Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Historical Fiction, Saga

The Girl from the Corner Shop – Alrene Hughes @HoZ_Books @alrenehughes #WW2 #Manchester #BlogTour 5* #Review #AuthorInterview #WomenInWar

WW2 Manchester: Newlyweds Helen and Jim Harrison have big plans – to leave the family shop where Helen works and set up home together. But when Jim is tragically killed in an air raid, Helen is heartbroken, her life in ruins.

Battling grief and despair, Helen resolves to escape her domineering mother and rebuild her shattered world. Wartime Manchester is a dangerous place, besieged by crime and poverty. So when Helen joins the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps, working with evacuees, the destitute and the vulnerable, she finds a renewed sense of purpose. She’s come a long way from her place behind the counter in the corner shop.

But there’s still something missing in her heart. Is Helen able to accept love and happiness and find the courage to change her life?

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Alrene Hughes – Author Interview

What are the inspirations behind this story?

I wanted to create a character – a young woman working in a corner shop – who has little belief in herself. When her circumstances change dramatically with the death of her husband, she is at her lowest ebb. The story twists when she joins the police, finding strength in helping others, especially women and children, and courage when she places herself in danger.

When you write what comes first the characters, the plot, or the setting?

I always know the wider setting, to begin with. In my first three novels, it was Belfast and my last two books have been set in Manchester. I’ve lived in both cities and I know the geography well but, more importantly, I have a sense of the atmosphere of the place and the character of the people. Almost at the same time, I focus on the main character, but it’s important as the story develops that she grows and changes with the events she experiences. As far as the plot is concerned, I don’t have a detailed story, just an idea to set it going and a possible ending with a few ideas in between. The detail comes when I’m immersed in the story. It’s almost as though the characters suggest what’s going to happen as it’s being written.

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

They’re all bound up together, I think, but I never transfer a real person into a novel. It’s more like a Rubik’s cube, twisting a complex character into being. You aim for an authentic, believable person who is memorable, even if they only play a small part in the novel. Overall, I think dialogue is one of the best ways to make characters realistic.     

If you could live in any time period which would it be? Why?

As a writer of WW2 sagas/romances, I would love to spend a day or two in Belfast during the war, just to see the city as it was when my family lived through that period. I would have no desire to stay any longer because, through my research, I know full well the hardships they endured.

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

I began to write in my thirties and for over twenty years I wrote poetry and short stories. I didn’t have the time to write anything longer because I had children and I worked as an English teacher and Assistant Head. Eventually, I decided I would write a family saga set in WW2 based on the story of my mother and her sisters who were singers, like the Andrews Sisters, entertaining the troops. That novel ‘Martha’s Girls’ was a success and I went on to write a trilogy.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?

I like books that are well written. If I’ve read 3-4 chapters and it hasn’t grabbed me, I don’t persevere.  I like historical novels, with elements of romance, and the occasional crime novel.

What are you currently writing?

I’m working on a third Manchester novel set in WW2. It’s the story of two sisters and their completely different experiences of war. The youngest is conscripted into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, where she is part of the exciting Parachute Training School. The older sister stays at home looking after their invalid mother, enduring the hardships of the home front.    

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

My Thoughts…

This story focuses on women in WW2, how their lives changed, and how many were exposed to deprivation, uncertainty and violence. The writing is full of vivid historical details and believable characters, some you dislike passionately, but most you admire, and can empathise.

Helen is newly married, living and working at her mother’s corner shop in Manchester. After a tragedy, leaves her widowed, and she finally rebels against her controlling mother in the midst of her grief, she finds herself jobless and in a home, she can’t afford.

Offered a lifeline by her godmother, she finds that not everything is as it first appears. Her brush with the seedier side of life, makes her rethink, can she give something to society and fill her lonely hours? Joining the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps seems an opportunity too good to miss.

Helen naivety is shortlived, and her compassion and courage make her an excellent police auxiliary. The story is interesting and full of emotion and historical insight that make this wartime saga a page-turner. The challenges for Helen and women in war are realistic and give this story its authenticity.

This is a compelling story with great characters and a lovely hesitant love story that gives the story its hope for the future.

Alrene Hughes grew up in Belfast and has lived in Manchester for most of her adult life. She worked for British Telecom and the BBC before training as an English teacher. After teaching for twenty years, she retired and now writes full-time. Facebook Twitter

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Posted in Book Review, Family Drama, Historical Romance, Mystery, Romance

A Postcard From Italy – Alex Brown 4* #Review @HarperFiction @HarperCollinsUK @fictionpubteam @alexbrownbooks #Romance #Italy #WW2 #Mystery #SelfDiscovery #Carers #Family

Grace Quinn loves her job at Cohen’s Convenient Storage Company, finding occasional treasure in the forgotten units that customers have abandoned. Her inquisitive nature is piqued when a valuable art collection and a bundle of letters and diaries are found that date back to the 1930s.

