Tempted By… The Book Reviewing Mum: The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne

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Opening up to a new future…

The life Olivia Harper always dreamed of isn’t so dreamy these days. The long work days are unfulfilling, as is her relationship with her on-again, off-again boyfriend. So when her estranged mother, Juliet, has an accident Olivia heads home to Sea Glass Cottage. Here she can clear her head and help her mother look after her orphaned niece Caitlin.

Cape Sanctuary is a beautiful town, but one that holds painful memories for Olivia, Juliet and Caitlin Harper. But as Olivia tries to balance her own needs with those of her injured mother and her resentful fifteen-year-old niece, it becomes clear that all three Harper women have been keeping heartbreaking secrets from one another.
Surrounded by her family and friends, including her best friend’s brother, and local fire chief, Cooper Vance, Olivia finds happiness can come at life’s most unexpected moments.

Today’s Tempted By… is from a blog that I have only been following for a few months, but it has quickly become one of my favourites. I am so glad I found The Book Reviewing Mum and she has already enticed me to buy The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne via this fabulous review.

I have to admit, that I was already captivated by this book as soon as I saw the title and the cover. I love sea glass and I absolutely love the cover of this book, it is so pretty, and I want to know what is going on inside that secluded little cottage, hidden in the wood, don’t you?

Once I got into reading the review, I was 100% sold. It sounds like it contains all the elements I love in a romance novel, and Lynne gave it a most definite five stars, which is a good enough endorsement for me. I have really enjoyed escaping into some heart-warming romance novels during the current situation, I think they are the perfect antidote to everything else that is going on outside, and this one sounds like an episode of The Gilmore Girls in a novel, so I am hoping that is the vibe I get once I dive in.

If you haven’t discovered Lynne’s blog yet, which you may not have as she’s only been blogging since March, make sure you go over there and give her some support and love. Although her blog is quite new, she has managed to pack an impressive amount into that short period, and her posts are fun and chatty, she always seem cheery and upbeat and enthusiastic, and will make you feel that way too. Look, she managed to reel in this jaded old blogger with one of her first reviews! You can find her lovely blog here.

And if you feel like grabbing your own copy of The Sea Glass Cottage after reading Lynne’s review, you can buy it here.

Blog Tour: The Pupil by Ros Carne #BookReview

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She wants to learn everything – about you.

Mel has practised law for twenty years. She is well-regarded by her peers. Her clients are happy. But behind the scenes her life is disordered. Her son grows increasingly distant from her. The married man she is sleeping with fails to give her what she needs.

When a trainee lawyer is allocated to Mel it is poor timing. The last thing she wants is a pupil watching her every move. And Natasha does watch. She sees each detail – and every mistake. Mel cannot shake the feeling that Natasha isn’t just learning the job. She is learning Mel.

Natasha is good at getting what she wants, and now Mel has the power to give her all she desires. But when Mel chooses not to, Natasha knows just what Mel’s vulnerabilities are – and how to turn them against her. Mel’s secrets could ruin her. But who will be believed?

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Pupil by Ros Carne. My thanks to Emma Welton at damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part, and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I love any book set in the legal world, so I was really looking forward to this and it did not disappoint. There was a great mix of detail about legal matters, and the personal stories of the two protagonists, Mel and Natasha, to give me everything I was looking for.

The story is told in the alternating voices of the two women, although slightly more weight is given to Mel’s voice, and it seems like we are supposed to sympathise more with her predicament than Natasha’s, but not everything is that straight forward, which makes for a gripping story. Although Natasha seems to be manipulative and a schemer, Mel is not a saint herself, as we soon find out.

Mel has a messy life, which I am sure many of us can relate to, trying to juggle a demanding job with relationships and motherhood, especially of a son in those difficult, mid-teen years where they are the cusp of adulthood but not quite there yet. On top of this, she is given charge of a pupil to teach, an added strain she doesn’t want or need, particularly when there is a personality clash.

I could feel the strain taking its toll on Mel throughout the book, and the author also develops Natasha as a menacing and noxious presence in Mel’s life. At the same time, Natasha has her own history and problems that have shaped her behaviour so, despite everything, I did manage to retain a small shred of sympathy for her. This clever balancing of light and shade in each character means that the readers feelings swing from side to side along with the plot and, like a jury, the verdict is out until the end of the book.

I enjoyed the final ‘showdown’ very much and, for me, the ending worked really well, although I think there may be some who would wish that it had ended differently and more dramatically. However, this seemed to be a more honest and likely ending than one that was engineered just for effect. All in all, I was very satisfied with this read and the way it all came out. Interesting premise and characters and enough tension and exciting events to keep the reader interested throughout. Highly recommended.

The Pupil is out now as an ebook and will be published in paperback on 13 August, and you can get your copy here.

Make sure to check out the rest of the fantastic blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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Ros Carne was born in London, and following university she worked in magazine and newspaper journalism including as a theatre critic on the Guardian. She later retrained as a barrister, practising for 13 years before moving to a university teaching job. She has two adult sons and enjoys playing the violin. Ros now lives in Somerset where she writes full time.

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Book Review: Strangeways by Neil Samworth; Narrated by Jonathan Keeble #AudiobookReview

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A jaw-dropping account of life as a prison officer in one of the country’s most notorious jails. 

