.’

Immediately, Amy sat up straighter in anticipation and her eyes watched me as I crossed to the other side of the room and picked up a small, but fancy, cardboard bag with intricately twisted rope handles and a swirly script logo on the side. Walking back over to the sofa, I plopped the bag down on Amy’s lap.

‘Did I ever tell you that going for it with this lifestyle blog business is the best thing that you’ve ever done?’

I laughed. ‘You just like the freebies.’

‘True,’ Amy agreed, before letting out an ‘ooh’ of pleasure at the eyeshadow palette and perfume she’d just pulled out of the bag.

‘But thanks anyway.’

‘Any time. Oh!’ Amy’s eyes shone like those of a child who’d just won pass the parcel. ‘Really? I can have this?’ Without waiting for confirmation, Amy began excitedly spritzing the exclusive new perfume copiously on pretty much every pulse point she could reach, including mine.

Laughing, I lifted my wrist up to take another waft of the fragrance. It really was gorgeous. I smiled as my friend rummaged in the bag, unwrapping the various goodies from their pretty tissue-paper packaging. The cosmetic companies often sent more samples than I could possibly use so I always made sure my assistant got some to review and regularly ran giveaways on the blog, as a thank you to my readers. But occasionally I still had extra goodies left over. Amy always loved a good freebie so when I had something spare, it meant I got to make my best friend happy.

As the fumes of Amy’s fragrance enthusiasm began getting a little pungent, I pushed myself up and padded over to the doors that led out onto the balcony. Grabbing the handle, I slid the door to the side. Immediately, a warm breeze rushed in from the sea, dissipating the perfume, and bringing with it the screech of seagulls intertwined with chatter and laughter from the nearby bars and restaurants in the marina. I stepped out, grabbing a wide-brimmed, slightly battered straw hat off the nearby console table, and took a seat on one of the two wooden steamer chairs that resided on my balcony. Amy followed me out, wine glass in hand, the gift bag now swinging off her wrist.

If I was honest, the furniture was a squeeze and a trendy little bistro set would have been a better, more sensible option. I’d made the classic mistake of ‘guesstimating’ that they would fit perfectly on the balcony. They didn’t and I’d ended up building them in situ like some sort of furniture Jenga, which had proved to be the only way of getting them both to fit on there. But I loved them. I didn’t want a trendy little bistro set. The loungers were super comfy with full-length padded cushions, and reclined just enough without touching the glass. I could sit out here and read in comfort, watching the boats sway and bob gently in the marina, listening as the sound of waves bumping against the harbour wall carried across the water. Even in winter, when the wind howled and the sea reared up before crashing down forcefully onto the nearby beach, I would happily sit out here, wrapped up against the cold, just absorbing it all.

There was definitely no need for coats and scarves this evening. It seemed that spring had decisively handed off the baton early to summer and the new season was away and running. The evening was warm and the breeze soft as Amy and I, now having inelegantly climbed onto our respective loungers, sat back and sighed happily.

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

My Thoughts…

A lovely, slow to ignite friends to lovers and opposites attract romance, in a contemporary setting. Libby is a lifestyle blogger, whose popularity is now making her serious money. Worried about tax issues she eagerly accepts Charle, a friend of a friend’s offer to look over her accounts, She is accident-prone, bubbly and creative, the antithesis of Charlie who is climbing up the corporate ladder and is introverted,

Mutual attraction, proximity. and an unanswered need for someone special in their lives draws the couple together. Firstly into friendship and after much ado, romance. Both are reticent about commitment and their self-worth making them more alike than they first appear.

Libby experiences some of the negative aspects of celebrity status and social media and wants to prove that her blog is a true reflection of her and not a facsimile. Doing this is risky both from a business point of view and personally, and she wonders if people will like the true Libby, with #NoFilter.

This story has a likeable rom-com element and complex realistic protagonists. The romance is very slow-paced. which some will find frustrating.

There is also a message about the power of social media, and how it affects those who live their lives on it. There is a significant move away now, from unrealistic and negative media portrayals of self-image, especially for the young. Maybe its time for us to be more circumspect about what we share of our lives, and not try and constantly strive for an unrealistic ideal, that is probably not even real anyway?

A gently romantic, thought-provoking read.

Guest Post – Inspiration for #No Filter – Maxine Morrey

I wasn’t an early embracer of the whole social media scene. I joined Twitter to see what it was about but didn’t really use it, barely going on it. Facebook had never had any appeal for me, but writing full time meant having a ‘business’ presence on there was kind of required.

