Posted in Book Review, Contemporary Revenge Fiction

5*#Review – Jane Fallon – Tell Me A Secret -@JaneFallon @MichaelJBooks

Best friends Holly and Roz tell each other everything.

So when Holly gets a shot at her dream job after putting everything on hold to raise her daughter, she assumes Roz will be waiting to pop the champagne.

But is she just imagining things or is Roz not quite as happy as she should be?

And now she thinks about it, a few things don’t quite add up…

Perhaps it was a mistake to tell Roz all her secrets.

Because it takes two to tango.

But only one to start a war…

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My Thoughts…

A contemporary revenge novel, that has a multi-layered plot, an authentic setting and complex characters. There is an underlying undercurrent of menace in this story as Holly’s career and life are threatened, but will anyone believe her?

It’s easy for the reader to believe in this storyline, most people who have worked in an office setting have witnessed office politics at some point in their career, and it’s not hard to imagine what Holly experiences. Betrayal is an important theme of this story, and it adds impact to the injustices she suffers because Holly is betrayed by someone she should be able to trust.

Although the action is focused on a few characters, the vibrant setting, and the fast pace make this page-turning, as you want to see what happens next and who will come out the victor. In addition to the main plot, there are parallel friendships, which showcase what good friends really are. Holly’s relationship with her daughter is nicely written and emphasises why her career is so important to her.

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

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Posted in Book Review

One Enchanted Evening – Anton Du Beke – 4* Review

London, 1936. Inside the spectacular Grand Ballroom of the exclusive Buckingham Hotel the rich and powerful, politicians, film stars, even royalty, rub shoulders with Raymond de Guise and his troupe of talented dancers from all around the world, who must enchant them, captivate them, and sweep away their cares.

Accustomed to waltzing with the highest of society, Raymond knows a secret from his past could threaten all he holds dear.

Nancy Nettleton, new chambermaid at the Buckingham, finds hotel life a struggle after leaving her small hometown. She dreams of joining the dancers on the ballroom floor as she watches, unseen, from behind plush curtains and hidden doorways. She soon discovers everyone at the Buckingham – guests and staff alike – has something to hide…

The storm clouds of war are gathering, and beneath the glitz and glamour of the ballroom lurks an irresistible world of scandal and secrets.

Let’s dance . . .

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My Thoughts…

A delicious, detailed, dance orientated novel, which unfolds against a background of class division, an unprecedented threat to the monarchy and a cosmopolitan hotel whose outward glamour hides a web of secrets.

The characters are believable and vividly depicted, they draw the reader into the story and engender empathy and dislike according to their behaviour. The setting epitomises polite London society in the 1930s. The ballroom’s importance, as a place to see and be seen, is a core theme of this story and is the focal point for the action and dialogue between the main characters.

Like ‘Upstairs Downstairs ‘ and ‘Downtown Abbey’, society’s class division is marked. The ‘lower class’ characters’lives are difficult and provide a thought-provoking reminder of poverty and hardship.

The political unrest in Europe and England make living life the limit a given, for those able to do so. When secrets unfold and people’s livelihood and reputations are in danger, the true heroes and villains emerge.

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

Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: Anita Davison – The Bloomsbury Affair – Guest Post – Extract – 4* Review

1905 London is a heady mix of unimaginable wealth and simmering political tensions, and with war looming Flora Maguire wants to keep her family safe.

So when her beloved charge Viscount Edward Trent is accused of murder, she’s determined not to leave the investigation to the police. Flora has trodden the path of amateur sleuth before, but with so much at stake, this time it’s personal.

Slowly the body of the victim found stabbed on a train bound for Paddington starts giving up its secrets, and Flora and her husband Bunny become mired in a murky world of spies, communists and fraudsters. And with the police more sure than ever that Edward is their murderer, Flora must work fast to keep him safe.

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Guest Post – Is Flora Maguire a Suffragist or a Suffragette? – Anita Davison

Book 3, A Knightsbridge Scandal is set in London in 1903 which was the year Emmeline Pankhurst broke away from the National Union of Women’s Social Societies and formed the controversial Women’s Social and Political Union.

My knowledge of Suffragettes was restricted to the scandal of the hunger strikes and Glynis John’s wearing a ‘Votes For Women’ banner in Mary Poppins – well perhaps not quite as simplistic as that, but my facts were sketchy so some serious research was called for.

As an intelligent, forward-thinking woman, it would be odd for me not to give Flora at least a passing interest in the movement. She treads carefully because as a former governess given entry into the middle class, she isn’t secure enough to make waves. By the time Flora gets involved,  Millicent Garrett Fawcett had been campaigning to instigate change in Parliament for women forty years before Emmeline Pankhurst threw her first brick through a window.

I imagine Mrs Fawcett, the sister of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson – England’s first female doctor, must have been dismayed by the ‘Deeds Not Words’ policy of the Pankhurst’s, whose methods would surely paint the movement as dangerous and uncontrolled. Many, and Flora is one of them, felt the Pankhurst’s put the movement back years by vandalism, arson attacks and dangerous stunts.

In 1908, one in three of the male population over 21 did not qualify for the ballot unless they owned property or paid a minimum rent of £10 a year. Younger men were happily conscripted to fight Britain’s wars, but had no vote, nor were they old enough to have a pint of beer in a pub. It was certainly a time of responsibility over rights.

That the ‘Votes For Women’ was aimed, initially at least, for women over thirty who owned property and personally paid taxes while domestic workers, shop girls, office staff and even teachers were excluded from their manifesto. The poor and indigent, men as well as women, weren’t seen as worthy of a vote in their own government.

The 1918 Representation of the People Act brought more than five million men over the age of 21 into the electorate without regard to property or class as well as over eight million women over 30; although the majority of these did not qualify for reasons of property ownership. It wasn’t until the 1928 Act that this changed.

