RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Heidi Stephens

RONAS

Today’s RONA short-listed author is nominated in the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel category for her novel, Two Metres From YouIt’s… Heidi Stephens

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

Since we’re celebrating, a very cold glass of Woodchester Valley Cotswold Classic 2018. I’m a big fan of English sparkling wine and this vineyard isn’t far from where I live. I did a tour there last autumn and stocked up!  

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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?

The Dark Horse in Bath. It’s an underground cocktail bar full of gorgeous artwork and handmade furniture. Fully seated, table service only, a proper grown-up drinking den. I love it. 

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?

Hmm, tough one. I’m going to go with two people who I think would be the MOST fun on a night out – Johannes Radebe from Strictly Come Dancing and Nigella Lawson. I think we’d laugh a LOT.

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?

I’m currently writing Book Four, which is part of my deal with Headline. I’m about 50k words in so lots still to do, but my deadline isn’t until September so I’m pretty happy with where it’s at. Would love to finish it by June so I can have the summer off! (from writing, anyway – I still have a proper job). It’s a romantic comedy that features a girls’ trip away, a stray dog and a really hot tennis coach.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My kids went to London a couple of weeks ago and sent me a picture of my debut novel on the shelf in Waterstones Victoria. Everything has happened quite quickly for me – I started writing my first novel less than two years ago. But that really felt like a really proud moment. 

The biggest challenge has been remembering to take a breath and enjoy the process, rather than continually moving the goalposts and focusing on what I haven’t achieved yet.

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

I think like a lot of writers, I’d like to make a decent living out of it one day. You don’t realise how difficult that is until you get into the small print of how this industry works. Right now I’m really happy to juggle my day job with freelance journalism and writing novels, but at some point it would be nice to put one of those balls down. 

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

One of my journalistic sidelines is working for Eurovision.tv every year, liveblogging the full two weeks of the Eurovision Song Contest from first rehearsals to the Grand Final. I’m a huge Eurovision fan and it’s such a privilege to hang out backstage and chat to all the artists. It also means I’ll be spending two weeks in Turin, Italy in May, which I can’t WAIT for. 

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?

I’d always take a big sky and lots of trees over a city break – a few years ago my partner and I spent a couple of weeks hiking/driving around Andalucia in Spain and it was one of the most fabulous (and cheapest) trips I’ve ever been on. On my bucket list: a driving holiday in Canada. Skies and trees don’t get much bigger. 

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

I really wanted to be an actor as a teenager, to the point where I applied for and was accepted into drama school. I dropped out after one term, having decided that other actors were shallow and self-absorbed, and thus by proxy I was also probably shallow and self-absorbed. Self-awareness is a terrible trait for a budding thespian. 

Q10. Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

I’m a huge fan of Dreams Of Leaving by Rupert Thomson. It’s a spectacular debut, part adventure, part satire, party dystopian mystery. It also features a fictional English village where nobody is allowed to leave, to the point that it has its own police force to stop people escaping. I’ve thought about this (really quite dark) concept a thousand times in the past twenty years since I first read the book, wondering how you could write a fun, uplifting romance based a village where (for some obscure reason that I’ve never been able to define), nobody could leave. And then Covid happened, and I had the makings of my first book.

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New Egypt is a village somewhere in the south of England. A village that nobody has ever left. Peach, the sadistic chief of police, makes sure of that. Then, one misty morning, a young couple secretly set their baby son Moses afloat on the river, in a basket made of rushes. Years later, Moses is living above a nightclub, mixing with drug-dealers, thieves and topless waitresses. He knows nothing about his past – but it is catching up with him nevertheless, and it threatens to put his life in danger. Terror, magic and farce all have a part to play as the worlds of Peach and Moses slowly converge.

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?

Before you go out, put a pint of water and two paracetamol beside your bed. Take the pills and drink ALL the water before you pass out, even though you won’t want to. You will thank me tomorrow. 

If you forget/fall asleep in a gutter or someone else’s bed, you can’t beat a soft white roll stuffed with sausage and a fried egg, with your sauce of choice. And tea. SO much tea.

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

Curled up on the sofa with a good book and my dog Mabel, with someone to bring you unlimited tea and toast. 

Thank you so much for chatting to me this evening, Heidi, I have enjoyed it very much and I wish you great luck with your nomination in the awards.

Heidi’s RONA-nominated novel, Two Metres From You is out now in all formats and you can buy a coy here.

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Love might be closer than you think…

Gemma isn’t sure what upsets her more. The fact she just caught her boyfriend cheating, or that he did it on her brand-newHeal’s cushions.

All she knows is she needs to put as many miles between her and Fraser as humanly possible. So, when her best friend suggests a restorative few days in the West Country, it seems like the perfect solution.

That is, until the country enters a national lockdown that leaves her stranded. All she has for company is her dog, Mabel. And the mysterious (and handsome!) stranger living at the bottom of her garden . . .

Heidi’s new book, Never Gonna Happen will be published on 26 May and you can pre-order a copy here.

Emily Wilkinson has lost everything. Literally. In a hair straightener fire, which has sent her entire flat up in flames. Oh, and her boyfriend (and, incidentally, boss) has just announced he’s going back to his wife. So, she needs a new job, a new wardrobe and somewhere to live that isn’t her former childhood bedroom, which is experiencing a hostile takeover by the entire contents of Hobbycraft.

Early dotcom millionaire Charles Hunter is looking for a live-in PA to help run Bowford Manor and it seems Emily may be the perfect fit. Well, she’s spent ten years propping up demanding men, so it’s not like she’s not qualified. And, most importantly, it’s tucked away in the Norfolk countryside, so there’s little to no chance of a blossoming romance . . .

She is quickly sucked into the whirlwind of the Hunter family and finds herself fending off a difficult housekeeper and Leon, Mr Hunter’s driver, who has a crush on her the size of East Anglia. Not to mention Charles’s eldest son, Adam, who seems set on turning the estate into a theme park the second his father pops his clogs.

But no one mentioned the dashing stable hand, Jamie, who just so happens to be the youngest Hunter. But she’s not about to make that mistake again. Definitely not. No, really.

