Tempted by…The Book Review Cafe: The Home by Sarah Stovell

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One more little secret … one more little lie…

When the body of a pregnant fifteen-year-old is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

A gritty, dark and devastating psychological thriller, The Home is also an emotive drama and a piercing look at the underbelly of society, where children learn what they live … if they are allowed to live at all.

Normally on Tempted by…, I highlight books I have bought as a direct result of seeing a post by another blogger on their blog, but today’s book came to me via a more circuitous route. Some of you may be aware of a weekly feature I run on my blog called Friday Night Drinks, where I chat with authors, bloggers and other bookish folks, trying to winkle out their deepest, darkest secrets. I always ask for a book recommendation during these sessions and, when Lorraine from The Book Review Cafe appeared on Friday Night Drinks on 9 February, the book she recommended as a ‘must read’ was The Home by Sarah Stovell.

Of course, having read Lorraine’s gushing praise of the book, I immediately headed over to her blog to read the full review (which you can see here.) Once I had read Lorraine’s impressions of the book in more detail, I knew I just had to get a copy. It sounds like everything you could possible hope for in a book and then some. Any book which manages to stand out so completely to someone who reads as voraciously as Lorraine, and so widely, must be something special and something that I need to read for myself. Lorraine awarded it her first ‘Book Hangover Award’ of 2020, and that is sufficient endorsement from me.

I absolutely love Lorraine and her blog. Her site is beautiful, , easy to navigate and absolutely packed full of delights for the book addict. Her reviews are always thoughtful, detailed and enticing and I usually agree absolutely with what she has said about books we have both read. As well as all this, she is a friendly, kind and extremely generous blogger and I feel very fortunate to have her as a member of my bookish circle. Make sure you pay her fabulous blog a visit soon. In fact, no time like the present, here is the link: https://thebookreviewcafe.com

If you would like to grab a copy of The Home for yourself, it is available in all formats here.

Book Review: The Complete #LoveLondon Collection by Nikki Moore #BookReview

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Six couples. One city. A year to remember.

Now you can get all of Nikki Moore’s gorgeously romantic stories from the #LoveLondon series in one book! This is THE book to fall in love with …

Includes the short stories

Skating at Somerset House
New Year at the Ritz
Valentine’s on Primrose Hill
Cocktails in Chelsea
Strawberries at Wimbledon

and the full length novel…

Picnics in Hyde Park

It has taken me so long to finally get round to writing this review, apologies Nikki! I don’t know why, because this book provided the perfect blast of much-needed joy and escapism just when I needed it at the beginning of this coronavirus pandemic. They lifted me at one of my lowest points, and I’m not sure that you can ask mush more of a book than that.

This book is actually a compendium of five novellas and one full-length novel, all themed around romance blossoming in some of London’s most popular haunts at different times of year, so it is a great title to be able to pick up for a short and satisfying burst of romantic pleasure when you aren’t in the mood for tackling a full-length novel, but need a quick, sweet fix. The characters in the stories are tenuously linked, but they all operate really well as standalones, so if you’d rather just read one or two of the novellas, knock yourself out, but all are equally deserving of your attention.

I absolutely love to visit London. I lived there for six months and wasn’t happy as a resident but, as a tourist, I am an enthusiastic and frequent visitor and I got the impression from reading these stories that Nikki feels the same way as I do about the place. She perfectly encapsulates the draw of the city, the glamour, bright lights, excitement and romance that you see in films and TV shows. By visiting some of the most famous tourist landmarks- Somerset House, Wimbledon, The Ritz, Hyde Park, The King’s Road, Primrose Hill – at some of the most exciting times of year – Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day – she manages to make me feel all the excitement and enjoyment I get from a trip to London at high days and holidays. Honestly, I have not come across stories that have given me the same frisson I get when I board the train from Doncaster for a trip to London as I did from this book.