Neil ‘Sam’ Samworth spent 11 years working as a prison officer in HMP Manchester, aka Strangeways. A tough Yorkshireman with a soft heart, Sam had to deal with it all – gangsters and gangbangers, terrorists and psychopaths, addicts and the mentally ill. Men who should not be locked up and men who should never be let out. 

Strangeways is a shocking and at times darkly funny account of life in a high-security prison. Sam tackles cell fires and self-harmers and goes head to head with some of the most dangerous men in the country. He averts a Christmas Day riot after turkey is taken off the menu and replaced by fish curry and stands up to officers who abuse their position. He describes being attacked by prisoners and reveals the problems caused by radicalisation and the drugs flooding our prisons. 

As staffing cuts saw Britain’s prison system descend into crisis, the stress of the job – the suicides, the inhumanity of the system and one assault too many – left Sam suffering from PTSD. This raw, searingly honest memoir is a testament to the men and women of the prison service and the incredibly difficult job we ask them to do.

When I was in the final year of my law degree, I wrote a dissertation for my Criminology module on the treatment of prisoners with mental health issues by the criminal justice system. To help in my research, my boyfriend’s father (eventually to become my father-in-law), who was then Governor of HMP Lincoln, took me to the prison so I could interview their resident medical professionals and access material in the prison service library. He also gave me a tour. I never expected it to look like the set of Porridge, but it did, except a lot less fun. I have never been in such an intimidating place in my life, before or since, and the impressions it left on me are still with me 25+ years later.

I now have a couple of other friends and family members who work within the prison service, and hearing stories of their working lives brings back those impressions, and this audiobook did the same thing. Anyone who thinks that prison life is cushy, for either inmates or staff, needs to read or listen to this book, and their illusions will immediately be shattered.

Neil Samworth is a man after my own heart, a no nonsense Yorkshireman the like of whom anyone who spends any time in our beautiful county will have come across, and his writing is presented in the same fashion. The narrative is blunt and honest and pulls no punches and I found it absolutely fascinating, horrifying and upsetting in equal measure. He starts with some background into his life and career before he enters the prison service (which made me think our paths may have crossed during my visits to Hanrahan’s in Sheffield during my youth!) which is a useful grounding to get to know him and understand his perspective when he begins to talk about Strangeways.

Everyone has heard of this prison, it is notorious, particularly for the riots which occurred before the author’s time there. It is an old prison, one of those we imagine how prison is, if and when we ever think about it. Lincoln prison was the same, not one of the new, recently purpose built facilities and I think this is important, as it reflects the way they are run and the way the prisoners are managed and behave, and Samworth touches on this in his book. He is extremely honest about the conditions, the prisoners, the officers and management, and the Government management and funding of prisons over the years. I found his bluntness about every aspect of the service, criticisms of all sides where due, refreshing and believable. If you really want an insight into the Prison Service, here it is. It certainly chimed with everything I had already seen and heard from people I know who worked inside.

There are parts of this book that will break your heart, particularly for the people who have to work in this difficult environment, with some truly awful people and in terrible circumstances day after day. They, on the whole, deserve our attention, care, respect and thanks for what they do. You need to listen to books like this, and then ask yourself if you would be prepared to do this job, to deal with the things they have to deal with day after day and what it would cost to entice you to do it. Then ask if these people are suitably cared for and rewarded. You may well be surprised at how you feel afterwards.

The book isn’t a story as such, the narrative is a little disjointed and it is sometimes hard to see why it was ordered the way it was, but if you can get past that, it is definitely worthy of your attention. I have to warn you, there is quite a lot of slang and swearing in the book, violence, drug use and some extremely unpleasant episodes. That is the truth of life behind bars for everyone involved, unfortunately. I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator was absolutely perfect for the text, I would highly recommend the audio version.

Strangeways is out now in all formats and you can buy it here.

About the Author

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Neil Samworth worked as a prison officer in Strangeways, now HM Prison Manchester, for eleven years between 2005 and 2016, before an unprovoked attack by a prisoner left him physically injured and suffering from PTSD. His book Strangeways: My Life as a Prison Officer consists of his diary from this period.

Connect with Neil:

Twitter: @SamworthNeil

Instagram: @samworthneil1

 

Friday Night Drinks with….Jen Gilroy

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Wow, it’s been a scorcher here today! How about where you are? I think it is time to relax in the garden as the evening cools, with a nice glass of something icy and an interesting friend to chat to, so I’m delighted to be joined on the blog for Friday Night Drinks this week by author….Jen Gilroy.

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Welcome to the blog, Jen, and thank you for being with me on this glorious evening. First things first, what are you drinking? 

A chilled glass of pink zinfandel, a rosé wine from California’s Sonoma Valley. With its crisp strawberry flavour, it’s the perfect summertime tipple and also brings back lovely memories of a holiday in that area.

Sounds delicious, I will give that a try too. If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Since moving to Canada from England five years ago, I live in a small town in rural Eastern Ontario and ‘Friday Night Drinks’ isn’t as big a part of the culture here as it is in the UK. Instead, and to start a night out, I’d take you to our local ice cream stand, a favourite gathering spot on summer evenings. Serving an array of frozen sweet treats, this miniature red-roofed barn has been a community fixture and popular summer gathering place for several generations. 