Delving deeper, Grace uncovers the story of a young English woman, Connie Levine, who follows her heart to Italy at the end of the Second World war. The contents also offer up the hope of a new beginning for Grace, battling a broken heart and caring for her controlling mother.

Embarking on her own voyage of discovery, Grace’s search takes her to a powder pink villa on the cliff tops overlooking the Italian Riviera, but will she unravel the family secrets and betrayals that Connie tried so hard to overcome, and find love for herself?

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I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts...

Grace needs to escape from her daily life, she has a broken heart, a controlling mother and a family who take her for granted, no wonder she enjoys her work, where she is appreciated. Finding some letters and treasures in a storage unit whose payments have lapsed, Grace finds a kindred spirit in Connie. She finds both, courage and solace whilst learning her story and tracking down her heirs.

There is a good mystery to solve, romance, but most of all a journey of self-discovery for Grace. The Italian scenes are vividly described and give the story added interest. The historical aspect of the story is well-written and shows the problems faced by women in the 1940s. There are obvious similarities between Connie and Grace’s stories, but some important differences too.

This is an emotion-driven story, you feel for both Connie and Grace as they are constrained by their circumstances, familial demands and society’s expectations.

There is a detailed epilogue, which draws the drama together well, and gives Grace the hopeful ending she deserves.

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Guest post, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Mystery, Saga

The Girl In The Pink Raincoat – Alrene Hughes -5* #Review @HoZ_Books @Aria_Fiction @alrenehughes #BlogTour #Paperback #Wartime #Romance #WW2 #Manchester #Mystery #HistoricalFiction #HistoricalRomance

In wartime, it takes courage to follow your heart.

Manchester, 1939.

Everyone hated the heat and the deafening noise, but for Gracie, the worst thing was the smell of chemicals that turned her stomach every morning when she arrived at the Rosenberg Raincoats factory.

Gracie is a girl on the factory floor. Jacob is the boss’s charismatic nephew. When they fall in love, it seems as if the whole world is against them – especially Charlie Nuttall, who also works at the factory and has always wanted Gracie for himself.

But worse is to come when Jacob disappears and Gracie is devastated, vowing to find him. Can she solve the mystery of his whereabouts? Gracie will need all her strength and courage to find a happy ending.

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Guest Post – WHY I WRITE WWII NOVELS – Alrene Hughes

I think it was inevitable. If I was going to write a novel, then I would write about the second world war. For a start, my mother, aunts and grandmother had lived through the hardships and dangers of that time. The war had ended only seven years before I was born and, growing up, I somehow absorbed their memories second-hand.

My home city of Belfast in Northern Ireland – an industrial city of shipbuilding, aircraft manufacture and heavy engineering – was crucial to the war effort. Needless to say, it was heavily bombed. Later, when the USA entered the war, it was to Northern Ireland that the GIs came to train before being deployed overseas.

As a child, I knew the gaps between the buildings were bomb sites. Once on a bus going into the city centre with my mother, she pointed out a street where she had seen the dead bodies laid out on the pavement on her way to work after an overnight bombing. But she had happy memories too of her time as a factory girl building Stirling bombers. As a housewife after the war, I remember she wore her factory clothes, trousers and a turban, to clean the house. But the biggest influence in my post-war childhood was the music. 

My mother and aunts had been popular singers, in the style of the Andrews Sisters, and throughout the war, they entertained in the concert and dance halls, as well as the military camps. After my mother died, I found an old scrapbook among her possessions. It contained many concert programmes listing the acts and the Golden Sisters, as they were known, often had the titles of songs they sang next to their billing: Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree; Chattanooga Choo Choo … And then there were all the photos.

I just had to tell their wartime story. The personalities of my mother, aunts and grandmother were etched in my brain, the snippets of wartime memories had been passed on to me and I had the scrapbook. Add to that my research of life in the city and the ideas that flooded my mind and it was enough to turn it into a novel. In the end, their story became a popular WWII family saga, the Martha’s Girls trilogy.

Now I’ve written WWII novels set in Manchester, the city where I’ve lived most of my adult life. It’s a lot like Belfast in some ways: the heavy bombings; the industry; the no-nonsense, resilient people. The women in my new novels The Girl in the Pink Raincoat and The Girl from the Corner Shop, face tragedy and danger, experience love and loss but, throughout, their courage shines through.  