Flora is a modern young woman who sees the need for change, but she isn’t the type to vandalise a work of art or chain herself to railings to make her point. She admires Mrs Garrett Fawcett’s principles as the way forward, but regards Mrs Pankhurst’s strategy will become a self-fulfilling prophesy in that women are what men believed all along; irresponsible, flighty creatures in need of guidance and control, incapable of choosing a government.

Also, with so many young men about to be killed in WWI, suppose the remaining women voters outnumbered the men? A prospect which must have terrified the Government of the day.

Flora is also keenly aware that had she remained a governess and not married a solicitor who owned property, she too would have been excluded from any legislation achieved by these women.

While in search of a murderer, Flora attends a National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society meeting and hears Miss Evelyn Sharp expound the new Women’s Social and Political Union formed in Manchester who advocates a campaign of civil disobedience.

As a result, Flora becomes a passive Suffragist, as opposed to a Suffragette. She believes society needs to be more equal, not just for wealthy, upper-class ladies who preside over tea tables in drawing rooms. That progress will be made naturally and organically, not by slashing paintings or setting fire to post boxes.

Millicent Fawcett worked tirelessly until her seventies for international women’s suffrage, the opening up university education to women, raising the age of consent, making horticulture a possible employment for women, criminalising incest, providing homes for middle-class working women, and even for offering a German ‘open-air treatment’ to tuberculosis sufferers.

An excellent Blog which provided me with facts and interesting stories on the Women’s Suffrage Movement is Elizabeth Crawford’s Women and Their Sphere:   https://womanandhersphere.com/

My Thoughts… 

Historical fiction with a murder mystery brings together two of my favourite genres. This is a later book in the ‘Flora Maguire series’, but it reads as a standalone. The mystery is created and solved within the book, and any backstory for the characters and their interrelationships is provided in the early chapters. 

England in 1905 was characterised by political intrigue and a shifting in the social and gender class systems.  This story uses the ethos of unrest to dramatise and authenticate the mystery Flora sets out to investigate. There are lots of historical facts, so the reader is able to step back in time as the story progresses.

Flora’s social conscience and independent spirit, make her an intriguing and believable protagonist.  Her husband Bunny is an excellent sidekick and the long-suffering Inspector, the essential final ingredient for this type of mystery.

Like all murder mysteries, the plot is twisty and full of false starts, with numerous suspects. The motive behind the mystery is well concealed and trying to decide what really happened is a satisfying experience.

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

Extract 

Chapter 2

Flora tugged her shawl tighter around her exposed shoulders and shivered in the cool wind gusting across the porch. It had been a warm day for April, but as night drew in, splatters of rain-streaked the windows from air cooled to a wintry chill. She raised a hand to wave at Alice who occupied the seat beside William in his two-seater Spyker motor car.

‘She’s a real beauty, isn’t she?’ Bunny sighed.

‘Indeed, she is.’ Flora leaned into her husband’s one-armed hug. ‘I hope I’ll look as good when I reach Alice’s age.’

‘I meant William’s motor car.’

Flora tutted, nudging him. ‘Our Berliet is perfectly adequate and far more practical. Besides, there would be no need for a chauffeur and you would have to discharge Timms.’

‘Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that.’ He followed the gleaming green vehicle with his eyes until it disappeared around the corner.

Flora knew the prospect of losing Timms would not appeal. The chauffeur’s previous employer, a former client of the firm of solicitors Bunny worked for had been jailed for fraud. On learning that the man’s out-of-work valet was also a keen amateur mechanic, Bunny installed him in the mews behind the house. The pair spent hours tinkering with the engine of Bunny’s beloved motor car; more like friends than employer and chauffeur. In their brown coveralls and with their heads ducked beneath the metal hood, even Flora was hard put to tell them apart.

‘Well, despite the host’s unexplained absence, I think the evening was a success.’ Flora returned to the relative warmth of the hallway.

‘I’ve already apologized for that.’ Bunny tightened his arm around her and nuzzled her hair just above her ear before guiding her back into the sitting room, where Stokes was clearing away the coffee cups and empty brandy glasses. ‘You do realize bringing them together without warning like that could have gone horribly wrong? Suppose they had harboured some long-buried resentment in the intervening years, or worse, didn’t like the person they had each become?’

‘That didn’t occur to me,’ Flora lied. ‘I was confident they would behave as if the last twenty years had never happened.’

‘William couldn’t keep the smile off his face, and all those long looks.’ Bunny chuckled.

‘He was like a young boy with his first tendre.’

‘Except this particular tendre had already produced a grown-up daughter.’ Flora summoned a distracted smile, her thoughts still on William and whether or not he might be recalled to Russia if the situation there worsened.

‘Stokes,’ Bunny halted the butler on his way out with a loaded tray. ‘Before you retire, would you kindly bring us some fresh coffee?’

‘Of course, sir.’ Stokes bowed and left.

‘None for me, thank you.’ Flora frowned. ‘I shan’t be able to sleep. After such a long day, I would have thought cocoa would have been more appropriate’

‘Coffee.’ Bunny’s eyes hardened and he caressed her shoulder. ‘I have a feeling we might need it.’

‘You’ve been very distracted tonight,’ Flora dragged her thoughts back to the present. ‘Are you sure something isn’t bothering you?’

‘Don’t change the subject. We were talking about your parents.’ Bunny took the place beside Flora on the sofa. ‘I sensed at some point during the evening you became somewhat tense.’ 

‘Did I?’ She sighed having hoped he had not noticed. ‘You might think I’m being selfish, but in all the drama of getting them together again, the past – my past has been overlooked.  I still don’t understand why Riordan told everyone that Alice, or Lily as she was known then, had died.’