That sounds absolutely lovely. I’ve always wanted to visit Canada, and it sounds like a fabulous community you live in. If you could invite two famous people, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Such a tough question and so difficult to choose only two! However, because we’re chatting about all things bookish I’d invite Margaret Atwood (born in 1939) and Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). 

Both have influenced me in writing and life and indeed Atwood has noted that Alcott’s most famous heroine, Jo March (from Little Women) shaped her own development as a writer. 

Although from much different times, Alcott and Atwood are strong and inspirational women so I expect we’d have an interesting (and lively) conversation about books, women’s rights and roles in society, and perennial issues facing women as well as women writers. 

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

My next release, A Wish in Irish Falls, will be out in September and I’ve just finished checking the proof copy. It’s the second book in my Wishing Tree series but both books also stand alone. As a contracted book, I started writing it last summer and sent the full manuscript to my editor just before Christmas 2019 so have been working on edits since then. 

Set in a small Irish-American town with a wishing tree where ‘sometimes happily ever after is only a wish away,’ I’m excited about sharing the book with existing as well as new readers. 

Although it’s a romance novel, it’s also story about second chances in life, family and finding home too. With its wishing tree, a special tree believed to make wishes come true, the book has echoes of Ireland (one of my favourite places) and Irish tradition, and the veterinarian hero once lived in Ireland so has a hint of an Irish accent.  

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When you wish on a wishing tree, you don’t always get what you want. If you’re very lucky, you get something even better . . .

When Tara Lynch’s husband was killed on military duty, her happily ever after died too. Although she still wishes on her hometown wishing tree, she’s no longer certain it makes dreams come true. All Tara wants is to somehow move forward without the love and family of her own she’d counted on.

Walker Cavanagh’s the new veterinarian in town. After his fiancée’s death in a car accident he’s sure was his fault, he won’t get close to another woman to get hurt, or hurt her. As for wishes, they won’t bring back his lost love.

Yet, as Tara and Walker work together on a fundraising event to train service dogs for veterans, they find they have more in common than they think—and are soon more than a little hot and bothered.

With some wishing tree magic, can Tara and Walker face their biggest fears and open their hearts to each other . . . and find a new beginning in Irish Falls?

You had me at, ‘Irish!’ I, too, love Ireland and, as my OH can tell you, can be seduced by a hint of an Irish accent. What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

Although achieving publication after many years of working towards that goal was a special and proud moment, more meaningful to me is hearing from readers that something I’ve written has resonated with and helped them, especially at a difficult time in their lives. Irrespective of the number of books I publish or anything else I achieve in my writing career, that kind of reader feedback means the world to me and also helps me keep going when the ‘crows of doubt’ circle. 

As a published author, my biggest challenge is reaching readers (although I’m most grateful for book bloggers like you who make that challenge easier) combined with navigating the ever-changing publishing landscape.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

My first book was published in 2017 so my ‘big goal’ is made up of several smaller ones all focused on building a long-term writing career. I want to keep growing my craft as a writer, develop my readership and still be writing books that touch readers’ hearts for many years to come. 

What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?

Alongside contemporary romance, I’ve also started to write dual timeline novels with historical and contemporary strands and am excited to be challenging my writing ‘muscles’ in new directions. 

Since these stories necessitate historical research, I’m also enjoying exploring primary sources (using research skills I developed as a long-ago postgraduate student) and reading more historical fiction. 

I adore a dual timeline novel, so I look forward to seeing that. I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

Given current circumstances and so many closed borders, I’d be happy to travel anywhere at the moment! In terms of favourite places that I’ve visited often, I can’t decide between North Norfolk (where I’ve had many happy family holidays) and the Wild Atlantic Way on Ireland’s west coast. 

As for at the top of my bucket list, I’d love to visit New Zealand and, closer to home, Canada’s Arctic. 

It sounds like you and I have very similar tastes in travel destinations. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.

My right foot is almost a full size bigger than my left one so buying shoes (which I love) has always been challenging. In order to make the right shoe fit, I have to stuff the left one with insoles. For that reason, I rarely wear open-toed shoes. 

Wow, that’s tricky! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

I’ve just reread Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey (which won the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2016) and continue to tell everyone how fabulous it is. 

Since I can’t ever stop at just one book recommendation, and to add a bit of Canadian fiction to the mix, I’d also suggest The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Although Montgomery is best known as the author of Anne of Green Gables, The Blue Castle is one of her few books for adults. With a gorgeous fairy tale quality, it’s my book equivalent of a hot water bottle on a cold night and my go-to comfort read.  

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1943, in the ruins of Blitzed London…

Stella Thorne and Dan Rosinski meet by chance and fall in love by accident. Theirs is a reluctant, unstoppable affair in which all the odds are stacked against them: she is newly married, and he is an American bomber pilot whose chance of survival is just one in five.

He promised to love her forever

Seventy years later Dan makes one final attempt to find the girl he has never forgotten, and sends a letter to the house where they shared a brief yet perfect happiness. But Stella has gone, and the letter is opened by Jess, a young girl hiding from problems of her own. And as Jess reads Dan’s words, she is captivated by the story of a love affair that burned so bright and dimmed too soon. Can she help Dan find Stella before it is too late?