Heidi Stephens is an exciting new contemporary fiction author. Her stunning debut novel, Two Metres From You (Headline) – a story about romance, village life, and mandatory dog exercise – has been shortlisted for the 2022 Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award.

Heidi’s second book Never Gonna Happen (Headline) publishes in May 2022. A hugely uplifting and totally irresistible romantic comedy that will make you snort with laughter. If you love Sophie Kinsella, Mhairi McFarlane and Sophie Ranald, you don’t want to miss this unforgettable page-turner.

Heidi writes The Guardian’s wildly successful Strictly liveblog and regularly appears on Breakfast TV to talk about Strictly. Lockdown gave her the opportunity to fulfil her lifetime ambition of writing a novel. In her career she has worked as a freelance journalist and in advertising and marketing; some of her early writing work includes instruction manuals for vacuum cleaners, saucepans and sex toys. She lives in Wiltshire with her partner and their Labrador, Mabel.

Connect with Heidi:

Website: https://heidistephens.co.uk

Twitter: @heidistephens

Instagram: @heidistephens

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RONA Awards Celebration Drinks with… Jean Fullerton

RONAS

My next guest on the blog to chat about her recent nomination in the 2022 Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel Awards in the Shorter Romantic Novel category for her book, A Ration Book Christmas Broadcast, is Jean Fullerton.

Jean Fullerton, Shorter Romantic Novel, Romantic Novel Awards 2022 (copy)

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

Hi, Julie, it’s my pleasure and I’ll have a rum and coke please. Captain Morgan’s if the have it but Lambs if not. I’ve been drinking that since I was fifteen – yes, I know it was illegal even back in the 70s but nobody bothered about such details back then.

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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?

To the theatre in London. Les Misérables is my all-time favorite musical although I am a massive Gilbert & Sullivan fan so I might drag you along to that.  Drama-wise it would have to be something meaty, possibly Shakespeare, and I do like to see good actors like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen or Helen Mirren. One of the most memorable plays I’ve seen in recent years was the Lieutenant of Inishmore with Aiden Turner in the title role. Two hours of bliss for the obvious reason. I don’t suppose you’d mind if I got us two tickets in the stalls.    

I would love that. I saw Patrick Stewart play Claudius to David Tennant’s Hamlet at the RSC several years ago, which may be my favourite ever theatre outing. 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?

Sandy Toksvig as she is brilliant and would be great company and Eleanor of Aquitaine as I’m sure she’d have some insights into how to succeed in a man’s world.  

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?

I’m just 40,000 words into the first book in my next WW2 East London series. I can’t tell you too much at the moment as we’re still sorting out titles and themes, but it features the Carmichael family who move into the area in May 1940. The Carmichaels are very different from the Brogans but face the same wartime challenges.  

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment is always, after a year of writing editing and worrying, holding a new book in my hands. The most challenging, especially in the Ration Book Series, is doing justice to the hardship and sacrifices of the wartime generation.  

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 think I share my ambition with many writers which is firstly to be a Sunday Times bestseller and secondly to have my Ration Book books made into a TV series. 

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

One thing I’m really excited about this year is the publication of my autobiography, A Child of the East End which is about my experiences growing up in East London in the 50s,60s and early 70s. I’m totally thrilled to have been able to pull it together as writing non-fiction is a totally different ball game from writing fiction. 

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Sorrow and joy in London’s oldest suburb. . .
Welcome to the East End.

Life in Cockney London was tough in the post-war years. The government’s broken promises had led to a chronic housing shortage, rampant crime and families living in squalor. But one thing prevailed: the unbeatable spirit of the East End, a tight-knit community who pulled through the dark times with humour and heart.

Drawing on both family history and her own memories of growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, as well as her working life as a district nurse and local police officer, Jean Fullerton vividly depicts this fascinating part of London – from tin baths, to jellied eels, to tigers in a Wapping warehouse.

A Child of the East End is an eye-opening, heartfelt and atmospheric portrait of life in the East End after the war, and is perfect for fans of My East End by Gilda O’Neill, Four Meals for Fourpence by Grace Foakes and Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth.

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?

I love travel too and am lucky enough to be an enrichment speaker on cruise liners for the past twelve years so have been to fabulous places, like Greenland, Tahiti, India, the Labrador coast, Devil’s Island – think heat and Papillon – and through the Suez Canal but on my bucket list is Australia. However, of all those exotic places my favorite place on Earth is my hometown London, with all its historical and cultural treasure.    

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

Wow, I think that is the best secret I’ve heard on this feature! I was once accepted as a Bunny girl but declined to take up the offer as I only went to the interview as moral support for a friend. 

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

I can think of dozens of books that I could mention but the one I always recommend is Katherine by Anya Seton. It was the first historical romance I read at about the same time I discovered rum and coke and it started me on this wonderful journey of discovery firstly as a reader and then as a writer.  

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Katherine comes to the court of Edward III at the age of fifteen. The naïve convent-educated orphan of a penniless knight is dazzled by the jousts and the entertainments of court.

Nevertheless, Katherine is beautiful, and she turns the head of the King’s favourite son, John of Gaunt. But he is married, and she is soon to be betrothed.

A few years later their paths cross again and this time their passion for each other cannot be denied or suppressed. Katherine becomes the prince’s mistress, and discovers an extraordinary world of power, pleasure and passion.

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?

Well, I’m going to put my nurse’s hat on here and say that a hangover is the brain becoming dehydrated by alcohol. My sovereign remedy to rehydrate your grey matter is a couple of bottles of an isotonic sports drink taken over a couple of hours, which will not only restore your fluids balance but replace the electrolytes- trace elements in the body.      

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

I know it’s corny but a perfect day for me when I’m not writing is spending time with my Hero@Home, three daughters and grandchildren. 

Not corny at all, it’s just as it should be. Thank you so much for chatting with me this evening, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. Good luck in the coming awards, I look forward to hearing the results on the night.

Jean’s shortlisted novel, A Ration Book Christmas Broadcast, is out now in ebook format and you can buy it here.

