Romancing The Romance Authors with… Victoria Springfield

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The weeks are going by so fast now, aren’t they? I can’t believe it is time for another edition of Romancing The Romance Authors, the feature where I chat to an author of romance novels about what, why and how they write. But it is, and this week I am delighted to be talking to… Victoria Springfield.

Welcome to the blog, Victoria. Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

I write contemporary women’s fiction immersed in the sights, sounds and flavours of Italy.  I started writing my first book in 2018 and was lucky enough to get a place on the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2019.  Later that year I met my agent, Camilla Shestopal at the RNA conference in Lancaster.  My debut novel, The Italian Holiday, has just been published by Orion under their digital-first brand, Dash.  A second book, set in a riding school in the Tuscan countryside, will be coming out in August this year.

Why romance?

Romance novels are often dismissed but love is one of the biggest influences on people’s emotions and actions.  Love can make one person curl up in a ball in a dark corner, another person to leap up and down on the sofa like Tom Cruise.  It can make people do crazy things, cause them to betray their friends and families or commit acts of self-sacrifice.  Love provides a writer with great material and I enjoy creating a happy ending.  I want people to put my books down with a big, contented sigh and the feeling that all is well in the world.

What inspires your stories?

I have been holidaying in Italy since I was a teenager thanks to my father who was a real Italophile.  The locations, the scenery, the history and of course, the wonderful food all inspire me.  Italy is such a diverse country – it was not united until the late 19th century – so the strong local identity of each location shapes my characters’ lives.  The story lines come from people I have met, conversations I have overheard and things I have read.  Once I start writing, the story itself inspires twists and turns as I go along.

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

My favourite authors such as Mary Wesley, Joanna Trollope and Anita Shreve mix romance with other elements. I have recently discovered Erin Hilderbrand who is fantastic at dissecting human relationships; her books are mainly set on Nantucket.  Rosanna Ley is great; I really enjoyed The Little Theatre by the Sea set in Sardinia, and I always enjoy Sue Moorcroft’s books.  I want to read more from Nadia Marks, her Among the Lemon Trees, a mixture of family secrets and wartime romance has an Italian element but mainly takes place on a small Aegean island.  For a complete change I am trying some historical romance; I am thoroughly enjoying The Spanish Girl by Jules Hayes.

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

I hope you have plenty of spare time because I am going to suggest Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.  This is by far the biggest book on my shelf but well worth the read. The book opens with the wedding of the heroine Lata’s older sister.  Lata’s mother assures her that she will find a suitable boy for Lata to wed, but Lata has ideas of her own.  By the end of the book Lata has three different suitors to choose from and has to weigh up the merits of romantic love, personal happiness and family obligations.

Lata’s search for love plays out against a backdrop of infighting and tragedy as India prepares for its first election after gaining independence from the British Empire.  There is a lot to digest with the political shenanigans and a subplot involving a battle for the affections of the captivating courtesan, Saeeda Bai.  The recent BBC television series included many of the hundred-plus characters from the book but it could only scratch the surface – they should have made fifty episodes!

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A modern classic, this epic tale of families, romance and political intrigue, set in India, never loses its power to delight and enchant readers.

At its core, A Suitable Boy is a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny.

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

I was tempted to choose a handsome, brooding Italian but I am going to step back in time and choose Emma’s charming old-fashioned Mr. Knightley who would knock at my door and whisk me off in a horse-drawn carriage to Donwell Abbey.  After a tour of the grounds, we would enjoy dainty cakes washed down with copious amounts of tea from fine china cups in front of the roaring fire.  Later, I would descend the stairs dressed in a sweeping gown for the evening’s ball, where I would miraculously dance beautifully.  The next day a groom would appear with two striking horses.  I would try sidesaddle; Mr. Knightley would look particularly dashing in breeches and leather boots.  We would fall through a portal into the Italian countryside and trot through the same vineyards, meadows and woods as the characters in my forthcoming second novel before spending the night at the home of a handsome Italian count.  Spurred on by the count’s flirtation with me, Mr. Knightley would at last cast off his English reserve…

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

The RNA provides a wonderful sense of camaraderie; I am continually astonished by how helpful and friendly everyone is.  I have been missing the chapter meetings but now I am crossing paths with people on social media.  If I had not joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme I am not sure I would have got published.  The reader was able to pick out specific passages in my manuscript to show me where my writing could be more engaging and vivid.

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

Do what works for you and do not worry if someone else is writing 3,000 words a day.  Also, get away from the computer.  For me there is something about the rhythm of swimming or walking that untangles my plot problems.  I have been known to scribble things down whilst I am wrapped in a towel in the pool changing rooms.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

The Italian Holiday is an uplifting seaside romance which weaves together the stories of unlucky-in-love Bluebell and kind widow, Miriam who meet on a coach tour of the Amalfi Coast, with that of local girl, Michela, who is returning to Italy after a year working in London.  Whilst Bluebell and Miriam are making friends and exploring the region, Michela’s plan to work at her cousins’ restaurant in Positano is scuppered by a family crisis.  Instead, she lends a helping hand at her parents’ tiny café bar in the quaint town of Minori, surrounded by memories of her first love, Stefano.

The three women have to learn to embrace the changes in their lives and seize their chances of happiness.  The book explores love, friendship, family ties and – thanks to a mysterious poppy-print dress – how a change of clothes can change your life.

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Sun, sea and spaghetti…

Italy was Bluebell’s dream destination, but taking her granny’s place on the Loving and Knitting magazine competition holiday she’d won wasn’t quite what she’d had in mind. For one thing she didn’t knit and for the other…well being single probably discounted her from the love category too. But a free holiday is a free holiday and it’s the perfect escape from her lacklustre life.

Michela didn’t think she’d be returning home to Italy so soon, a new job at her cousin’s restaurant on the harbour of Positano was a dream gig, miles away from the grey London clouds. This time though, she vowed not to fall into old habits, Stefano was the past and now her future in her old hometown beckoned.

But under the Italian skies a whole host of possibilities await and maybe happy-ever-after is just a plane-ride away…

You can buy The Italian Holiday as an ebook here.

About The Author

Victoria Springfield

Victoria Springfield writes contemporary women’s fiction set mainly in Italy.  Her feel-good stories follow unforgettable characters of all ages as they find adventure, friendship and romance.  After many years in London, she now lives in Kent with her husband in a house by the river.  Victoria joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2019.  In 2020 she signed a two-book deal with Orion Dash.  The Italian Holiday set on The Amalfi Coast is out now.  A second book, set in a horse riding centre in Tuscany, will be published in August 2021.

Connect with Victoria:

Facebook: Victoria Springfield Author

Twitter: @VictoriaSwrites

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Little Shop on Floral Street by Jane Lacey-Crane #BookReview

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In the wake of tragedy, two sisters have to piece their family back together…

Grace never thought she’d have to return home to Floral Street. Having spent most of her life building a successful career in London, she’s done everything she possibly can to avoid the flower stall that’s been in her family for generations. But when tragedy hits, she’s got no choice. It’s time to face the demons of the past and support her family.