‘She left him, Flora. Did it occur to you that might have hurt his pride? Pretending to be a widower meant no one would whisper about him behind his back.’

Flora silently acknowledged he was probably right. Her mother had married the head butler at Cleeve Abbey when she had fallen pregnant by William. The family had made it clear a marriage between Lily and William was out of the question and sent him abroad. Too young and overawed by their respective families to fight back, they had both obeyed. However William pined in America and Lily was miserable at home, until she could stand no more and ran away leaving Flora behind to be raised by the man she married to preserve her reputation. 

Riordan Maguire had adored Flora and despite Lily’s urging, had refused to let her see Flora again, preferring to explain away her absence by spinning a story acceptable for a child.

‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if William and Alice found happiness together after all this time? It’s just—’ she broke off, smothering a yawn at the reappearance of Stokes who set down a tray in front of them, wished them both goodnight and withdrew.

‘I’m going up to bed. Enjoy your coffee.’ As she rose to leave, he grasped her hand and tugged her gently onto the squab.

‘Could you give me a moment, Flora? There’s something I need to tell you. Well, more show you actually.’

‘Something which explains why you were late for dinner?’ she asked, yawning again.

‘In a way.’ He stood, one hand held palm downwards in a command for her to stay. ‘Wait here. I’ll be back in a moment.’

‘Can’t whatever it is keep until morn—’ she broke off with a sigh as she addressed an empty room.

More for something to do than a desire for some coffee, she poured herself a cup and stirred in milk, the gentle tinkling of silver against china the only sound in the room as the hot, aromatic coffee triggered her senses.

The evening she had anticipated with such pleasure should have been one for celebration, but as she had observed her parents smile at each other across her dining table, all her unresolved feelings had resurfaced.

The knowledge that Lily Maguire had cared for other people’s children in a London hospital while her own daughter grew up without her remained a cruel irony. That Alice had instigated contact again went some way to compensating for the past, although a deep-seated antipathy persisted for all the lost years in between.

Flora’s childhood had been far from unhappy with Riordan Maguire, who had always been a loving parent if an uncompromising one. His halo had slipped slightly when she discovered he had known Lily had been alive all this time. He had even destroyed the letters she sent him pleading for forgiveness.  Letters Flora had known nothing about, but which Alice had told her she had written in an effort to see her again. That he had been killed protecting Flora made it impossible to harbour bitterness against him, but also meant he could never explain.

At the sound of the rear hall door closing, she returned her cup to its saucer. The smile she had summoned in anticipation of Bunny’s return faded instantly when she realized he was not alone. A young man with light brown hair hovered a pace behind him, his head down and shoulders hunched as if unsure of his welcome. He lifted his head, his eyes meeting Flora’s for a second before he ducked away, his cheeks flushed red.

‘Eddy!’ A shaft of delighted recognition ran through her and she leapt to her feet, crossed the room in two strides. ‘How lovely to see you. But why are you here this late? Has something happened?’

Born in London, Anita has always had a penchant for all things historical. She now lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, the backdrop for her Flora Maguire mysteries.    Twitter  Website

 

 

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

BlogTour: Darcie Boleyn- Love at the Northern Lights – Guest Post – 4*Review

 ‘Climbing out the window in her dress and tiara wasn’t exactly how Frankie imagined her wedding day…’

Runaway bride Frankie Ashford hops a plane to Norway with one goal in mind – find her estranged mother and make peace with the past. But when a slip on the ice in Oslo lands her directly in Jonas Thorsen’s Viking-strong arms, her single-minded focus drifts away in the winter winds.

When it comes to romance Jonas knows that anything he and Frankie share has an expiration date – the British heiress has a life to return to in London that’s a world away from his own. But family is everything to Jonas and, as the one man who can help Frankie find the answers she’s seeking, he’ll do whatever it takes to help her reunite with her mother.

Now, as Christmas draws closer and the northern lights work their magic, Frankie and Jonas will have to make a choice…play it safe or risk heartbreak to take a chance on love.

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Guest Post – Darcie Boleyn – The Inspiration Behind Love at the Northern Lights

Do you ever wonder where you’ll be ten years from now? I certainly do and have done throughout my life.

Growing up, I had many deep conversations with my dad about the future and about what we’d like to do. He wasn’t just my dad; he was one of my best friends. We planned on travelling together – with any (understanding) future partner and children I might have – and we had a bucket list of places to go and things we wanted to see.

Twenty years ago, he was still around, and we took a trip to Orlando, Florida. It was a fabulous week, and we laughed a lot. Sixteen years ago, I had my daughter, and my dad was delighted to be a grandfather. His plans for what we would do grew even more exciting and adventurous, and he was so enthusiastic about where we would take my daughter and how well travelled she would be.

Norway was one of the places we talked about visiting. With its mountains, glaciers and deep coastal fjords, it sounded perfect. There would be the chance to see authentic Viking ships in Oslo’s museum, to take a cruise on the Sognedfjord – Norway’s longest and deepest fjord – and to hike and ski. And, of course, there would be the opportunity to visit Tromsø, to ride on a sleigh through the snow, and hopefully witness the magnificent Aurora borealis.

Sadly, my dad passed away in 2004, when he was just fifty-eight, and my daughter was eighteen months old. My world fell apart, and it seemed that my dreams did too.

However, my dad was a man who seized life, who lived every day and who would have hated for me to give up. As I gradually came to terms with my loss, I grew stronger and began to enjoy life again. Fourteen years on, I still miss him every day, but I have so much to be grateful for and so much to live for. With my loving husband, two beautiful children and three funny dogs, there is much to smile about. I’m also living my childhood dream as an author, something that would have made my dad very proud indeed.