As well as the locations, which are the real highlight of the book, the love stories captured between the pages are also absolutely charming and really, really sexy! The author has managed to perfectly tread the line between the two, and I really enjoyed each of them. They explore different aspects of beginning a love affair – friends to lovers; rekindling old flames; holiday romance – but manages at the same time to bring a particular freshness to them. To do this within the confines of 50 pages for the novellas is a real skill and, I have to say, I actually preferred the distilled passion of the novellas to the full-length novel, although I enjoyed that too. I would really like to read more novellas by this author.

Anyone who is a fan of romance and a lover of London will really enjoy this collection (I am particularly thinking of you, Kate Baker!) and I could highly recommend it. It is a book that is going to live on my shelves and be picked up whenever I feel the need to take a quick trip to London, even when I can’t get there in person. At a time when we are missing our travel more than ever, I am glad I have this volume to turn to.

The Complete #LoveLondon Collection is out now in paperback and ebook, or you can buy the individual short stories as separate ebooks, and the full length novel, Picnic in Hyde Park, is also available as a separate paperback or ebook. You can get them all here.

About the Author

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A self-confessed reading addict, Nikki Moore has a HR day job, two teenagers and a lovely Fiancé to keep her busy alongside writing. She’s the author of the popular #LoveLondon series, which attracted four and five star reviews on Amazon. A number of the novellas featured in the Top 100 short story charts on Kobo and the Top 20 in the Amazon UK bestsellers Holiday chart. It was subsequently published as a collection, and in 2018 was released in Italy as an ebook in two volumes. She is currently writing commercial women’s fiction set in her beautiful home county of Dorset.

Her first published work was the short story A Night to Remember in the best selling Mills & Boon / RNA anthology Truly, Madly, Deeply, edited by author Sue Moorcroft. Best-selling authors including Carole Matthews, Katie Fforde and Adele Parks also featured. Her debut novel Crazy, Undercover, Love was shortlisted for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2015 and being before offered her first contract, she was a finalist in several writing competitions including the Elizabeth Goudge trophy and Novelicious Undiscovered.

Nikki was in the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme for four years before graduating to full RNA membership and has contributed to their magazine Romance Matters. She has also chaired a panel and taken part in workshops at the Festival of Romance, as well as co-tutoring a ‘How to Write & Sell Your Novel’ workshop with Sue Moorcroft for the Purbeck Literary Festival.

When not writing or reading, Nikki can probably be found singing, walking the family’s cute beagle puppy or watching drama series on Netflix.

Connect with Nikki:

Facebook: Nikki Moore

Twitter: @NikkiMoore_Auth

Friday Night Drinks with…. Audrey Davis

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What a miserable week it has been! Nothing but rain, rain, rain. Fear not, I am here to cheer you up with drink and a lovely chat with this week’s Friday Night Drinks guest, author…. Audrey Davis.

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

Ooh, I’m kicking off with a Tanqueray gin and tonic, with lots of ice and a sprinkling of juniper berries, because I’m posh (not really)! Then I’ll move on to a cheeky wee red, perhaps a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru.

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We can do posh! 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 don’t go to many bars here in Switzerland, so I’d choose somewhere in my native Scotland. Probably The Clachan — the country’s oldest licensed pub in Drymen, Loch Lomond. And I’d highly recommend the beer-battered fish and chips to soak up the booze!

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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?

That’s a tough one. Can I be naughty and say Freddie Mercury and David Bowie? I’m so sad I never got to see Queen in concert, but I was lucky enough to see Bowie twice — in Edinburgh and at the Montreux Jazz Festival near where I live. In fact, he lived in the same village many years ago. Queen recorded in Montreux, and there’s a lovely Freddie statue down by the lakeside. We could do a quick rendition of ‘Under Pressure’ to entertain the punters, with me on backing vocals (or maybe not).