So many people rave about Iona’s book, I must pluck it from the TBR shelf soon! I am a huge fan of L.M. Montgomery. So, after our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

A perfect weekend for me would include uninterrupted time to read, a bookshop browse, Sunday lunch with my family and a country walk. In a perfect (non-pandemic) world, I’d also like to squeeze in a cinema trip or visit to a museum, gallery or historic property. 

That’s sound busy but fun. Thank you so much for joining me on the blog tonight, Jen, it has been a huge pleasure to chat to you and I wish you great luck with the new book.

The first book in the Wishing Tree series by Jen Gilroy is called The Wishing Tree in Irish Falls is available now and you can buy a copy here. The second book, A Wish in Irish Fallswill be published on 16 September.

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Sometimes happily ever after is only a wish away . . .

There’s a wishing tree in Irish Falls. The bits of paper tied to its gnarled branches hold the hopes and dreams of everyone in town . . . except Annie Quinn.

Single mom Annie has spent years rebuilding her life and trying not to have regrets. After giving up her dream of music stardom, she returned to her Adirondack hometown—and convinced herself she’s content with a simpler life.

The last thing she needs is a man to remind her of the heartbreak she left behind.

A divorced dad, Seth Taggart used to be a successful LA songwriter. But now his reputation is in tatters, he’s burnt-out, and estranged from his adult son. Inheriting a small-town radio station just might be the do-over he needs.

Although he always planned to go back to LA, when working with Annie turns into sharing music and more, Seth realizes second chances—and home—are where he least expects.

Jen Gilroy worked in higher education and international marketing and business development before trading the corporate 9-5 to write contemporary romance and women’s fiction with heart, home and hope.   

After many years living and working in England, she returned to where her roots run deep and lives in a small town in Eastern Ontario, Canada with her husband, teen daughter and a floppy-eared rescue hound. When she’s not writing, Jen enjoys reading, travel, singing and ballet. She’s also known for her love of ice cream, shoes and vintage finds. 

Jen’s first book, The Cottage at Firefly Lake (and first book in her Firefly Lake series), was a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Golden Heart® award in 2015. It was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Joan Hessayon Award 2017. 

She’s a member of RNA and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA).

You can find out more about Jen and her books via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Next week, I will be having Friday Night Drinks with author, Niki Pryce.

Guest Post: 10:59 by N.R. Baker

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A deadly virus. An over-populated world. An impossible decision.

If you held the lives of those around you in your hands, who would you save? And could you live, knowing you had sentenced others to certain death?

Louis Crawford is a boy with a unique ability: to see through the noise to the problems and solutions that others are blind to. When asked to come up with an idea that will change the world, his answer is both shocking and simple. And it is a solution that will change everything, forever.

Louis finds himself thrust into the middle of an organisation that has the power to save the world. But are its motives pure? And can he live with the price that humanity must pay?

The clock is ticking to the end of the world; and we’re already at 10:59.

I am delighted to be featuring 10:59 by N.R. Baker on the blog today to celebrate its publication. Described as “the most important book you’ll read this year. An apocalyptic thriller with a difference, it will have you questioning everything – and everyone – you thought you knew,” it is a book I am really excited about reading. In the meantime, I have a fascinating Q&A that the author did for her publisher to share with you.

Q&A with Niki Baker for Burning Chair Publishing

Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you start writing and why?

I can’t remember starting to write. When my parents moved house and cleared their loft, they discovered some of my early works, written when I was five or six years old. The stories were brief and terrible, but they prove that I’ve always been fascinated with the art of using words to paint pictures.

With no spoilers, tell us a bit about 10:59 and what prompted you to write it.

10:59 is the story of Louis (‘with a wiss, not a wee’): a teenager who has a seemingly unique ability to see things that are invisible to others. When he’s asked to come up with an idea that will change the world, his answer is both shocking and simple. Louis finds himself thrust into the heart of an organisation that has the power to save a planet on the brink of destruction. With time running out, Louis must decide whether his employer’s motives are pure. And he will face an impossible dilemma about the devastating price that humanity must pay for its own salvation.

I was prompted to write 10:59 by what I see happening in the world. I wanted to explore a deliberately controversial scenario based on the facts of our increasingly dystopian existence. I’ve never seen myself as an eco-warrior, nor do I own a soapbox or have a habit of wearing socks with sandals, but I started with the conviction that Louis’s story needed to be told – and told in a way that would be entertaining and accessible for young adults as well as adult readers. In the course of all my research for the book, that conviction has turned into a passionate desire to get people thinking and talking about the greatest taboo of our time.

How did you come up with the inspiration for the story?

Readers will make assumptions about my inspiration for the novel because it features a deadly virus, when in fact I wrote the book two years before the coronavirus pandemic. I had no idea how topical and scary that aspect would turn out to be.

Is Louis-with-a-wiss – the main character in 10:59 – based on anyone you know?