ARC – Paperback- Back Cover

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

My Thoughts…

Gracie is an endearing character, young, naive, but optimistic and full of life, with a smile never far from her face. It is this bubbliness that attracts Jacob, even though he realises that any relationship between them would be fraught with conflict.

The setting and era of this story are vividly portrayed, you can imagine the raincoat factory, the bombsites and the people, as they try to live their lives during wartime. Anyone who has listened to their grandparents and parents stories about ‘the war’, will recognise familiar concepts, and it is this relatability that makes the story so powerful.

The plot is well constructed, with a mystery and romance. The prejudice rife at the time is evident and is an important theme. Wartime romance with a twist. Family drama, strong friendships and a menacing undercurrent of betrayal and obsession, something for everyone in this wartime tale.

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Alrene Hughes grew up in Belfast and has lived in Manchester for most of her adult life. She worked for British Telecom and the BBC before training as an English teacher. After teaching for twenty years, she retired and now writes full-time. Facebook

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Extract – The Girl In The Pink Raincoat – Alrene Hughes

Gracie awoke to the sound of crying, and it was a moment before she realised it was coming through the paper-thin walls of the house next door. Then she remembered it was Friday morning and still Doris had not come to terms with her children being evacuated. She lay for a while, watching a shaft of sunlight coming through the gap in the curtains, and when the crying was replaced by the squeals and laughter of excited children, she got up.

By the time the children were ready to walk to school, a crowd had gathered in the street to see them off. Gracie and Sarah stood next to Doris as she held back her tears, hugged her two little girls and told them to be good and to write every week. An older boy, John Harris, took charge and it was clear that the evacuees had been drilled for this moment. At his command, they left their mothers and lined up like little soldiers, with their gas masks and belongings, each with a brown luggage label fastened to their coat. Gracie scanned their faces: some were filled with excitement, others apprehensive; and little Gladys Clark, with no mother to see her off, was sobbing her heart out.

John raised his hand and all eyes turned to him. ‘One … two … three!’ he shouted, and what happened next made the hair stand up on the back of Gracie’s neck – the children began to sing.

‘Farewell to Manchester we’re leaving today,

We need a safe place where we can stay,

Away from the bombs that fall on our heads,

Where we’ll sleep soundly and safe in our beds.’

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Family Drama, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Mystery

God’s Acre – Dee Yates -5*#Review – #BlogTour #Historical #Fiction #Romance #Saga @Aria_Fiction #WW2 #LandGirls #Scotland

As the drums of war begin to beat louder on the continent, and life becomes more dangerous in cities, seventeen-year-old Jeannie McIver leaves the comfort of her Aunt’s house in Glasgow, to head to the wilds of the Scottish Uplands to start life as a Land Girl.

Jeannie soon falls in love with life on the busy Scottish hill farm, despite all of its hardships and challenges. She feels welcomed by the Cunningham family who values and cherishes her far more than her own rather remote and cold parents, and the work is rewarding.

She even finds her interest piqued by the brooding, attractive Tam, the son of the neighbouring farmer, and a sweet romance between them slowly blossoms. But even in the barren hills, they can’t avoid the hell of war, and as local men start disappearing off to fight at the Front, Jeannie’s idyllic life starts to crumble.

Those left behind try desperately to keep the home fires burning, but then Jeannie makes one devastating decision which changes the course of her and Tam’s lives forever.

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Extract From God’s Acre – Dee Yates

3. For Sale January 2002

Liz can’t believe her luck when she sees the ‘For Sale’ sign attached drunkenly to the front gate. It is unclear from the dilapidated state of the cottage whether its most recent resident is living in a similar state of neglect or has given up the unequal battle and departed to pastures new, either in this world or the next. What is clear is that the cottage, whatever its current decrepit appearance, has the best view in the village. And although Liz has often heard quoted the maxim ‘Never buy a house for the view’, she feels certain that, in this case, there will be a queue of would-be purchasers.

The estate agent seems taken aback by the speed of her response. He agrees to show her round and they arrange a time and a day.

When, two days later, she steps into the cottage she sees that the description of it being ‘in need of some modernisation’ is no exaggeration. But she is not put off by the paucity of rooms – two in fact, with what is little more than a corridor squeezed between, quaintly described in the brochure as a galley kitchen. The meagre space of the cooking area is further depleted by a rusty metal ladder that leads up into the attic. Liz peers up the ladder and is met by darkness and a cold draught of musty air.