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Tune in to love…

December, 1944: Grace Meredith, the BBC Outside Broadcasting unit’s assistant, is in trouble. She needs to find a family to interview for what could be the last ‘Just Ordinary Folk’ Christmas programme before the end of the war, pronto. So when she remembers her old friend Francesca Brogan has married into a large and unconventional East End family, her sense of relief is palpable.

Thrust into the warm and bustling world of the Brogans – from Ida and Jeremiah, still sweethearts after 30 years of marriage, to their seven children, some married, one still in nappies, and to Queenie, Jeremiah’s tealeaf-reading, black-market afficionado mother – Grace feels she’s finally going to make her mark at work.

Then things take an unexpected twist when she meets Francesca’s brother, Giovanni Fabrino of the Royal Engineers. With the Christmas Eve deadline rapidly approaching, now would not be the best time to fall in love. But Gio keeps appearing, and their mutual attraction keeps growing. Can Grace and Gio’s Christmas wishes come true – both of them?

Born and bred in East London Jean was a District Nurse by trade, serving for five years as NHS manager with responsibility for six community clinics and 200+ staff and finished her twenty-five-year nursing career as a senior lecture in Health and Nursing Studies in a London University.

She joined the NWS 2003 and became a full member in 2006 after winning the Harry Bowling Prize. She had published seventeen sagas over three series, all set in East London and has books with both Orion and Atlantic.

An experiences public speaker with hundreds of WI and women’s club talks under her belt, Jean has been an enrichment speaker and writing workshop leader on cruise ships for the past fifteen years.

Connect with Jean:

Website: http://jeanfullerton.com/

Facebook: Jean Fullerton

Twitter:  @JeanFullerton_

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RONA Awards Celebration Drinks with… Lucy Morris

RONAS

My second guest in this special series of features celebrating the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel Awards 2022 is a nominee in the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel category for her book, The Viking Chief’s Marriage Alliance. It is author… Lucy Morris.

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Lucy, welcome back to the blog and congratulations on your nomination. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m a massive Irn Bru fan, and I’ve recently discovered a delicious cocktail using my favorite pop. Cos-bru-politan. It’s made using Irn Bru, Cointreau, Chambord and gin. It’s very strong and sweet but sooo nice!

I’ve never heard of that before, I shall have to seek one out. 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?

I live in East London bordering on Essex, so I’ve plenty of options for a night out. As you’re a book lover, maybe the Dicken’s Inn at St Katherine’s Dock? It’s a huge 18th Century warehouse with views of Tower Bridge and the Shard. 

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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?

Ahhh this is tricky! I’m rubbish at picking people. Maybe, Peter Franzen who played Kind Harald Finehair in Vikings because he’s gorgeous and seems a lovely man with a sexy singing voice. Also, Trixie Mattel who is an hilarious drag queen and singer, so we could have them both serenading us, and we’d have lots of laughs!

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?

I have published two books with Mills and Boon. One of which, The Viking Chief’s Marriage Alliance has been shortlisted for the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award.

My next book is out in May 2022 and is called The Viking She Would Have Married. It is the first book in my Shieldmaiden trilogy that follows three Viking sisters. The first is about Valda ‘The Blade’ and I’d describe it as ‘Persuasion with Longships’. Valda fell in love with Halfdan in her youth but was persuaded to leave him after he betrayed her. Nine years later they are reunited on a journey to Constantinople, where passions are reignited and truths uncovered in close quarters!

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In close quarters…

With the Viking she’d loved and lost

With her family fallen on hard times, Valda’s forced to join the crew on Halfdan Ulfsson’s merchant ship as he sets sail on the treacherous silk route. But this handsome jarl’s son is the man she’d planned to wed until his bitter betrayal. Knowing she can never trust him, she must focus on saving her sisters…and not the intense connection that still burns between them!

That cover model is gorgeous! What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

Being Nominated for the Debut RoNa has been very special, it’s so lovely to have your work recognized amongst your peers as new author. I guess my biggest challenge has been dealing with negative reviews and the self-doubt that inevitably comes after you’ve published your first book – I always worry that my next story won’t be as good as my last. 

One bad review out of nine good ones can really hammer your self-confidence! I’ve learnt to avoid reading anything negative if I can help it.

I can’t believe anyone has written anything negative about your debut, I loved it! (You can read my review of The Viking Chief’s Marriage Alliance here.) 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’d love a best seller. I bet everyone says that, but I’d love a book that was featured in the Richard and Judy book club or something like that. Where it meant it was placed in the hot spots of all book shops and supermarkets. It’s such a struggle to stand out and reach readers even if you’re traditionally published. You almost have to already be a best seller or a celebrity to become one in this industry. I dream of being placed in those prime shelf and display table locations! One day though…maybe! 

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

My Shieldmaiden Sisters trilogy is my first series and I’m excited to show the lives and loves of these three sisters. They’re all so different from each other and I think that makes their stories so interesting.

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?

Lapland is hands down the greatest place on earth! We went with the kids just before Christmas and it was so magical. We had sleigh rides, reindeer and husky adventures, not to mention all the beautiful snow and Christmas villages. 

I’d also love to go to Iceland and Norway. Iceland to swim in the volcanic pools and see the glacier. Norway to see the ship museum (when it reopens) and the Fjords. I also want to visit my friend in Germany in the next couple of years, and I’d love to go to the Caribbean some time….for a bit of warmth after all that cold! 

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

One of my favorite jobs before writing was being a bar maid. I used to be the bar manager of my local theatre, and although I don’t miss working evenings, I miss the banter and fun of working on the bar.

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’?

Just one? That’s impossible! However, I guess I’d recommend Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell it’s a beautifully written book with a fresh look at Shakespeare’s life. I loved it.

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On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a sudden fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London.

Neither parent knows that Hamnet will not survive the week.

I also loved Hamnet, it was my top book of 2020. 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?

WATER, drink at least a pint before you go to bed and have more on the bedside table waiting for you.

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

A long sleepy lie-in followed by a lush roast dinner and a trip to the cinema later that night.

That’s my idea of a great weekend. Lucy, thank you for joining me, it has been a fascinating chat and I wish you luck in the upcoming awards.