Instagram, however, was a different matter for me. As a photography fan, this platform appealed as a place to share and view interesting pictures, and perhaps connect with others who shared similar interests. It still took me a while, joining four years after its launch. But it was really about the opportunity to practice photography skills and share them. I wasn’t bothered about the Like count. It was just fun. And I think this was true of a lot of users at this time. That was the point – just having fun.

But somewhere along the line, things seem to have become a bit skewed. And there are times when it’s not fun at all– in fact, it’s the very opposite. Some users are experiencing a lack of self-worth, jealousy, violence, self-harm and heartbreakingly, even suicide. It was actually this side of things that gave me the inspiration for the book that would become #NoFilter.

Bearing in mind I write romcoms, I can see that this isn’t exactly what people would call a perfect match. But this is what many people miss about the romance genre – especially the critics, the majority of whom have never even dipped a toe into the scene before dismissing it as unworthy of their, or anyone else’s attention. Many romcoms and romances tackle subjects which are quite serious, but they do it in a way that makes it accessible, and relatable. Yes, my books have a non-negotiable happy ending but that doesn’t mean the characters have led  Pollyanna lifestyles. There’s more to these books than meet the eye if people bother to look.

The spark for #NoFilter was reading a report about the increase in reports of self-harm since the advent of social media, and how the growth of the two correlated. This was both shocking and saddening. We’ve all heard of cyberbullying and trolling and how intrusive that can be, especially to school-age children. Once our home was a sanctuary away from the school bullies. Now, unless you’re offline entirely – something that seems almost impossible, if not anathema to a generation who were practically born with a mobile phone in their hand –  it’s very hard to get away from.

But it’s not just others who bully. And you certainly don’t have to be of school age to be a victim. Sometimes the biggest bully is the one inside our head, and unfortunately, social media, especially the image focused channels have only given these more power. These problems are not exclusively female either. Men are certainly not immune to doubting their self-worth, but there has always been an added pressure on women when it comes to how they present themselves and how others perceive them.

Once it was the glossy magazines being berated for presenting aspirational images impossible to actually achieve. Not because there aren’t women just as stylish, intelligent and beautiful out there. But because the images laid in front of us weren’t genuine. The real person- a model, a woman already been singled out for her aesthetically pleasing appearance – has been made up, dressed and photographed in the most flattering way possible. And then begins hours of photo editing. In some cases, four or five different women are amalgamated to make one ‘perfect’ one. No wonder we feel like we’re not good enough – the image we’re aspiring to sometimes isn’t even one person! Even children aren’t immune from the photo editing suite – what sort of message that sends, I hate to contemplate.

So, battling against these perfect images on the newsstand was bad enough but in the back of our minds, many of us knew these were tweaked and toned and literally, perfected. But somehow, when it comes to social media, we seem to forget. All of a sudden there are these ‘normal’ women – not movie stars, or models – just regular women looking absolutely flawless. And that seems a lot more real than the glossy magazines. Which is a lot more dangerous.

The truth is a vast majority of the images on Instagram are not real. They’re just as fake as the magazines. The amount of photo editing apps available is staggering, with an enormous number dedicated specifically to selfies. It’s basically plastic surgery for your photograph and it can get addictive. When selfies are continuously filtered and edited, they are a representation of that person – but most certainly not that person. However, as we scroll through, seeing one perfect face and body after another, that logic doesn’t always make it through and instead, our own self-worth takes a mental pounding. That’s the danger and it’s only getting worse.

Social media is not a bad thing. It’s supposed to be fun, and it can be. It can also be supportive. Being a writer is a very solitary job, but social media has enabled me to be in contact with others in the same position and being able to gain and give support via these platforms is brilliant. The same goes for hobbies – you might not know anyone in your ‘real’ life that finds the same things as you interesting but social media enables you to find a community and I know people who have made long and strong friendships via it. It’s not evil. But it does need to be used with caution.

No one is perfect. But you are perfect as you are. If there’s anything that’s making you doubt that, then it may be time to do a bit of detoxing. Accounts that make you question your self-worth need to go. Press that unfollow and feel the pressure lift. Find the next one and do the same, and the next.

Replace these accounts with others that don’t adhere to the editing obsession and instead bring you joy. They’re just as interesting and encourage a world and a belief that is far, far more social.

#MaxineMorrey

 Maxine Morrey is a bestselling romantic comedy author with eight books to her name including Winter’s Fairytale and the top ten hit The Christmas Project. She lives in West Sussex. Her first novel for Boldwood, #No Filter, will be published in November 2019.

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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Christmas Read, Festive Read, Friendship, Guest post, Romance

One Christmas Star Mandy Baggot 5*#Review @Aria_Fiction @mandybaggot #festiveread #Christmas #Romance #Friendship #BlogTour #GuestPost #BookReview

#OneChirstmasStar

Emily Parker is set to have the worst Christmas ever!