A row of blackened pans hang from hooks beneath a shelf running the length of the kitchen. On it are ranged baking trays, rusting metal biscuit tins, jars and containers of various sizes, a glass demijohn, furry with grey dust, and a set of weighing scales, their copper surface tarnished and dull. It seems to Liz as though she has stepped back several decades into the kind of house beloved of museum curators. A stone sink stands in the corner beneath a small window and, next to it, an electric cooker. On the floor, linoleum, cracked and lifting round the edges, reveals glimpses of the stone floor beneath. All that is needed, she thinks, is the model of a cook, in a black dress, frilly apron and starched hat, standing uncomfortably angled at the stove, wooden spoon poised over a never-boiling double pan of hollandaise sauce. Although, she realises, even as she imagines it, that a maid of that generation would not have had the advantage of electricity. This amenity has been listed with others as contributing to part of the cottage’s ‘modernisation’. Looking up at the metal lampshade suspended from a frayed twist of wire, Liz considers the word overstated.

‘I hope the owner doesn’t mind us looking round when she’s out,’ she says, seeing the further signs of habitation in the stained tea towel on a hook beneath the window and a greasy oven glove hanging by its side. She turns to Kenneth Mackie, the young man from the estate agent’s, who has ventured no further than the front door. He sniffs.

‘“She” was a “he”, actually. I believe the old chap died, so I’m sure he won’t mind you looking round.’

‘Oh, I’d no idea.’ She scans the room, seeing it with new eyes. ‘Did he live here long?’

‘I believe so.’

‘It doesn’t look as though he had many visitors. That’s sad.’

Her companion glances at his watch. ‘Perhaps you would like to see the rest of the cottage.’ His voice is bland, disinterested. It is clear that he has no opinion on the previous resident, dead or otherwise, or the property in his charge.

‘Yes… yes please.’ Liz follows him into the bedroom. It’s sparsely furnished, but the heavy, old-fashioned pieces fill the space. The bed is situated within a recess, where it can be closed off with a curtain. The curtain has been pulled back and hooked behind a chair and the bedcovers are crumpled, as though someone has been lying on top of them. This intimacy comes as a shock to Liz. She glances towards the door, eager to leave the room and look elsewhere.

The living room is a little more welcoming. In it, she can picture the old man going about his tasks. He must have been very old, she thinks, given the antiquity of the furniture. His favourite chair is drawn up to the fireplace. Ashes lie cold in the grate and litter the hearth. On a rag rug, down-at-heel slippers wait for their departed owner. A naked light bulb hangs from the centre of the ceiling. Against the wall opposite the fireplace stands a bookcase, stuffed with volumes in identical orange-brown covers and with indecipherable titles. A small sash window adorned with cobwebs rations the light entering the room. She walks over to it, examining the deep recess with its eighteen-inch-thick walls. Hopefully, these will keep out the chill of winter.

On the windowsill is propped a solitary photograph. It is sepia and blotted with age. Liz steps up to it slowly and stares at the smiling girl with a frizz of hair encircling her face. She is standing in a field and holds a bucket in one hand, a rake in the other. Around her and in the distance are sheep. But the girl has eyes only for the view in front of her. She is looking not at the photographer but to one side. The young face is radiant. But it is not this that causes her heart to leap. It is the familiarity of the image in front of her.

It is a photo of Liz’s own mother.

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

My Thoughts…

Told from several points of view, from a historical and current day perspective, ‘God’s Acre’ creates a vivid picture of life in rural Scotland during World War 2 and in the twenty-first century. It ‘s a story of coming of age, working in the Land Army and finding out that love and family are not always bound by blood.

Jeannie is a free spirit, she is clever, but is not allowed to follow the same educational path as her brothers. Her clergyman father feels she should help in his parish, but she wants independence and freedom. Joining the Land Army means living in a rural setting, but the people are friendly and she finds she fits. Meeting Tam is love at first sight, but he is troubled and she is young and naive and it seems their love story is doomed to fail.

Liz knows little of her mother’s background when she visits the Scottish village her mother often talked about. Finding a cottage for sale, she visits and finds a tenuous connection. She buys the cottage and tries to rebuild her life and discover what she can about her mother’s past.

The historical viewpoints of this story are poignant and page turning, there is so much heartache, but a real sense of family. Jeannie is a lovely woman but so naive and this flaw in her character changes her whole life.

Believable, complex characters drive this story forward and make it an excellent read. The setting is full of visual imagery and you can imagine what working on the farm at this time was like for Jeannie. The mystery of Jeannie is revealed in a letter to her daughter, it is full of sadness and transparency and underlines the heartbreaking waste, caused by misunderstanding and the inability to trust. Despite this, the ending is hopeful for Liz in the present day and ends this lovely story in a satisfying way.

