Top Twelve Books of 2020

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Yes, you heard correctly. This year I am allowing myself twelve books in my round up of my favourite reads of the year. I was really struggling to narrow it down any more and, given how much of a trial this year has been already, I decided not to tax myself further.

I have read 185 books this year at the time of writing this post, and so many of them have been marvellous and could have made a ‘best of’ list. However, there is limited space and time for recommendations, so these are the ones I would push most heavily, were my arm to be twisted. I do want to thank the authors of all the books I have enjoyed in 2020 though, you should know that your work has been the one steady point of sanity in a world gone mad and I am so grateful for each and every word.

These books weren’t all written in 2020, but they were ones I read for the first time this year. You can find my detailed reviews of the books by clicking on the links in the titles (except the Steve Cavanagh one. I’ve only just finished that and haven’t had chance to review it on the blog yet. Sorry, Steve!)

12. The Lido by Libby Page

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11. Beast by Matt Wesolowski 

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10. Spirited by Julie Cohen

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9. Fifty-Fifty by Steve Cavanagh

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8. I Am Dust by Louise Beech

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7. The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

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6. The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

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5. Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver

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4. More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran

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3. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

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2. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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1. Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister

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So that’s it, my top reads of 2020. Please do let me know what you think. Did you love or loathe any of these books? Are any of them on your 2021 TBR? What was your book of 2020? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Looking forward to lots more great reading in 2021, and wishing all of my readers a very, very Happy New Year.

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Desert Island Books: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Desert Island Books

Following on from my earlier post, I now have my twelfth and final, personal Desert Island Book. If I am ever pressed to nominate my favourite book of all time, this is my choice. The book is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

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When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex.

At the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years.

But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and ruthless parody of rural melodramas and purple prose, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

Why do I love this book so much? Oh, for so many reasons. Firstly, its protagonist is one of my two favourite heroines in English Literature (the other, in case you are wondering, is Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing) and the one to whom I most closely relate. In fact, if those who know me had to pick out a character from literature that I most resemble, it would be Flora Poste. Flora hates messes, as I do, and she loves to organise people, as I do. Bossy, you say? I don’t think so, just sure in her own rightness, and there is nothing wrong with that! Sadly, I don’t think I am as chic, crafty or quick-witted as Flora turns out to be in this book, but one can dream.

Secondly, the cast of characters in this book are perfectly drawn, and every one is delightful, in their own peculiar way. Morose cousin Judith, over-sexed Seth, faux-hippy Elfine, fire-and-brimstone preacher Amos, Flora’s sensible friend Mrs Smiling who collects brassieres as a hobby, fecund maid Miriam; every one of them is pitch-perfect. Best of all is Aunt Ada Doom, who saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was a tiny tot, and has used the trauma as an excuse to rule the family with an iron fist ever since. After all, ‘there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm,’ and nothing can ever be allowed to change that, especially not Robert Poste’s child. The standoff between young but wily Flora and stubborn Great Aunt Ada is one of the greatest battle of wills ever written, and it is a joy to read.

The book is just beautifully pitched and executed in every single respect. Apart from the characterisations, the pastiche of romantic but doom-laden writing of other authors of the time is a wicked delight to read – I defy you to read her deliberately purple prose and not giggle – and the way she leaves some of the biggest mysteries of the book unanswered, to be speculated over and debated down the years, is just brilliant. There are a million tiny and subtle comments, asides, observations and conversations to delight over. The part where Flora is explaining the process and merits of the use of birth control to the randy serving girl, who then repeats it to her mother, is a perfect example, and one of my favourites. Over and above all else, this book is hilarious, sharply witty and oh-so-clever. I delight in every reading anew, and this is why it would accompany me to my desert island. It is a book that never fails to cheer my soul.

I am a person who does not often watch TV or movie adaptations of my favourite books, because I have too often been disappointed. I haven’t watched recent adaptations of Little Women or Anne of Green Gables for this reason. This being said, the version of Cold Comfort Farm starring Kate Beckinsale as Flora, Joanna Lumley as Mrs Smiling and Rufus Sewell as Seth is absolutely brilliant. It really portrays the story and the characters exactly as I imagine them, and it maybe the only adaptation of one of my favourite books that I love as much as the novel itself, so if you don’t have time to read it, maybe give it a watch instead. I am sure you will end up loving it as much as I do.

Cold Comfort Farm is available to buy in all formats here.

About the Authors

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Stella Gibbons is best known for her comic masterpiece Cold Comfort Farm. A witty parody of the pastoral fiction written by authors such as D H Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb, it won the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse Anglais in 1933 and established her literary reputation. Gibbons also wrote 22 other novels, including Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm (1940) and Starlight (1967), as well as three volumes of short stories and four poetry collections. She died in 1989, aged 87.

Desert Island Books with… Nicola Pryce

Desert Island Books

For my last guest edition of Desert Island Books for 2020, I am delighted to welcome to the blog, author Nicola Pryce. Let’s see what literary choices she has made to accompany her.

Judging by lockdown, Julie, I’m not going to be any good on this desert island of yours, so I’m going for four books with uplifting characters who would be good company if I start to wobble. The fifth is a fascinating 1950’s classic which I think would benefit from repeated readings. Interestingly, three of the books are ones I’ve recently read – not the books I first thought I would choose. Maybe that has something to do with 2020 ending and the importance of embracing the new.    

Book One – The World of Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne

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Meet the best bear in all the world for the first time in Winnie-the-Pooh, where he gets into a tight place, nearly catches a Woozle and heads off on an ‘expotition’ to the North Pole with the other animals. The adventures continue in The House at Pooh Corner, where Pooh meets the irrepressible Tigger for the first time, learns to play Poohsticks and sets a trap for a Heffalump.

