Blog Tour: A Beautiful Breed of Evil by Andy Maslen #BookReview

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I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for A Beautiful Breed of Evil by Andy Maslen. my thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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He’ll never speak of the evil they did…

A former Swedish ambassador lies dead in his swanky Mayfair flat. With his tongue torn out and placed on a Bible. Competing theories swirl. A religious maniac? A psychopath? The truth is far darker than either. DCI Stella Cole’s search for the killer takes her to Sweden. There, she discovers a horrific chapter in the country’s history that throws the case into turmoil. And then more people start dying.


Teaming up with Swedish cops Oskar Norgrim and Johanna Carlsson, Stella pieces together Ambassador Brömly’s shocking past. And discovers the killer’s motive.

Meanwhile, Stella’s personal life is about to take a significant turn as her boyfriend, Jamie, suggests a change in their relationship. But as Stella tries to process what it means, she makes a fateful decision.

Why won’t the dead stay buried?

On the other side of the Atlantic, a kid practising BMX stunts over water finds a skeleton on a lake bed. When the victim is revealed to be a British cop, the FBI ask for assistance. Stella’s arch-enemy from her own department gets the case. She flies to Chicago and soon discovers the murderer’s identity.

The scene is set for a showdown in Sweden as DI Roisin Griffin pursues her vendetta against Stella all the way to the north of Sweden during the annual festival of Midsommar.

Although this is the fifth book in the series by Andy Maslen featuring DCI Stella Cole, it is the first one that I have read and it is obvious from reading this book that Stella has had quite an eventful career already and there have been some explosive goings on in her past that I really need to go back and read about. However, the fact that I haven’t read the previous books did not detract from my enjoyment of this book at all, it just made me want to go back and catch up! The author fills you in on everything you need to know to keep up with the plot here but, events from previous books feed quite heavily into parts of the story here so, if you are going to dive into the series, it would probably make sense to start from the beginning with Hit and Runwhich I have just downloaded to my Kindle.

The book opens with a very dramatic murder scene, so you know from the beginning that this is not a series for the shy and retiring. A Swedish ex-diplomat has been murdered in a very brutal way, and it is clear from the beginning that this is a complicated case which involves investigation across international borders. I loved this aspect of the case, as we follow Stella on her trip to Sweden to track down the killer in the victim’s homeland. It leant a different slant to the standard crime novel to see how international police forces work together across borders to solve a case, and to see how policing differs across countries.

The motives behind the case gradually become clear and are very shocking, and they touch on a topic which is very relevant to modern discourse in some circles but horrifying to most of us. The case is based on real events that happened in Sweden, but which I had no idea about until I did some investigation after reading this book. I absolutely love it when books teach me something I didn’t know before, just in the course of reading a piece of fiction, and the author gets this story across extremely effectively in this novel, really making you think about the issue and how it is relevant today. Reading around the subject taught me lots of things about a practice I had no idea was so terrifyingly widespread and ideas that we need to make very sure never gain traction again.

At the same time as she is in Sweden investigating the murder, Stella’s colourful past threatens to catch up with her as an arch rival doggedly pursues a line of enquiry which she hopes will bring Stella down. This also involves travelling to another jurisdiction and co-operating with a police force in another country, so the book is filled with action and interest. There was a huge amount of tension and urgency and threat in this book which made it one of those novels that is absolutely impossible to put down. There is no real let up in the impetus, so the reader is compelled to keep turning the pages from beginning to end, until you are at the final page before you know it. The sign of a really great, gripping thriller.

Stella Cole is not your ordinary DCI in the Met police. She is, to paraphrase Liam Neeson, in possession of certain skills that make her a formidable opponent. She has a healthy regard for the law, but also for stretching it to its limits when called for, in the mould of all great maverick cops in literary history, and a joyous disregard for her own safety that means the reader never quite knows what she is going to do next. It keeps her superiors, her adversaries and the reader on their toes throughout, and makes her a delight as a protagonist. I definitely want to read more about her and what drives her, and am very glad that I have four previous novels in the series to go back and enjoy.

For me, this series is a great discovery and I am grateful that blogging has allowed me to come across this author and this series. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of detective thrillers who like a feisty protagonist and an author who isn’t afraid to push the envelope and deal with some hard issues. But I’d say start at the beginning, which is where I am will be going back to as soon as I can.

A Beautiful Breed of Evil is out now as an ebook and in paperback and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you visit some of the other marvellous blogs taking part in the tour for this book:

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About the Author

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Andy Maslen was born in Nottingham, in the UK, home of legendary bowman Robin Hood. Andy once won a medal for archery, although he has never been locked up by the sheriff.

He has worked in a record shop, as a barman, as a door-to-door DIY products salesman and a cook in an Italian restaurant.

He lives in Wiltshire with his wife, two sons and a whippet named Merlin.

Connect with Andy:

Website: www.andymaslen.com

Facebook: Andy Maslen

Twitter: @Andy_Maslen

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#BloggerInTheSpotlight – Julie from A Little Book Problem – @book_problem

Today I am being grilled by Joanne over on Portobello Book Blog on all things reading and blogging. Why not come and join us?

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I’m so happy to be sharing this post today as it’s been a long time since I had anyone take part in my Blogger Spotlight. If you are a book blogger and would like to take part, do get in touch. I’m delighted to be joined by Julie who blogs as A Little Book Problem. Do pop over and have a read of her fabulous reviews if you don’t already follow her.

Thanks for agreeing to take part in my Blogger in the Spotlight feature Julie. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?

Hello! I’m Julie, 48 years old, mum of two, former lawyer, aspiring writer and blogger. Not sure what else there is to know about me really! Apart from I am a proud Yorkshire woman and notable short-arse.

What books/authors did you enjoy as a child?

I was of the generation where Enid…

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Karen King

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It is time to grill another romance writer about why they write what they write and what inspires their love-filled stories. Today, I am delighted to be chatting to author… Karen King.