Faith has returned home after years travelling the world. The baby of the family, she always struggled to find her place. She thought that her life would be different after a trip across the globe, but as she settles back into life in her childhood room she has to come to terms with the fact her life isn’t quite what she expected. And she has no way of getting out of the rut she finds herself in.

Faith and Grace have never seen eye-to-eye, always clashing, never forgiving. But they might just find a way to understand one another, to fight their way through their grief and come out stronger. By opening up, they’ll discover they aren’t so different at all. And family will always be there for you.

Category six of The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge was ‘Read a book by an author with the same name as your best friend.’ Now, this caused me a bit of a dilemma as I have a number of close friends and didn’t want to offend the others by naming any one of them ‘best.’ So I chose the name of my first best friend at senior school who moved to Cornwall after a year and who I haven’t seen since 1984! It also allowed me to tick a book off my NetGalley list, so it was win-win. The book I picked was The Little Shop on Floral Street by Jane Lacey-Crane.

I am ashamed that this book has been languishing on my TBR for so long, because I have loved Jane’s previous two books. This one was another great piece of women’s fiction, that spoke to me on a personal level, dealing as it does with the relationship between three sisters. As someone who is the eldest of four girls, and who counts her sisters as her closest friends as well as siblings, the dynamics of relationships between sisters is always something I am interested in seeing explored in a novel.

In this book, two of the sisters have remained close, despite the fact that the eldest left home at a young age after become largely estranged from their father. The youngest sister has been away travelling and her return to the family home marks a period of upheaval for them all, that culminates in a family tragedy that changes them all forever, and has the power to push them all apart or pull them back together.

In this novel, Jane has drawn a truly authentic and believable family dynamic that plays out honestly on the page. I felt that each of the characters, and their relationship to one another, were beautifully realised and explored and I could really relate to all of them. Despite my own closeness to my sisters, the tensions and rivalries between the three girls were very recognisable to me; with the best will in the world every family has difficulties and areas of friction, and the way each of the sisters interpreted events differently depending on their position and role within the family was all too familiar!

As the eldest, Grace was the one to whom I most related. I recognise that feeling of responsibility and having the weight of sorting out the family’s issues and taking on its burdens, whilst the younger sisters have a much more carefree existence. I am sure my sisters would argue that the younger girls have their own crosses to bear, and would recognise themselves more in Hope or Faith, which is the genius of Jane’s drawing of the characters!

The story centres around the family’s flower stall business, and its future in the wake of the tragedy and the shockwaves of its aftermath and, in this regard, it is a tight, small story that could be happening to any family up and down the country today and, in fact, in the wake of so many losses suffered by so many families in the last twelve months, many of the issues explored will be painful and relevant to a lot of people at the moment. In this regard, the book will speak to a lot of people and touch many of us with its message. This is a book that takes a step beyond a typical women’s fiction novel.

I really enjoyed this book. It is a novel with a big heart and a gentle exploration of issues that will have touched most of us in some way at some point in our lives. I would be surprised if there is anyone who can’t find some recognisable experience or emotion in its pages. Well worth reading.

The Little Shop on Floral Street is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jane has reached the age now where she no longer tells people her age! She’s old enough to legally be able to do everything and that’s all that matters. Secrets & Tea at Rosie Lee’s is Jane’s debut novel. Born and brought up in London’s East End, she now lives in Lincolnshire with her family. Thankfully she recently discovered the joys of mail order pie, mash & liquor, so she can relive her youth anytime she feels like it!

Although writing stories was something that Jane had always done, she never thought anyone would pay her to do it so she focused on learning to act instead, figuring that this was a much more reliable way to earn a living. Sadly, her career as an actress was shortlived, actually it was non-existent, so she turned her attention to another reliable line of work – Cable Television! This was where Jane managed to finally get paid (badly!) doing something she enjoyed – writing. She began with scripts for a series all about Serial Killers (imaginatively entitled ‘Serial Killers’) and then moved on to a series of history documentaries. This series never saw the light of day in the UK but Jane has been informed that it used be very popular with insomniacs staying in hotels in the Far East. This may or may not be true.

Jane’s latest book, The Little Shop on Floral Street, is out now and returns to the familiar East London streets where the author grew up.

Connect with Jane:

Facebook: Jane Lacey-Crane

Twitter: @JaneLaceyCrane

Instagram: @janelaceycrane

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Blog Tour: The Drowned City by K. J. Maitland #BookReview

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I am absolutely thrilled to be taking part today in the blog tour for a book I have been looking forward to reading so much, The Drowned City by K. J. Maitland. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Gunpowder and treason changed England forever. But the tides are turning and revenge runs deep…

1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

I’ve just spent 24 hours of my life immersed in life in the flood-ravaged Bristol of 1606, caught up in the intrigues of the post-Gunpowder Plot Jacobean court and cutting through a web of spies, lies, superstition and religious rivalry to try and solve a murder mystery and I didn’t really want to come back to reality.

The Drowned City is a fantastic mix of historical novel and murder mystery set against the backdrop of a startling but little known event of Jacobean times – the flooding of Bristol by a freak tsunami or storm surge – that was believed by many to be a sign from God at a time when there was still friction between the Catholic church and the Protestant faith in the fairly-new reign of James I. This is not a period of history that I am very familiar with, being more of a Wars of the Roses obsessive, but I was completely gripped by this fascinating blend of fact and fiction to the extent that I had to keep breaking off to find out which bits of the book were based on actual events and characters and which bits the author had invented; the story-telling is completely seamless.

This is the story of Daniel Pursglove, a proponent of sleight of hand tricks, who has found himself in Newgate Prison awaiting trial on suspicion of witchcraft during the reign of a paranoid and superstitious monarch. He is given the chance of earning a pardon by a man claiming to be a close advisor of the King; all he has to do is go to a flood-blighted Bristol to investigate rumours that a priest who had a hand in the Gunpowder Plot is in hiding there, planning sedition. Faced with the prospect of losing his hands, if not his life, Daniel agrees and sets off, but finds himself investigating a string of murders in a city that is beset by suspicion against outsiders and religious superstition, making it a dangerous place for him and his mission.

To say that the author brings the setting of the book to life would be a massive understatement. I can’t remember the last time that I read a book which presents such a vivid portrayal of a different time and a different life. I felt like Harry Potter when his nose touches the surface of the Pensieve and he is pulled in to Dumbledore’s memory. I literally *fell* right in to the heart of Bristol, surrounded by the clamour and the squalor of the blighted metropolis. The author’s writing is vivid and textured and absolutely perfect. The descriptions she uses to evoke the pictures just filled my heart with delight (‘shave the beard from a herring’ was a particular favourite), I could mentally roll around in her language and revel in the feel of it for hours. To take such delight in not just a story but the very way in which it is told is a rare and particular joy to me.