You REALLY do not want to hear me sing, trust me! I’ll just sit back and cheer you on. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m promoting my third romantic comedy, A Wish For Jinnie, which is available for pre-order and will be published on June 22. It’s been a long time coming, as I was badly let down by a publisher, and effectively lost three months when I could have been getting my editor and cover designer on board. A ten-day blog tour kicks off on publication day, and I also have a bunch of lovely FB group reviewers ready to post on the big day.

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

Receiving some incredible reviews, saying how much people had enjoyed my books. When someone writes, ‘This stunning writing draws you in with humour, poignancy and charming characters,’ you can’t help feel proud (and a little tearful). My biggest, ongoing challenge is marketing and advertising. I muddle through, reading endless posts and downloading courses, but never feel I’m making much headway.

The perennial problem for writers. 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’d love to see one of those little ‘Best Seller’ orange flags appear for one of my books. And having one adapted as a TV series would make my head explode with excitement! At the moment, a few ‘bigger name’ authors are reading one of my books, and a good review from them would also cause a happy dance around the kitchen.

Fingers crossed, then, as they seem like perfectly achievable ambitions. What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?

My WIP, Lost In Translation. I’m around 48K words in, but seem to have fallen into my usual trap of failing to plot. I tend to write chapters out of sequence, then have to try and stitch it all together like a badly-knitted jumper! It’s set in Switzerland and draws on a lot of funny experiences I’ve had since moving here in 2002. But it’s absolutely not autobiographical …

We believe you, thousands wouldn’t! 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’ve travelled pretty extensively (I lived in Singapore and Australia many years ago), so it’s hard to choose. If pushed, I’d say Africa — I went on an amazing safari/beach trip to the Masai Mara, the Serengeti and Zanzibar a couple of years ago — and Japan. We had a family holiday there in October to tie in with the Rugby World Cup. I fell in love with the place and the people, despite the rather scary typhoon that kept us confined to barracks for a day! I hope one day to visit Rwanda and channel my inner Sigourney Weaver, meeting gorillas in the mist.

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.

I’m a PADI qualified advanced scuba diver. I haven’t done it in ages — too much of a scaredy cat in my old age — but in the past I’ve swum with sharks, explored the inside of WW2 shipwrecks and did a couple of night dives when the colours of the sea life are very different.

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’?

So many to choose from! I’d go for Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. It made a big impact on me, so much so I read it again recently. Dark, thrilling and utterly gripping, it’s the kind of book I’d love to write if I switched genre.

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Catherine has been enjoying the single life for long enough to know a good catch when she sees one. Gorgeous, charismatic, spontaneous – Lee seems almost too perfect to be true. And her friends clearly agree, as each in turn falls under his spell.

But there is a darker side to Lee. His erratic, controlling and sometimes frightening behaviour means that Catherine is increasingly isolated. Driven into the darkest corner of her world, and trusting no one, she plans a meticulous escape.

Four years later, struggling to overcome her demons, Catherine dares to believe she might be safe from harm. Until one phone call changes everything. This is an edgy and powerful first novel, utterly convincing in its portrayal of obsession, and a tour de force of suspense.

That is one I have never come across before, I will add it to the list. 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?

Hmm, there’s a failsafe plan? I’d opt for an Alka-Seltzer and lots of water before bed, and a good old full Scottish breakfast, with black pudding and mountains of bacon.

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

Relaxing by the side of a shimmering swimming pool with a great book on my Kindle and a cheeky cocktail or two.

Sounds fabulous, maybe that will be a possibility in the not-too-distant future! Thank you so much for joining me, Audrey, this has been a delightful way to round off the week.

Audrey’s new novel, A Wish For Jinnie, will be published on 22 June and you can pre-order a copy here.

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Have you ever felt that life has got it in for you? Jinnie Cooper certainly does.

Unlucky in love, broke and exiled to a sleepy Scottish village, she really needs to shake things up.