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

I write heartwarming, feel-good romance novels set in gorgeous locations such as Cornwall and Spain. My heroines are usually feisty and independent and definitely not looking for a permanent relationship. I’ve had eight romance novels published, the first one Never Say Forever, was originally a pocket novel for People’s Friend but is now republished by Headline Accent. Since then I’ve had seven more romance novels published and have a contract with Headline Accent for three more. The first one, One Summer in Cornwall, will be published on 29th April, and is set in Port Medden, the little Cornish town where The Cornish Hotel by the Sea is set. I’ve really enjoyed writing about some of the favourite characters and bringing in new ones. I’ve also written two psychological thrillers for Bookouture, the first one, The Stranger in my Bed, was out in November and the second one will be out later this year.

Why romance?

I’ve been a published author for over thirty years and started out writing romance, photo stories for Jackie magazine, and short romance stories for magazines like Patches and Loving. Showing my age here! Then I moved onto writing for children’s magazines, and children’s books but I always wanted to write a romance novel so am delighted to have achieved that dream. I’m fascinated by how people get together, how they decide that someone is the right person for them. I enjoy writing about relationships, although we know that there is going to be a HEA with a romance I find it really interesting to write about the hero and heroine’s journey until they realise and finally admit that they love each other.

What inspires your stories?

It can be anything, an overheard conversation, someone I see in the street, a beautiful location.

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

There are so many, too many to choose a favourite. Margaret Mitchell, Catherine Cookson, Danielle Steele and Penny Vincenzi are old favourites of mine, current ones are Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes, Sue Moorcroft, Mandy Baggot and Heidi Swain.

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

I think Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me? it’s funny, romantic and the characters are so credible.

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Lexi wakes up in a hospital bed after a car accident, thinking she’s twenty-five with crooked teeth and a disastrous love life. But, to her disbelief, she learns it’s actually three years later – she’s a super-toned twenty-eight-year-old, her teeth are straight, she’s the boss of her department – and she’s married to a good-looking millionaire!

She can’t believe her luck – especially when she sees her stunning new loft apartment. And she’ll definitely have a fantastic marriage once she gets to know her husband again. He’s drawn up a ‘marriage manual’, which should help.

But soon she realises her perfect life isn’t all it seems. All her old friends hate her. A rival is after her job. Then a dishevelled, sexy guy turns up… and lands a new bombshell.

What the **** happened to her? Will she ever remember? And what will happen if she does?

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

Oh gosh, I can’t think of anyone. Sorry. Can I take my very own romantic hero, my hubby Dave, and send us both on a Caribbean cruise, stopping off for a few days in Barbados?

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

I love the RNA. It’s such a warm, friendly organisation, the support from the other authors is fantastic. I’m the blog coordinator and enjoy reading all the different blogs, there’s such a lot of information there. It can be a bit frantic at times trying to organise everything -especially in February and March when we have Romance Reading Month and the RNA Awards. The RNA team is fantastic though, and everyone pulls together.

The best thing I’ve gained from the RNA is a three-book contract with Accent Press, which led to a contract for three romance novels for Bookouture, and now another three for Headline Accent. I love to tell the story of how I arrived at my first RNA conference with a synopsis for a romance novel, the second conference with that novel sold and a contract for two more, and for my third conference the book was on sale in the lobby!

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

Stop faffing about and get writing! Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, get it down and then you can edit it.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

One Summer in CornwalI will be published on 29th April. I’d wanted to go back to Port Medden for a long time, and give Marcus, the chef who only had a brief mention in The Cornish Hotel by the Sea, his own story so was delighted when Headline Accent said they would be interested in publishing it, and another two books. I often scroll Pinterest for inspiration for my characters and when I spotted a photo of a woman on a motorbike I had Hattie (my heroine) then I threw in a parrot that swears (inspired by a friend’s parrot) and an inheritance and there was my story.

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When Hattie is made redundant and evicted from her flat in one horrible week, she needs time to rethink. Her Uncle Albert left her and her father each half of Fisherman’s Rest, his home in the Cornish town of Port Medden, so this seems the perfect place to escape to until she can figure things out.

As Hattie stays in the cottage, clearing it out, tidying it up and getting it ready to sell, she starts to find her feet in Port Medden and making a new home here begins to feel right. If only her dad didn’t need a quick sale and things weren’t complicated by her unwelcoming neighbour Marcus . . .

One Summer in Cornwall will be published in ebook and paperback formats on 29 April and you can pre-order it here.

About The Author

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Karen King is a multi-published author of both adult and children’s books. She has had eight romantic novels published, one psychological thriller with another one out later this year, 120 children’s books, two young adult novels, and several short stories for women’s magazines. Her romantic novel The Cornish Hotel by the Sea became an international bestseller, reaching the top one hundred in the Kindle charts in both the UK and Australia. Karen is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Karen now lives in Spain where she loves to spend her non-writing time exploring the quaint local towns with her husband, Dave, when she isn’t sunbathing or swimming in the pool, that is.

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenking.net/

Facebook: Karen King Author

Twitter: @karen_king

Instagram: @karenkingauthor

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Book Review: Under The Bridge: Book 1 -Liverpool Mystery Series by Jack Byrne #BookReview

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2004

The discovery of a body in the Liverpool docklands unearths long forgotten secrets. Reporter Anne McCarthy is keen to prove herself and dives into the case with abandon. There she finds Michael, an old Irish caretaker who knows far more than he’s letting on and may have
a connection to the body.

Vinny Connolly is starting a postgrad degree, researching Liverpool’s migrant history and a burgeoning Scouse identity. But Vinny has been neglecting his own family history and stranger Michael might know about
his father’s disappearance in the 70s.