The murder mystery itself is fiendish and full of suspense and tension; enough by itself to carry the story if the book offered nothing else to the reader and it will appeal to lovers of that genre as well as fans of the historical novel. But the setting of the mystery against the historical backdrop adds another layer of interest to anyone who enjoys that genre, and if you are a fan of both as I am, you will be in hogs’ heaven with this novel. It gave me the same joy as I felt when I first discovered the Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters which has a similar style of murder mystery peppered with actual historical fact.

On every level, The Drowned City worked perfectly for me. The writing, the story, the characterisation were all faultless, and I enjoyed this book as much as any I have read in a long time. This is one of the best books I have read so far this year, and I confident it will feature in my top ten books of 2021. Definitely one for the ‘forever’ shelf and I have bought myself a copy in hardback (which has the most beautiful cover too!). I can’t wait for the next in the series, and have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone and everyone. Reading bliss, I want to do it all over again.

The Drowned City is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and will be published in paperback in November. You can buy a copy here.

Make sure you go back and visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for alternative reviews and other content:

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About the Author

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Karen Maitland is an historical novelist, lecturer and teacher of Creative Writing, with over twenty books to her name. She grew up in Malta, which inspired her passion for history, and travelled and worked all over the world before settling in the United Kingdom. She has a doctorate in psycholinguistics, and now lives on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon.

Connect with Karen:

Website: https://karenmaitland.com/

Facebook: Karen Maitland

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Book Review: Whisper of the Lotus by Gabrielle Yetter #BookReview

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Sometimes you have to go a long way from home to come full circle back to discover what was right in front of you..

Charlotte’s mundane, dead-end life lacked excitement. She never imagined that sitting on a plane to Cambodia, struggling with her fear of flying, would lead to her being befriended by Rashid, an old man whose tragic secret would take her on a mystery tour of discovery.

In a land of golden temples, orange-clad monks, and smiling people, Charlotte discovers nothing is as she’d expected. She also never imagined the journey would take her back to the night when her father walked out on the family.

And who was Rashid? Was he just a kindly old man, or was there something deeper sewn into the exquisite fabric of his life?

I received a digital copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review, for which she has my thanks. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I am partial to a book that takes me to another country, especially one that I have never visited in person. Cambodia is a place that is at the top of my bucket list so, until I can get there in reality, I was really looking forward to being transported there between the pages of this book. The author certainly managed to do that in Whisper of the Lotus. The book is filled with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and people of Cambodia and really brought the place to life in a way that only someone who is very familiar with the country really could.

Charlotte is a person who doesn’t really have a life of her own. After her parents split up, she has been left at home looking after her mother – a woman consumed by bitterness and self-pity – by a mixture of guilt and fear. Her best friend Roxy went off travelling and found a new life in Cambodia, so Charlotte decides to take a long-desired holiday to visit her out there. Charlotte is afraid of flying, afraid of travelling alone, afraid of anything different, so this is a big deal for her. She is befriended on the flight by an elderly man who calms her down with words of wisdom, and that encounter sets her the path of a mystery when she lands in Cambodia that will change everything for her.

This is a really unusual book which crosses a number of genres. Part travel novel, part mystery, part supernatural, part exploration of Buddhism, part family saga, there is a lot that will appeal to many different people here, and it will probably be like nothing you have read before. The author explores the relationship between Charlotte and her mother and how that has impacted her life, and between Charlotte and her friend Roxy and how the differences between the two illuminate the changes that Charlotte needs to make to her life to make her happy. The book takes us on an exploration of Cambodia that is enriching and delightful for anyone who is interested in life in other parts of the world, and her writing here is rich and detailed and full of affection and admiration for the country and its people. 

I found the discussion of Buddhist principles through Charlotte’s learning of them particularly fascinating, as it something I have always had a mild interest in but never particularly pursued beyond that, so learning a little more was enlightening and made me think I might look into it a bit further. Charlotte begins down the path of seeing how it could help her move on in her life, although it is clearly not an easy path because she seems to forget what has been taught as soon as she gets into a difficult situation! I think this indicates it is something that takes a lot of time and dedication to explore and cannot turn things around overnight.

I did have a couple of issues with the book, which came mainly from the character of Charlotte. I did find her a hard person to warm to at times. She is quite whiny and addicted to her victimhood (as Roxy points out!) and very quick to fly of the handle if she thinks anyone is telling her something she doesn’t want to hear. I appreciate that her character needs to be like that at the beginning so she can move on from it through the book as she learns and grows, but I didn’t feel like she had got there by the end; she still seemed to be quite self-centred at the conclusion. Normally this might be quite fatal for my enjoyment of a book, but the rest of it was written so beautifully and was so entertaining that I was able to get past it. She is not a character I could ever love though.

The supernatural element of the book created some moments of beauty and interest, and I enjoyed it, although I think some people might find it too unbelievable and coincidental to swallow. It is definitely a book that requires the reader to suspend their disbelief. The book is a languid and leisurely feast for all the senses, that doesn’t rush but takes a slow and circuitous route to its conclusion. It is not without flaw, and won’t appeal to everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it for anyone looking for something that little bit out of the ordinary.

Whisper of the Lotus is out now in ebook and paperback and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Gabrielle Yetter has lived in India, Bahrain, South Africa, Cambodia, England and the USA. She worked as a journalist in South Africa, owned a dining guide in San Diego, wrote a cookbook about traditional Cambodian desserts and freelanced for publications and online sites in the US, The Netherlands, South Africa, and Southeast Asia.

In 2010, she and her husband, Skip, sold their home in the US, quit their jobs, gave away most of their possessions, and bought a one-way ticket to Cambodia.

In June 2015, she co-authored Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure, with Skip. In May 2016, she published her first children’s picture book, Ogden, The Fish Who Couldn’t Swim Straight followed by Martha The Blue Sheep in 2017.

She lives in Eastbourne, England and her first novel, Whisper of the Lotus, was released in November 2020.

Connect with Gabrielle:

Website: http://www.gabrielleyetter.com/

Facebook: Gabrielle Yetter

Twitter: @gabster2

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Blog Tour: Abberton House by Debbie Ioanna #BookReview

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Two families. 100 years apart. A sinister haunting…

It was supposed to be the dream house for Adam, Catherine, and their daughter, Bella. But dream houses can hold secrets. Settling in to their new home, the family realise they are not the only inhabitants of Abberton House.

A dark past continues to haunt the idyllic Yorkshire home, and those who remain want Adam and Catherine to know the truth. Frightened, Adam and Catherine begin to piece together what really happened at this once perfect abode.

A missing family, an elderly man searching for the truth, and secrets waiting to be revealed, moving in to Abberton House could be the worst decision the family made.