Born and brought up in the south of England, the eldest girl of nine children, Dee moved north to Yorkshire to study medicine. She remained there, working in well-woman medicine and general practice and bringing up her three daughters. She retired slightly early at the end of 2003, in order to start writing, and wrote two books in the next three years. In 2007 she moved further north, to the beautiful Southern Uplands of Scotland. Here she fills her time with her three grandsons, helping in the local museum, the church and the school library, walking, gardening and reading. She writes historical fiction, poetry and more recently non-fiction. Occasionally she gets to compare notes with her youngest sister Sarah Flint who writes crime with blood-curdling descriptions which make Dee want to hide behind the settee.

Posted in Book Review, Historical Fiction, Romance

A Dangerous Act of Kindness – 4* #Review – L.P.Fergusson @canelo_co @LPFergusson #HistoricalFiction #Romance #PublicationDay

What would you risk for a complete stranger?

When widow Milly Sanger finds injured enemy pilot Lukas Schiller on her farm, the distant war is suddenly at her doorstep. Compassionate Milly knows he’ll be killed if discovered and makes the dangerous decision to offer him shelter from the storm.

On opposite sides of the inescapable conflict, the two strangers forge an unexpected and passionate bond. But as the snow thaws, the relentless fury of World War Two forces them apart, leaving only the haunting memories of what they shared, and an understanding that their secret must never see light.

As Milly’s dangerous act of kindness sets them on paths they never could have expected, those closest to them become their greatest threats, and the consequences of compassion prove deadly…

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

My Thoughts…

An interesting historical fiction book set in WW2, England. The fear of invasion is on everyone’s minds at this time and the fate a German airman crashing to earth if he survives is understandably precarious.

Milly, guilt-ridden over the death of her husband, doesn’t want to help but she sees a fellow human in need of care and lets her humanity rule her head. What follows, is intense, suspenseful and ultimately heartbreaking for the young woman, but the threat of repercussions last for the duration of the war.

The forbidden romance aspect of this story is poignant and sensual. Milly acts from the heart and out of loneliness but also with courage. Lukas wants to fly, but he doesn’t understand the consequences of his youthful choice for many years.

The story spans five years of war and explores what it is like for the rural communities trying to feed Britain, the Londoners bombed and the children evacuated to the relative safety of the countryside. Military intelligence, prisoners of war camps and Britain’s population’s perception of the war, Germans and those who helped them is an important theme of this book.

The bond between Lukas and Milly connects all events in the story, it affects both their lives and happiness in unforeseen ways. They are complex and in many respects tragic characters. Like all the characters in this story, they are authentic and allow the reader to glimpse what Britain at war was like.

The plot is detailed and spans many Britain at war themes. The historical information and imagery make the characters’ actions and motives realistic and the story engages the reader’s emotions as they turn the pages.

My only criticism is that I find it a little slow in parts, but it is an enjoyable yet heartbreaking read. The ending implies rather than shows hope for the future and it is beautifully written.

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

Hetty’s Secret War- Rosie Clarke- #blogtour #4* #Review – #extract @Aria_Fiction @AnneHerries #WW2 #Historical Fiction #Romance

In 1939, with the world on the brink of war, one woman faces a future more uncertain than she had ever imagined…

Georgie – when the man she has always loved is sent to France on a secret war office mission every knock of the door fills her with dread of it being the feared telegram boy…

Beth – orphaned as a child, Beth is coming of age and determined to do her bit for the war effort. Caught up in a whirlwind romance, she marries only to become a war widow….and one expecting a baby who will never know his brave father. Can she find happiness again?

Hetty – desperately trying to make her way back from Paris to her beloved family in England, a fateful and tragic encounter brings Hetty to Chateau de Faubourg where she joins the resistance and risks both her heart and her life fighting for charismatic resistance leader Stefan Lefarge…

However dark the times, courage, determination and the power of friendship can overcome the hardships of war.

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

My Thoughts…

This is the third book in the ‘Women at War’ series, for those readers, like me who haven’t read the previous two books, there is a comprehensive summary at the beginning of the book, with character details and significant events explained and noted.

The story reads well as a standalone, but the characters are complex and the previous storylines intriguing, so that I wish I’d read the whole series. There is a distinctive writing style, in keeping with the time period and some of the dialogue seems a little stilted, but you get used to this, as the characters are believable and easy to like and the plot has many twists.

There is a satisfying balance of action, angst, historical detail and surprisingly sensual romance in this story. Focused primarily on Hetty as she fights a secret war in occupied France, the story also features, Georgie, Beth and to a lesser extent Annabel and Jessie, characters featured in more detail in previous books. Hetty’s story is exciting and shows her character development well.