Love at the Northern Lights is dedicated to my dad and to the dreams we shared. The story isn’t about him, or me, but it was inspired by our conversations and our bucket list.

I don’t know where I’ll be ten years from now, but I know where I want to be and what I’d like to do.

One day, I will get to see the northern lights, and when I do, I’ll be holding my dad in my heart.

My Thoughts…

A  story of mothers and daughters, injustice and second chances in scenic Norway and fashionable London and romance that will last longer than the festive season.

A lovely, romantic tale with a festive twist. Frankie runs away from her wedding and her controlling grandmother and decides to find the mother who walked out on her when she was a baby.  Her only clue a postcard her mother sent from Norway.

Norway is full of surprises and possible romance until a call from London means she has to go home. The relationship between Frankie and her mother is poignant and realistic and there is lots of simmering romance amid the snow and the Northern Lights.

An easy to read festive tale which will make you smile.

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

 

Darcie Boleyn has a huge heart and is a real softy. She never fails to cry at books and movies, whether the ending is happy or not. Darcie is in possession of an overactive imagination that often keeps her awake at night. Her childhood dream was to become a Jedi, but she hasn’t yet found suitable transport to take her to a galaxy far, far away. She also has reservations about how she’d look in a gold bikini, as she rather enjoys red wine, cheese and loves anything with ginger or cherries in it – especially chocolate. Darcie fell in love in New York, got married in the snow, rescues uncoordinated greyhounds and can usually be found reading or typing away on her laptop.    Twitter       Website

Posted in Book Review, Festive Read

Blog Tour: Guest Post -Moonlight on the Thames – Lauren Westwood – 5* Review

Christmas is a joyous time, but not everyone is merry and bright. Nicola is a star at the top of the corporate ladder, but her personal life is a disaster. Her office affair has run its course, and the last thing she wants to think about is Christmas. A night of cancelled trains and festive Christmas carols at Waterloo Station is the last straw… Dmitri loves conducting his pop–up choir during the festive season, meeting people, and spreading joy and cheer around London. But he carries deep secrets from his past that robbed him of his dream to become a concert pianist. Can two lonely hearts and souls be unlocked by music and moonlight and will they discover the healing power of love?

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 Guest Post – Music, Moonlight and Inspiration – Lauren Westwood

As a writer, I’m often asked where I get my inspirations from. The simple answer is that inspirations come from everywhere! For me, usually, a book will start out with just a simple idea or image, or some kind of trigger event from real life. For Moonlight on the Thames, the opening scene was inspired by a real choir who were performing last year at Waterloo Station during the Christmas season, and a real delayed train. I’m happy to say that unlike my main character, Nicola, I did not create a scene (nor, unfortunately, did I meet the love of my life as a result). But thanks to that night and that choir, my book was born.

To create the two main characters, I also drew on my past. Nicola is a high-powered investment banker, and over the years I’ve dealt with a lot of those in my day-job as an in-house lawyer. I thought it would be interesting for the heroine to be the ‘alpha’ character in the book, though this was somewhat risky. She’s not instantly likeable, but I’m hoping that she’s interesting and different enough for people to stick with her, find out why she is like she is, and see her story unfold.

In contrast, Dmitri is more likeable upfront, but he too has secrets from his past that adversely affect his whole life and forced him to give up his career as a concert pianist. Many years ago, I studied music at university, and though I was not suited for a life as a performer, I did encounter some brilliant musicians who inspired me to want to write about music. There is truly an agony and ecstasy about being a musician, and it takes a very particular personality type to be able to achieve the focus and sacrifice that is required.

The piano music that Dmitri plays in the book was also an inspiration for the tone of the book and also some of the scenes. It was great fun trying to search out the perfect pieces that evoked the mood and emotion that I was going for. And while it is hard to ‘describe’ the effect of music in words, I have put together a playlist to accompany the book that hopefully allows the music to speak for itself. The link is here: http://www.laurenwestwoodwriter.com/playlist.

Finally, I also drew inspiration from a trip I took twenty years ago to Russia. There is something incredibly poetic about the country, its past, its people, its music and literature, that resonates with me. Growing up in America in the 70s and 80s, we were brainwashed into thinking of Russia as ‘the evil empire’ governed by dictators whose fingers were on the red button (hmm, who does that sound like nowadays?) So, it was interesting to travel there myself, form my own opinions, and meet some of the people. I also really like Russian literature, and I have a lovely illustrated book of Russian fairytales with lacquer box designs that inspired the retelling of the Firebird that is in the book.

So, all in all, Moonlight on the Thames was a fun book to imagine and write, and I really hope that readers will enjoy it. I am grateful to Aria for the lovely cover, and also for believing in my somewhat dubious interpretation of an ‘escapist Christmas romance’ that also covers many darker, more serious issues.

If you do read Moonlight on the Thames, please do leave a review or a rating where you purchased it. This helps so much to spread the word to people who might not otherwise find the book.

Most of all, best wishes for the rest of the year and the holiday season.

My Thoughts…

‘Moonlight on the Thames’ is not the lighthearted festive read the title suggests but it does have romance, a fairytale quality and a Christmas message.

Nicola’s successful career masks an empty life and deep, damaging secrets that seem worse at Christmas time. Dimitri’s giving nature is especially evident at Christmas, but he is finding it increasingly difficult to hide the despair and guilt he feels. The couple’s meeting is festive, and Nicola is more ‘Scrooge’than ‘Santa Claus’, but their serendipitous meeting makes them both look at their empty lives.

Poignant and romantic this festive tale focuses on those less fortunate at this time of the year. Dimitri and Nicola’s life are both blighted despite their outward success, and this story explores their inner turmoil and seemingly unlikely romance. Both protagonists are authentic and flawed and carry a damaging amount of emotional trauma but their courage and need to find more in their lives lets both characters develop in a believable and heartwarming way.