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Escaping poverty in Ireland and fresh off the boat, Michael falls in with Wicklow boys Jack Power and Paddy Connolly, who smuggle contraband through the docks, putting them at odds with the unions. While organisers rally the dockworkers against the strikebreakers and rackets. A story of corruption, secret police, and sectarianism slowly unravels.
But will the truth out?

As the conflict heightens, Michael questions the life sprawling out ahead of him, while in the present, Anne races to solve the mystery, but is she prepared for what she’ll find?

I was asked if I would review this book by the publisher and was provided with a digital copy of the book for this purpose. My thanks to the publisher, I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This book is a interesting mix of social history and murder mystery that provided a fascinating insight into cultural and social tensions in the Garston and Speke areas of Liverpool in the 1970s. It is really obvious from the writing that the author is passionate about presenting an authentic portrayal of the period and the area, and has done a lot of research into the time period; this shines through in the writing.

The book is a dual timeline story. The first timeline involves reporter, Anne, who is chasing down a story on the identity of a skeleton uncovered on a building site in the docks area of Liverpool in 2004. Her investigation takes her into the world of union activity around the docklands in the 1970s and criminal gangs that were active at the time. Her ferreting around in this history leaves her up against some people who would rather the past stay buried. At the same time, her friend, Vinny, who is working on a social history of Irish immigration into Liverpool post-war, fears the skeleton may uncover secrets that are too close to his own family history.

The second timeline takes us back to the 1970s and the life of Michael, an Irish immigrant who is drawn into the criminal world when he first arrives in Liverpool, until a dramatic event at the time leads him to reconsider the path he is on. When Anne meets Michael in the present, he becomes the key to unlocking the skeleton’s identity.

The dual timeline works really well, and I found the accurately researched and portrayed history of this time and this area of Liverpool really interesting. For anyone interested in social history, and who enjoys books with real historical fact woven into a fictional narrative, this book will be really appealing. It made me go off and do some further reading about one particular event that is referred to in the book, which is always a sure sign that a book has grabbed my attention. The mystery aspect of the book is also really well done and kept me turning the pages from beginning to end.

The one thing that let this book down a little was the characterisation, particularly of Anne and Vinny in the modern day. They just didn’t feel completely developed, to the point that I didn’t really become invested in what was happening to them or in their relationship. This was not true of the characters back in the 1970s, they were much more alive and vibrant on the page, and may these sections of the book more appealing. It really felt like the author was much more enthralled by the historical aspects of the story than the modern day, which gave the book a little bit of an uneven feel. Richer, more honest development of the younger characters was needed for this book to be a standout.

Overall, this was a really engaging mystery novel, with a strong sense of time and place that would make an excellent read for anyone who is interested in social history and likes this kind of fact-based fictional telling of it.

Under The Bridge is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jack was born and raised in Speke Liverpool, (Paul McCartney lived in the street behind him for a while) although his parents first lived ‘Under The Bridge’ in Garston, and all his family goes back to Wicklow in Ireland.

The Liverpool Mystery Series will be four novels. Under The Bridge is the first. He is writing Fire Next Time now, and The Wicklow Boys will follow next year. You can find The One Road prequel a collection of short stories on Amazon.

Connect with Jack:

Website: https://jackbyrne.home.blog/

Facebook: Jack Byrne

Twitter: @Jackbyrnewriter

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Book Review: Almost Damned by Christopher Leibig #BookReview

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Defense attorney Samson Young has an uncanny ability to get even the so-called worst clients off the hook, as he ably demonstrated in Almost Mortal. In Almost Damned, little does Sam know that his most challenging cases are all leading up to one monumental trial, in which he will lay before the Court the visceral complexities of good vs. evil.

As Sam navigates his cases in Bennet County, it becomes increasingly apparent that his clients-old and new-are surprisingly interconnected, especially when old clients rise from the dead. Literally. He and his office are besieged by death threats and mysterious invitations, each one a clue that compels him to dig deeper into his own past. With each new discovery, Sam leads himself and his team deeper into a nether world in an attempt to bring redemption to his toughest clients of all-the descendants of the biblical Fallen Angels who have been walking the earth as humans for centuries, unable to find peace.

Almost Damned is the second book by Christopher Leibig featuring defense attorney Samson Young, following on from Almost Mortal. I am grateful to publicist Sabrina Dax for inviting me to review the book and to the author and publisher for providing me with copies of both books for this purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Regular readers of the blog will know that legal thrillers are one of my favourite genres and I consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur, having read pretty much every author of note over the years. However, I have never read one like this before. Christopher Leibig has combined the legal thriller genre with a paranormal twist to come up with something quite unique and intriguing.

Although Almost Damned can be read as a standalone, I would recommend reading Almost Mortal first, as it sets up events for the second book and will give you a great understanding of Samson and his past and why he finds himself in the position as lawyer for the Fallen Angels. It will also ease you in to Christopher’s style of writing, which is elaborate, complex and detailed and requires a certain level of concentration.

When you pick up the books, they seem quite thin, but they pack a huge punch. The world the author has built is rich and elaborate, mixing historical flashbacks and esoteric ideas with the very modern and immediate world of law. It is a juxtaposition that could be an uncomfortable jumble, but the author sorts through it with confidence and panache. However, it does require attention from the reader to keep up, this is not a quick easy read.

I thought the author’s portrayal of the legal world was very accurate, showing the hurly burly and every day jumble that legal defence practice is. Some books have lawyers focusing on one case at a time, with leisure to pursue every lead to their hearts content. This isn’t the reality. In reality, lawyers juggle dozens of cases all at once, jumping from one to the next in the blink of an eye and having to have recall of all the facts at their fingertips. This really comes across in the writing here, and I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the book.

When it comes to the other aspect of the novel, the trial of the Fallen Angels in front of a jury of Archangels, here we are reaching the heights of philosophy and religious dogma, and it isn’t going to be for everyone. Some of the ideas explored here are an intellectual reach, and had me pondering what he was saying for a long while after I had finished the book. It is a bold and brave idea to explore, and he carries it off very well, but I did wonder how he came up with it. It would not be a genre blend I would ever have contemplated attempting but it does make for a very fascinating and individual read.