This all-time favourite classic, the go-to, warm, uplifting, laugh out-loud, sad, poignant, comforting book from my childhood has to take first place. Akin to my security blanket, it will remind me of my childhood, my children, and my grandchildren. I almost know it by heart and can still quite easily become tearful reading it. Uplifting and caring, it will definitely keep me buoyant.

Book Two – The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins

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In affairs of the heart the race is not necessarily won by the swift or the fair.

Imogen, the beautiful and much younger wife of distinguished barrister Evelyn Gresham, is facing the greatest challenge of her married life. Their neighbour Blanche Silcox, competent, middle-aged and ungainly – the very opposite of Imogen – seems to be vying for Evelyn’s attention. And to Imogen’s increasing disbelief, she may be succeeding.

I’ve chosen this beautifully written novel, published in 1954, because it evokes such complex emotions. Set in the country houses of the privileged upper-class, it is the story of how a dispirited young wife, Imogen – a once glamorous, almost trophy wife – watches her older barrister husband, Evelyn Gresham, fall under the spell of a middle-aged, rather masculine, country neighbour, Blanche Silcox. Downtrodden, sensitive, and lacking in confidence, Imogen slowly watches her marriage unravel, yet by the end of the book we are left wondering who of the two women is the tortoise, and who the hare.

I loved this book and believe it will stand the test of being re-read… and re-read …

Book Three – The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

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Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home is taken away and they lose their livelihood. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall.

Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.

The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.

This inspirational memoir will be just what I need if I’m missing home comforts. It’s a humbling read of a worst-case scenario – financial ruin and the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Gaynor and her husband, Moth, face homelessness. Penniless, they buy inadequate camping gear and begin their long-distance walk along the South West Coast Path, facing what the sea and sky throws at them. Their courage and inner strength see them stumble through each day until an unexpected door opens and they find their hardship has helped to heal them. Definitely one to read for courage and endurance.

Book Four – The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

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The greatest love story is the one you least expect . . .

Alice Wright doesn’t love her new American husband.

Nor her domineering father-in-law or the judgmental townsfolk of Baileyville, Kentucky.

Stifled and misunderstood, she yearns for escape and finds it in defiant Margery O’Hare and the sisterhood bringing books to the isolated and vulnerable.

But when her father-in-law and the town turn against them, Alice fears the freedom, friendship and the new love she’s found will be lost . . .

Here’s another book full of endurance and fighting spirit for my stay on the island. If I think I have it hard, then reading this book will remind me others have had it just as bad. I loved this book. Based in the 1930’s on the true horseback library, it tells the story of a group of resilient women in Kentucky who start a library and deliver books on horseback to the isolated women living in the wilderness. The freezing mountains, appalling conditions, and treacherous paths they take are brilliantly evoked, and the undercurrents running through this book make it multi-layered and hard to put down. Definitely a book about endurance and resilience.

Book Five – Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

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Some say the river drowned her…Some say it brought her back to life

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.

Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

And who does the little girl belong to?

My book of 2020 – a cracker of a read. Set on the River Thames in late 1800’s it is full of the stories weaved by the communities living along the water’s edge. Packed with menace, it has a sinister mystery at its heart, but also a wonderfully warm and touching love story. I’ve chosen to take this with me because of the rhythm of the story telling. It’s beautifully written, evocative, and packed with lovely characters – especially Robert Armstrong whose warmth and humanity is just the inspiration I will need to keep me going on this desert island.

My luxury item

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A solar- powered laptop, please Julie, so I can write. It would be terrible to have ideas for a novel and not be able to get the book down!

About Nicola Pryce

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Nicola Pryce trained as a nurse at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. She loves literature and history and has an Open University degree in Humanities. She is a qualified adult literacy support volunteer and lives with her husband in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. She and her husband love sailing and together they sail the south coast of Cornwall in search of adventure. If she isn’t writing or gardening, you’ll find her scrubbing decks somewhere.

Pengelly’s Daughter is her first novel, then The Captain’s Girl, The Cornish Dressmaker, and The Cornish Lady. A Cornish Betrothal was published in November.

Nicola is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Historical Writers’ Association.

Nicola’s latest book, A Cornish Betrothal, is the fifth book in her series set in eighteenth-century Cornwall, and you can buy a copy here.

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Cornwall, 1798.

Eighteen months have passed since Midshipman Edmund Melville was declared missing, presumed dead, and Amelia Carew has mended her heart and fallen in love with a young physician, Luke Bohenna. But, on her twenty-fifth birthday, Amelia suddenly receives a letter from Edmund announcing his imminent return. In a state of shock, devastated that she now loves Luke so passionately, she is torn between the two.

When Edmund returns, it is clear that his time away has changed him – he wears scars both mental and physical. Amelia, however, is determined to nurse him back to health and honour his heroic actions in the Navy by renouncing Luke.

But soon, Amelia begins to question what really happened to Edmund while he was missing. As the threads of truth slip through her fingers, she doesn’t know who to turn to: Edmund, or Luke?

Connect with Nicola:

Website: http://nicolapryce.co.uk

Facebook: Nicola Pryce Author

Twitter: @NPryce_Author

Pinterest: Nicola Pryce Author

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Blog Tour: Dead Perfect by Noelle Holten #BookReview

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A murdered woman…

When the body of a young woman is found in a local park, DC Maggie Jamieson knows she’s dealing with no ordinary killer.  The murder victim has been disfigured; her outfit changed to resemble someone else.  Someone Maggie knows all too well…her close friend Dr Kate Moloney.

A determined detective…

Maggie is determined to keep her friend safe, but with Kate already struggling with a threatening stalker, Maggie now fears Kate’s life is in real danger.  Who else would want to harm Kate and why else would the killer be turning his victims into exact replicas – his living dolls? 

Can Maggie find the depraved killer?  Or will Kate become his next living doll?