The plot is interesting and well-paced and the characters are authentic to the time period but endear themselves quickly to the reader, so you become absorbed in their stories and want them to find happiness and peace as World War Two draws to a close.

An enjoyable, historical read, with notable characters and an intriguing plot.

Extract From Hetty’s Secret War

‘War imminent! Children evacuated from London!’

Beth shivered as she heard the strident tones of the newspaper boy standing outside the railway station. She’d had to change trains in London and, having an hour to spare, had gone for a quick shopping trip. Now she saw that the station was crowded. A party of young children were being herded at one end by a harassed-looking woman, who was obviously in charge of getting them to their destination in the country. But most of the travellers appeared to be young men; several of them dressed in army uniforms. Some were saying goodbye to family or girlfriends; others were obviously together and in a boisterous mood.

As she watched them jostling and shoving each other in a good-natured manner, she wondered if one or two had been drinking a little too much. Or perhaps it was a mixture of excitement and nerves. One of them had noticed her glance their way and a loud wolf whistle made her turn her head aside, her cheeks pink.

It wasn’t the first time she’d been whistled at, but being a reserved girl, except with her close friends, she didn’t particularly care for it and decided to make sure she entered a different carriage to the one picked by the party of boisterous young men.

When the train arrived, Beth chose a carriage already occupied by a woman and teenage boy and another young man, who was dressed in the uniform of an army officer. He didn’t look at her as she sat down and Beth settled herself to read a magazine she had bought. However, the train had a corridor rather than being individual closed carriages and she heard the laughter of the noisy young men as they made their way along the train but thankfully bypassed her carriage.

‘Terrible news, isn’t it?’ the woman sitting opposite said to Beth, obliging her to lower her magazine. ‘All those children being evacuated. I shouldn’t want my Marcus to be shipped off to strangers like that. I’m taking him to my sister’s and I’m going to stay put until all this nonsense is over.’

‘I think that’s a good idea,’ Beth said. ‘But I think you may be in for a long visit.’

‘Oh, don’t say that!’ the woman exclaimed. ‘My husband says once they get to grips with the Germans it will all be over in a matter of months. He joined up a couple of days ago, but he’s sure he’ll be home for Christmas. That’s what Daddy said, isn’t it, Marcus?’

‘I want to go and fight the Germans,’ the lad said, giving her a mutinous look. ‘Don’t want to stay with Auntie Peggy.’

‘You’ll like it when you get there. It’s nice in the country.’ She nodded at Beth. ‘Ask that young lady – it’s nice in the country, isn’t it?’

‘I like it,’ Beth replied, eyeing the sullen lad doubtfully. ‘You’ll enjoy exploring and climbing trees, I dare say.’

His mother looked horrified. ‘For goodness’ sake, don’t put ideas in his head. Climbing trees are much too dangerous.’

‘Want to go to the toilet,’ Marcus said. ‘And I feel sick.’

‘You went before we came,’ his harassed mother said and frowned at him. ‘I suppose I’d better take you.’ She looked at Beth. ‘Would you mind keeping an eye on my parcels? I don’t want to cart them all the way to the toilet and back.’

‘Yes, of course,’ Beth said and smiled as she went out.

She happened to glance at the man in army uniform sitting opposite and he grinned at her. ‘I wouldn’t be in her shoes,’ he said. ‘That young chap has been spoiled if you ask me.’

‘Yes, I think he has,’ Beth agreed and looked down at her magazine. She was just beginning to get interested in one of the articles when the door was thrust back and three of the noisy young men she had noticed on the platform entered.

‘Don’t mind if we sit here, do you, darlin’?’ one of them asked with a cheeky grin.

‘Two of the seats are taken,’ Beth said, ‘but there are two available.’

‘Thanks, darlin’,’ the soldier replied. ‘That means you’re out, Charlie. Get orf down the train and we’ll see yer later, mate.’

‘Who are you givin’ yer orders?’ the other replied, but seeing that neither of his friends were about to oblige by giving up the seats they had taken, he scowled and went out.

The soldier with the cheeky grin had chosen to sit next to Beth, his companion sitting in the corner near the door. She felt the pressure of the soldier’s warm body as he deliberately pressed his thigh up against hers. She resisted looking at him, returning to her magazine, although it was only a pretence now because she was conscious of the leering looks the soldier was sending her way.

‘All on your own then, darlin’?’ he asked. ‘Me and me mates are on our way to Torquay. We’ve got a couple of days leave before we join our units see – going to make the most of our time if you get my meaning?’

‘Really,’ Beth said, her heart sinking as she realised that she would have to endure his presence all the way home. ‘That will be nice for you.’