I don’t think these books will be for everyone, they are a densely-packed mix of ambitious and elaborate ideas with frenetic activity, lavish language and numerous characters, all with more than one name. They require attention while reading, not an idle way to pass a lazy afternoon, but reward the reader with a new and beguiling world to explore. I would recommend them to someone who is always on the hunt for that outlier novel that pushes the boundaries of what has been done before.

Almost Damned will be released in ebook and paperback formats on 1 April and you can pre-order it here. The first book in the series, Almost Mortal, is out now and you can get it here.

About the Author

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Christopher Leibig is a novelist and criminal defense lawyer who lives and works in Alexandria, Virginia. His first two published books, Saving Saddam(a 2008 novel about the trial of Saddam Hussein) and Montanamo (a 2010 novel about Guantanamo Bay detainees being housed in a small Montana town’s prison) were published by Artnik Books in London. Saving Saddam was re-released in 2014 under its original American title, The Black RabbitChris also has several published short stories – Secret Admirer (The Cynic on-line magazine 2004) Coldcocked (Skyline magazine 2004), Fly (The Cynic on-line magazine 2009), Intervention (Traveller’s Playground Press 2014), and Paradise City (Traveller’s Playground Press 2014). The Black Rabbit, MontanamoIntervention, and Paradise City are also available on audiobook by Audible.

Chris’s law firm, the Law Office of Christopher Leibig, represents individuals charged with or being investigated for serious criminal offenses throughout Virginia and in Washington. DC. His firm has received numerous awards and recognitions, including inclusion in Washingtonian Magazine’s Top Lawyers in Criminal Defense every year since 2011. Chris has also published numerous articles on criminal defense and related politics – including in the Huffington Post and The Examiner – and appeared as a legal expert regularly since 2009 in print and television media – including Fox News, CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Sports Illustrated. In recent years Chris has regularly handled high profile criminal cases in the DC area and travelled abroad to speak to law schools. Since 2012, Chris and his colleagues have lectured on criminal defense throughout Virginia, and in Scotland, Ireland, Trinidad, The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Denmark.

Connect with Christopher:

Website: https://chrisleibig.com/

Facebook: Chris Leibig

Twitter: @chrisleibig

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Friday Night Drinks with… Jo Jakeman

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Time for another tipple with a guest from the publishing world and tonight I am sharing Friday Night Drinks with author… Jo Jakeman.

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Welcome to the blog, Jo, thank you for taking the time to chat to me. First things first, what are you drinking?

A large glass of red wine. 19 Crimes of course because, you know, crime writer!

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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?

There’s a bar I’m quite fond of frequenting on a Friday evening that’s just on the sea front and within staggering distance. They do the most amazing sea food which I like to wash down with a Dark and Stormy cocktail. Bring a coat though, it can get a bit chilly when the sun sets.

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That looks absolutely delicious, you’ve made me hungry! 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?

Claudia Winkleman, Ryan Reynolds. They both seem incredibly funny and down to earth.

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?

Just finishing up the line edits for Who Killed Oscar Lomas? which is the book that will be coming out in January 2022. It’s about a woman, called Beth, who refuses to believe that her husband died by suicide, despite all evidence. I’m often moved by that strength families have – that insistence that they know better than the police in the face of all the evidence because they know their loved one wouldn’t have died by suicide, or know that their daughter wouldn’t have run away. Is it faith? Stubbornness? Or is there some sort of bond that we can’t explain?

Really interesting ideas to explore. What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

I’m proud of so much (not in a braggy way!) but getting a book deal was amazing. Selling in America, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Poland, Greece… Every time I see my book in a shop it gives me a thrill. But I think the thing that makes me the proudest and makes all the knockbacks worthwhile, is when I hear from a reader that my book meant something to them, that it helped in some little way.

The biggest challenge has been dealing with the self-doubt. When the book doesn’t storm the charts or you see an amazon review saying that they didn’t like the book, you doubt yourself. And when I’m full of self-doubt I find it hard to be creative. Book 2, Safe House, was a slog because I was second guessing myself all the time.

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 want to be a Sunday Times best seller. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it does. It is validation, it’s all that hard work paying off. And it means I might be able to afford a holiday next year.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

This is between us, yeah? I’m a little bit ahead of schedule now seeing as so much has been delayed because of COVID. So, I’m doing a bit of research for a novel set in the 1950s. I was left a few boxes of letters and diaries of a family friend called Moyra, and I’m writing a story based on them. It’s a lot harder than writing my modern day thrillers as there are actual facts and dates to contend with but I am loving it. I feel so lucky to have access to these resources.

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?

Right now, I’d settle for anywhere warm. I was born in Cyprus and I have a soft spot for a Greek island, so I’d love to do some island-hopping and cross some others off my list. Kefalonia and Ithaka have been my favourites so far.

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That look beautiful, Kefalonia is definitely high on my bucket list. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’m addicted to cold water swimming. I was in the sea on Christmas day wearing an elf hat!!

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Brrr! 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’?

Daisy Jones and the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid.

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Everybody knows Daisy Jones and the Six.

From the moment Daisy walked barefoot on to the stage at the Whisky, she and the band were a sensation. Their sound defined an era. Their albums were on every turntable. They sold out arenas from coast to coast.

This is the story of their incredible rise: the desire, the rivalry – and the music.

Then, on 12 July 1979, Daisy Jones and the Six split up.

Nobody knew why. Until now…

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?

Drink a pint of water before bed, and makes sure there’s bacon in the house for tomorrow morning’s bacon-buttie.

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

I wake up to a gorgeous sunny day, so I walk the coastal path with my husband and kids round to a secluded cove where I have a quick dip in the sea then back home for a barbecue and a couple of beers.