It’s my final blog tour of 2020, and what better way to round off a stellar year of reading than with a review celebrating the paperback release of the latest book in a series I am really enjoying. Dead Perfect by Noelle Holten is the third book featuring detective Maggie Jamieson, and the series keeps getting better and better. My thanks to Sarah Hardy of Books on the Bright Side Publicity for inviting me to take part, and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

With every book in this series, it feels to me like the characters and the story-telling are maturing. In this book, we have a truly horrifying set of crimes with a deeply disturbing psychological basis to them. Even more worryingly, the main target of the killer seems to be Maggie’s friend and colleague, Kate, which causes problems for Maggie, who struggles with detachment at the best of times and finds herself repeatedly in trouble here for over-stepping the line.

There are so many different aspects of this book that are particularly enjoyable for fans of the genre. Firstly the crimes themselves. The author has developed a killer and a series of crimes that are shocking and baffling, and had me on the edge of the seat throughout. The motivation behind the crimes does not seem to be murder, so it is a fascinating trip into what is driving him and what he is trying to achieve. I have to say, I had no clue as to who was doing it or why until all the details were revealed at the end of the book, it was very cleverly done and kept me engaged throughout.

Then there is the development of Maggie herself as a character and in her relationships with both colleagues and people outside of work. With every book we learn a little more about her, and understand why she behaves the way she does. Here, her emotional attachment to the object of the killer’s obsession adds extra pressure, and causes her to push the boundaries between her job and her personal life, leading to increased conflict with her colleagues which was riveting to watch unfold. Nathan’s promotion above her is also causing a change in dynamics, and there were more aspects of her relationship with her brother, Andy to explore. Noelle has created a real, three-dimensional protagonist to carry this series, and I am growing increasingly fond of her as the series goes on.

Finally, this series is unique in the way that it explores the working relationship between the different departments in the criminal justice system, such as the police, probation, forensics etc. I have never come across a series of books that emphasises this in such a way before, and it is obvious that the author has worked within the system and understands that it is not just the police alone that solve crimes, but they need the assistance of other departments in collecting evidence and information to narrow their suspect pool. In coming at this from a slightly different angle, this author offers the reader an engaging and compelling perspective on police work in the UK.

Another great edition to the series. Here is a writer who is firmly in her stride and flying along with confidence and panache. This book was left on a cliffhanger again that has made em eager for the next instalment. If you are looking for a new crime series to feed  your thriller addiction, this one has to be near the top of your must-read list.

Dead Perfect is out now as an ebook and in paperback tomorrow, and you can buy a copy here.

Please do check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for more great reviews:

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About the Author

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Noelle Holten is an award-winning blogger at www.crimebookjunkie.co.uk. She is the PR & Social Media Manager for Bookouture, a leading digital publisher in the UK, and worked as a Senior Probation Officer for eighteen years, covering a variety of risk cases as well as working in a multi agency setting. She has three Hons BA’s – Philosophy, Sociology (Crime & Deviance) and Community Justice – and a Masters in Criminology. Noelle’s hobbies include reading, attending as many book festivals as she can afford and sharing the booklove via her blog.

Dead Inside – her debut novel with One More Chapter/Harper Collins UK is an international kindle bestseller and the start of a new series featuring DC Maggie Jamieson.

Connect with Noelle:

Website: https://crimebookjunkie.co.uk

Facebook: Noelle Holten Author

Twitter: @nholten40

Instagram: @crimebookjunkie

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Hywela Lyn

Romancing The Romance Authors

I am delighted to welcome Hywela Lyn to the blog today to chat about all things romance.

Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

Thank you so much for having me here, Julie. I write Science Fiction and Fantasy Romance – the Science Fiction has a strong fantasy element – and I also write straight Fantasy. If you wonder how Science Fiction can be ‘romance’, well my characters, whether they come from Earth or a distant planet, are still very human and fall in love, just like you or me. I also I find space itself intensely romantic, who could not look up at all those stars in the night sky and not be enthralled by their beauty? I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of space and space exploration, although I started out writing romantic historical Westerns, but there was no market in the UK for them at the time, so I turned to Science Fiction/Fantasy. After all the two genres have several similarities – brave men and women, exploring unknown territory and facing many dangers while they work together and fall in love, with starships instead of horses, and sometimes-hostile aliens instead of native American Indians.

I have three ‘standalone’ novels published as a trilogy with the American publishing house, the Wild Rose Press. I also have a fantasy novella, merging elements Welsh and Greek and Arthurian  legends, which was originally published by The Wild Rose Press as an anthology with other authors, but when I got my rights back I made a few changes and self-published it. The last few years, especially 2020, have been difficult and I’ve had to put my writing on hold for a time, but I do have a partly finished fantasy romance set in Wales, which I’m hoping to submit to TWRP next year.

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Why romance?

I’ve always been a ‘romantic’. I soon realised nearly everything I wrote turned into a love story. Romance novels have to have a happy ending, so the reader can breathe a happy sigh of contentment as they read the last page. Romance makes one feel good, loving someone who loves you back is the best feeling in the world. As the saying goes ‘what’s not to love’ (about romance)?

What inspires your stories?

My inspiration usually starts with a character, who gradually tells me their story. Sometimes it’s something I see, like a beautiful view, or unusual weather, and sometimes a piece of music will wake up my muse and start giving me ideas.

Who are your favourite romance authors, past and/or present?

Too many to list really, but one I really enjoy, although her books aren’t my own genre, is Rosemary Gemmell, whose books are usually historical, and set in her native Scotland. Her characters are very easy to relate to, and her settings vividly drawn. I also enjoy books by an American romance author, Pamela Thibodeaux, who writes contemporary  inspirational stories ‘with an edge’, as she puts it herself. Although her stories all have a subtle Christian message, they are not at all ‘preachy’.