Lucy’s RONA-shortlisted book, The Viking Chief’s Marriage Alliance is published by Mills and Boon and you can buy a copy here.

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A challenging wife

For a warrior Viking

When Thorstein Bergson rescues a beautiful woman from a storm-tossed long-ship he little expects to broker a powerful marriage alliance with her. This high-status ice queen is not the comfortable wife this warrior chief is seeking. But maybe the bitter-sweet pain in Gyda’s eyes hides another woman beneath? The one he tasted that first night when she’d kissed him with such pent-up longing…?

Lucy Morris has always been obsessed with myths and legends. Her books blend sweeping romance with vivid worldbuilding to whisk you away to another time and place filled with adventure. Expect passion, drama, and vibrant characters.

Lucy lives in Essex, UK, with her husband, two children, and two cats. She has a massively sweet tooth and loves Terry’s chocolate oranges and Irn-Bru. In her spare time, she likes to explore castles with her family, or drink bubbly with her friends.

A member of the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association. In 2020 she was delighted to accept a two-book deal with Harlequin after submitting her story to the Warriors Wanted submission blitz for Viking, Medieval, and Highlander romances.

She hasn’t looked back since.

Writing for Harlequin Historical is a dream come true for her and she hopes you enjoy her books!

Connect with Lucy:

Website: www.lucyMorrisRomance.com

Facebook: Lucy Morris Author

Twitter: @LMorris_Author

Instagram: @lucymorris.author

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Book Review: Hold My Place by Cassondra Windwalker

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Obsession never dies.

When librarian Sigrun falls head-over-heels for the sophisticated and very married Edgar Leyward, she never expects to find herself in his bed—or his heart. Nevertheless, when his enigmatic wife Octavia dies from a sudden illness, Sigrun finds herself caught up in a whirlwind romance worthy of the most lurid novels on her bookshelves.

Sigrun soon discovers Octavia wasn’t Edgar’s first lost love, or even his second. Three women Edgar has loved met early deaths. As she delves into her beloved’s past through a trove of discovered letters, the edges of Sigrun identity begin to disappear, fading into the women of the past. Sigrun tells herself it’s impossible for any dark magic to be at play—that the dead can’t possibly inhabit the bodies of the living—but something shadowy stalks the halls of the Leyward house and the lines between the love of the present and the obsessions of the past become increasingly blurred—and bloody.

I was offered a digital copy of Hold My Place by Cassondra Windwalker by Lindy Ryan at Black Spot Books for the purpose of review, for which I am extremely grateful as always. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by this author and, I have to say, I was captivated by her writing. The characterisation, the plotting and the language all combined in an elegant symphony to deliver a book that lingered in my mind long after I had finished it. It was not at all what I was expecting from the blurb but I am so glad that the invitation from the publisher led me to this book which I likely would not have discovered otherwise.

The protagonist of the book is librarian, Sigrun. A lover of dark and gothic literature, uncompromising in attitude, she surprisingly finds herself drawn to smooth, handsome, society chef, Edgar. Surprising because they seem diametrically opposite in character, and Edgar is happily married to the beautiful, sophisticated Octavia. Despite this, they start a friendship and Sigrun finds herself becoming obsessed with him. Then his wife dies unexpectedly and Sigrun is drawn completely into his life.

The book is set during the recent pandemic lockdown, which adds to the feelings of claustrophobia and isolation that surrounds Sigrun and Edgar and their dangerous, exclusionary love. Set almost exclusively within the confines of Edgar’s brooding house, and the deserted city streets, Edgar and Sigrun’s total devotion to one another feels all the more unhealthy and lonely than it would in more normal times. Sigrun’s paranoia and confusion is heightened by her distance from other people in her life, and you can easily see how her thoughts have become so distorted in this environment.

The author’s use of language is just beautiful, it is almost like reading poetry, which enhanced my enjoyment of the book immensely. The book had the air of a gothic fairytale, one of the original ones written by the Brothers Grimm, not the Disney version with the guaranteed happy ending. The book has an aura of menace and doom hanging over it. There is more than a whiff of Daphne du Maurier in its twisted portrayal of unhealthy love and hint of the supernatural. The book was not, however, in any way predictable and I did not see the ending coming at all.

I love discovering new authors, as well as books that surprise and delight me, and this book ticked every box. Something out of the norm, that really generated an extreme of feeling within me as I read. A book that I will remember for a good while.

Hold My Place is out now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Cassondra Windwalker is a poet, essayist, and novelist presently writing full-time from the southern Alaskan coast. She enjoys hearing from readers via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, smoke signals, and interstellar songs.

Connect with Cassondra:

Facebook: Cassondra Windwalker Writes

Twitter: @WindwalkerWrite

Instagram: @cassondrawindwalker

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Sarah Mallory

RONAS

I’m delighted to be launching my month-long celebration of the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel Awards 2022 with a special edition of my Friday Night Drinks feature and by welcoming award nominee, Sarah Mallory, to the blog. Sarah has been short-listed in the Shorter Romantic Novel Award category for her book, Cinderella and the Scarred Viscount.

Sarah Mallory, Shorter Romantic Novel, Romantic Novel Awards 2022

Sarah, welcome back to the blog and congratulations on your nomination. Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thanks for inviting me again! I thought I would celebrate tonight with a Kir Royale. For the fruit, you understand; the berry in the bottom of the glass! I might have to have more than one, though…

Yum. 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?

Well, if we were in a big town it would have to be posh frocks and heels for a swish restaurant, then maybe a cocktail bar. As I now live in the wilds of Scotland it would be more informal. Jumpers and jeans, maybe, and at the local pub: beamed ceilings, a long bar room with a log fire at each end and lots of tables where we can sit and natter.

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?

Ooh, that’s a hard one! I think Hugh Jackman would be good company: he makes great films and has a wicked sense of humour. And I love musicals so we could talk about that, if all else fails! As for a female…well I would love to have met P D James. I really enjoy her writing. When I am deep into writing a book I cannot read historicals, in case it confuses my own “voice”, so crime novels are a good way to relax. It would be great to discuss writerly matters with her and learn from her experience.

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?