Jo, thank you so much for joining me this evening, it has been a real pleasure.

Jo’s latest book, Safe House came out in paperback in January, and you can buy a copy here. It is only 99p on Kindle until the end of the month. Charlie has been recently released from prison after providing a false alibi for the man she loved. Now living in a remote Cornish village, with a new identity, she wants to put the past behind her but someone knows who she is. And they don’t believe in second chances.

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SHE LIED TO PROTECT A KILLER. NOW THERE’S NOWHERE LEFT TO HIDE. . .

The morning after a great storm, a woman arrives in a remote Cornish village.

But Charlie, as she now calls herself, steers clear of the locals and keeps a low profile – because she has a terrible secret.

Recently released from prison after providing a false alibi for the man she loved, Charlie wants to move on and start afresh. But someone, somewhere, is watching her, determined that she will never get that second chance.

Jo Jakeman was the winner of the prestigious Friday Night Live Award at York Festival of Writing where she was also shortlisted for Best Opening Chapter for the novel that would become her debut. This book was shortlisted for Best Revenge Novel at the Dead Good Reader Awards.

Born in Cyprus, Jo worked for many years in the City of London before moving to Derbyshire and changing careers.

Following completion of a Creative Writing course with Curtis Brown Creative, Jo has used her experience of family and work life to write stories which challenge readers to think past the respectability of domestic facades.

Her novels are published by Harvill Secker in the UK, Berkley in the US and Random House Canada.

Find out more about Jo and her books on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Extract: A Comfortable Alliance by Catherine Kullmann

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Can they open their hearts to something much deeper and passionate? Will their marriage only ever be a comfortable alliance?

Six years ago, Helena Swift’s fiancé was fatally wounded at Waterloo. Locking away all dreams of the heart, she retreated to a safe family haven. On the shelf and happy to be there, Helena has perfected the art of deterring would-be suitors.

Will, Earl of Rastleigh, is the only son of an only son: marriage is his duty. One of the great prizes of the marriage market, he shies away from a cold, society union. While he doesn’t expect love, he seeks something more comfortable. But how to find the woman who will welcome him into her life and her bed, and be a good mother to their children?

When Will meets Helena, he is intrigued by her composure, her kindness and her intelligence. As their friendship develops, he realises he has found his ideal wife, if only he can overcome her well-known aversion to matrimony

Will succeeds in slipping past Helena’s guard. Tempted by the thought of children of her own, and encouraged by her mother to leave the shallows where she has lingered so long, she accepts his offer of a marriage based not on dangerous love but affectionate companionship and mutual respect.

But is this enough? As Will gets to know his wife better, and the secrets of her past unfold, he realises that they have settled for second-best. Can he change the basis of their marriage? Will Helena risk her heart and dare to love again?

Congratulations to Catherine Kullmann on the publication of her new Regency novel, A Comfortable Alliance.  In it, her hero and heroine agree on a pragmatic marriage with benefits, only to find their comfortable alliance complicated by love.

In celebration, I’m delighted to be able to share with you this extract from A Comfortable Alliance.

Chapter One

London, 19 July 1821

“A hit!”

The Earl of Rastleigh stepped back, raised his foil to salute his opponent and then went forward to shake his hand. “A good bout, Stephen.”

“Have you been taking extra lessons from Angelo, Will?” his lordship’s oldest friend, Stephen Graham MP enquired. “That last was a neat trick.”

“Not directly. A visiting French master called here last week. He demonstrated some new moves.”

“Which you are going to share with me, I trust?”

Will laughed. “Only one at a time. I’ll not sacrifice my advantage so easily.”

“But you can at least demonstrate that last one.”

His lordship obliged, slowly going through the movement and then engaging with his friend as he tried it out. He stretched. “I needed that after so much sitting yesterday. Now for a beefsteak and a tankard of ale.”

Settled at a quiet table in The Blue Posts in Cork Street, Mr Graham raised his tankard of Burton Ale to his friend. “My parents desire me to convey their compliments to you. I went home briefly after Parliament was prorogued and they—and my sisters—were eager to hear how you went on. Do you plan to be at the Castle this summer?”

“I don’t know. I must stay in town until next week’s levée at Carlton House, but then I’m committed to my aunt Walton in Wiltshire. Perhaps I can spend some days at Rastleigh before I go to Ireland. My visit to my mother is late anyway this year; another week or two should not matter.”

“You have a summer of dissipation ahead of you, I see,” Mr Graham said solemnly. He grinned at Rastleigh’s raised eyebrow. “It might be better for you if you did, Will. You know what they say about all work and no play. If you ask me, you need to shake off the old Earl. He still seems to whisper in your ear. You have been Rastleigh for almost five years. It is time you set your own mark on the Earldom.”

“And set up as a rakehell, you mean? How unfortunate that Byron has never returned. He would be an entertaining guide to the various circles of hell.”

“No need to go that far!” Mr Graham protested, laughing. “Why, you might be refused entrance to Almack’s.”

“You have convinced me, Stephen. Dissipation it shall be, if it spares me that evil nest of husband-hunting minxes and their even more predatory Mammas.”

“Not so fast. For every young miss who is warned to avoid you, you’ll have a Caro Lamb seeking your attentions in the most importunate way.”

“Ah, the sirens of the ton! I shall continue to cling to the mast of duty.”

“Not too tightly, I trust,” his friend replied knowingly. “Is pretty Mrs Blake still in town?”

“No, alas. But let’s be honest, Stephen. You know that these little affairs run their course and in the end are not very satisfying.”

“I agree. I never thought to hear myself say this, Will, but maybe ’tis time we considered matrimony.”

“Perhaps you’re right. But I confess that that is where my grandfather’s voice rings loudest in my ear. He was never tired of preaching that, as the only son of an only son, it was my duty to marry and sire heirs.”

“Whatever about the second, you would have no problem in achieving the first. I cannot imagine any house refusing to entertain an offer from Rastleigh.”