If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

Oh that’s a bit difficult, but I think I’d go back to Rosemary Gemmell and her book Highcrag.

The heroine’s task is to catalogue the books in an old house for the owner, and a strong attraction develops between them. There are strong hints of the supernatural, and for me the book had the same sort of atmosphere as Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’.

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When Cate Stewart’s life falls apart, a job cataloguing the vast library at Highcrag on the Scottish east coast sounds perfect. Especially since she has a personal interest in researching the notorious Scottish witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

But the house has a dark past that seems to affect the present. And an owner, Lyall Kinnaird, who unexpectedly stirs Cate’s damaged heart.

As the Celtic festival of Samhain approaches, when the veil between the living and dead is thinnest, who can Cate trust?

Which romantic hero would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

I shouldn’t confess this really, but I totally fell in love with the hero of my first and third book, Kerry Marchant. A romantic weekend on a paradise planet would be lovely, but I think I’d better get nearer home and say John Thornton from Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’. We could spend time having picnics by the river, with long, meaningful chats, or riding our horses by said river, holding hands, of course.

What is your favourite thing about being a member of the RNA? What do you think you have gained from membership?

The feeling of belonging to a community of fellow writers, and the support and help one gets from being a member. I’ve made many friends and learnt a lot from them, and even though I haven’t been able to attend as many conferences and events as I would have liked, it’s so easy to keep in touch with other members on-line and through the magazine ‘Romance Matters.’ Everyone is so friendly and helpful, it’s an amazing organisation and I’m so proud to belong.

What one piece of advice or tip would you give to new writers starting out in the romance genre?

A piece of advice I was given by the late Anne McCaffrey and always followed, was ‘write what you would like to read. After all if you don’t like what you write, why would anyone else? Also I would add, read, not only your own genre or genres, but ones that are slightly out of your comfort zone. It’s surprising what you can learn from other writers’ works. (Sorry, I know that was two.)

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book, Beloved Enemy is Book Three of the Destiny Trilogy. (RoNA Finalist 2017)

My first book Starquest was originally a short story and I never realized how difficult it would be to say goodbye to the characters, and so it became a trilogy. Beloved Enemy tells Kerry Marchant’s story. He appears in the first book but things did not turn out well for him. I hope I’ve made amends in this book, in which he meets his match, in more ways than one, with the feisty Cat Kincaid. You can buy a copy of the book here.

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Cat Kincaid is obsessed with killing the man she believes is responsible for the torture and death of her sister, but when she eventually catches up with him, survival becomes a greater priority than revenge.

Kerry Marchant, haunted by memories, regret, and self-blame, shields himself from the pain of the past by committing himself totally to the starship, Destiny, of which he is part owner. However, the beautiful, red-haired woman who reminds him of his lost love, and who he suspects is working for a corrupt regime, represents a possible threat not only to the ship, but to his heart.

Marooned on an inhospitable planet, they need to work together to stay alive, fighting not only unknown assailants, but their growing attraction. But how can they learn to trust each other when he has vowed never to get close to a woman again, and she made a solemn pledge to destroy him?

About the Author

Me

Hywela Lyn lives in a small village in England, although her heart remains in her native rural Wales, which inspired so much of her writing.

Although most her writing tends to be futuristic, the worlds she creates are usually untainted by crowded cities and technology, embracing the beauty and wildness of nature.  Her characters often have to fight the elements and the terrain itself.  Her heroes are strong and courageous, but chivalrous and honourable – and of course, handsome and hunky. Her heroines are also strong and courageous, but retain their femininity and charm.  However difficult the journey, love will always win in the end.

She is a member of The Romantic Novelists’ Association (UK)  and Chiltern Writers, her local writing group.

A keen animal lover, she is  pet parent to a rescued terrier, Choccy, who manages to twist her round his little paw.  When she is not writing, she can usually be found enjoying the outdoors with her dog – or just  eating chocolate!

Connect with Hywela:

Website: https://hywelalyn.co.uk/

Blog: https://hywelalyn.blogspot.com/

Facebook Page: Hywela Lyn Author

Twitter: @Hywela_Lyn

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Blog Tour: The Cornish Cream Tea Christmas by Cressida McLaughlin #BookReview

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Hannah Swan is looking forward to Christmas for the first time in years. Her new job as an eco-consultant is taking her – and her geeky colleague, Noah – to the beautiful Cornish village of Porthgolow for the first time.

They are helping the Crystal Waters Hotel to ramp up its green credentials, though after a bumpy journey, Hannah can’t shake off the feeling that Porthgolow is strangely familiar. Never able to resist a mystery, her interest is piqued when the hotel’s staff and customers report odd noises and sightings, believing the hotel to be haunted.

When bad weather cuts off Porthgolow, Hannah and Noah are looking at a Cornish Christmas. It gives them plenty of time to work out what is really going on, but will their yuletide escape send shivers up their spines? Or will it be as warm and toasty as a glass of mulled wine?

I’m delighted to to taking part today in the blog tour for the latest book by one of my favourite authors, The Cornish Cream Tea Christmas by Cressida McLaughlin. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part and to the publisher, HarperCollins, for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

As a massive fan of Cressida’s books, and the Cornish Cream Tea series in particular, I was really excited to return to Porthgolow at Christmas and see what all my favourite characters were up to, and meet some new ones. The life of coastal towns in the winter when tourists are thin on the ground and the town is handed back to the locals is an entirely different proposition to the previous books which have been set during the busy months of the year, and I was fascinated to get a peep at what might, or might not, be going on.