Not directly. Louis wandered into my imagination and introduced himself, and then we got to know each other as I wrote the story. I recognise some of myself in him, and there were a number of scenes where I thought about how my son Connor would react in the same situation, which helped me make sure that Louis’s responses and actions felt real. I think Louis and Connor would get along with each other pretty well.

Tell us about your writing routine and where you tend to write.

What routine? I’m happy to say that my life is a little… unconventional. I’m lucky enough to be able to step outside what most people regard as normal routines, and that means I generally eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired, and write when I’m inspired. I write at my desk, which was situated in Oxfordshire while I wrote the first draft of 10:59. The desk and I have now relocated to France.

How did you find the editing and publication process? (Don’t worry about hurting our feelings – we’ve got thick skins…!)

Very slow, very challenging, and thoroughly rewarding. Writing a full-length novel in the first place is hard, but it’s just the start. Seeing a book all the way through to publication is definitely not for the faint-hearted or the impatient! But at this end of the process I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m proud to be a Burning Chair author. I’m confident that my book is the one I wanted to write and it’s ready to be unleashed on the world. Whether the world is ready for 10:59 remains to be seen, but the feedback from advance readers has been brilliant, so that’s incredibly exciting.

10:59 is a hard-hitting story which includes a number of characters who will stop at nothing to save a world on the brink of irreversible and cataclysmic change. And we’ll be honest it often hits painfully close to home! If you had a magic wand, what one action would you get everyone to take to save the world?

I can’t put it more eloquently than David Attenborough did when he said, “Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, it’s time we controlled the population to allow the survival of the environment.”

What’s next in the pipeline for you?

My pipeline is positively bulging with ideas and half-written stories, which may sound uncomfortable but of course it’s a great affliction for a writer to have. The story I’ve been developing recently starts with the main character falling through the floor of a cave and then… well, you’ll have to wait and see.

QUICK FIRE ROUND (One word answer):

Plotter or pantser?

Pantser.

Pen or keyboard?

Keyboard.

Character or plot?

Plot.

Early bird or night owl?

Owl.

Crossword or Sudoko?

Crossword.

Asking questions or answering questions?

Asking.

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Happy publication day, Niki, I look forward to reading the book for myself soon.

If you would like to get a copy of 10:59 for yourself, it is out today as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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N R Baker loves exploring the world and also the power of words. She spent much of her childhood up a tree in Somerset with her head in a book, either lost in the worlds created by authors like C.S. Lewis, or writing truly awful tales of her own. Since then she has earned recognition for her travel writing, poetry, lyrics, flash fiction and short stories. 10:59 is her first full-length novel. She lives in rural France.

Connect with Niki:

Website: http://nrbakerwriter.com

Facebook: N R Baker Writer

Twitter: @NRBakerWriter

Book Review: The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant #BookReview

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Two women, five centuries apart.

One life-changing secret about to be unearthed.

1538
New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

2019
When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

It is publication day for The Secrets of Saffron Hall by my fellow RNA member, Clare Marchant. Very happy publication day, Clare! My thanks to the publishers for my digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a dual timeline story, following the lives of two women living a quincentenary apart, but with a thread of shared experience that somehow binds them across the centuries. In the early sixteenth century, Eleanor is a young girl, reluctantly married but making a go of her new life at her husband’s grand house in Norfolk, growing saffron to increase his fortunes. It is a time of great upheaval in the country, as Henry VIII enacts the Act of Supremacy and begins to dissolve the monasteries. In current times, Amber has suffered an earth-shattering upheaval of her own, and goes off to hide at her family’s long-time home, Saffron Hall, where her future becomes inextricably linked with Eleanor’s past.

The author handles the dual timeline brilliantly, expertly weaving the two stories together, so it is easy to follow whose story we are in, and how the one is feeding in to the other. She gives both women a strong, defined character and an equally important and well-developed storyline, so the novel feels well balanced and satisfying in both timelines. I was equally invested in the fates of both women, and completely sold on the idea that Amber’s future happiness, in her head at least, depended on her resolving the puzzle of Eleanor’s past.

This novel deals with a very difficult subject matter and, as someone who has been through this experience herself, I found the author dealt with it sensitively and with great understanding and tenderness and honesty. Whilst it did bring back some difficult memories, it left me moved and comforted, rather than distraught, and I would not have wanted to be put off reading it, although I suppose some who have been through the experience more recently and for whom the issue is more raw, may want to proceed with caution.

The author brings the life of the sixteenth century vividly to life in this book, and I became completely lost in the daily existence of Eleanor’s household and her duties and cares. It is a historical period that is rich in happenings and excitement and Clare mines them expertly and cleverly to provide the tension in the book. If you know any of the history of this period, the introduction of one character to the narrative will set alarm bells ringing, and you will be waiting for the fallout to ripple through the narrative. Clare has been very clever with the way she has woven real historical figures with fiction in the text, and I was almost reading the last part of the book from behind a metaphorical cushion, waiting for the inevitable. It is hard to get someone on tenterhooks when they almost feel like they know what is coming, so I take my hat off to this author that she managed it.

This is a vivid, moving, evocative story with a hint of the supernatural, and I absolutely loved it. It is a must-read for fans of the time period, and for a great, dual timeline story. Excellent work.