Her flatmate’s moved out, she’s closed her heart to love and she’s been put in charge of the school original Christmas show – with zero musical ability.

Disgraced superstar, Ray Stone is in desperate need of a quick PR turnaround. Waking up from a drunken stupor to a class of ten-year-olds snapping pics and Emily looking at him was not what he had in mind.

Ray needs Emily’s help to delete the photos, and she needs his with the show. As they learn to work together they may just open their hearts to more than a second chance…

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#OneChristmasStar #BlogTour

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

My Thoughts…

Children at Christmas are what make it special, and this lovely feelgood, festive romance has thirty-three children in its cast of characters. Don’t panic you haven’t got to remember all their names, only a few are introduced in-depth, but their enthusiasm, sense of wonder, and innocence as they embark on their festive show gives this story authenticity and a lovely Christmassy ethos.

Another positive theme in this story is its diversity. Many cultures and family groupings and beliefs are in evidence, reflecting contemporary life well.

Then, there’s the romance, which starts to grow between school teacher Emily and famous musician Ray, they meet serendipitously, at a low point in both their lives. They find something in each other that helps them to accept, heal, and move on from their emotional baggage, some of which is severe.

This is gently paced and detailed. You find out a lot about the characters, main and subsidiary. Whilst this doesn’t necessarily move the story forward, it does build the world, and make the reader believe in the characters, their stories and their motivations.

Music is an important element in this story and this celebrated throughout.

If you enjoy a book that absorbs you, and takes you on a journey, with a positive hopeful conclusion, this one is perfect.

Guest Post- Mandy Baggot – One Christmas Star
Never work with children or animals…

Animals will poop everywhere! Children will say the most embarrassing things! In One Christmas Star, I have children and animals, all being brought together in one festive extravaganza!

So, how do you go about writing children in novels? How do you make your ten-year-olds authentic and leap off the page? Well, I have to say, it does help if you have children yourself.

I am the mum of two daughters (12 and 14 now) and they absolutely provide me with inspiration for my books every single day. We can be talking randomly on the school run and then when I’m sat at my desk ready to start writing, this conversation will come back to me and end up slap-bang in the middle of my novel. And those chapters are always much richer for it.

One Christmas Star stars thirty-three Year Six’s under the care of teacher, Emily Parker. Here’s how I handled them as a writer and some top tips for making your characters authentic: –

The first thing I would say is, if you’re writing about a group of children, you are not going to make characters out of all thirty-three of them and nor should you. A) The reader is never going to remember all their names, B) neither are you and C) you aren’t going to be able to make thirty-three characters stand out. If you have children yourself, listen up! Take in what they talk about, what’s important to them and how they express this. What are their quirks and their individualism? If you don’t have children yourself, talk to people who do. Facebook is a great place to ask questions like this and you will find you will get loads of interaction and friends eager to give you their thoughts on this kind of topic.

Mix it up. You need girls and boys and you need to reflect society as it is today. Emily works at a Church of England funded school, but she has pupils from all faiths, of all colours and with many different home-life situations – working parents, unemployed parents, two dads, guardians, step-parents. Not just with children, make all your characters real, bring modern-day living to life. We don’t all speak the same. We don’t all look the same. Embrace all those qualities in your writing. Diversity is so exciting!

Keep it real. Make sure your child characters are absolutely true to their age range. Make their dialogue fit. They are not always going to talk in full, grammatically correct sentences. For me, dialogue always has to be true to the character, not to the grammar. I’ve altered many things after a proofreader has said it isn’t grammatically correct. It has to read the way your character would actually say it if he/she was standing in front of you. Read it aloud! How does it sound then? Like the child, it’s supposed to reflect? Or not?

I hope these tips have been useful and I really hope you love meeting the children from Stretton Park Primary School because they are ready to give you a Christmas to remember!

#MandyBaggot

Mandy Baggot is an internationally bestselling and award-winning romance writer. The winner of the Innovation in Romantic Fiction award at the UK’s Festival of Romance, her romantic comedy novel, One Wish in Manhattan, was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year award in 2016. Mandy’s books have so far been translated into German, Italian, Czech and Hungarian. Mandy loves the Greek island of Corfu, white wine, country music and handbags. Also a singer, she has taken part in ITV1’s Who Dares Sings and The X-Factor. Mandy is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors and lives near Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK with her husband and two daughters.