The book is set largely in the spa hotel, where new character Hannah has come down from Edinburgh to stay for a week and help owner Daniel improve the hotel’s eco credentials. She is assisted by local freelancer, Noah, whom she has never met before, so both we and Hannah are getting to know him at the same time. Hannah was a character that I warmed to from the very beginning, which meant I felt invested in the book from the first page and I fairly flew through the story. This is the overriding genius of Cressida’s writing, she always manages to create believable characters that you care about and draw you into the story until you are fully involved and desperate to know what happens to them. I loved the way she managed to integrate them so seamlessly into the tight knit community she has already built in my head.

The Cornish setting is equally as beautiful and tempting in the winter – perhaps even more so – with empty beaches, cosy pubs and Christmas sparkle dangling from every spare twig. You can practically smell the pine coming off the page as she brings the setting to life. And the food, oh the food. The main character, Hannah, is a foodie, so there is ample opportunity to shoehorn in descriptions of delicious dishes and delicacies – in the hotel, the pub, the weekly food market and, of course, on the Cornish Cream Tea Bus itself. You will come away from the book either starving or feeling like you have eaten a twelve course meal, it’s a toss up.

There is plenty of action to keep the plot moving along with violent storms, a dramatic coastal rescue and a ghostly mystery running alongside the romance, so there are no slow patches in the story. Despite being 370 pages, the book raced past in no time and I was sad to get to the end, but satisfied with the conclusion. As with all Cress’s books, I was left with a warm, contented glow, underscored with a wistful longing for her next book. Not much more that a fan of romantic Christmas stories could wish for. Just remind me never to visit Portgolow in real life, it is the Cornish equivalent of the Hotel California. ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!’

The Cornish Cream Tea Christmas is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Cressy was born in South East London surrounded by books and with a cat named after Lawrence of Arabia. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and now lives in Norwich with her husband David. When she isn’t writing, Cressy spends her spare time reading, returning to London or exploring the beautiful Norfolk coastline.

Connect with Cressy:

Website: https://cressidamclaughlin.com/

Facebook: Cressida McLaughlin Author

Twitter: @CressMcLaughlin

Instagram: @cressmclaughlin

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Friday Night Drinks with… Annette Revitt

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It’s almost Christmas and it is the last Friday Night Drinks of 2020! Joining me for a festive virtual drink this evening (is there any other kind in the world currently?) is blogger at Good Books Come To Those who ReadAnnette Revitt.

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Welcome, Annette, thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thanks for inviting me! My drink of choice – definitely a gin and tonic! If I could choose the gin then it would have to be a gin called Wicked Wolf, it is distilled on Exmoor and its one of my favourites.

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I love gin but I’ve not come across this brand, I will have to give it a try. 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?

The venue would have to be somewhere we could eat and drink so how about a little tapas restaurant in Exeter, it has a lovely atmosphere, where we can sit and relax, listen to the live music, drink gin, eat Tapas and chat the night away. 

Perfect, I so miss going out for dinner with friends! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

The first person I would choose would be Beatrix Potter, she was as we all know her a writer and illustrator of children’s books, the most famous being Peter Rabbit, but she was so much more than that, she was also a natural scientist, conservationist and an early supporter of the National Trust. As a woman of the Victorian era she struggled to have her work recognised and I believe that it was only in the more recent years that some of her studies have been taken seriously. For me she is a truly inspirational lady, who I think I would enjoy chatting to about books, flowers, the lake district and her love of Herdwick sheep.

The second person I would choose to join us is inspired by my love of horses – Monty Roberts. He is an American horse trainer who promotes and uses his techniques of natural horsemanship. He has written several books, and was encouraged by the Queen to write his first book “The Man Who Listens To Horses”, after she saw him demonstrate his work with some of her horses. I have read “The Man Who Listens To Horses” and have used his techniques with success myself on some difficult/nervous youngsters, I believe there is still a lot I could learn from Monty and would love an evening chatting.

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

Back in July, my husband finally persuaded me to start my own book blog. I was very sceptical about the whole blog thing to start with, partly as I had no idea what I was doing and just seemed to be making it up as I went along! Secondly, I couldn’t get my head round why people would want to read anything I posted. But here we are five months later, with a steady stream of readers. So, I guess I’m doing something right!

Where do I want it to go? That’s a good question, I have never really given much thought to where I would like this all to lead! I just love reading and I hope that my blog helps others on their book journey’s. On my blog journey so far, I’ve met (virtually!) some really friendly, helpful people, if that continues and people are enjoying my blog and finding it useful then that’s enough for me to start with. 

I also enrolled in a proofreading course that I started in September. I’m hoping that It will expand my knowledge and help with blog writing, maybe even allow me to start proofreading from home.

Exciting times! What has been your proudest moment since you started blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment so far would have to be plucking up the courage to start the blog in the first place, it took my husband quite a while to talk me into it, but to be honest, now I’ve started I’m really enjoying it. I’m overwhelmed by the number of authors and publishers that have been in contact since seeing my blog requesting reviews, I never thought for a minute that my blog/ review would be of interest to anyone. The biggest challenge I have come across so far was when I lost my reading mojo, I know it happens to us all from time to time but it felt so much harder to break when I was relying on it to provide reviews for my blog.

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!

I would love to be able to make a living out of blogging, reviewing, maybe proofreading. I love reading so anything book related would work for me!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

It’s really hard to plan anything in this current world with Covid lingering in the background. So, the only thing planned is that I am expecting my second child in April 2021, so that’s pretty exciting. 

Oh, how lovely, congratulations! 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?

My favourite place abroad would have to be Hawaii. My husband and I went to Big island as part of our honeymoon. It had such a variety of landscapes from pretty beaches to barren volcanic areas to the green expanse of countryside. If you ever go, I would recommend a visit to a place called Waimea, it’s an area known for its cattle ranches, we had one of the best burgers I have ever tasted there. Our trip to Hawaii was a trip of a lifetime.