‘Yeah – find ourselves a few girls, have a bevvy or two,’ he said. ‘Do you come from round there, darlin’?’

Rosie is happily married and lives in a quiet village in East Anglia. Writing books is a passion for Rosie, she also likes to read, watch good films and enjoys holidays in the sunshine. She loves shoes and adores animals, especially squirrels and dogs.  
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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Family Drama, Romantic Comedy

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm – Julie Houston -Guest Post -Extract- 5* #Review- @Aria_Fiction @JulieHouston2

Charlie Maddison loves being an architect in London, but when she finds out her boyfriend, Dominic, is actually married, she runs back to the beautiful countryside of Westenbury and her parents.

Charlie’s sister Daisy, a landscape gardener, is also back home in desperate need of company and some fun. Their great-grandmother, Madge – now in her early nineties – reveals she has a house, Holly Close Farm, mysteriously abandoned over sixty years ago, and persuades the girls to project manage its renovation.

As work gets underway, the sisters start uncovering their family’s history, and the dark secrets that are hidden at the Farm.

 A heart-breaking tale of wartime romance, jealousy and betrayal slowly emerge, but with a moral at its end: true love can withstand any obstacle, and, before long, Charlie dares to believe in love again too…

Buy links:

Amazon UK

Kobo

iBooks

Google Play

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

My Thoughts…

Romantic love is often considered something you can only have when you’re young. Can you imagine your grandmother or great-grandmother falling in love, or do you just see the wrinkles, hear the repetitive stories and remember her forgetfulness?

Charlie reeling from a romantic betrayal finds that her great-grandmother Madge has kept so many secrets in her long life, including finding her true love, and the web of betrayal, deceit and secrets that this event spun.

Madge offers Charlie and her sister Daisy a chance to shine when they seem to be failing at life. Accepting the challenge takes the sisters on a journey of self -discovery and the revelation of Madge’s colourful past.

Told in dual timelines, which makes the story doubly interesting, you see parallels and differences between the two generations of women. There is a lovely balance of humour and poignancy. The romance is sweet and the story inspiring.

Literary agents – do writers today need one? – Guest Post-Julie Houston

When I started out on the long – and often winding – road to becoming a published writer, I’d no idea what the role of a literary agent actually was, never mind about how to go about getting one. I just knew that, according to all the self-help handbooks that I bought and loaned from the public library, I had to have one. This was about seven years ago when it was drummed into all new writers that agents were akin to St Peter at the gates of heaven. They held the key to whether you were going to be allowed in to get anywhere near the God-like publisher.

I’m not going to go into how one should go about achieving that status of being an ‘agented writer’ – countless detailed words of advice and articles have been written on the subject – but I thought I would share with you my own particular journey.

So, I’d written a book. It started off with the title ‘Harriet Westmoreland does it with class’ (Harriet is a teacher) became ‘Living La Dolce Vite’ (her husband spends a lot of time in Italy) then became ‘Compulsive Granite Disorder’ (Harriet, like me, has a bit of a compulsion for cleaning her granite when stressed) and eventually ended up as ‘Goodness Grace and Me.’ The manuscript went off to a string of agents. And came back. In those days, agents would often write little notes as to what they thought, and why it wasn’t for them, along with the rejection slip. I may be wrong, but these days, when online submissions to agents are de rigueur, I’m not sure that happens any more. And then came the glorious, magical week when, like a number 9 bus, three agents, all interested in my book, came along at once.

One, based in London, was originally from Yorkshire and was up for the weekend to see her mum. Could we meet? We most certainly could! And we did, the following Saturday, for coffee and a chat at Salts Mill near Bingley. By the time I left, floating back to the carpark on air, I had signed on the dotted line with Anne Williams of KHLA Literary Agency based in Bristol and London.  I had an agent, a literary agent.

She did warn me that my particular genre – we both disliked and eschewed the handle Chick lit, preferring the more grown-up Romantic Comedy/Women’s Fiction – was not faring too well at that point in time, being overshadowed by the rush for psychological thrillers, and had even printed out an article from The Guardian to that effect.

The beauty of having Anne has an agent has been that she was formerly a commissioning editor for one of the big publishing houses. She had, in effect, been on the other side as it were and, as such, very much knew what editors were looking for and the pitfalls involved in getting there. Within a few weeks, my baby had come back to me tracked in red and, once I’d worked out how tracking actually worked (terrifying to begin with when you’re convinced you’re going to lose all that red work and have to admit it to this new agent) and taken my first tentative steps to adding my own tracking in a garish purple alongside hers, we were on our way.