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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Christmas Read, Family Drama, Festive Read, Friendship, Guest post, Holiday Romance, Romance

Magic Under the Mistletoe Lucy Coleman 5* #Review @Aria_Fiction @LucyColemanAuth #FestiveRead #Christmas #FakeDate #FamilyDrama #Relationships #Fate #Friendship #BlogTour #GuestPost #BookReview

#MagicUndertheMistletoe

It’s December 23rd and while everyone else is rushing home for the holidays, workaholic Leesa Oliver is dreading switching on her out-of-office for the festive season. And it seems her equally driven boss, Cary Anderson, isn’t relishing spending Christmas at his family’s country estate either.

So together, they draft an unexpected Christmas contract: They’ll spend half of the holidays with each other’s families, pretending to be a couple. Leesa knows the insufferably good-looking Cary will make her Christmas more bearable, but what happens after the last of the mince pies have been eaten…?

Leesa signed off on a sensible business agreement, but somewhere, amongst the fairy lights and carols, something seems to have changed… It seems there might just be some magic under the mistletoe this Christmas!

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

My Thoughts…

Mistletoe historically conjures up images of the festive season, and romance for me, and this story beginning and ending with Christmas has plenty of magical mistletoe and romantic kisses.

Leesa and Cary are returning to the UK from a business trip in Australia. Both are career-driven, but whilst Cary reels off his criticisms in the comfort of first-class, Leesa is struggling to survive amidst a boisterous toddler and a lady determined to sort out her cavernous handbag. Battered and a little bruised both mentally and physically she plots her revenge. Then he takes the wind out of her sails, by offering her much needed sustenance, and a surprisingly pleasant insight, into his closely guarded personality. Stranded by uncharacteristically festive weather, Leesa accepts an invitation that leads to something unexpected.

I always find Lucy’s books heartwarming, insightful and romantic, and this one is all of these, with a festive twist. There are lots of characters, and sub-plots, which add depth to the story, and provide clever insight into the emotional baggage Leesa and Cary carry around. There is a good use of the fake date trope and slow-burning passion building between the couple, who are so successful in their professional lives to the exclusion of their personal happiness.

Fate and festive magic play their part in this complex romance, which begins and ends at a magical time of year.

Guest Post – Inspiration for my stories – Lucy coleman

It’s so lovely to be back again, Jane – thank you so much for the invite! As an author yourself, I’m sure this topic is one you experience all the time, too!

One of the first questions people ask when they are introduced to an author is ‘where do you find the inspiration for your stories?’

Mine usually come as a one-liner thought and I always carry a notebook and pen as things will spring into my head when I’m in the car, queuing in the supermarket and especially when out walking.

I have a folder full of jottings because that one-liner is just the initial spark. What usually happens, is that by the time I’m ready to pick it up and develop it, there will be a pile of little notes clipped together.

One such spark was triggered by a photograph I saw of Lisbon. This time it was the setting that was going to inspire the story and as my husband and I headed off for a four-day research trip, the two main characters were already introducing themselves to me.

Now I’m not a plotter, so the story reveals itself to me as I get to know the characters. It’s a fun way to write. But sitting on the plane that day, I didn’t really know what this story was going to be about.

We dumped our suitcases with barely a glance at our gorgeous hotel room and off we went to explore. We chose a hotel that was only a ten-minute walk from Cristo Rei – the majestic statue of Christ, similar to the ones in Brazil and Bolivia. Even though it was on the opposite side of the river to the town and in a quieter setting, it was top of my must-see list.

That afternoon as we did the uphill climb, I was buzzing and as I stood looking up at the statue the story was there, in my head. As my husband went exploring, I sat in the little café making copious notes. We went there every day after other sight-seeing trips, and it was the last place we visited before it was time to leave for the airport.

For the first time ever, I have pages of conversation between the characters. On each visit, I saw my characters walking around as if they were really there and I took hundreds of photos so I will be able to spirit myself back to that time and place.

When I returned home, I simply wanted to sit down and write the story, but other work in the pipeline had to be completed and two other books edited, first. I’m currently writing my 2020 Christmas book, then one more little project and Lisbon here I come.

I usually write about locations I know well from previous travels and it’s rare for a location to grab me as Lisbon did, simply from a shot, I saw on TV. Having said that… maybe there’s a pattern developing. In October I’m off to a monastery in Spain after a random idea popped into my head.

That’s the trouble with listening to your imagination – it knows no bounds!

Lucy lives in the Forest of Dean in the UK with her lovely husband and Bengal cat, Ziggy. Her novels have been shortlisted in the UK’s Festival of Romance and the eFestival of Words Book Awards. Lucy won the 2013 UK Festival of Romance: Innovation in Romantic Fiction award.

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