After completing three books set in the Scottish Highlands (the final one, The Laird’s Runaway Wife, will be published later this year), I was keen to get back into Regency England. I had an idea for a lost heir story and I am deep into that now. I have set this one in Yorkshire and it should reach it’s happy ending, complete with snow, on Christmas Eve – at least, that’s where I want it to go, since you ask, but you know what characters are like, they develop a life of their own!

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

Proudest moment, to be honest, every time I finish another book I feel enormous pride in the achievement. Then seeing it on the shelves. Oh, and getting a good review, that always raises my spirits. And something that always makes me feel really good is when someone says my book has helped them through a bad patch of some kind, that it has given them a little escape from their problems. That always makes me feel that what I am doing is worthwhile.

But my proudest moment this year has to be reaching the finals of the Romantic Novelist Association’s Awards. When I learned that Cinderella and the Scarred Viscount was on the short list for the Shorter Romantic Novel this year I admit I did a little dance of joy! It’s a fairytale Regency that I wrote between books 2 and 3 of my Highland trilogy and I just love the characters: Carenza is such a kind, strong woman and Ross is a damaged hero who wants to protect her but he is struggling with his own demons. Together they overcome their problems and find love along the way (**contended sigh**)

Finalist Sarah Mallory 2022

Biggest challenge? Well, since my love-at-first-sight romance with Scotland there has been house selling, hunting and buying to deal with, plus the actual moving, and at the same time I was contracted to write two books a year. That was challenging, but nowhere near as bad as the pandemic. Lockdown might have given me plenty of WFH time, but there was the constant worry about everything and everyone. However, it became very clear that people wanted books, needed them to escape from life for a few hours, and that was a tremendous spur.

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 love creating my historical romances and I just want to continue writing (and publishing) them until the ideas run out. I have over 30 published with Mills & Boon at present and would love to make it to 50 with them. Who knows?

What do you have planned that you are really excited about?

Next year I have a big birthday and wedding anniversary to celebrate and we are planning a road trip through Spain and Portugal: sun, sea, castles and the Peninsular War battlefields (naturally). It will take some planning, but that will be half the fun.

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?

I don’t really have a bucket list, things just turn up. Like moving to the Scottish Highlands. In 2015 we hadn’t even considered the idea, then we did a tour of Scotland and fell in love. Who would have thought that by the end of 2018 we would be living by the sea in the far northwest? And we love it, even when the weather is at its most savage! I think Wester Ross is the most inspiring place I have ever lived (and Pennines, where I lived for nearly 30 years, was a close second, I can assure you!). It is very remote and wouldn’t be for everyone – almost 70 miles to the nearest big supermarket, but the views en route make it worthwhile!

It look so beautiful, I love Scotland. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I have been through 2 MRI scanners – voluntarily! It was a huge surprise to me that I could do it. I am a tad claustrophobic you see; small spaces and being held down send me into a panic, but last year I had the opportunity to take part in a health screening study that involved body and brain scanning. I told the staff I might not be able to do the MRI bit and they were lovely, no pressure to do it but they encouraged me to give it a go. I can’t say I enjoyed it but I managed not to press the panic button! Now I know that if I have a serious health problem and need to have a scan I should (should) be able to do it. Until now I really thought it would be a total no-go, however important, healthwise. Maybe by sharing that here, it might help someone else who is scared witless by the idea.

I’ve been through an MRI twice as well, although not voluntarily! 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’?

Only one? Oh dear, there are so many! I do have one must-read author though, Milly Johnson. I know it is past the festive season but I loved I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day – pure romance and Christmas magic (indulgence without calories!)

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It’s nearly Christmas and it’s snowing, hard. Deep in the Yorkshire Moors nestles a tiny hamlet, with a pub at its heart. As the snow falls, the inn will become an unexpected haven for six people forced to seek shelter there…
 
Mary has been trying to get her boss Jack to notice her for four years, but he can only see the efficient PA she is at work. Will being holed up with him finally give her the chance she has been waiting for?
 
Bridge and Luke were meeting for five minutes to set their divorce in motion. But will getting trapped with each other reignite too many fond memories – and love?
 
Charlie and Robin were on their way to a luxury hotel in Scotland for a very special Christmas. But will the inn give them everything they were hoping to find – and much more besides?

I listened to this on audio at Christmas and absolutely loved it! 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?

The only failsafe is not to drink too much alcohol! I try to have a sparkling water or two in between glasses of wine, but I have had enough hangovers to know that plenty of water and painkillers are the only way. And rest, of course, if you can manage that. Not always easy if you have a young family.

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

I shall need a lie-in after all those glasses of bubbly! So, brunch with family or friends, maybe, then perhaps a walk along the beach, if the weather is fine (we took a walk during a break in the storms recently – there’s a picture somewhere – and you can just see Skye on the horizon). Then it would be everyone back to ours to sit in front of a roaring fire and relax. Perfect.

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Sounds ideal! Sarah, thanks again for joining me and I wish you huge luck in the awards when the winners are announced on 7 March. I can’t be at the ceremony myself this year but I’ll be glued to Twitter to see as the winners are revealed!

Sarah’s shortlisted novel, Cinderella and the Scarred Viscount is published by Mills and Boon and is available now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

Cinderella and the Scarred Viscount UK

An imperfect proposal…

But a perfect match?

Major James Rossington, Viscount Austerfield, survived Waterloo, but can he survive the Season as London’s most eligible bachelor? Convinced his battle scars make him unlovable, and to escape Society’s matchmakers, Ross proposes a wedding in name only to shy, sensible Carenza Bettridge. Liberated from her cruel stepmother and bullying half-sisters, she blossoms into a confident, altogether desirable woman. He promised Carenza a convenient marriage, but inconveniently finds himself wanting more…

Sarah Mallory is an award-winning author who has published more than 30 historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon. She loves history, especially the Georgian and Regency. She won the prestigious RoNA Rose Award from the Romantic Novelists Association in 2012 and 2013. Sarah also writes romantic historical adventures as Melinda Hammond.

After living for many years high on the Yorkshire Pennines, Sarah moved to the Scottish Highlands in 2018 and now lives by the sea, enjoying a whole new adventure.