“And that is why I have held off so long. I have no wish for a grand alliance with a dutiful bride who will go her own way once she has presented me with a son or two. I want something more comfortable.”

“Comfortable! You don’t choose a wife the way you engage a mistress.”

Will grinned. “Perhaps there would be fewer unhappy marriages if you did. I would want to be sure I was welcome in my wife’s bed and in her life. But enough of that. What news of your family and of Rastleigh?”

“All is well with the family. My father thinks of retiring in favour of Paul, if you are agreeable. The living is in your gift, is it not?”

“Yes, and I should be happy to have your brother returned to us. Your parents would remain with us, I hope?”

“I think they would like to if a suitable house may be found. They cannot remain at the Rectory if Paul is to establish his authority.”

“I agree. I shall consult with your father when I am next at the Castle.”

“Better talk to my mother too, if ’tis about where she will live,” Mr Graham recommended. “She’s by far the more practical of the two. And that reminds me—she feels all is not well at the Castle. Couldn’t put her finger on it—just a feeling you know, but time you went down again, she says.”

Will sighed. “It has never really felt right to me, either, Stephen. It is my principal seat, I know, but not my home. However, I shall try and spend some weeks there once I return from Ireland. I rarely last longer than a fortnight except over the Christmas period, and even then, I leave as soon as I am able.”

©Catherine Kullmann 2021

If you would like to read more, you can buy a copy of A Comfortable Alliance here. 

About the Author

Catherine Kullmann 4 MB (2)

Catherine Kullmann was born and educated in Dublin. Following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, she moved to Germany where she lived for twenty-five years before returning to Ireland. She has worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector.

Catherine has always been interested in the extended Regency period, a time when the foundations of our modern world were laid. Her books are set against a background of the offstage, Napoleonic wars and consider in particular the situation of women trapped in a patriarchal society. She also blogs about historical facts and trivia related to this era.

Connect with Catherine:

Website: https://www.catherinekullmann.com/

Facebook: Catherine Kullmann Author

Twitter: @CKullmannAuthor

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Book Review: Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde #BookReview

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CAN YOU FIND THE FAMOUS PERSON HIDDEN IN EVERY STORY?

Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves, they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth?

It’s publication day for Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde, a unique and novel collection of stories that are a mysterious peep inside the lives of some people you might think you know. But can you work out who they are? Happy publication day, Simon, and thank you for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

When Simon approached me about reviewing this book, I can say I was intrigued. It is a concept I haven’t come across before – a collection of stories about the early lives of famous or infamous people, revealing clues about who they are, and little known facts about their early lives, but leaving the reader to try and guess who the author might be talking about. A curious but fascinating mix of fact and fiction, it was definitely something I needed to take a look at.

The book comprises fourteen short stories, giving us a snapshot in time in the lives of well known or notorious characters who will be familiar to most of us, but maybe not in the ways portrayed here. An interesting mix of fact woven into fiction, the author writes as if he is telling a story, and it is for the reader to dig beneath the prose to find out who is hiding behind the mask, and possibly find out things about popular figures we never knew before. This was certainly true for me. Whilst I am sure I worked out who each story was talking about, there were certainly some facts in there that I hadn’t known before, and sent me scuttling to the internet in search of confirmation that the author hadn’t made the basic facts up. The story, Banjo Boy, in particular had me saying, ‘Well, I never knew that about him before!’ From this perspective alone, it is a fascinating book to pick up.

The collection of characters that Simon chooses to explore is a curious one. Some I can understand why he wanted to discuss, a couple were less obvious, and a couple of them made me incredibly uncomfortable. Simon really gets under the skin and into the minds of the people he is talking about, and this is disturbing in the case of a couple of the less savoury characters. Being able to stir an emotion in the reader is the sign of a good writer; this is no less true when the emotion stirred is disquiet. I’m not sure I want to be in the skin of some of these people.

This is a book that is good for dipping in and out of, rather than reading through in one go, and would make a great topic of discussion between friends. I have already seen a fellow blogger saying she can’t work out who one of the subjects is and, since I think I know, I will reach out and see if she agrees with my theory later. Some of them are more obvious than others and, I think some of them will be easier to suss out for people of my generation than younger folk. It is a concept that played out well against my expectations and I applaud the author for achieving something new and interesting.

Backstories is available in all formats from today and you can buy a copy here.

And, if you need any additional reason to buy the book, beyond my review above, Simon is donating 30% of all profits from Backstories to Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.

About the Author

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Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as travelling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction)

in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Short- story Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney and two tyrannical children.

Connect with Simon:

Website: https://www.simonvandervelde.com/

Facebook: Simon Van Der Velde

Twitter: @SimonVdWriter

Instagram: @simonvdvwriter

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Blog Tour: Hotel Cartagena by Simone Buchholz; Translated by Rachel Ward #BookReview

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Twenty floors above the shimmering lights of the Hamburg docks, Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley is celebrating a birthday with friends in a hotel bar when twelve heavily armed men pull out guns, and take everyone hostage. Among the hostages is Konrad Hoogsmart, the hotel owner, who is being targeted by a young man whose life – and family – have been destroyed by Hoogsmart’s actions.

With the police looking on from outside – their colleagues’ lives at stake – and Chastity on the inside, increasingly ill from an unexpected case of sepsis, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation … and a devastating outcome for the team … all live streamed in a terrifying bid for revenge.

I’ve been waiting impatiently for my turn on the blog tour for Hotel Cartagena by Simone Buchholz, the fourth book featuring Chastity Riley, and the day is finally here, hurrah! I ADORE this series and I am so grateful to Anne Cater for giving me one of the coveted places on the tour to talk about how much I love it, and to Karen at Orenda Books for providing me with an advance digital copy for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially as always.