When she gains possession of a battered old lamp, Jinnie’s world changes in ways she could never have imagined. With her affections divided between two men, can her unlikely housemate help – or hinder – the path to happiness?

Packed with mystical mayhem and a liberal sprinkling of magic, it’s a laugh-out-loud rollercoaster ride with a cast of characters you’ll take to your heart.

Audrey Davis survived secondary school on the West coast of Scotland. Rubbish at science but not too bad at English, she originally wanted to be an actress but was persuaded that journalism was a safer option. Probably wise. She studied at Napier College in Edinburgh, the only place in Scotland at that time to offer a journalism course.
Her first foray into the hard-nosed newspaper world was as a junior reporter in Dumfriesshire. Duties included interviewing farmers about the prize-winning heifers to reporting on family tragedies. She persuaded her editor to let her launch an entertainment column which meant meeting the odd celebrity – or just the downright odd. From there, she moved to the loftier rank of senior reporter back in her home patch. Slightly more money, fewer farm animals but a higher crime rate. As Taggart would say: ‘There’s been a murrrrder!

After a stint in London on a video magazine – yes, she is that old – Audrey moved to Singapore with her fiancé. She tried valiantly to embrace the stinking heat, humidity and lack of jobs, although she did work briefly on a magazine which was banned by the government for ‘artistic’ use of naked men’s bottoms.

Next on her adventures was a land Down Under where her main focus was raising Cost Centre One (aka firstborn) and coming to terms with the imminent arrival of Number Two. Still, she loved the Aussie way of life – BBQs, beaches and bring your own booze to restaurants – so it came as a blow when OH announced a move back to the UK. Not a job between use, the climate a possible deal breaker and an Exorcist-style vomiting infant on the flight home didn’t bode well …

Always a survivor, Audrey sought out similar-minded friends (i.e. slightly bonkers), got the children into a good school and thought about taking up writing again. Sadly, thinking about it was as far as she got, unless you count shopping lists. Then, hubby drops another bombshell. Switzerland. As in – it’s packing time again. Off to the land of cheese, chocolate, scarily efficient trains and a couple of teeny, tiny issues. Like driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and speaking a foreign language (French). The former was conquered fairly quickly (we’ll skip over the wall demolition in week two), the latter remains an ongoing battle of the hopeful against the hopeless. At least she provides amusement for the local workforce.

It wasn’t until 2016 that Audrey rediscovered her writing mojo with an on line Writing Fiction course. From there, her first novel – A Clean Sweep – was born, although it took a bit longer than nine months from conception. A short, darker prequel – A Clean Break – followed, and in November 2017 she published the first in a novella trilogy, The Haunting of Hattie Hastings Part One.

You can find out more about Audrey via her website,  FacebookTwitter and Instagram. If you would like to read my review of Audrey’s book, A Clean Sweep, you can find it here.

Next week, I have the ever lovely Heidi-Jo Swain joining me for drinks, so make sure you don’t miss it.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins #BookReview

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‘They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?’

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

The problem that has been plaguing me the last few days is how to encapsulate the many, complex facets that form this novel, and my equally complicated reactions to it, in the form of a few inadequate words. I’m not sure I’ve solved the conundrum completely, but the day has come to plough ahead with my review regardless.

Part of the problem is, this book is too multi-layered and multi-themed to unravel in a single reading, and, reviewing it against the back drop of current events has further muddied my thinking on some of the issues it addresses. I am all too aware that I don’t know enough, I haven’t studied the history in sufficient depth, I don’t feel entitled to discuss some of these topics. All I can give you is my honest reaction to the book on my first reading of it, tempered as it is with all of this knowledge of inadequacy in the background.