Connect with Sarah:

Website: http://www.sarahmallory.com/

Facebook: Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory

Twitter: @SarahMRomance

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Weirdness, writing and what comes next…

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Hello, all! I’m back!… What, you didn’t notice I was gone?… Well, that’s a bit embarrassing!

Joking aside, I know the blog and my social media have been a little on the quiet side since the beginning of December. There has been so much going on outside of the blogging world that I had to cut things back to the absolute minimum, doing only what I had made deadline promises to do. So, huge apologies to everyone that is waiting for me to do book reviews with no date set, I will catch up I promise, if you just bear with me.

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So what has been going on? Nothing very extraordinary, just general life getting in the way. House plans with my partner and our complicated living arrangements which needed attention but have since gone awry. Extended family issues that sucked up a lot of time and emotional energy. Things going on with my kids that needed supervision (all in a good way though). Christmas. Future plans. Basically, life just got really busy and I didn’t have any spare time or energy to expend on blogging the way I usually do. Even my reading slowed down dramatically, it’s been taking me five or six days to get through a book that would normally take me two or three.

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And things have generally been a bit weird and chaotic, haven’t they? I mean, what is going on with the world? I’m 50 this year and I don’t remember everything being this messed up and unstable ever before. It’s making me antsy and unfocused, which hasn’t helped matters. I can’t seem to settle and apply myself to things the way I normally would, my mind is mayfly-restless which is making it hard to get anything done. Then, being behind on tasks I’ve set myself makes me anxious and self-critical, which exacerbates the problem. And don’t even get me started on the mad, hormonal upheavals of the peri-menopause. I’m basically just a study in chaos at the moment, which is an abnormal and uncomfortable situation for a Type-A personality like me to find themselves in.

Anyway, enough with the blithering and moaning, I’m finally getting stuff back on track. Reviews are ramping up again, and I’ve got some absolutely fantastic titles coming up on the TBR that I can’t wait to share with you. I’m back on social media and I’ve got bit plans for the rest of the year, which I’ll be sharing with you all here on the blog. I’m also going to try and expand the blog to include more non-review posts – like in the old days – just to mix it up a bit.

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First up, I’m delighted to be helping celebrate the Romantic Novel Awards 2022, presented to the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The awards will be presented on 7 March in a lavish ceremony in London, with winners crowned in ten different categories. To champion and promote the awards, I will be running a special series of my Friday Night Drinks feature every night for the next month, with the majority of the shortlisted authors taking part. The first guest, Sarah Mallory, is on the blog tonight, so make sure you check back for that.

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I’ve got a couple of new business projects on the horizon that are publishing related that I can’t wait to tell you all about when I can, although mum is the word on those for now, and I’m hoping to share some of my writing progress with you too – always supposing there is any. That is something that has also taken a back seat over the recent, turbulent months but I’m planning on changing that.

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So that’s it, you are up to date with everything in Book Problem-land, I hope you will come back and see what is going on as the year progresses.

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Book Review: Sundial by Catriona Ward

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You can’t escape the desert. You can’t escape Sundial.

Rob fears for her daughters. For Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. For Annie, because of what Callie might do to her. Rob sees a darkness in Callie that reminds her of the family she left behind. She decides to take Callie back to Sundial, her childhood home deep in the Mojave Desert. And there she will have to make a terrible choice.

Callie is afraid of her mother. Rob has begun to look at her strangely. To tell her secrets about her past that both disturb and excite her. And Callie is beginning to wonder if only one of them will leave Sundial alive…

Catriona Ward’s last book, The Last House on Needless Street, was one of the highlights of my reading year last year, so I was delighted to be invited to preview her new book, Sundial. I am very grateful to the publisher, Viper Books, for providing me with an advance proof of the book for the purpose of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Anyone who read The Last House on Needless Street will be wondering what is to come next from this author. That book was so brilliantly unexpected and out of leftfield that it seems impossible she could come up with anything to match it. It was out on its own, so distinctive that she could not possibly replicate the things that made it so standout, a book that was talked about by everyone last year. And she hasn’t replicated the genius of The Last House on Needless Street. What she has done is write something totally different but equally, if not more, compelling in its own distinctive way.

This is the story of two people, Rob and her daughter, Callie. Rob is struggling in a tempestuous relationship with her husband, Irving, and is concerned about the impact this is having on her two daughters. In particular, the elder of the two, Callie, has begun to exhibit behaviours that Rob finds deeply concerning, particularly as they pertain to the safety of her other child. She decides to take Callie back to her family home in the Mojave desert to try and deal with Callie’s behaviour. In a series of flashbacks to Rob’s own childhood, we discover it was far from normal and begin to wonder if DNA may be at play here.

This book was addictive from beginning to end. An extremely dark, oppressive, creeping psychological horror story with a pair of completely unreliable narrators and underlying themes that will burrow into your brain and take root to the point that you will not be able to extricate yourself from this story until you have finished. The very pinnacle of unputdownable reading, this story held me in thrall from beginning to end.

The story is twisted in every definition of the word. What goes on in both the present day and the historical back story is disturbing to say the least, and will raise some interesting scientific and moral questions in the reader. The plot itself is so serpentine and cleverly constructed that I defy anyone to work out where it is is going until the very end, and there are myriads of shocks along the way. The setting of the book is oppressive in the extreme, and brought brilliantly to life on the page and is absolutely essential to the plot. I has such clear imagery in my mind throughout the novel that it was almost like being in a movie of the book. A terrifying movie it was much of the time too; if it was playing out on the screen I would be hiding behind a cushion. This author has a brutal, ingenious mind, I have no idea which dark part of her psyche dreamt up this plot, but it must be scary and thrilling to live with.

This book is not an easy read. It is not the type of book you pick up to lift you on a dark day or doze off under in bright sunshine on a poolside lounger. It is a book that will challenge you, excite you and grasp onto you with a ferocious hold until you reach the end. You won’t be able to leave it behind, even when you aren’t holding it in your hand, and it will be one you remember long after you have read it. Much as I loved The Last House on Needless Street, I think I may love Sundial more. What this says about me as a person, I don’t know, but this is not a book that fades in with all the others on the bookshop shelf. Another book that will be a big talking point amongst book lovers this year.