The Secrets of Saffron Hall is out today in paperback, audio and ebook formats, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Marchant Author

Twitter: @ClareMarchant1

 

 

Guest Post: Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz

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I think we should take it through Guatemala.

A random text from a stranger inspires agoraphobic Colin to leave New York. His first stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender, half-Mayan Luci Bolon, her ancient but feisty great-uncle Ernesto, and Miss Mango, a bright-orange Kubota tractor. Ernesto’s dream is that Miss Mango be driven to Belize and given to the family he left behind nearly seventy years ago. Colin agrees to join Luci on the long journey through Central America.

In 1949, seventeen-year-old Belizean Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to America.

The past and present unfold through two journeys that traverse beautiful landscapes. Painful histories are soothed by new friendships and payments of old debts.

I am delighted today to be featuring on the blog this fascinating sounding book, Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet, although I will have a review of it coming for you a little later in the year. In the meantime, Karen has kindly written a guest post for me to share with you about her love for Belize, the setting of a large part of the novel.

Something About Belize by Karen Winters Schwartz

In all my travels there was something about Belize, Central America that touched me like no other county. The place, its people, its history, and culture went on to inspire much of my writing including my just released, newest novel Legend of the Lost Ass. From my first breath of Belizean air, I was in love with the place. My husband and I bought property and built a house on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Hopkins, Belize nearly 15 years ago.

There are so many reasons to love Belize. It’s not just the beauty of the land or the sea, but the magic of the culturally diverse people who call this place home. Belize is a melting pot consisting of mainly Mestizos, Mayans, Garinagu, Chinese, Mennonites, Kriols, and expats from Europe, US, and Canada. The pot is small, but it’s rich and deep with welcoming people.

Years ago, my then teenaged daughter, Sarah, and I were walking along the beautiful, debris-covered beach of the village of Hopkins. The day was awesome—the air still, with no humidity—the sea, a shimmering blue. Small terns strutted ahead anxiously, never taking flight, as they were not quite sure of our intentions. The gentle waters lapped at our feet as we studied the fresh array of unmatched shoes, coconuts, plastic bottles, brown clusters of seaweed, copious amounts of green sea grass, shattered unidentifiable pieces of plastic, neatly sliced halves of oranges with their gut sucked clean, the severed head of a pineapple… All of which had found their way onto the shoreline of Belize.

Sarah declared, “I want a coconut!” 

“Take one. They’re everywhere.”

She found a beautiful large green monster of a coconut which she lugged along before coming to a rare, but hard, rock thrusting out from the edge of the surf. Nearby five small Garifuna children played and splashed in the shimmering blue water. Sarah began throwing the coconut against the rock in an attempt to break its thick green covering. I began to help her. We took turns thrusting it against the rock. It wasn’t long before the children waded out of the water and grabbed this massive nut.

We stepped back in surprise (had we taken a coconut that we had no right to?) and then in amusement, as they took their own turns throwing the coconut against the rock. They got down on their knees in the surf, the Caribbean waters glistening and slipping off their dark bodies, and took turns banging it repeatedly. They stood up and threw only to sit back down and continue the assault. Sarah and I smiled and watched. I threw in a “Wow” here and there, but the children weren’t talking; they were strictly concentrating on the task at hand. Finally, after a good ten minutes, the green nut began to give up and split apart. The children dropped to the wet sand and used hands, feet, and fingers. Banging and tugging at the white pulpy fibers that covered the inner stone, they threw the strands of fibers above their heads and flung it into the sea. Another ten minutes later and a perfect light tan globe about the size of a small cantaloupe was revealed.

The oldest, and most hard-working of the boys, stood up, dripping from the sea, and proudly handed the coconut to Sarah. She bowed slightly, smiled, and said, “Thank you! Let me shake your hand.” She shook all the children’s hands. Then they splashed, without a word, back into the sea. 

I don’t remember how that particular coconut tasted or even if we ever ate it. What I remember was the magic of the moment when that little boy offered up the nut as if he were welcoming us to his world. It’s this magic and the character of Central America that I strive to capture in my novels. 

In Legend of the Lost Ass, my characters are part of the beauty of Central America. The missent text I think we should take it through Guatemala inspires agoraphobic adventure novelist, Colin, to leave the safety of his NY apartment. First stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender of the text, a half-Mayan woman named Luci, who, at thirty, has yet to confront her role in the death of her father when she was six. They instantly find each other annoying. He also meets a bright orange Kubota tractor named Miss Mango and Luci’s ancient but feisty Great Uncle Ernesto. It’s Ernesto’s dream that Miss Mango be driven to Belize as an atonement to his family, which he abandoned nearly seventy years prior. 

In 1949, British Honduras (now Belize), seventeen-year-old Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to the States.

What I enjoyed most about writing Legend of the Lost Ass was merging my personal Belizean experiences with massive amounts of research, creating a story where past and present unfold in two parallel journeys with slightly crazy characters put in even crazier circumstances. Through their eyes, I’m pretty darn sure, I succeeded in capturing the place, its people, its history, and its culture.

 

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Karen, thank you so much for sharing that experience with us, it is a beautiful story and Belize sounds like a place I need to be adding to my bucket list.

Legend of the Lost Ass is out now and, if you have been enticed to buy a copy by the glimpse into the country which inspired the book, you can buy a copy here. Watch out for my own review of the book coming in the autumn.