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If we are talking about the UK then it’s a tough one between the Lake District as it is such a picturesque area, that I’ve now visited three times or Wales, which is a beautiful part of the country, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve visited. My husband proposed at the top of Sugarloaf mountain in Brecon Beacons, so Wales holds lots of fantastic memories.

On my bucket list of places to visit, well, Iceland is on there for the Northern lights, I would love to see more of the UK, places like Scotland and Yorkshire. We were due to stay in a lovely cottage in the Yorkshire countryside but our holiday was cancelled due to the first Covid lockdown so it’s back on the list of places to visit in the future. Hopefully we will get there soon.

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Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

For anyone who knows me it won’t be surprising or a secret, but I have a love of horses, I have done ever since I was a child. Before moving to Devon in 1999, I attended Berkshire College of Agriculture and completed my national diploma in horse studies. Up until about 10 years ago I used to compete regularly in showjumping, cross country and showing. I enjoyed re-schooling ex racehorses and also used to breed welsh section B ponies. Due to work commitments and family life, I cut it all back and now only have two horses, an ex-racehorse and a welsh pony that I bred. 

I love horses too, we have three ponies here at the moment. 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’?

This is such a hard question as I have come across so many talented authors and brilliant books, but what about The Hoarder by Jess Kidd? I received this book from a book subscription my husband bought for me as a birthday present, not an author I had come across before and probably not one I would have picked up off a shelf to read but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book has a bit of everything so would cater for someone who enjoys crime, magical realism and a hint of romance.

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Unintentional psychic Maud Drennan arrives to look after Cathal Flood, a belligerent man hiding in his filthy, cat-filled home.

Her job is simple: clear the rubbish, take care of the patient. But the once-grand house has more to reveal than simply its rooms. There is a secret here, and whether she likes it or not, Maud may be the one to finally uncover what has previously been kept hidden . . .

If you fancy reading my review you will find it here

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

I hate hangovers, which is why I suggested eating whilst we are drinking! I find that this always helps to prevent a hangover, that and having a jug of water on the table to keep hydrated. I also try not to mix my drinks and when I get home, I always sit down with a nice cuppa tea before heading to bed.

If all that fails, then lots of painkillers, cups of tea and a good old roast dinner the next day should fix it.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

If the hangover stayed away and the weather was good then I would head to Dartmoor national park with a picnic for a nice walk with my husband, daughter and some friends. On the way home we would grab some fish and chips and find a nice place to sit, eat and enjoy. If the weather was rubbish then it would have to be a roast at home, with board games and maybe a bit of reading time.

Annette, thanks for joining me, it’s been a pleasure. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

Annette lives in Devon, UK. She has what she calls an ‘addiction’ – the love of books.! It’s not just the reading that excites her, it’s the thrill of hearing the book you have been waiting for in a series is finally being released or stumbling across a bargain secondhand book that just has to come home with you. It’s the swapping with friends and family and reading other people’s reviews as we all interpret books differently. Annette likes to write a short review of every book she reads in the hope it helps other book lovers on their journeys. It was because of this that her husband nagged her to set up a blog. So, in July 2020 that’s what she did! Annette’s blog is full of book reviews and anything book related that takes her fancy. When not blogging or reading she spends time with her two horses, enjoys walking especially on Dartmoor National Park, trips to the beach and spending time with friends and family.

To find out more about Annette visit her blog, Good books come to those who read, you will also find her on Facebook and Pinterest.

May I take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas, whatever the situation is where you are. I hope you find peace and happiness over the holidays and look forward to a better year in 2021 for all of us.

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Guest Post: The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia by Maddy Harrisis and Misha Herwin

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Poppy and Amelia didn’t set out to be witches. That happened quite by accident, and it’s a secret they must keep from their family and friends.

Then there is Mia, the new girl in class. Pale, strange and deadly serious, she’s in need of a couple of equally weird friends. Poppy and Amelia are happy to oblige.

Together, the three of them must thwart the plans of the sinister Miss Mortimer and her evil companions.

Today, I am delighted to be featuring a guest post by Misha Herwin, who has written a piece telling me about the experience of writing The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia with her nine-year-old granddaughter, Maddy, during Lockdown.

Let me hand over to Misha to tell us more:

Writing The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia by Misha Herwin

Thanks Julie for having me on your blog and letting me talk about the The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia.

I wrote this book together with Maddy, my nine year old granddaughter, during lockdown and in spite of the circumstances it was a truly joyful experience.

In March, like many other writers, I was finding working on my current book very slow going.  A day’s work felt like ploughing through porridge. Very little got done and what I did write had somehow lost its flow.

The impetus to write had also faded and most days I found it almost impossible to get started. Nothing much seemed to matter. While other people re-decorated, caught up with DIY or re-modelled their gardens I let the time slip past.

Except for my four times a week Skype lessons with Maddy.

Maddy’s parents were both having to work from home and she has a four year old brother, so at the start of lockdown all the grandparents and any stray relatives had been roped in to help with her home schooling. My brief was to deliver English lessons. Having been a teacher in a middle school as well as in secondary education, this wasn’t going to be too hard.

How wrong could I be?

Working through what the school had sent was far from simple. I don’t blame the teachers, who had to put together a term’s worth of work almost overnight. Some of the material was great, some less than inspiring and some beyond awful. There was also the unrealistic expectation that given a stimulus pupils would then find a quiet space and write for twenty minutes. This would be hard to achieve in a classroom let alone a house, flat or even a bedsit with parents and siblings vying for space.

In the event, we managed and the reward at the end of each lesson was story time. Together Maddy and I wove the tale of two girls who became witches by accident and how they learned to use their growing skills. Added to the mix was Mia who like Poppy and Amelia has a secret of her own.

The characters evolved with the telling. Maddy knew exactly what each girl looked like and sent me a picture to make sure we got their descriptions right.