Sundial is out on 10 March and you can pre-order in hardback, ebook and audio formats here.

About the Author

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CATRIONA WARD was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the United States, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. She read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia.

‘The Last House on Needless Street’ (Viper Books, Tor Nightfire) was a Times Book of the Month, Observer Book of the Month, March Editor’s Pick on Open Book, a Between the Covers BBC2 book club selection, a Times bestseller, and is being developed for film by Andy Serkis’s production company, The Imaginarium.

‘Little Eve’ (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018) won the 2019 Shirley Jackson Award and the August Derleth Prize for Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards, making her the only woman to have won the prize twice, and was a Guardian best book of 2018. Her debut Rawblood (W&N, 2015) won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, was shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. She lives in London and Devon.

Connect with Catriona:

Facebook: Catriona Ward

Twitter: @Catrionaward

Instagram: @catward66

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Book Review: The Marquess of Yew Park House by Lotte R. James

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A brooding marquess

And a mysterious widow

On the outside Henry Spencer, Marquess of Clairborne, has it all: title, fortune and dashing good looks, but inside he’s haunted by nightmares. Seeking sanctuary at his Scottish estate, his peace is disturbed by a new tenant, widow Genevieve de L’Omont. Her beauty and spirit lead to a growing desire that distracts him from his troubles, but as he unravels a mystery from his past, he discovers Genevieve has secrets of her own…

I want to thank Lotte R. James for asking me to review her new novel, The Marquess of Yew Park House and for providing me with a digital copy of the book for that purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I’m not a regular reader of Mills and Boon novels but, I have to say that one of the best things to have happened to me since I started blogging is being asked to review some of their titles because it has introduced me to some wonderful books that I would not ordinarily have picked up. The Marquess of Yew Park House is one such book.

This is my first book by this author and it is one of the titles in Mills and Boon’s Historical range, set as it is in the Scottish Highlands in the early 1800s. Cue breeches, bodices and repressed desire in bucketloads. As soon as the book opens, we are introduced to the titular Marquess and I fell in love with him immediately. Here is a man troubled and contained by the role he has been cast to play in life, and the reader can feel the rebellion bubbling up inside him from the first page, which sets the scene for a drama packed novel.

As soon as Genevieve appears on the page, it is obvious this is a woman with secrets to hide, but also that she will be someone who will be more than a match for the Marquess. A woman who seems to have nothing left to lose, she is not as meek and mild as we would expect women of the day to be, so the tension is building from the first time they meet. How could any man fail to be intrigued by her?

There is so much going on in this book. Both Henry and Genevieve have secrets that need to be uncovered, personal issues that will keep them apart and need to be resolved, and sizzling chemistry to be explored. There is passion and mystery, set in the beautiful landscape of the highlands, which the author brings beautifully to life with her prose. I was captivated from beginning to end.

Everything about the book is perfect. The characterisation, the plotting, the setting, the pacing and the mystery element. What was probably the biggest shock to me was the level of sexual heat in the book, which went further than I have been conditioned, clearly wrongly, to expect from a Mills and Boon novel but it was absolutely perfect, indeed crucial from the story. There was not a misstep in this novel, and i would not hesitate to pick up another book by this author. As good a story and a level of writing as you will find from any publishing line anywhere, despite the snobbery towards this imprint from some quarters. Crafting such an exciting, engrossing, tightly-plotted novel takes great skill, and it greatly rewards the reader.

The Marquess of Yew Park House is out today in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Lotte James trained as an actor and theatre director, but spent most of her life working day jobs crunching numbers whilst dreaming up stories of love and adventure. She’s thrilled to finally be writing those stories, and when she’s not scribbling on tiny pieces of paper, she can usually be found wandering the countryside for inspiration, or nestling with coffee and a book.

Connect with Lotte:

Website: https://www.lottejamesbooks.com

Twitter: @lottejamesbooks

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Book Review: Shoot The Moon by Bella Cassidy

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Tassie Morris is everyone’s favourite wedding photographer, famous for her photos of offbeat ceremonies and alternative brides. Yet commitment is proving impossible for Tassie herself, who cannot forget her first love.

When she’s sent to photograph a ceremony on Schiehallion – the Fairy Hill of the Scottish Caledonians – she meets Dan, who might be the one to make her forget her past. That is, until a family crisis begins a chain of events that threaten to destroy not only Tassie’s love life, but her entire career.

Set in a colourful world of extraordinary weddings, Shoot the Moon explores the complexities of different kinds of love: romantic love, mother love, friendship. And, ultimately, the importance of loving yourself.

My thanks to Bella Cassidy for inviting me to review her book, Shoot The Moon, and for providing me with a copy for that purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This book is a contemporary romance that feels fresh and real and portrays relationships the way they truly are. Tassie Morris is a successful wedding photographer, but the rest of her life is a little bit of a mess. She has great friends, but a car crash of a love life and difficult relationships with her family.

The premise of the book is genius, because it puts Tassie at the heart of romance every day as she travels around photographing the most glamorous weddings she can find for the magazine she works for, and throws into sharp contrast her own disastrous romantic situation. In making Tassie a celebrity wedding photographer, it allows her imagination to run wild with extravagant and outlandish wedding themes which are really fun to read.

Tassie herself has an unhealthy relationship with her childhood sweetheart, Alex, who we, the reader, can see is no good but Tassie doesn’t seem to be able to get over until she meets Dan. However, as in all good stories, the path of true love never did run smooth and there are plenty of bumps for Dan and Tassie to get over on the way to a happy ending. All of the events that prevent them being together ring authentically in the story, none of them are outlandish or beyond belief which make the book engrossing, because you can fully get lost in the story.

Just as important to the story, however, are Tassie’s other relationships – with her family and with her friends. Because her family ties are strained, Tassie has created another family with her close friends, which is beautiful to read about. But it is Tassie’s relationship with her mother and how the changes over the course of the book which gives the story its meat and its heart and to which many people will be able to relate. This is a story of secrets and heart ache and a lack of honest communication, which will be all too familiar to many.