Nobody writes like Simone Buchholz. I don’t think there are many people who would dare. Every one of her books is different, every one feels like a slap to the face dealt to rouse you from your reading complacency and tell you to pay attention, every one is as fresh and unapologetically brazen – just like the character of Chastity Riley herself. Hotel Cartagena is no different, equally unmistakably Buchholz and unlike any of the previous books in the series.

We start immediately in the action, as Chastity finds herself at the centre of a hostage situation whilst celebrating Faller’s 65th birthday in a bar on the eighteenth floor of a harbourside hotel. The hostage takers are well-organised and determined, there is no easy way out, but it is hard for a bunch of law enforcement professionals to sit around and watch a crime being played out. I was immediately on the edge of my seat, wondering what they would do and fearful for them all, a situation mirrored by Chastity herself. The tensions between her colleagues that have been building over the previous books, largely due to Chastity’s complicated relationships with each of them, transfer themselves to their current situation, and we can see how these relationships are thrown into sharp relief by the stressful, knife-edge situation in which they find themselves.

One person missing from the room is Stepanovic, late to the party due  to a reluctance to put himself in a position of having to see Chastity in a social setting with two of her ex (or not so ex) lovers. The woman drives him crazy, he is trying to convince himself to forget her. However, as we see Stepanovic’s increasingly desperate concern for Riley manifesting in insubordination, aggression and crazy rescue plans, we can glean directly from his first person reaction to her plight his realisation just what she means to him, exactly as he reaches those conclusions himself.

Layered in amongst the present  unfolding of the hostage situation through Chastity’s eyes, we are also given information on the hostage takers and how this whole mess came about through a series of historical flashbacks. Far from taking away from the tension, understanding why what is happening is happening adds to the angst, because it becomes less and less clear who are the good and bad guys in this scenario. Throwing these shades of grey into the equation, exploring the nature of choice and necessity in the descent into a criminal life, and the motivations behind revenge and retribution stir the pot so that, when the inevitable reckoning comes in the now, the line between who to blame and who to pity becomes blurred.

During the course of events, Chastity is injured and becomes unwell and delirious, unsure what is real and what is illusionary, which adds a disjointed and disconnected quality to her observations of the scene. She finds herself in the unfamiliar position of bystander, weakened and helpless, able to do nothing but watch as her colleagues take drastic action. It shows us a different side to Chastity, and I was fully there, trapped in her body, horrified by what I was watching. This powerlessness added to my dismay and heartbreak at the outcome of the incident, a weight which is laying heavy on my chest even now as I write. To be able to write so affectingly, especially in the sharp, snappy, staccato way this author does, is some impressive skill.

This book won’t be like anything you have read before, even if you have read this author or this series. Her ability to continue to evolve, morph, surprise even her biggest fans is what keeps me coming back to her books with child-like excitement and enthusiasm each time. She is never boring, never repetitive, and very, very brave. Aided by a translator who understands her and is with her every step of the way and a publisher who is not afraid to take risks on the extraordinary, who knows where this author can go? Any reader who loves a dark, gritty, hard-boiled novel and prides themselves on stretching themselves in their reading should be taking this ride too.

Hotel Cartagena is out now in ebook and paperback, and on audiobook on 1 April and you can buy a copy here.

Please do check out some of the reviews by the other great bloggers taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

SimoneBuchholz

Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg. In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award as well as runner-up in the German Crime Fiction Prize for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months. She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.

Connect with Simone:

Website: https://simonebuchholz.com

Twitter: @ohneKlippo

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Desert Island Books with… Angela Petch

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Welcome to another instalment of Desert Island Books, where I transport some poor soul to a remote atoll with nothing for company except one luxury item and five books of their choosing, so they had better choose wisely – who knows how long they will be marooned! Today’s strandee is author, Angela Petch.

What fun to choose the books I’d have on a desert island… but I’m not brilliant at being totally alone, so I need to inject fun on this island.

Book One – Just William by Richmal Crompton

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Meet everyone’s favourite troublemaker!

In Richmal Compton’s Just William, the Outlaws plan a day of non-stop adventure. The only problem is that William is meant to be babysitting. But William won’t let that stop him having fun with his gang – he’ll just bring the baby along!

There is only one William. This tousle-headed, snub-nosed, hearty, loveable imp of mischief has been harassing his unfortunate family and delighting his hundreds of thousands of admirers since 1922. 

I’m sure that there will be times when I need to laugh, so please may I have Just William by Richmal Crompton? I’ve loved these stories about an eleven-year old lovable rogue since I was very little and they still appeal. The first story was written in 1919 and intended for an adult audience. Crompton was a teacher for a while and I can imagine her observing her pupils in the classroom and jotting notes for later. I love Martin Jarvis’s narrations of her stories, but my battered 1930 edition, with its thick pages and wonderful pen and ink illustrations by Thomas Henry will comfort me.

Book Two – The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour

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John Seymour has inspired thousands to make more responsible, enriching, and eco-friendly choices with his advice on living sustainably. The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency offers step-by-step instructions on everything from chopping trees to harnessing solar power; from growing your own vegetables and fruit and vegetables, and preserving and pickling your harvest, to baking bread, brewing beer, and making cheese. Seymour shows you how to live off the land, running your own smallholding or homestead, keeping chickens, and raising (and butchering) livestock.

While we aren’t all be able to move to the countryside, we can appreciate the importance of Seymour’s message, as he shows us the value of living within our means and making the most of what we have to hand using skills that have been handed down through generations.

With refreshed, retro-style illustrations and a brand-new foreword by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, this new edition of Seymour’s classic title is a balm for anyone who has ever sought solace away from the madness of modern life.

I’ll need practical advice to help me survive and fill my time with projects. When I was twenty-five and two weeks married, we worked in Tanzania for three years. I knew nothing about running a house and in those days (the 70s), there was very little in the shops. I had to learn to make cheese, chop up a whole pig that I bought at the local prison, make curtains… umpteen things. A great help was my copy of The Complete book of Self-Sufficiency: The classic Guide for Realists and Dreamers by John Seymour. I think there is a newer edition out. Maybe I could harness natural energy and learn how to make paper out of leaves, so that I could write.