About the Author

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Karen Winters Schwartz wrote her first truly good story at age seven. Her second-grade teacher publicly and falsely accused her of plagiarism. She did not write again for forty years.

Her widely praised novels include WHERE ARE THE COCOA PUFFS?; REIS’S PIECES; and THE CHOCOLATE DEBACLE (Goodman Beck Publishing). Her new novel, LEGEND OF THE LOST ASS, was released by Red Adept Publishing on July 21, 2020. 

Educated at The Ohio State University, Karen and her husband moved to the Central New York Finger Lakes region where they raised two daughters and shared a career in optometry. She now splits her time between Arizona, a small village in Belize, and traveling the earth in search of the many creatures with whom she has the honor of sharing this world. This is her second year as a Rising Star judge. 

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenwintersschwartz.com

Facebook: Author Karen Winters Schwartz

Twitter: @authorKWS

Instagram: @_kaws_

 

Blog Tour: The Bellhop Only Stalks Once by Cat Hickey #BookReview

The Bellhop Only Stalks Once

Delighted to be taking my turn today on the blog tour for The Bellhop Only Stalks Once by Cat Hickey. Thanks for Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Lies, secrets, and a sinister plot hide in broad daylight at the heart of the Club Pacifica.

A beautiful tropical resort, exciting new friends, and a handsome guest liaison – it’s the perfect getaway for Chloe, a free-spirited Baltimore girl just getting to know herself. But the vacation of a lifetime quickly takes a dark turn when a young, overly flirty bellhop starts following her everywhere. It gets even worse when he disappears, and Chloe is the sole witness.

As bellhop after bellhop goes missing, she struggles to figure out what’s happening. When suspicion falls upon her, Chloe must not only try to rescue the kidnapped bellhops, but also to clear her name.

Complicating things further is the relationship she forms with Mateo, Club Pacifica’s guest liaison. Charming and easygoing, he is everything that her fiancé at home is not, and she finds herself fighting a growing attraction to him. But can he be trusted?

She soon discovers that she’s landed herself in a world of secrets, and, worse, that these are not just those of others, but also the secrets she keeps from herself.

Can she find her way through all the lies to finally discover the truth before it’s too late?

Okay, so this book has THE most bizarre plot I think I have ever come across in a novel. It is a mystery story, but to say ‘with a difference’ does not really do justice to just how different this story is. I can honestly say, I have never read anything quite like it and I am still trying to work out where to file it away amidst my past reading experiences and how on earth the author came up with it.

I was really drawn to this book with its setting in a luxury beach resort in Costa Rica. This is a country that fascinates me and I am desperate to visit, and I always love a mystery book set in an exotic location, hence my addiction to Death in Paradise. I think this plot might be even too mad for them to use though! I did really enjoy the setting of the book, and Chloe’s escapades into the Costa Rican jungle, exploring volcanoes and other places of interest.

Chloe’s character is quite endearing, even if she is extremely slow on the uptake. Honestly, I could not believe she wasn’t more suspicious of a couple of the characters she met earlier on. The author left plenty of clues as to who might be behind the disappearances of the bellhops (although, you’ll NEVER get the why, I’ll eat my hat if you saw that coming before the end!) but she was slow on the uptake. Too distracted by the delectable Mateo and trying to pluck up courage to do what needs to be done with regards to Cooper I suppose, which is understandable. I really enjoyed the romantic element of the book.

This book is bizarre, but in a really fun way. I was strangely compelled all the way through to keep reading, even though I was just bemused by what was happening. It kept me intrigued, because I could not see at all where it was going. There are lots of twists and turns, and some really… unusual…. happenings, which will have you questioning your sanity, and possibly that of the author, but you should read it with your tongue firmly in cheek, which I suspect is how it was written. There were times where some of Chloe’s internal musings could have done with a bit of a trim, but all in all, it was a fun and original read.

Unique, amusing and entertaining, if you are looking for a book that is really out of the ordinary, maybe give this a go. You won’t have spent a couple of hours like this before!

The Bellhop Only Stalks Once is out now and you can buy your copy here.

Do please visit the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for different perspectives on the book:

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About the Author

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Cat Hickey has a Master’s degree in Biology, and teaches Anatomy and Physiology at a university in Baltimore, MD, USA. She writes light-hearted mysteries and thrillers that are based, partly, on her extensive travels around the world. She is also an avid yogi who teaches aerial yoga and practices aerial circus arts, and spends the rest of her time with her four rescue animals, which consist of three cats and a horse.

Connect with Cat:

Facebook: Cat Hickey

Twitter: @CatHickey4

 

Tempted By…. Audio Killed The Bookmark: Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

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Mercy is hard in a place like this. I wished him dead before I ever saw his face….

Mary Rose Whitehead isn’t looking for trouble – but when it shows up at her front door, she finds she can’t turn away. 

Corinne Shepherd, newly widowed, wants nothing more than to mind her own business and for everyone else to mind theirs. But when the town she has spent years rebelling against closes ranks she realises she is going to have to take a side. 

Debra Ann is motherless and lonely and in need of a friend. But in a place like Odessa, Texas, choosing who to trust can be a dangerous game. 