Today I am taking my turn on the blog tour for Abberton House by Debbie Ioanna. Thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for asking me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a traditional haunted house story, rather than a spine-chilling horror, which is much more to my tastes as I am a bit of a scaredy cat and don’t like anything too terrifying or gory. It might be too tame for the out and out horror fan, but I thought it was a fun read with a pleasantly chilling frisson that will have you on the edge of your seat, but not having to sleep with the light on!

A family move in to an old, remote house in Yorkshire, only to find over time that they are not living alone. As the spooky happenings increase in frequency and ferocity, the family realise that they need to solve a hundred-year-old mystery to settle the spirits. In this regard, the story isn’t particularly original or startling, and I think a lot of readers might guess the outcome, but the way the story is told is entertaining enough to keep the reader interested to the end nonetheless.

The story bobs backwards and forwards between the lives of the family in the present day, and Elizabeth and her children living in the house in 1916 while the man of the house, Henry, is away on the frontline in the First World War. I really enjoyed the historical aspects of the book, the way the author portrayed the struggles of Elizabeth at that time and the dynamics of the close knit community, and how they judged people. This is mirrored to a degree in the modern day with Catherine and her family trying to fit into a new community in North Yorkshire and worrying what people will think if they find out they are seeing ghosts.

The manifestations of the ghostly goings on in the house are not too terrifying, partly because the young daughter of the house did not seem especially scared. To be honest, I think I would have reacted much more strongly to supernatural happenings than Catherine, especially left alone at night in a remote house with a young child, but maybe she is just made of sterner stuff than I, and I suppose it made sense in the terms of the plot, making them want to help the spirits settle rather than just running screaming far, far away, but they could perhaps have been a little more terrified. I also felt there were aspects of the story that were a little under-developed (why did Mary take such a dislike to Michael, for example). The writing also felt quite formal in places, which was especially apparent in the speech, which didn’t feel entirely natural. These were all minor niggles though.

All in all, this is a well-constructed, entertaining supernatural thriller that will appeal to people who want to be chilled, but not scared witless.

Abberton House is out now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

Do make sure to visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

Debbie Ioanna

Debbie is a multi-genre indie author and blogger who was born in Bradford and lives there with her husband, two-year-old daughter and anti-social cat Cleo. When she isn’t busy being a Mum, working for her local council or studying towards her Open University degree, she is busy focusing on her writing career.

Debbie doesn’t write to just one genre as she likes to write about anything. She is currently working on a romantic-comedy series but who knows what she will be working on in the future. As well as writing novels, short stories and blogs for her website, she is also reviewing other works by indie authors. She is passionate about helping other indie authors as she knows it is a hard world to master and getting reviews is a challenge on its own.

Debbie has been a regular attending author at the UK Indie Lit Fest in Bradford for the last few years and will be returning in 2020, as well as attending events in Shipley and Liverpool for the first time.

Debbie began studying with the Open University in 2015, aiming towards a BA Honours in Humanities, focusing on History and Creative Writing which are her two greatest passions. It is a part-time course, due to end in 2021 which Debbie is hoping means she will have more time to write.

Connect with Debbie:

Website: https://debbie-ioanna-author.blog/

Facebook: Debbie Ioanna Author

Twitter: @Debbie_Cleo

Instagram: @debbieioannaauthor

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Blog Tour: Chasing The Italian Dream by Jo Thomas #BookReview

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I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour today for the latest book by one of my favourite authors, Chasing The Italian Dream by Jo Thomas. It’s also ebook publication day today, so happy publication day, Jo! My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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A summer escape she’ll never forget . . .

Lucia has worked hard as a lawyer in Wales, aiming for a big promotion she hopes will shortly come her way. Finally taking a well-earned break at her grandparents’ house in southern Italy, the sunshine, lemon trees and her nonna’s mouth-watering cooking make her instantly feel at home.

But she’s shocked to learn that her grandfather is retiring from the beloved family pizzeria and will need to sell. Lucia can’t bear the thought of the place changing hands – especially when she discovers her not-quite-ex-husband Giacomo wants to take it over!

Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life. Is this her chance to carry on the family tradition and finally follow her dreams?

Jo Thomas is queen of the travel novel, and this time she effectively whisked me from my armchair and straight to the heart of an Italian village near Naples where the air is fragrant with the scent of flowers, lemons…. and pizza! Workaholic Lucia is taking her annual holiday with her grandparents in Italy, while she waits to hear about a big promotion at her law firm back in Wales. However, she finds that her stable world in Italy is about to change when her Nonno retires from the family’s generations-old pizza restaurant, and passes it on to her estranged ex-husband of all people. Lucia begins to wonder is her future lies in law, and in Wales, at all.

Jo has created a wonderful mix of characters here. Lucia is a modern woman to whom we can all relate. Independent, feisty and not prepared to take no for an answer when she wants something, but at the same time generous and caring in the way she deals with other people. The relationship between Lucia and her grandparents is heart-warming and honest and I really loved watching it being explored on the page. The friendships she has in Italy, and the way the women all help each other out, is a fabulous dynamic to explore and I absolutely loved the theme of women’s lib playing out in a small, Italian pizzeria. I was cheering them on all the way!

At the same time, what is a holiday novel without a holiday romance, although in this story it is with a bit of a twist because Lucia and Giacomo have a long and tangled history, so they are not just getting to know each other. I found this a refreshing twist on the overseas romance novel, and enjoyed the way their past played into the story and caused the tension in the events unfolding on the page. There was definitely heat between the two of them coming off the page, and it wasn’t just from the hot Italian sun or the forno!

The star of the show, and the reason we all pick up a Jo Thomas novel, is, of course, the setting. It is a holiday in book form. Jo is the mistress of actually bringing her settings to life on the page so you are actually THERE as you read. Her books are a feast for every sense, with all of the sights, sounds, scents, textures, and particularly tastes, described in detail. You can feel the sun warming your shoulders, hear the waiter singing, feel the stone of the piazza under your flip flops, smell the earthy tomatoes and the zesty lemons, and taste the food.

Oh the food, the food, the food. Anyone who has read her books or follows Jo on Twitter will know how much she loves to describe food, and she does so in such a way that you can actually taste it. It instantly makes you want to eat whatever she is describing, and here it is one of my favourite cuisines… Italian. You can virtually enjoy the soft dough, the tangy tomato sauce, the melting mozzarella and the earthy basil. The gelato. The pasta, the vegetables. I’ve made myself hungry again just thinking about it, just as Jo did all the way through the book. If you love to read about food, you have to read this book.

The book was everything I wanted in a travel romance. I spent a day (which is all the time it took me to read this, I couldn’t put it down) in the sun-drenched Italian countryside with some lovely people eating pizza, drinking wine and enjoying the family drama. What more do you want? Can’t wait to get the paperback to slide on to my bookshelf next to Jo’s other books, ready for the next time I want to be whisked away to Italy.

Chasing The Italian Dream is out today in ebook format and will be published in paperback on 10 June. You can order your copy here.