Music in all its forms underscores this story and gives it a uniqueness not usually found in festive reads. There are no sugar-coated platitudes in this story, just two people trying to make the best of shattered lives but the outcome makes all the angst worthwhile and leaves an important message in the readers’ minds.

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

 

Lauren Westwood writes romantic women’s fiction and is also an award-winning children’s writer. Originally from California, she now lives in England in a pernickety old house built in 1602, with her partner and three daughters.  

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Posted in Book Review

5* Review – Tessa Dare – The Governess Game

The accidental governess…

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart . . . without risking her own.

The infamous rake…

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling . . . and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

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My Thoughts…

Alex’s supportive group of friends defy convention, preferring to listen to each other, rather than the male-dominated Regency society that surrounds them. Alex’s unusual job gains her entry into society’s most exquisite homes but only as an employee. Alex and Chase met previously at a bookshop, but he doesn’t remember her. However, he wants her for his wards’ governess, despite her lack of skills and social standing. Serendipity ensures he gets his way, but she proves to be a disturbing employee who threatens his dissolute habits.

Alex ‘s caring nature and empathy endear her to the girls. Believable and charming the two girls provide much of the story’s humour and poignancy. Importantly, they catalyse the romance between Alex and Chase. Alex wants Chase to give the girls the parental love they need but getting them the father they need involves constant interaction with the rake whose sense of the ridiculous and sensual expertise endanger her heart.

This lovely story encompasses all the best qualities of Regency romance; humour, historical detail and sensuality intertwine to make an addictive read. The plot showcases other elements of Regency society outside of the ‘Haute Ton’, which gives the story a unique perspective. Alex’s intelligence and tenacity are far more critical in this tale than her looks and social skills.

Escape to Regency London in this absorbing tale, and you may not want to return.

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

Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: Martinis and Memories – Q&A – 5*Review – A.L. Michael

 

A fun, feisty novel of love and chasing your dreams

Bel Hailstone has spent the past decade building her dream – Soho’s best burlesque club – from the ground up. But now The Martini Club is under threat, and it will take everything in Bel’s power to resist encroaching developers and save her pride and joy.

Amidst the chaos, Bel’s past comes knocking with the unexpected arrivals of her still-not-quite-ex-husband, her estranged mother and Brodie Porter – the boy who got away all those years ago.

To keep her beloved club afloat – not to mention her sanity – Bel will have to accept help for the first time in a long time, put the past to rest and claim the happy ever after she once thought was lost for good.

 

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Q&A: A.L. Michael – Martinis and Memories

What inspired you to write ‘The Martini Club’ series and did it turn out as you envisaged?

The Martini Club series started with Savvy’s story, that was my only idea. It was only after writing that first book that I realised the club had such an important presence – it was what allowed people to be themselves, the escape from the monotony of life, to find friends and chase dreams. That was what the series was meant to be about, after all, and I hope readers feel that.

‘Prosecco and Promises’ focuses on family and forgiveness, what are the themes of ‘Martini and Memories’?

Similarly, it’s about family and forgiveness, but I’d say for Bel it’s about vulnerability and trust – trusting people enough to be weak, to need looking after, admitting that you need help. Bel has created a life that’s about being good on her own, and impressing everyone – she hates asking for help, and she needs to get over the idea that you’re only strong if you do it alone.

Where do you begin when creating your characters and how do you make them believable?

I start with my character’s issues, the things that make them angry, or upset, or long for something else. I fill in their dreams and their loves and their strange little quirks, the way they say certain words or how they hate pineapple juice. I struggle to hold onto the visuals of my characters, but I always know how they’d react in any situation.

‘The Martini Club’, series is characterised by the glamorous settings and people. If the series became a film which actors would you envisage in the leading roles?

I love that idea – I have to admit, I never know how to cast my characters. I think Natalie Dormer would make a good Bel. Brodie, in my head, was played by Jamie Dornan and I stole his Belfast accent. I see Sam as Sam Elliot (Grace and Frankie), but that wasn’t why I chose the name, or at least I don’t think so!

Romantic comedy, relies heavily on the likeability of the female protagonist, how do you ensure they appeal to the reader, without making them too stereotypical?

I have to admit, I don’t want my main characters to be too likeable. Or rather, I don’t want them to be perfect. I hope that readers can see they usually mean well, even if they don’t always manage it, or they say the wrong thing. We all have friends like that, I think, ones we would forgive their mistakes and missteps because we know deep down they’re good people. When I was younger, I always hated Scarlett in Gone With The Wind (which crops up in this book!), but as I grew older I ended up thinking, ‘man that’s a good character, look at her!’ I saw her in a different context when I grew up and felt empathy for her situation and how young she was. You always have to look at your characters in context. And also, if they made no mistakes, there’d be no story!

Have you written books in other genres? If not, would you like to and why?

I wrote a thriller type book as an experiment, and it was fun! I’ve also just finished more of a book club book, and I’m having a play around with magical realism. It’s always fun to play and push yourself to try new things!

My Thoughts…

Bel is precisely the type of woman you’d expect to be running a successful, burlesque club in London; confident, glamorous and fierce. The truth is somewhat different; she paints her confident air and glamorous appearance on with her make-up. Her hard persona hides, a broken heart, a head full of insecurities engendered by her mother, who she never seemed to please and her love of her employees who she considers family.

Bel’s story is about learning to trust and the realisation that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Her relationship with her mother is an integral part of her story, and the development of their relationship adds emotional depth to the story.

Vividly described the ‘Martini Club’s’ importance to Bel comes across. The romance in this story is not immediately apparent, but when it makes an appearance, it’s worth the wait.