To keep up with their adventures I had to make notes and towards the end of lockdown I had the outline of a story which ran to about 5,000 words. Seeing how much we had I suggested to Maddy that we could publish an e-book for her to read on her tablet, to which she replied, “No Granny, I want a proper book; one I can take to school and with my picture on the back.”

And so began our joint editorial sessions. We cut down on the stories and we honed what had been written. Maddy put me right on things I had either forgotten, or got wrong and then when the book was well on its way, I took it to Renegade Writers.

My fellow Rens loved it. At our weekly on line meetings Michelle said it was like being back at primary school and having story time on the mat. Much as they enjoyed it, they didn’t spare me the feedback. Because the book had evolved from storytelling there were gaps in the narrative that needed to be filled, so after every meeting I had to do some re-writing then check with Maddy to see if she agreed with what I had done.

Only then was it ready for Jan Edward, my editor, and her comments led to more re-writing, until finally the book was finished. 

Maddy had specified what she wanted on the cover, which was designed by Peter Coleborn of Penkull Press and by a stroke of luck, not to mention hard work, we managed to set publication day for 12th November, two days before Maddy’s birthday.

To share the joy we decided that all profits from the book would go to Blood Cancer UK in memory of my daughter and Maddy’s aunt who died of leukaemia on Christmas Eve 2002, aged 31. Posy, who was always up for an adventure, would have loved Poppy and Amelia and they are among my favourite characters in all the books I’ve written.

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Maddy is very proud of her achievement and has already had signing sessions for her friends. We’ve also sold a load of books through her local bookshop in Bristol, Storysmith.

All in all, we’ve had a great time doing The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia and, judging from the feedback we’re getting, our readers are enjoying the book too.

The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia is available on Amazon and all other digital outlets. You can also order it from any bookshop and from Hive.co.uk.

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Thank you for sharing that with us, Misha. What a lovely experience, and for a great cause too. A perfect story for Christmas time.

If you have been tempted to buy a copy of The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia, you can buy it here, and all the other places mentioned by Misha above.

About Misha Herwin

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Misha Herwin was born in England to Polish parents. English was not her first language but once she learned, she never stopped talking or writing. Her first efforts were stories and plays for her younger sister. Since then she has moved on to women’s fiction, kids books and has had a number of short stories published in anthologies in the US and UK.

Her latest book ‘Belvedere Crescent’ is a time slip novel.

Her books for children include’City of Secrets’ and ‘Bridge of Lies’ the first two books in the series of ‘The Adventures of Letty Parker’.

Her short stories can be found in ‘The Alchemy Book of Ancient Wonders’, ‘Magical’, ‘Bitch Lit’ ‘Voices of Angel’ ‘Dear Robot’ among others.

“The Awesome Adventures of Poppy and Amelia” is her first co-written book.

Connect with Misha:

Website: https://mishaherwin.wordpress.com/

Facebook: Misha Herwin

Twitter: @MishaHerwin

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Book Review: More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran

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A decade ago, Caitlin Moran thought she had it all figured out. Her instant bestseller How to Be a Woman was a game-changing take on feminism, the patriarchy, and the general ‘hoo-ha’ of becoming a woman. Back then, she firmly believed ‘the difficult bit’ was over, and her forties were going to be a doddle.

If only she had known: when middle age arrives, a whole new bunch of tough questions need answering. Why isn’t there such a thing as a ‘Mum Bod’? How did sex get boring? What are men really thinking? Where did all that stuff in the kitchen drawers come from? Can feminists have Botox? Why has wine turned against you? How can you tell the difference between a Teenage Micro-Breakdown, and The Real Thing? Has feminism gone too far? And, as always, WHO’S LOOKING AFTER THE CHILDREN?

Now with ageing parents, teenage daughters, a bigger bum and a To-Do list without end, Caitlin Moran is back with More Than A Woman: a guide to growing older, a manifesto for change, and a celebration of all those middle-aged women who keep the world turning.

It’s taken me ages to get round to writing this review, I finished the book weeks ago. I’m not sure why, I think I’ve been worried that I can’t do justice to how I feel about More Than A Woman within the confines of a blog post. I’d actually like to read it again and try and distill my thoughts a bit more but there isn’t time so I’m going in, for better or worse. Sometimes it’s harder to write a review of a book you loved passionately than it is a book you felt lukewarm about.

Caitlin’s previous book, How To Be A Woman, made me snort a copious quantity of hot tea down my nose on a crowded train back in 2011, which was both painful and embarrassing, so I approached this book with some caution. More Than A Woman has the same mixture of humour, brutal honesty, searing insight and pathos as the last one, but this time Caitlin has grown up, hit middle age and is sharing that experience with us, no holds barred and, just like last time, I recognised so much of my own life and experience between the pages.

Caitlin and I are of an age so, although much of our life experiences have been very different, the basic building blocks of being a forty-something woman in modern Britain are universal. Relationships, children, body issues, emotions – they work pretty much the same for all of us, and acknowledging this is a fundamental way of allowing us to empathise with and support our fellow women, and this is one of the great joys of this book. It’s like having a slightly drunken chat with your best mate, the one where you have imbibed just enough to bring down any nicety barriers, the woman is someone you have known so long that she is privy to all your embarrassing secrets and you can just lay it all out on the table for dissection. Catharsis for when you are struggling.

That’s what this book is. Catharsis. A sharing of pain and problems so that you don’t feel so alone, or abnormal, in the things that bother you from day to day. Caitlin is painfully blunt, she doesn’t hold back on telling it like it is, warts and all, and it is a beautiful thing to read. Every worry you ever had about your life is set out here and she shouts, ‘Look, me too, this is normal, YOU are normal!’ It is so comforting. It allows you to laugh at yourself, and put some things into perspective. It’s not the end of the world, we’re all going through it, and survive. Like the last book, she has such a skill in expressing things in a way that just make them hilarious, I found myself laughing out loud in many places. Luckily, I’ve learnt not to read her books in public any more. See, I’m growing and learning too, there are some benefits to ageing.