Make sure to follow the rest of the tour for more reviews and other great content from my fellow bloggers:

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About the Author

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Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Radio 2’s The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.

Connect with Jo:

Website: https://jothomasauthor.com/

Facebook: Jo Thomas Author

Twitter: @jo_thomas01

Instagram: jothomasauthor

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Desert Island Books with… Brian Price

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This week, I have whisked yet another victim guest off to my deserted tropical island to enjoy peace, solitude and the chance to kick back and read five hand-picked books without interruption. This time, the lucky castaway is non-fiction author… Brian Price.

Book One – Sherlock Holmes Short Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

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This anthology collects together Arthur Conan Doyle’s finest Sherlock Holmes stories.

The drug-addled, anti-social sleuth has become one of the most iconic characters in fiction and the tales collected here will entertain readers today just as much as when they were first published in the late 19th-century.

Featuring such classic cases as ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ and ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, this provides the perfect introduction to the world’s favourite detective.

I’ve have enjoyed Sherlock Holmes ever since I was a teenager and the collected short stories demonstrate the breadth of the author’s inventiveness – more so than some of the longer ones. Of course, some are a little fanciful but they are of their time and still repay re-reading.

Book Two – Dr Thorndyke Omnibus by R. Austin Freeman

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Dr. Thorndyke is one of the best creations of the Golden Age of British detective fiction. He is both medical doctor and barrister and the first great exponent of forensics in fiction, with an encyclopedic scientific knowledge.

R. Austin Freeman was innovative in his writing too – some of his stories are divided in two: the first part describes the crime AND who did it – the second, the means of detection.

In this new omnibus edition, over forty Thorndyke short stories are gathered, from The Singing Bone (a.k.a. The Adventures of Dr. Thorndyke), The Great Portrait Mystery, John Thorndyke’s Cases (a.k.a. Dr. Thorndyke’s Cases), The Magic Casket , The Puzzle Lock and Dr. Thorndyke’s Case Book (a.k.a. The Blue Scarab).

In some ways a rival to Holmes – their writings overlapped at the turn of the 20th century – Freeman’s character uses science much more than Holmes and the stories are all the richer for it. In some ways I prefer Thorndyke – he’s more sociable – and the puzzles are excellent.

Book Three – The Witches Trilogy by Terry Pratchett

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A collection of three of the author’s “Discworld” novels; Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad, that feature the characters Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrit Garlick.

Terry Pratchett can always cheer me up and the witches stories are hilarious. He was a wonderful writer who sneaked in a lot of thoughtful stuff beneath the humour and fantasy.  Greatly missed.

Book Four – Howdunnit by Martin Edwards (ed.)

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Ninety crime writers from the world’s oldest and most famous crime writing network give tips and insights into successful crime and thriller fiction.

Howdunit offers a fresh perspective on the craft of crime writing from leading exponents of the genre, past and present. The book offers invaluable advice to people interested in writing crime fiction, but it also provides a fascinating picture of the way that the best crime writers have honed their skills over the years. Its unique construction and content mean that it will appeal not only to would-be writers but also to a very wide readership of crime fans.

The principal contributors are current members of the legendary Detection Club, including Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Peter James, Peter Robinson, Ann Cleeves, Andrew Taylor, Elly Griffiths, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Alexander McCall Smith, John Le Carré and many more.

Interwoven with their contributions are shorter pieces by past Detection Club members ranging from G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr to Desmond Bagley and H.R.F. Keating.

The book is dedicated to Len Deighton, who is celebrating 50 years as a Detection Club member and has also penned an essay for the book.

The contributions are linked by short sections written by Martin Edwards, the current President of the Club and author of the award-winning The Golden Age of Murder.

Martin Edwards has pulled together an amazing collection of tips for crime writers, from authors old and new, together with valuable examples of how it should be done. An invaluable source of advice.

Book Five – The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven

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Welcome to the Puppet Show . . .

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.

When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.

Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.

As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …

Picking a contemporary novel to re-read is extremely difficult but I’ll go with the first in the riveting Poe and Tilly series. The characters are brilliant, the plot excellent and the writing great – and sometimes very funny.

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If a solar powered word processor is not available, I’ll settle for a big box of pens and paper – without too many distractions, I should be able to write something half decent!

About Brian Price

Brian Price

Brian Price is a chemist and biologist who provides advice on science to crime writers direct and via his website  and YouTube channel. He was an Open University tutor for 26 years and also worked for the Environment Agency. He is an avid reader of crime fiction, writes short stories and has a novel currently seeking a publisher.

Brain’s latest book, Crime writing: How to write the science, is a guide for authors on the scientific aspects of crime. It covers poisons, weapons, knocking people out, fires & explosions, body disposal and some aspects of DNA and forensics. It aims to help writers avoid common mistakes and is also of interest to avid crime readers. Million-selling crime writer Leigh Russell described it as ‘Detailed and thorough. Price clearly knows his subject matter which he presents in a lucid and well-organised text. This is an invaluable resource for any crime writer.’ You can buy a copy of the book here.

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How many times have you read a crime novel describing a poisoning, a stabbing, an explosion or a shooting and realised it’s wrong? Mistakes jar and can undermine a brilliant plot.

This guide will help you to avoid these mistakes, save you research time and ensure that your writing is scientifically credible. Crime writers increasingly look for accuracy in their work and this book, which assumes no previous scientific knowledge, will be a valuable asset for both novices and experienced writers and will also fascinate readers who love crime fiction.

This book explains: * The nature of poisons and how they work. * How to knock out a character and avoid killing them * The nature of explosives are and what happens in an explosion.. * How fires start and their effects on people and buildings. * Firearms, suppressors and how they work. Mechanisms for murder. * Tips on fighting back from an attack and escaping from captivity. * Problems of body disposal and crime scene clean-up. * The nature and use of DNA. * Forensic techniques & how evidence can be misinterpreted.

Connect with Brian:

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

Facebook: Brian Price

Twitter: @crimewritersci

YouTube: Brian Price

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely #BookReview

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Two teens–one black, one white–grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn Collins–a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan–and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team–half of whom are Rashad’s best friends–start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

It’s category five in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge, ‘Read a book by two authors.’ For this category I have chosen the award-winning YA novel, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

Dealing with a subject matter that has been at the forefront of media attention over the last twelve months due to the killing of George Floyd, this would be a great book to give a teen who wanted to read something that grapples with issues that they see in the news in a way that is approachable but also makes them think and try and understand the tensions that arise after such incidents.

The book is told from the dual viewpoints of Rashad, the victim of the violent act, and Quinn, his classmate and friend of the brother of the policeman involved in the arrest. Quinn is very torn between loyalty, and the tensions that arise in his school as everyone begins to take sides. It is a very effective way to present the different perspectives on the events of the book and to see how people are pressured to taking a stand for one side or another, and how the tension spreads quickly through a community. The subject is dealt with very sensitively, and it really brought the reality of the fallout from these events home in a way that we can all relate to.