Book Three – The Dress by Sophie Nicholls

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Meet Ella and her mother Fabia Moreno who arrive in York, one cold January day, to set up their vintage dress shop.

The flamboyant Fabia wants to sell beautiful dresses to nice people and move on from her difficult past. Ella just wants to fit in. But not everyone is on their side.

Will Fabia overcome the prejudices she encounters? What’s the dark secret she’s hiding? And do the silk linings and concealed seams of her dresses contain real spells or is this all just ‘everyday magic’?

Among the leopard-print shoes, tea-gowns and costume jewellery in Fabia’s shop are many different stories – and the story of one particular dress.

The last book that I read and fell in love with is The Dress by Sophie Nicholls and this would be an ideal escapist book. I love vintage shops and old clothes, like Fabia the owner of a dress shop. The story is feel-good and full of magic. Fabia sews mindfulness messages within the linings of the clothes she sells and I have copied a couple and pinned them on my noticeboard. This charming book would help lift my spirits.

Book Four – Poem For The Day: Volume One; Edited by Nicholas Albery and Peter Ratcliffe

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366 poems, one for each day of the year (including leap years). Chosen for their narrative, resonance and rhythm, these are poems to learn by heart or treasure and enjoy. Poets included range from Yeats, Shakespeare, Housman and Kipling, to contemporary poets such as Wendy Cope, Carol Ann Duffy, Maya Angelou and Thom Gunn.

I love poetry. Favourite lines are a comfort but there are so many poems still to discover. Please could I have Poem for the Day, Volume One with a foreword by Wendy Cope? There are 366 poems in here to delight. I could learn a poem every now and again and stand on a rock and recite the words to the wind and the waves. That would help keep my brain busy after the physical activity of foraging and building my log cabin. “Happy the man, and happy he alone, He who can call today his own…” John Dryden (17th century). I’d have to learn how to be happy with myself on a desert island, wouldn’t I?

Book Five – A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

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Marvellous Ways is eighty-nine years old and has lived alone in a remote Cornish creek for nearly all her life. Lately she’s taken to spending her days sitting on a mooring stone by the river with a telescope. She’s waiting for something – she’s not sure what, but she’ll know it when she sees it.

Drake is a young soldier left reeling by the Second World War. When his promise to fulfil a dying man’s last wish sees him wash up in Marvellous’ creek, broken in body and spirit, the old woman comes to his aid.

A Year of Marvellous Ways is a glorious, life-affirming story about the magic in everyday life and the pull of the sea, the healing powers of storytelling and sloe gin, love and death and how we carry on when grief comes snapping at our heels.

This book is all about the magic of everyday life. A book to be read slowly, digesting the pages little by little: something I could dip in and taste every now and again, like rich chocolate. The heroine’s name is Marvellous Ways (how cool is that?). She’s eighty-nine and has lived on her own in a remote Cornish creek all her life. I reckon I could learn patience and resourcefulness from reading this book over and over and remind myself of how beautiful words can be when they are woven together so brilliantly.

My luxury item

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For my luxury item: I hope you won’t think I’m being greedy, but you would save my life if I could have a wind-up radio cranked by the sun. I know of one that comes with a flashlight and cell phone for emergency and outdoor use. I love listening to the radio more than watching television and it would be a comfort to hear voices and music. I could sing and dance and pretend I was at the theatre while listening to plays (eating home made sweets made from dates that I discovered on one of my explorations on the island).

Thank you so much for inviting me and now I must get back to my WIP. I wonder if a desert island is going to creep into one of my chapters 😉

About Angela Petch

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Published by Bookouture, Angela Petch is an award winning writer of fiction – and the occasional poem.

Every summer she moves to Tuscany for six months where she and her husband own a renovated watermill which they let out. When not exploring their unspoilt corner of the Apennines, she disappears to her writing desk at the top of a converted stable. In her Italian handbag or hiking rucksack she always makes sure to store notebook and pen to jot down ideas.

The winter months are spent in Sussex where most of her family live. When Angela’s not helping out with grandchildren, she catches up with writer friends.

Angela’s gripping, WWII, Tuscan novels are published by Bookouture. While her novel, Mavis and Dot, was self-published and tells of the frolics and foibles of two best-friends who live by the seaside. Angela also writes short stories published in Prima and People’s Friend.

Angela’s latest book, The Tuscan House, will be published on 7 April and you can buy a copy here.

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Corbello, Italy, 1947. A woman and a little boy stagger into the ruins of an old house deep in the forest, wild roses overwhelming the crumbling terracotta walls. Since the war, nowhere has been safe. But they both freeze in shock when a voice calls out from the shadows…

For young mother Fosca Sentino, accepting refuge from ex-British soldier Richard – in Tuscany to escape his tragic past – is the only way to keep her little family safe. She once risked everything to spy on Nazi commanders and pass secret information to the resistenza. But after a heartbreaking betrayal, Fosca’s best friend Simonetta disappeared without trace. The whole community was torn apart, and now Fosca and her son are outcasts.

Wary of this handsome stranger at first, Fosca slowly starts to feel safe as she watches him play with her son in the overgrown orchard. But her fragile peace is shattered the moment a silver brooch is found in the garden, and she recognises it as Simonetta’s…

Fosca has always suspected that another member of the resistenza betrayed her. With Richard by her side, she must find out if Simonetta is still alive, and clear her own name. But how did the brooch end up at the house? And with a traitor hiding in the village, willing to do anything to keep this secret buried, has Fosca put herself and her young son in terrible danger?

Connect with Angela:

Blog: https://angelapetchsblogsite.wordpress.com

Facebook: Angela Petch Author

Twitter: @Angela_Petch

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