A fitting end to the ‘Martini Club’ series full of memories and mistakes and the power of forgiveness, loyalty and love. ‘Martinis and Memories is an engaging read with believable, memorable characters and a fairytale ending.

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

AL. Michael is the author of 13 novels. Almost all of them are snarky love stories where difficult women learn to embrace vulnerability. Andi works as a content writer, so no matter what she’s doing, she’s all about the words. She has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Creative Business and an MSc in Creative Writing. She is represented by Hayley Steed at Madeleine Milburn.

Twitter: @almichael_

Website: http://www.almichael.com

Posted in Book Review

4* Review- Sarah Flint – Broken Dolls- Blog Tour- Guest Post

A baby lies abandoned amongst the rubbish; her tiny face as white as alabaster, her body as stiff as a miniature doll.

A young prostitute lies beaten, her figure lying like a mannequin on the frozen concrete, her blood spilt, her life ebbing away.

As DC ‘Charlie’ Stafford and her boss DI Hunter struggle to identify the victim from the violator their hunt brings them to the crack houses of Lambeth, littered with damaged people, their lives scarred by tragedy and violence, most broken beyond repair.

As further lives hang in the balance, Charlie must empower the weak to speak out against those who seek to cause harm. But can a broken doll ever truly be mended; or will the wounds of the past, fashion the events of the future?

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Guest  Post – Sarah Flint

This is me!

When I was asked to write a guest post about Broken Dolls I wasn’t sure what I could add to previous articles; so I have decided to tell you a little more about what makes me tick.

So please bear with me. It will be my most personal post, and I hope it will give readers a sense of what I have achieved – and what they too could achieve.

I have always loved a challenge; in fact, I thrive on them. Each morning when I wake up, I set myself a few daily goals. The tasks are attainable. I do not set myself goals that would lead to failure – at least not too often!

I may have a book to plan or write or edit. I might have a guest post, questions to answer, social media considerations. So every day, I sit down and get going. I am not constrained by timings – apart from official deadlines. I write when I can, as much or as little as I can – but I write. Some days will only be a page, other days will be a whole chapter, yet others will see me sitting in front of my computer struggling to find the right words. On these occasions I do not beat myself up – I go for a walk. Most of my ideas stem from times when I have walked, quiet and alone, my mind buzzing with ideas – which are then transferred to paper on my return.

My books take shape as I write them. I know the beginning and the end, but what happens in the middle is usually a matter of luck and touching a lot of wood. It is a challenge! But like I said I thrive on a challenge!

In 2005, having lost a much-loved brother to cancer, I ran the London marathon with all of my seven surviving siblings. It wasn’t easy but with each day came a new goal; a hundred metres to start, then a block, then 1 mile, 2 miles, 5 miles, a half-marathon, until reaching the finishing post at The Mall, in 5 hours, 35 minutes (the toilet stop at the beginning cost me 20 minutes – never queue behind a man!!)

It was an amazing achievement and to have completed it with my large, close-knit family made it very special, as was the £43k  passed on to our family charities.

In March 2018, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with my partner, my niece and an incredible group of like-minded people of both sexes, and all ages. Prior to this, I had gained weight – a constant battle, so training started small – walking 1-2 miles a day, then 4-5, then a week with my sister hiking the Camino de Santiago, and finally training in the Italian Dolomites.

From little steps….to the highest peak in Africa, with stunning views of glaciers and craters, and a sunrise above the clouds on our summit morning that was truly spectacular.

And so to now – my latest challenge!

In the last month, I have received a proposal of marriage from my beautiful partner, watched my eldest daughter get married to a lovely Greek Cypriot man – and been diagnosed with breast cancer! With the smooth, comes the rough – and the rough this time will be hard.

How could I have known, when I shed a tear watching the six brave women celebrities bearing all for the female Full Monty, that I too would be fighting the same battle?

How could I have known, when my family clubbed together to provide the means for one of our siblings to attend my daughter’s wedding ‘because none of us are getting any younger’, that it would be me, as the youngest, providing the angst.

I didn’t know, but I do now – and I have accepted the challenge.

Two days after ‘Broken Dolls’ is published I will be on the operating table facing the first major step. So far I have taken only small ones, the preparatory scans, the mammograms, biopsies, diagnosis. I have listened to my options. I have heard the risks. I have felt fear. I still do. I am grieving for the forthcoming loss of part of my body, that I have held dear, but I also know that I have to take one step at a time, a goal a day, nothing too much, achievable, small victories.

Charlie and Hunter have cases to solve and battles to face. They might stumble along the way, but they are true to their beliefs and will conquer in the end. As will I!

So please, share this post to as many women (and men) as you can, while I am recovering from this first hurdle, and excuse my absence on social media. You, along with my family and friends are part of my team, and if I can help any other person going through the same sort of challenge, then please feel free to contact me, and I will get back to you as soon as I am able.

Thank you

Sarah xx

My Thoughts…

A gritty, authentic crime thriller, which left me feeling sad at the loss of life and opportunity for the young girls. Everything in this novel is believable, and that makes it compelling and disturbing.

I haven’t read the previous books in the series, and although this is a standalone story regarding the crime’s committed, there are events in the detectives’ pasts that affect their present lives I’m not aware of, which affected my enjoyment of the overall story.

A well-written, contemporary crime thriller which highlights the abuse of young girls and the problems of drug abuse. There are significant twists, especially at the end, enough to make me want to know what the next case will be for these detectives.

 

With a Metropolitan Police career spanning 35 years, Sarah has spent her adulthood surrounded by victims, criminals and police officers. She continues to work and lives in London with her partnerhttps://www.facebook.com/SarahFlintBooks and has three older daughters. 