Gloria Ramírez, 14 years old and out of her depth, survives the brutality of one man only to face the indifference and prejudices of many. 

When justice is as slippery as oil and kindness becomes a hazardous act, sometimes courage is all we have to keep us alive.

This is the first time I have featured an audiobook on Tempted By…, but Berit of Audio Killed The Bookmark was so enthusiastic about the narrators of this book in her review of it that audio seemed the only way to go.

The blurb for this book doesn’t give much away, but it sounds intriguing, doesn’t it, and the book has had a lot of buzz about it. I mean, you only have to read Berit’s review, where she describes it as “authentic, profound, and beautiful” to know that it is a special debut, because whatever Berit says, I trust I am going to feel the same. I agree with her reviews about 99% of the time, so I knew this book was going to be worth the cost of an Audible credit.

Berit makes it sound like the book is totally immersive and evocative, which are things I am always drawn to in a novel. I love books set in the USA, but I read more set in the South Eastern states, so a book set in Texas will make for an invigorating change. It also sounds like it is extremely female-centric, something I also love, so I am really looking forward to listening to it soon. I am sure it will make the hours of housework and mucking out a little less tedious!

I love this blog, it is one I have been following for a long time. As I said previously, Berit’s thoughts seem to align to mine on most books that we have in common, and her reviews are always informative but succinct (something we do not have in common, as I tend to be quite long-winded, she has the advantage over me on this score!) I really love the way she sums up a book in emojis too, a quirky touch that I have fun figuring out. If you haven’t visited this blog before, please do pop over there and have a look around, I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do. You can find it here.

And, if Berit’s review has tempted you to try Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore for yourself, you can get it in all formats here.

 

Blog Tour: Wife Support System by Kathleen Whyman #BookReview

Wife Support System

I’m taking my turn on the blog tour today for Wife Support System by Kathleen Whyman. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Wife Support System FINAL

We’ve got the balance all wrong. Instead of living with our partners, struggling to do everything by ourselves and only seeing each other now and then, we should do it the other way round. We should live together and see them now and then.

Erica knows her suggestion sounds extreme, but when her nanny leaves without notice, she’s extremely desperate. Polly and Louise aren’t convinced, but when circumstances force them to move into Polly’s enormous but run-down house, they have to admit life’s much easier when the childcare and work is shared.

At first, communal living seems like the answer to their prayers – childcare on tap, rotas for cleaning and someone always available to cook dinner (no more last-minute pizza delivery!). But over time, resentment starts to grow as they judge each other’s parenting styles and bicker over cleaning, cooking and whose turn it is to buy toilet rolls.

And as one woman has her head turned by a handsome colleague, one resorts to spying on her husband and another fights to keep a dark secret, they need each other more than ever. But can Polly, Louise and Erica keep their friendship and relationships strong? Or will their perfect mumtopia fall apart?

This book was so much fun! And, as a single mum of two teenage daughters, I can completely relate to many of the  dilemmas faced by the three women in this novel. If you are a woman with children, with or without a husband, there are scenarios in this book that will ring scarily true to you too, without a doubt.

When I read the blurb for this book, I wondered why no one had come up with this plot for a book before, it is absolute genius. The scenario that Kathleen sets up makes so much practical sense. Many of us will know that some men are hopeless at providing help and support with childcare and household chores. I think lockdown has shown this into even sharper relief, as I read an article recently that showed the burden of extra childcare in quarantine had fallen mostly on women. I know, shocking, right? Women everywhere have taken on the burden of looking after children, homeschooling and all the extra housework while schools have been closed, as well as trying largely to work from home. I doubt there are few women who will deny that this has been a hard period for a lot of us mums, so the idea of a female commune where everyone chips in with help as needed is more appealing than ever.

Of course, there are reasons why people don’t do this, despite its appeal, and why the experiment doesn’t run smoothly. Some people don’t pull their weight, there are personality clashes, jealousy, misunderstandings, tensions, hormones. The author milks all of these matters for dramatic effect, with lot of comedy thrown in. The book explores issues of misogyny, romantic neglect, relationships, friendships, grief and loss, mental health issues, female life/work balance and a lot of other things to make this a book with some bite, as well as being charming and entertaining.

I thought the book was innovative and original, moving, appealing and easy to read. The author has a very winning voice that I enjoyed reading, and the book was pacy and engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it as a lively read for anyone who likes this type of comedic, mum-focused fiction with quite a lot to say.

Wife Support System is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you follow the rest of the tour for more reviews and other content:

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About the Author

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Kathleen Whyman is an author and freelance journalist.

Her debut novel, Wife Support System, was inspired by her own feeble attempt to juggle a career with childcare, never-ending house ‘stuff’ and, outrageously, occasionally some time for herself. She is still struggling.

Kathleen’s novel Second Wife Syndrome has been shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print prize 2020.

Both novels are contemporary, humorous, women’s fiction.

Kathleen writes a column for Writers’ Forum magazine and contributes to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s magazine Romance Matters. She also wrote short stories for Jackie magazine in her teens. These were, thankfully, never printed.

Kathleen lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two daughters.

Connect with Kathleen:

Twitter: @kathleenwhyman1