My agent worked tirelessly to get Goodness, Grace and Me a place with a major publishing house. I was astonished at how few there actually were – this was at the time when even Penguin was amalgamating with Random House – and eventually we made the decision to go it alone. It was a good decision: the book went to #1 in Humour and #64 overall. With the follow-up novels, The One Saving Grace, Looking For Lucy and An Off-Piste Christmas we signed up with White Glove, a publishing division of Amazon for agented-only authors, which would not have been available to me without her. This was a great move: White Glove promoted my books, particularly in Australia, where the first two achieved #1 Humour, and Looking For Lucy went to the top of the charts going to #1 overall.

And then came the offer from Aria. I wrote A Village Affair and Anne brokered a three-book deal with Sarah, one of the lovely commissioning editors at Aria, to include Coming Home to Holly Close Farm and, my work in progress, Sing Me a Secret. While Aria do take un-agented submissions, having my agent at my side along the way has been wonderful. She’s a professional, knows all about contracts and the like and still works with me, tirelessly, with that damned red tracking, telling me off if I’ve written something that might come back to bite me, but also giving praise if something particularly meets with her approval.

Perhaps the best thing about my agent is that, after seven years, I consider her a friend. She’ll meet up with me for coffee or lunch when I’m down in London, has been over for supper at my house when she’s been back in Yorkshire and always gets back to me straight away if I email with some thorny question about publication or needing advice about where my work in progress is heading.

Many, many, successful, published authors go it alone without an agent What I would say is, if you do find an agent interested in working with you and offer to take you on to their books, go for it.

The road to publication is so much more comfortable with that agent by your side to hold your hand and share in your success.

Extract

‘Auntie Madge?’

Granny peered closely at the woman, scrutinising her features for clues as to who she might be.

‘I’m sorry…?’

‘It’s Harriet,’ the woman smiled a little nervously. ‘Lydia’s granddaughter.’

‘My Lydia? My sister, Lydia?’ Madge seemed puzzled.

‘Oh,’ Mum said. ‘You’re Keturah’s daughter?’ She turned to Madge. ‘It’s one of Keturah’s daughters, Granny. You know. Gosh, Harriet, I’ve not seen you for years.’ She paused. ‘It must have been at Aunt Lydia’s funeral, what, ten years ago?’

Daisy and I exchanged looks. Blimey, how many more grannies and aunties were there? They seemed to be coming out of the woodwork at an amazing rate. I was totally lost as to who they all were.

‘Lydia’s been dead twelve years now,’ Harriet said, reaching for the bundle of baby from the younger woman as it began to make snuffling noises.

‘My great-aunt Lydia was your Granny Madge’s older sister,’ Mum explained, pulling up a chair for Harriet and the baby. ‘She was quite a bit older than you wasn’t she, Granny?’

‘Oh, yes, much older. There were five of us: Lydia was the eldest and I was the youngest. There was a good twelve years between us. By the time I was eight or nine, Lydia was newly married and living over towards Colnefirth.’

‘I’m trying to work out how we’re all related,’ I said, smiling at the younger woman, who was looking as perplexed as I felt.

‘Oh, sorry, how rude of me.’ Harriet laughed. ‘This is my daughter, Liberty… Libby.’

‘So, you girls and Liberty must be eighth cousins loads of times removed then. Sorry, can’t work it all out,’ Mum smiled. ‘I was never very good at maths.’

‘We’re vaguely related. Probably best if we leave it at that.’ Liberty grinned at Daisy and Me. ‘Oh, and this is Lysander.’ She took the baby back from her mother and pointed him proudly in our direction.

‘Lysander? Golly, that’s a good strong noble name,’ I said. ‘What’s that song we used to sing at school? Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules; Of Hector and Lysander diddle um tum diddle iddle um…Sorry, can’t remember the rest.’

‘“The British Grenadiers”,’ Granny Madge tutted crossly before launching loudly and tunefully into song: ‘But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare, With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadier.’

The old chap who, up until then, had been nodding peacefully in his armchair in the far corner of the residents’ lounge, suddenly shot out of his chair, saluted Granny, shouted, ‘Damn good soldiers. Bless ’em all,’ and then, just as suddenly, sat back down and began to snore loudly.

‘Silly old fool,’ Granny Madge tutted again. ‘I tell you, they’re all mad in here. I need to get out before I become as crackers as they are. I’m sure it must be catching.’

Julie Houston is the author of THE ONE SAVING GRACE, GOODNESS, GRACE AND ME and LOOKING FOR LUCY, a Kindle top 100 general bestsellers and a Kindle #1 bestseller. She is married, with two teenage children and a mad cockerpoo and, like her heroine, lives in a West Yorkshire village. She is also a teacher and a magistrate. Twitter Facebook