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Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: Eva Leigh – From Duke till Dawn – Extract and 4* Review

 

‘It’s not my habit to seduce impoverished widows…’

The Duke of Greyland lost his heart – and a princely sum – to a charming, beautiful and destitute widow who, after one passionate night, vanished without a trace. Cassandra Blair grew up on the city streets, picking pockets to survive. Greyland was a rich mark – to be fleeced and forgotten – only she’d never forgotten him.

Years later, chance brings them together again, in a London gaming hell. Grayland is desperate to have her… never suspecting everything about his lover was a lie. But finding herself in dire financial straits, at risk of losing everything, Cassandra has no choice but to beg the man she betrayed for help.

The proud Duke will assist her under one condition: she doesn’t leave his sight until her debts are paid! But can the real Cassandra – the smart, streetwise survivor – steal his heart all over again?

Book one in the Scandalous Ladies of London series

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Hot romance, deep emotion and a glimpse into the seedier side of Regency England.

A different trope from the usual Regency romance, this story has some originality, an anti-heroine character rather than an anti-hero. The story creates an interesting relationship between the Duke and the con- artist, but even though she fools him once, Cassandra ultimately needs his help and position to survive, which detracts from her independence.

The Duke of Greyland lacks the arrogance customarily associated with his rank in Regency romance. He has many appealing traits, not least his passionate nature and support of those less fortunate than he. However, he does lack authenticity.

This story scores highly for sensuality, the connection between the Duke and Cassandra is hot, and the love scenes leave little to the imagination. They explain why the Duke acts as he does and their deepening emotional attachment underlines every kiss.

Overall this is a lovely story, which superficially explores the seedier side of Regency England while delivering a passionate love story.

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

Extract:- Eva Leigh’s  ‘From Duke till ‘Dawn’

Chapter 1

London, England 1817

A woman laughed, and Alexander Lewis, Duke of Greyland felt the sound like a gunshot to his chest.

It was a very pleasant laugh, low and musical rather than shrill and forced, yet it sounded like The Lost Queen’s laugh. Alex could not resist the urge to glance over his shoulder as he left the Eagle chophouse. He’d fancifully taken to calling her The Lost Queen, though she was most assuredly a mortal woman. Had she somehow appeared on a busy London street at dusk? The last time he’d seen her had been two years ago, in the spa town of Cheltenham, in his bed, asleep and naked.

The owner of the laugh turned out to be a completely different woman— brunette rather than blonde, petite and round rather than lithe and willowy. She caught Alex staring and raised her eyebrows. He bowed gravely in response, then continued toward the curb.

Night came on in indigo waves, but the shops spilled golden light in radiant patches onto the street. The hardworking citizens of London continued to toil as the upper echelons began their evening revelries. Crowds thronged the sidewalk, while wagons, carriages, and people on horseback crammed the streets. A handful of pedestrians recognized Alex and politely curtsied or tipped their hats, murmuring, “Good evening, Your Grace.” Though he was in no mood for politeness, responsibility and virtue were his constant companions— had been his whole life— and so rather than snapping, “Go to the devil, damn you!” he merely nodded in greeting.

He’d done his duty. He’d been seen in public, rather than disappearing into the cavernous chambers of his Mayfair mansion, where he could lick his wounds in peace.

The trouble with being a duke was that he always had to do his duty. “You are the pinnacle of British Society,” his father had often said to him. “The world looks to you for guidance. So you must lead by example. Be their True North.”

This evening, before dining, Alex had taken a very conspicuous turn up and down Bond Street, making certain that he was seen by many consequential— and loose-lipped— figures in the ton. Word would soon spread that the Duke of Greyland was not holed up, sulking in seclusion. His honor as one of Society’s bulwarks would not be felled by something as insignificant as his failed marriage suit to Lady Emmeline Birks. The Dukes of Greyland had stood strong against Roundheads, Jacobites, and countless other threats against Britain. One girl barely out of the schoolroom could hardly damage Alex’s ducal armor.

But that armor had been dented by The Lost Queen. Far deeper than he would have expected.

Standing on the curb, he signaled for his carriage, which pulled out of the mews. He tugged on his spotless gloves as he waited and adjusted the brim of his black beaver hat to make certain it sat properly on his head. “Always maintain a faultless appearance,” his father had reminded him again and again. “The slightest bit of disorder in your dress can lead to rampant speculation about the stability of your affairs. This, we cannot tolerate. The nation demands nothing less than perfection.”

Alex’s father had been dead for ten years, but that didn’t keep the serious, sober man’s voice from his mind. It was part of him now— his role as one of the most powerful men in England and the responsibilities that role carried with it. Not once did he ever let frivolities distract him from his duties.

Except for one time . . .

Posted in Book Review

Blog Tour: I Never Lie – Jody Sabral – Extract and 4*Review

 Is she the next victim? Or is she the culprit…?

Alex South is a high-functioning alcoholic who is teetering on the brink of oblivion. Her career as a television journalist is hanging by a thread since a drunken on-air rant. When a series of murders occur within a couple of miles of her East London home, she is given another chance to prove her skill and report the unfolding events. She thinks she can control the drinking, but soon she finds gaping holes in her memory and wakes to find she’s done things she can’t recall. As the story she’s covering starts to creep into her own life, is Alex a danger only to herself – or to others?

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Extract

6

The pressing need to talk to DI Brook takes over. When I turn around, I spot him lingering behind the tent, so I fill my lungs with air and shout his name as loudly as I can, but to no avail. He has clearly decided not to hear me.

‘They not listening to you, love?’

An elderly woman dressed in black with silvery blue hair and a lively red setter has suddenly appeared beside me. Her face is half hidden behind what look like very expensive sunglasses. ‘Such terrible news to wake up to this morning.’

I nod silently, unsure of what to say. The last thing I need right now is a member of the public asking me silly questions. I have a job to do, and sometimes they just get in the way.