I thoroughly enjoyed Shoot The Moon. It felt a little different to many romance novels on the market. Not at all twee or overly smaltzy, very grounded and routed in the reality of human relationships and the way people connect to one another. I loved the characters, the settings, the plot and the writing and would love to read more by this author.

Shoot The Moon is available now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Bella Cassidy grew up in the West Country – spending many nights as a young child reading torch-lit books under the bedcovers. After a few years in London, working as a waitress and in PR and advertising, she went to Sussex to read English – despite admitting in her pre-interview that during this rather sociable period in her life she’d read only one book: a Jilly Cooper.

There followed an eclectic range of jobs: including in the world of finance; social housing fundraising; a stint at the Body Shop – working as Anita Roddick’s assistant; as a secondary school teacher; then teaching babies to swim: all over the world.

She’s done a lot of research for writing a weddings romance, having had two herself. For her first she was eight months pregnant – a whale in bright orange – and was married in a barn with wood fires burning. The second saw her in elegant Edwardian silk, crystals and lace, teamed with yellow wellies and a cardigan. Both were great fun; but it was lovely having her daughter alongside, rather than inside her at the second one.

Connect with Bella:

Facebook: Bella Cassidy

Twitter: @BellaMoonShoot

Instagram: @bellamoonshoot

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Book Review: Off Target by Eve Smith

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A longed-for baby
An unthinkable decision
A deadly mistake

In an all-too-possible near future, when genetic engineering has become the norm for humans, not just crops, parents are prepared to take incalculable risks to ensure that their babies are perfect … altering genes that may cause illness, and more…

Susan has been trying for a baby for years, and when an impulsive one-night stand makes her dream come true, she’ll do anything to keep her daughter and ensure her husband doesn’t find out … including the unthinkable. She believes her secret is safe. For now.

But as governments embark on a perilous genetic arms race and children around the globe start experiencing a host of distressing symptoms – even taking their own lives – something truly horrendous is unleashed. Because those children have only one thing in common, and people are starting to ask questions…

My great thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for sending me a proof copy of Off Target by Eve Smith when I enthused about the premise of the book on Twitter. As always, my review is my honest and impartial opinion of the book.

I am a massive fan of speculative fiction so, as soon as I saw Karen Sullivan talking about this book on Twitter, I was excited about it. As someone who has been through reproductive trauma myself, I knew that the story of a woman struggling to have the baby she so desperately wants would resonate deeply with me, and the combination of the two was irresistible.

This book delivered everything I was hoping for and more. It is such a thoughtful and thought-provoking novel which explores complex and controversial ideas in a scenario that is futuristic but plausible enough to make it urgently terrifying. Anyone who walks away from this book with a brain that isn’t mulling over their thoughts on what they would do if faced with these choices, coupled with an underlying sense of unease, wasn’t paying proper attention to the story.

When I was in the third year of my law degree, one of the optional modules I studied was Law and Medical Ethics. Given my advanced age, you can see this is an issue which has fascinated me for many years. Even back then, the ethics of using advances in reproductive technology to help parents have healthy babies was one of the topics under debate and, as new discoveries are made and possibilities expand, the topic becomes only more difficult and contentious. This is the world that Eve Smith is exploring in Off Target and she really cuts to the core of the matter. Just because medicine CAN do something, does that mean that it should? At what point do the rights of the foetus separate from the rights of the parent? What actually makes us the people we are and how much can we change and still be the person we were meant to be? Where is the line to be drawn between treatment that spares children pain and suffering and treatment that edges into eugenics?

These are dilemmas that have troubled society since medicine was first able to intervene to prevent unwanted pregnancies, resolve medical issues in the womb and help infertile couples conceive. You will get many different answers to what is right and wrong in these scenarios, depending on what is important to the individual you are talking to and, bringing up these topics in assured to result in heated debate. It’s an issue people feel strongly about, and reading this book is sure to provoke a visceral response in many. For this reason, it would make an excellent book club read. The fact that these questions are looming on the near horizon will serve only to make any debate more heated. These are scenarios that we may have to deal with in the not-too-distant future and, given some of the reactions we have seen over the past year to the roll out of the Covid vaccine, the extreme responses to genetic modification that Eve explores in this novel are scarily probable.

This book felt prescient to me, as someone who has some small experience and interest in this area, and I found it hugely compelling, deeply unsettling and utterly engrossing. One of the most provocative and stimulating books I have read in a good long while, I can’t rate it highly enough. Orenda continue to have a keen eye for publishing the highest quality and most interesting books and authors in their chosen genres.

Off Target is out now in ebook and paperback formats. You can get it at all good bookshops and online retailers including here.

Having already received a proof copy of Off Target, I am giving away the finished copy of the book I received in my Orenda subscription to one lucky reader. Pop over to my Twitter profile at @book_problem for more details.

About the Author

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Longlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize and described by British bookshop chain Waterstones as: “an exciting new voice in crime fiction”, Eve Smith’s debut novel The Waiting Rooms was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award and was selected as a Book of the Month in The Guardian just after launch.

“Smith combines the excitement of a medical thriller à la Michael Crichton with sensitive characterisation and social insight in a timely debut novel all the more remarkable for being conceived and written before the current pandemic.”

Eve writes speculative fiction, mainly about the things that scare her. In this world of questionable facts, stats and news, she believes storytelling is more important than ever to engage people in real life issues.

She attributes her love of all things dark and dystopian to a childhood watching Tales of the Unexpected and black-and-white Edgar Allen Poe double bills.

Her new thriller, Off Target, is another chilling, prophetic page-turner set in a near future, when genetic engineering has become the norm for humans, not just crops, and parents are prepared to take incalculable risks to ensure their babies are perfect.

Eve’s previous job as COO of an environmental charity took her to research projects across Asia, Africa and the Americas, and she has an ongoing passion for wild creatures, wild science and far-flung places.

When she’s not writing, she’s chasing across fields after her dog, attempting to organise herself and her family or off exploring somewhere new.

Connect with Eve:

Website: https://www.evesmithauthor.com

Facebook: Eve Smith Author

Twitter: @evecsmith

Instagram: @evesmithauthor

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