That’s not to say this book is all fun and jolly japes. She addresses some very serious issues too, the care of ageing parents, struggles with parenting. The chapters dealing with her daughter’s anorexia are heart-wrenching. There were points where I was in tears and my soul was cracking in sympathy with what she was going through, because I can all too clearly imagine how I would feel in that situation. That is the genius of this book, and Caitlin’s writing in particular. It is just so true, all of it, and she is not afraid to put it out there for us all to see. Her writing is really brave and insightful and comforting. I really, really loved this book and will be keeping it on the shelf next to How To Be A Woman, ready to dip into next time I need a friend. Especially important in this year when our real support network of friends have been out of reach in real life much of the time.

This is a book I would like to gift every woman of my age, because I want them all to read it and realise that we have much more in common that we have differences and it is really important for us to be there to support one another. You never know what the next woman is going through, and hiding under the cheerful and competent facade we often plaster on for the rest of the world. Maybe she needs a friend. A pat on the arm. A squeeze of understanding. That simple act can make the difference between surviving and going under. I know I couldn’t get through without the amazing female friends I have, this book is friendship between two shiny covers.

More Than A Woman is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Caitlin Moran became a columnist at The Times at eighteen and has gone on to be named Columnist of the Year six times. At one point, she was also Interviewer and Critic of the Year – which is good going for someone who still regularly mistypes ‘the’ as ‘hte’.

Her multi-award winning bestseller How to Be a Woman has been published in 28 countries, and won the British Book Awards’ Book of the Year 2011. Her two volumes of collected journalism, Moranthology and Moranifesto, were Sunday Times bestsellers.

Her first novel, How to Build a Girl, debuted at Number One, and is currently being adapted as a film. Bloody hell, that’s actually quite impressive.

Connect with Caitlin:

Website: https://www.caitlinmoran.co.uk/

Twitter: @caitlinmoran

Instagram: @mscaitlinmoran

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Blog Tour: Double Deceit by Julienne Brouwers #BookReview

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What if you were framed for a murder you didn’t commit? 

Jennifer Smits is a young mother, married to a hotshot lawyer and living in Amsterdam. Her world explodes when her husband is found dead at a holiday park during a weekend getaway. Convinced that the police have failed in their investigation, she embarks on a desperate quest for the truth – but the deeper she digs, the more she gets enmeshed in a tangled web of lies, spun by a ruthless law firm.

As Jennifer’s search for answers intensifies, her grip on reality weakens. Barely able to manage her patients at the health clinic, or take care of her young son, Jennifer is at risk of losing it all – even her closest friends begin to desert her. And then a chance encounter with a charming stranger sparks a new chain of events that plunges her deeper into a world of threats and corruption. Soon, she begins to fear for her life – but who can she trust, and how far will she go in pursuit of the truth?

I am delighted to be sharing my review today of Double Deceit by Julienne Brouwers. My thanks to Chris Nijs at JB Publishing for inviting me to take part and to Head of Zeus for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I was immediately drawn to the premise of the book as soon as I read the blurb. I am a sucker for a legal thriller and the prospect of a lone woman up against a nefarious group of lawyers is definitely something I want to read. I was hearing echoes of one of my favourite books, The Firm by John Grisham, and there were definite parallels between that book and this one as I read it, so if that is a book that is up your street, I know you will enjoy Double Deceit.

The book starts off with tension between the main character, Jennifer, and her husband Oliver whilst they are on a family break when their young son gets lost. I thought the story was going one way when Oliver later turns up dead, but it soon took a different turn and we are lead down a labyrinthine path, as more and more details of Oliver’s life before his death are revealed to an unsuspecting Jennifer and her faith in what she knew about her husband is shaken to the core. She begins to doubt his death is as straight forward as the police believe, and she becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth, to the point where she is alienating all around her.

The book is gripping, with numerous red herrings and dead ends thrown in to keep the reader guessing right until the end. Just when you think you know where it is going, there is a huge twist thrown in and, I have to say, I kept changing my mind between different theories as to what had happened, right up until the final chapter, so it was very cleverly done in that respect. There were numerous different endings that the book could have had, some that maybe would have been even more interesting than how it finally turned out, but overall I was satisfied with the way the plot turned out.

The author has developed some very interesting characters in the book. I thought the way she explored the emotional fallout for Jennifer of her husband’s death and being left alone with a small child to bring up alone was fascinating and realistic. How quickly her friends abandoned her when they thought she was going a bit crazy over the way her husband dies was very upsetting and makes you wonder what your friends would do in that situation. It was an interesting exploration of the dynamics of relationships and the robustness of the human spirit, how much we should trust our gut about people and how well we know them.

If I had any tiny niggles, one was that some of Jennifer’s actions required a bit of a stretch of credulity to accept, but this is often the case in a book of this sort, it isn’t supposed to be real life. Also, some of the writing, particularly in the speech patterns, sounded quite formal and not one hundred per cent natural. However, I put this down to English being the author’s second language and I think it is quite forgivable in that context.

I really enjoyed Double Deceit and would definitely read more books by this author in the future, it kept me  clenched in its grip for a good few hours. Highly recommended.

Double Deceit is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do check out the blogs listed below for more reviews of the book:

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About the Author

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Julienne Brouwers worked as a pharmaceutical scientist and medical physicist before becoming a writer. She lives in the Netherlands, with her husband and three children, where she has published two successful thrillers, and lived in the UK and US for a total of four years. 

Connect with Julienne:

Facebook: Julienne Brouwers

Twitter: @JulienneAuthor

Instagram: @juliennebrouwers

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