The book is emotional and difficult to read in parts, but these are issues that need to be brought into the open and discussed in the light, even if that makes us uncomfortable, so I would highly recommend this as a book you can give to young people in your life as a way of introducing them to the topic and giving you a jumping off point for discussion. I am certainly going to be encouraging my teenage daughters to read it as another step in the conversations I have already had with them following the events of the last twelve months.

The writing between the two authors is seamless, you wouldn’t know it was co-authored if you hadn’t been told, but I am sure the input of both made this book the balanced and considered telling of the story that it is. A great and important read, especially for the young adults it is aimed at.

All American Boys is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Authors

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Jason Reynolds is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, a two-time National Book Award finalist, a Kirkus Award winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. He’s also the 2020-2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His many books include StampedWhen I Was the GreatestThe Boy in the Black SuitAll American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely), As Brave as YouFor Every One, the Track series (GhostPatinaSunny, and Lu), Look Both Ways, and Long Way Down, which received a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Honor. He lives in Washington, DC.

Website: https://www.jasonwritesbooks.com/

Facebook: Jason Reynolds

Twitter: @JasonReynolds83

Instagram: @jasonreynolds83

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Brendan Kiely is the New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), The Last True Love StoryThe Gospel of WinterTradition, and The Other Talk. His work has been published in ten languages; received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Myers Award, and the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award; has twice been awarded Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association; and has been a Kirkus Reviews Best Book. Originally from the Boston area, he now lives in New York City.

Connect with Brendan:

Website: https://www.brendankiely.com/

Twitter: @KielyBrendan

Instagram: @brendankiely

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Blog Tour: Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry #Extract

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I am absolutely thrilled to be kicking off the Don’t Turn Around blog road trip for Jessica Barry’s new book, which will be published on 15 April. Over the next ten days, bloggers will be hosting extracts from the book, as well as other author features, leading up to publication of the book. I am delighted to be able to share Chapter 1 of the book with you today. Thanks to Graeme Williams for inviting me to be part of the tour and to the publisher for allowing me to share the extract with you today.

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Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America.

Cait’s job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.

But what if Rebecca’s secrets put them both in danger? There’s a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it’s like to be followed.

And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move…

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Now for the extract from Chapter 1 of Don’t Turn Around:

 

PROLOGUE

The smell hits her first: burnt rubber and gasoline. Then the pain

comes. The roar of blood in her ears, the gurgled strangle of her breath.

She squints out of the splintered windshield. For a split second, she

can’t remember where she is. When she does, fear rushes over her, a

black, suffocating wave.

And then she hears it: a long, shivering scrape of metal against

metal.

She sees a face at the window.

It’s him.

He’s outside, and he’s trying to get in.

 

LUBBOCK, TEXAS—

322 MILES TO ALBUQUERQUE

Cait kept the engine running.

She’d had the Jeep since college, bought it used the summer before her freshman year with the proceeds of hundreds of hours working retail at Richland Mall, and sometimes it acted up. Normally, she didn’t mind. She relished popping the hood and peering underneath, knowing more times than not that she would be able to fix the problem. Her father had her out in the garage from the time she was six. But at this particular moment, there was no way in hell she would risk the engine stalling.

Outside, there was a glitter of frost on the lawn. The house wasn’t what she was used to, though by now she knew that she should expect anything. Usually, the places were cramped and run- down, cinder block apartment buildings or chipped- stucco bungalows, in neighborhoods where she wouldn’t want to linger after dark.

There was one place about a month ago, on the outskirts of Abilene, that was tucked behind the railroad tracks on Route 20. She drove straight past it the first time, despite the number 22 painted clearly on the side of the mailbox. No way someone lived there, she figured— it wasn’t much more than a shack, and it looked abandoned, the windows boarded up, a rusted- out pickup truck squatting outside, tires long gone. She followed the road another quarter mile, watching for the house, but there was nothing but empty farmland. She double- checked the address: it was right, though she’d known that already. They didn’t make mistakes

about things like that back at the office. So she turned around and parked outside the shack, and sure enough, a girl who didn’t look a day over eighteen ran out from behind the house and climbed silently into the Jeep. Cait could still picture the girl’s nervous smile, the long shining braid that fell down her back, the halfmoons of dirt nestled beneath her fingernails.

But this place was different: a McMansion in a modern development, complete with a two- car garage and a light- up reindeer on the lawn. One of the tasteful ones made of wire and tiny white lights, not the inflatable kind her parents used to stick on top of their house back in Waco, two sagging reindeer pulling a bloated Santa across the roof. The house itself was built of red brick and topped with a series of peaked roofs, and there was a small paved path curving up to the imposing front door. Property was cheaper here than in Austin— most places were cheap compared to Austin— but this was definitely the house of someone who wasn’t shy with a few bucks.

It threw her off a little, this house.

Cait scanned the street for any sign of movement. The windows on the houses were squeezed shut, and the only light came from the pretty streetlamps that lined the sidewalk. A child’s red tricycle lay in a driveway, forgotten until tomorrow. She pictured a plump- cheeked toddler riding up and down the sidewalk, legs pumping, little fingers clutching the handlebars, wind rushing past as she sped up, shrieking with joy or terror, or maybe both.

The road had emptied out pretty quickly once she was out of Austin’s sprawl, and soon it was just her and a few fellow travellers driving along the long, flat, endless road. The view didn’t change much, just empty plains stretching out as far as she could see, briefly interrupted by the green of watered lawns and neatly plotted houses that signaled a town.

Eight hours later, and here she was, waiting. She shifted in her seat, scratched an itch, stifled a yawn. She’d need to get coffee once they were on the road. She didn’t want to stop until they were clear of the city.

She checked the clock on the dashboard: 12:10. Pickup had been at midnight, but she’d gotten there a few minutes early, just in case. She’d been waiting for a while now. It happened sometimes. People got nervous, had second thoughts. If they changed their minds, they were meant to give her a signal: flick the lights three times quick, and she’d know they weren’t coming. Two flicks meant there was trouble and she should call the police.

So far that night, there’d been nothing.

She wasn’t worried, at least not yet. She scanned the road again. All quiet in Pleasantville. Every car tucked up in its garage, every person tucked up in bed.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught something. One hand gripped the wheel, the other the gearshift. This could be it. Her heart pounded in her chest.

She watched a possum slinking under a thick hedge and shuddered. She’d grown up with possums, but that didn’t mean she didn’t hate them. They were cute enough as babies, but when they were full- grown, they were mean little suckers. Still, a possum wasn’t going to give her any trouble.

Eyes back on the house. Still dark, still nothing. The clock read 12:15. She’d give it another five. They weren’t meant to linger. Lingering attracted attention. If one of the neighbors happened to get up to use the bathroom and see a beat- up old Jeep parked out front, they’d call the cops quicker than a lightning bug in July. And nobody wanted the cops involved in something like this. You never knew which way they’d swing.