‘I’ve seen you before, haven’t I? You live around here?’

‘Yes.’

She pulls her glasses forward, resting them on the end of her nose, to reveal watery grey eyes. ‘I know you, you’re on the news. Although I haven’t seen you on for a while. Not since that…’

She stops herself. I know what she’s going to say. Not since that time you were pissed on air ranting about how the system had failed us all.

‘I’ve been busy doing research for a new investigative report I’m working on.’

‘So you got lucky today because you live around here? That it? I know how it goes, the pecking order. Worked in broadcasting when I was younger. Couldn’t take the cynicism and got out after a few years.’

‘Right.’ I really don’t need this now. It’s only midday, and my nerves are shot. She’s not going away, though.

‘I love watching the news and talking about politics. You really must come for tea. I don’t get many visitors these days. I live on Navarino. Right on the corner of the park.’

‘That’s very kind of you, but I imagine I’m going to be quite busy with this story.’

‘Of course. I didn’t mean today, silly. Number three, the red door. Just knock.’

Audrey is back, looking purposeful, her eyes willing the pensioner to move on.

‘Sorry to interrupt, but they want a two-minute hit into the lunchtime bulletin. What we know now.’

‘Goodbye then, Alex. Please make sure you come and see me.’ The woman pushes her glasses back up her nose and shuffles off with her dog.

‘Who was that?’ Audrey nods towards her. ‘A neighbourhood pal?’

‘Just a dog walker.’

‘Not the dog walker?’

‘No. No.’

‘Oh. Okay. So, the report?’

‘It’s fine. Have you spoken to the police? I can’t seem to attract their attention.’

‘Managed to grab DI Brook at the press conference earlier, but only to get his business card.’ She hands it to me. DI John Brook, Serious Crime Division. There’s a mobile number on it. I already have it in my phone from dealing with him on previous cases, but I decide not to mention it. Best to let Audrey think she’s on it, which she is. In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t just call him before, rather than shout at him like a complete loser. I’m embarrassed to say my memory fails me more often than not, especially after a big night out.

‘Thanks, Audrey, you’re a star.’

‘No worries. I don’t think he’s going to talk to the media again today – at least that’s what he said – but give him a call. I did mention you might.’

‘Okay.’

‘It’ll be the first live report from the scene for us, so the editors say just keep it simple. They’re leading on it.’

‘I have done this before, Audrey.’

‘Yes, of course, sorry.’

She looks a bit hurt by my reaction, which happens when I’m not fully in my right mind. Greg used to get on me for that all the time. Snapping at people. I should say something nice.

‘Sorry. Didn’t mean to sound short with you. It’s my first live for a while, and I suppose I’m a little nervous.’

‘You’ll knock ‘em dead, Alex. You’re great at this job.’

‘That’s very kind. Thank you.’

‘We all have bad days. We’re only human after all.’

She is being very sweet and understanding. Buttering me up. That’s nice even if she doesn’t mean it because it’s exactly what I need today.

‘Thanks, Audrey, but today is going to be a good day.’

With the business card in my hand, I put my headphones on and pull up DI Brook’s number from my contact list, then hit dial. While it’s ringing, I check my Facebook page. Two thousand and fifty-three people have wished me happy birthday. Wow. I guess many people feel like Audrey does, ready to give me a second chance. I mean, it wasn’t so bad what I did, bitching about the government live on air. There were a lot of people who wrote to me afterwards saying well done for speaking honestly. Didn’t help me with the editors, though. Anyway, that’s behind me now.

DI Brook isn’t answering, and I hang up. Just then my phone buzzes. It’s a message from Richie, the chap I’m planning to meet later. I met him on a dating site, just like I met Nigel.

Hey, sorry to do this to you, Alex, but something’s come up at work. Afraid I can’t make it tonight. Can we reschedule?

It’s annoying, but I don’t bother to respond; there’s really no point. That’s how online dates go sometimes. They don’t always materialise, and if I’m honest, I can’t be bothered anyway, not now that I have a huge breaking news story to contend with. This is much more important.

 My Thoughts…

A suspenseful plot, an authentic setting and an unreliable protagonist guarantee that I would read ‘I Never Lie’ and it didn’t disappoint.

Fast-paced it moves between Alex a TV journalist’s point of view and diary entries of a recovering alcoholic whose dark issues become apparent as the story unfolds.

Alex, a London based TV journalist, is on the precipice of career success. She moves to London to further her career but also because personal life implodes, and now threatens to impinge on her career.

Alex is an alcoholic in denial, and it makes her vulnerable in all area of her life. Someone is murdering women in London, and Alex’s involvement seems serendipitous but is she in danger?

Alex is challenging, her constant denial of her alcoholism is tedious but authentic and an essential catalyst to the thriller’s plot. The plot is well- executed with twists, some of which you may not see coming. I enjoyed trying to work out what is real and what is part of Alex’s alcohol delusional state.

The final twist is a little disappointing for me; I imagined something different. However, full of suspense it does answer the questions raised by the plot.

Written by a TV journalist, the setting is authentic and absorbing and makes the perfect backdrop both for the murders and Alex life’s disintegration.

Originality, cleverly built suspense and realistic characters are evident in this thriller, even if using an alcoholic as an unreliable protagonist is popular in many psychological thrillers currently.

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

Jody Sabral is based between the South Coast and London, where she works as a Foreign Desk editor and video producer at the BBC. She is a graduate of the MA in Crime Fiction at City University, London. Jody worked as a journalist in Turkey for ten years, covering the region for various international broadcasters. She self-published her first book Changing Borders in 2012 and won the CWA Debut Dagger in 2014 for her second novel The Movement. In addition to working for the BBC, Jody also writes for the Huffington Post, Al–Monitor and Brics Post.

Twitter: @jsabral