One of the curtains in the house twitched, and a moment later, a light came on downstairs. This was it: now or never. She straightened up in her seat and wiped the mascara smudges from under her eyes.

Get ready. As soon as she gets in the car, you’ve got to go.

A few seconds later, a blond woman wearing a pressed white shirt and khakis emerged. She had a bag slung over her shoulder that looked expensive. Actually, her whole person looked expensive— slick and golden and whistle- clean. Cait watched the woman lock the door behind her, hesitate, check again that it was locked.

Sweat pricked at the small of Cait’s back. Comeoncomeoncomeon.

The woman stole glances at the neighboring houses and hurried down the path.

Cait reached over and swung the passenger door open from the inside. The woman’s face appeared.

“Hi, Rebecca?” Cait made sure to smile when she said the woman’s name. It was important to put them at ease as quickly as possible. The woman nodded and climbed in. Her smell filled the Jeep, cotton and vanilla and sandalwood. “I’m Caitlyn,” she said, though the woman would have known that already. “But you can call me Cait.” The woman nodded again and pulled her bag tight to her lap. “The seat belt comes from the back,” Cait said, and the woman frowned before reaching behind and snapping the belt into the clasp. She stared straight ahead, through the windshield, at the deserted suburban street.

Cait shifted into drive and pulled away from the curb. “Do you have a phone?”

The woman blinked.

“A cell phone,” Cait prompted. Sometimes they got nervous and froze. She had learned to coax them. “If you do, you need to turn it off.”

The woman’s eyes widened. “Why?”

“GPS.”

The woman’s frown deepened. “Is that really— ”

“Yeah, it is. Sorry, I know it seems a little extreme, but— ” She left the rest of the sentence hanging in the air. Both of them knew that these were extreme circumstances.

The woman fumbled around in her bag and pulled out her phone. Cait kept one eye on the road and watched until she’d switched it off.

“How long will the drive take?”

“About six hours. Maybe a little less. There’s bottled water in the back if you want it. Help yourself.”

Rebecca hugged her bag tighter to her chest. “I’m fine, thank you.”

In the rearview mirror, Cait saw a light snap on in a neighboring house and a face appear at the window.

Take it easy. Just drive normally; don’t read anything into it.

“Are you close with your neighbors?” She kept her voice casual.

Rebecca looked at her, surprised. “Not really.”

Cait’s eyes were locked on the rearview. The curtain fell back across the window, the light flicked off. She let out a sigh. “It looks like the kind of place where you’d all be friendly. Block parties, that kind of thing. Is there a neighborhood watch?”

Rebecca shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Good.” She’d run into trouble with neighborhood watches in the past. Give a guy a fake badge and a pinch of authority and things could go sideways fast. The rest of the houses stayed dark. No cars on the road, either. They were almost out of the development. It would be easier once they got on the major roads. “Do you mind if I put the radio on? It helps keep me awake.”

The woman shook her head. Cait reached over and clicked on the dial. The drone of a talk radio host filled the Jeep— the great scourge of Texas. She flicked through the stations until she landed on the local Magic station. The crooning voice of Billy Joel came through the speakers, singing about drinking alone. She left it on. She figured she couldn’t go wrong with Billy Joel.

The house was on the southeast side of Lubbock, so they had to pass straight through downtown to get to Highway 60. She turned onto Broadway and drove past a banner hanging in the window of a local law firm: WELCOME TO BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN! NO WIN, NO FEE! There were stoplights every other block, and all of them seemed to turn red as soon as they got close, plotting together to keep them within the city limits.

“C’mon, c’mon,” Cait muttered, hand tapping the wheel. She didn’t like how quiet it was. That was the hardest part about these night drives: the quiet. It was easier to blend in if there were other signs of life.

A man dressed in a Santa hat walked past holding a filthy cloth in one hand and a sign in the other: HUNGRY, PLEASE HELP. He knocked on the window as they waited for the light to change. Cait tried to wave him away, but he mimed the action of cleaning and started wiping the cloth across the windshield, leaving streaks of grease on the glass. She glanced over at Rebecca, who was cowering in the passenger seat, knuckles white on the straps of her bag.

Cait rolled down the window and shoved a couple of dollar bills at him. “Thanks for the sterling work.” He took them with a tip of an imaginary hat and shuffled off just as the light switched to green. “You okay?” she asked Rebecca.

Rebecca nodded, but her jaw was set tight and she was staring straight ahead, her eyes glassy and unseeing. She hadn’t so much as blinked since leaving the house. “Almost out of Lubbock now,” Cait said.

The wide double lanes were lined with the cash- and- carries and the megachurches and the little Mexican restaurants advertising Taco Tuesday, just like every other town in Texas. Occasionally, a neon- lit billboard would flood a sickly light down on them, conjuring up strange, flickering shadows. The Christmas lights were out— multicolored stars and pale blue snowflakes, an angel strung high above the avenue, her wings sparkling gold— and the signs in the shopwindows advertised half- price champagne and cheap diamond bracelets.

Cait hated Christmas. It was amateur hour for drinking, full of awkward office parties and old guys looking to cop a feel after one too many whiskeys. Her old manager had insisted on hanging a sprig of mistletoe at the edge of the bar, and every time she’d go to open the champagne fridge, there’d be some guy lurking, hoping to try his luck. There was a new manager now, a woman, so maybe it would be different, though given that the staff uniform involved mandatory crop tops and Stetsons, she wasn’t holding her breath. At least the tips would be decent.

She stretched, winced. Her back was killing her already. She’d been driving for hours, pushing through rush hour traffic out of Austin and on to 183. She’d lived in the city for eight years and every year it seemed to get worse, the roads thick with pickup trucks and beaters and shiny new sports cars, clogging up the city’s arteries, strangling its heart.

Friends talked about leaving the city. They said they couldn’t take the traffic anymore, or the ever rising rents for ever shittier apartments, or the Tesla charging stations that had sprung up like dandelions and were perpetually full. It was all talk, though. No one ever left. Where would they go? Someplace like this?

They passed Church’s Chicken and the Eleganté Hotel. The city was starting to lose its grip a little, pockets of land stretching wider between buildings and the buildings themselves growing longer and wider. Cait saw Rebecca’s shoulders inch away from her ears and the grip on her handbag start to loosen.

Finally, they saw the sign for the Lubbock city limit. “We’re out,” Cait said. “The hardest part is over now.” Rebecca cracked a smile.

They drove through Littlefield, past a John Deere dealership and a sign advertising vacancy at the Plains Motel. She’d done this stretch a couple times before— once with a sweet- faced college kid who spent the whole time cramming for her biology exam, and another with a woman from Odessa who wept for most of the journey.

That had been a tough one. But there had been worse.

Some of her clients— those who had jobs flexible enough to allow them a few days off, or partners who weren’t breathing down their necks— stayed within state lines, and she ferried them to Austin or Dallas or Fort Worth. Most went to New Mexico, where the rules weren’t so strict. It was a longer drive but quicker in the long run. Lubbock was in a dead zone: a five- hour drive no matter what direction she drove. It was the client’s choice. Tonight she was heading west.

She glanced in the rearview. There was a tractor trailer behind them. She stepped on the gas, and its headlights receded. No tail that she could detect. She allowed herself to relax a little. It was always most dangerous nearest the home. The more miles they had under their belts, the safer they would be. Until they got to where they were going, of course, but that was a headache she wouldn’t worry about until morning.

Cait had left in a hurry— late, as always— and hadn’t managed to get dinner. Hunger was mixed in with exhaustion, gritting her eyes and making her bones heavy. A cup of coffee and maybe a slice of pie would be enough to keep her going. “Do you mind if we stop once we’re over the border?”

Rebecca’s head snapped toward her. “Why?”

“I need a cup of coffee. I’ve been on the road since six o’clock.”

The corners of her pretty mouth turned down. “I guess. If you need to.”

“Thanks. It’ll be quick, I promise. I know you’re nervous, but we’re out of the danger zone now.”

“How do you know?”

“Ninety percent of all incidents occur within the first ten minutes of the journey. Most of the trouble I’ve seen has happened right outside the front door. Now that we’re out of Lubbock, it should be smooth sailing.”

Rebecca nodded but didn’t look convinced. She had the kind of profile that belonged on a Roman coin, all straight nose and firm jaw. Patrician. Cait smiled at her own description: it was good, she should write it down. Maybe she could use it.

In the meantime, she needed to work out that piece she’d been writing about labor conditions at the organic farm outside of Austin. The editor had been requesting the copy for weeks, but she hadn’t been able to land it. Not that he had much of a right to complain considering how much he was paying her, which was nothing. Still, she couldn’t risk pissing him off. It was rare that someone gave her a chance, especially these days.

A sign announced that they were leaving Littlefield. They were edging toward the desert now. Pretty soon there’d be nothing but scrub and sky. Her stomach rumbled. She couldn’t get to Clovis fast enough. It would be her last chance to get a decent cup of coffee that night.

She glanced over at the woman sitting next to her. “You comfortable? You want me to put the heat on or anything?”

Rebecca shook her head. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“Just let me know. It’s supposed to get down to the twenties tonight. They’re saying it might even snow.” She reached out and patted the dashboard. “Don’t worry, she’s good in the snow.”

Rebecca gave her a weak smile. “That’s good to know,” she said, before turning her face back toward the window.

So she wasn’t a talker. That was fine. There was plenty of time for that.

*******************

If this has whetted your appetite for the book, you can pre-order a copy here. 

Make sure you now head over to Susan Hampson’s blog, Books From Dusk Till Dawn for Chapter 2! The rest of the chapters and other content will be shared over the course of the week as detailed on the tour poster at the top of the post.

About the Author

Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and was raised on a steady diet of library books and PBS.

She attended Boston University, where she majored in English and Art History, before moving to London in 2004 to pursue an MA from University College London.

She lives with her husband, Simon, and their two cats, Roger Livesey and BoJack Horseman.

Connect with Jessica:

Facebook: Jessica Barry

Twitter: @jessbarryauthor

Instagram: @jessicabarry9

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Desert Island Children’s Books: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

CHILDREN'S

It’s time for March’s Desert Island Children’s Book and I can see a theme forming in my last three choices. I was obviously obsessed with reading about the lives of other young girls living in other times during my own formative years. This time we have come forward in time and closer to home to read about the three Fossil sisters living in London in the first half of the twentieth century. I am talking about Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.

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Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are sisters – with a difference. All three were adopted as babies by Great Uncle Matthew, an eccentric and rich explorer who then disappeared, leaving them in the care of his niece Sylvia.

The girls grow up in comfort until their money begins to run out and nobody can find Great Uncle Matthew. Things look bleak until they hit on an inspired idea: Pauline, Petrova and Posy will take to the stage.

But it’s not long before the Fossils learn that being a star isn’t as easy as they first thought…

I was never a particularly girly girl growing up. I did have ballet lessons for a while, but it was never a passion for me, so a book about three girls who attend a stage school wouldn’t be the first book you would have picked out for me to fall in love with. I was much more of a tomboy like Jo March or Kate Carr, so I could relate to them much better. But Ballet Shoes is no ordinary book about girls who love to dance, and the Fossils are no ordinary sisters and I absolutely adored this story.

The three Fossil sisters, Pauline, Petrova and Posy are not really sisters at all, they were all rescued by an eccentric explorer on his travels, brought home to London at different times and put in the care of his great-niece in a rambling house on the Cromwell Road (at the very furthest end from the museums of South Ken!) to form their own little, ragtag family. Great Uncle Matthew (or GUM as they refer to him) then disappears for a decade, leaving the family is worsening financial straits, until they are forced to take in lodgers to help make ends meet, and the girls are taken in as charity cases at the local stage school until they are old enough to start making money on the stage (which can happen from the age of 12!), whether they like it (Pauline) or not (Petrova, my personal heroine).

This is what makes this book so marvellous. The eclectic group of people who come to live in their home and help them out (the retired teachers who help educate them, the dance teacher who gets them into the school, Mr Simpson who takes tomboy Petrova under his wing, Nana who is always there with words of wisdom or scoldings to keep their feet on the ground.) It is such an interesting sounding life, full of fun and challenge, that I defy any child not to wish they could be one of the sisters, even for a short while.

Every single aspect of the book charmed me. The descriptions of the plays they auditioned for, their simple holidays, the ‘beavers’ prepared by the two teachers (you’ll have to read it to find out what these are), Pauline’s diva-like behaviour when playing Alice, Posy’s impressions, the vows, the costumes, the descriptions of auditions for the movies, applying for licenses to work. It was all exotic and fascinating and such a world away from what being a child was like for me – it has the truly transportive qualities of all appealing literature, as well as being relatable enough for a child. The fact that this book has remained so popular throughout the years means I was not alone in feeling this way about it.

Having just re-read my extremely battered copy of Ballet Shoes for the purposes of writing this post, I can say that I enjoyed it now as much as I did back then. It has lost none of its appeal for me over the years, and I am still as much in love with the Fossils as I love back then. At the very end of the book, the author wonders which of the girls the reader wishes they could be. My answer remains the same now as it was back then. Petrova every day of the week, but especially on Sunday.

Ballet Shoes is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Noel Streatfeild was born in Sussex in 1895. Her father, a clergyman, was vicar of St Leonard’s-on-Sea and then of Eastbourne during her childhood. She was one of five children and found vicarage life very restricting. At a young age she began to show a talent for acting and was sent to the Academy of Dramatic Art in London, after which she acted professionally for a number of years before turning to writing. The author of over 80 books, she won the Carnegie Medal for her book Ballet Shoes and was awarded an OBE in 1983. Noel Streatfeild died in 1986.

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