This book, is at its heart for me, a gothic horror story, with a mystery and a love story woven in. Horror story, because that is my overwhelming reaction to the events that unfold between the pages. The novel follows the tale of Frannie, born a mulatto, on a sugar plantation in Jamaica, who, through a series of extraordinary events, arrives at a wealthy household in London where she becomes intimately embroiled with the mistress of the house. The book is dark and complicated and rich and thought-provoking.   It has echoes of some of my best beloved classic novels of all time; Jane Eyre, Moll Flanders, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to name but a few. The writing is exquisite in detail, placing the reader firmly at the heart of Georgian society, but mining its seedy underbelly, whilst showing us the glossy front that hides these aspects.

The book is ostensibly anchored by the mystery of who murdered Frannie’s English ’employers’, and we meet her while she is on trial for those murders, telling her story for her lawyer. However, the mystery was probably the least diverting part of the book for me and, by the time the true facts of the crime were revealed, I wasn’t really that invested in the outcome. The most stimulating part of the book is the story of Frannie’s journey from slave to her position in the Benham’s household in London, the reactions people have to her transformation and the feelings she has herself about the things she has done to get there. It is not as straight forward as many stories about people ‘escaping’ from slavery are, and Frannie herself resists attempts by abolitionists to co-opt her tragic story to their cause, as she finds these tales of pity and misery boring. Frannie has, to every degree she is all permitted, refused to be fortune’s plaything and attempted to become author of her own future. How far this is actually possible, even in England where slavery is ‘illegal’ is one of the over-arching themes of the novel. In addition, Frannie has to consider at length the things she has been required to do in order to attain even the limited level self-determination she has and whether it could ever truly be freedom at that price.

This book addresses a lot of uncomfortable issues, particularly the matter of the science of race, which is being researched by Frannie’s original owner, using his own slaves as lab rats, including Frannie herself. In fact, the question of her whole life being a continual experiment is at the forefront of the book, and the whole concept if truly horrifying, particularly as we know it is based on true events. The author very cleverly uses hints at things that are going on in the novel, without specifically spelling it all out in graphic detail, which is actually an extremely clever way of making the reader really think, and using their imagination to fill in the gaps which, as we all know, means we end up conjuring the very worst images we can possibly conceive. This is human nature. However, in this case, the fear is always there that the worst images we can conceive don’t actually come close to the horrors that were enacted, our minds will shy away from accepting the true depths people can plummet in their inhumanity to one another, and this is the truth that is really the heart of the horror story here. I apologise if my thoughts on this come across as a little confused, I am still chasing all of my conclusions about this book around my head, still trying to process all of the emotions it has drawn from me.

The book also centres around a love story between Frannie and her mistress, but this also raises again the question of whether Frannie is a slave to the whims of a capricious woman who may be using the girl for her own ends, rather than seeing her as an equal in the relationship who deserves the same emotional treatment as anyone else. At least, this is what I drew from the book. I have seen some reviews that have characterised the love story as unconvincing but, on my interpretation of it, it worked perfectly, and Madame’s relationship with and feelings for, Laddie, particularly after his emancipation, just supported this reading of the relationship for me. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, I’d love to discuss the book with the author to find out what she had in mind when she was writing it, but I guess the beauty of a novel is that every reader comes at it from a different angle and will take a completely individual experience away from it at the end.

Despite this being a very long and rambling review, I’m really not sure that I have adequately explained what is so marvellous about this book, or why you should be tempted to read it, so let me try and give you a succinct summary. This book is rich, detailed, beautifully written, historically illuminating and absolutely horrifying in the true, gothic sense of the word. If you don’t come away from it feeling deeply disturbed, you haven’t been concentrating, but you absolutely should read it, I have not come across anything quite like it in recent times.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Sara Collins is of Jamaican descent and grew up in Grand Cayman. She studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years, before admitting that what she really wanted to do was write novels. She obtained a Master’s degree in Creative Writing with distinction from Cambridge University, where she was the 2015 recipient of the Michael Holroyd Prize. In 2016, she was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish prize for The Confessions of Frannie Langton, her first novel, a gothic romance about the twisted love affair between a Jamaican maid and her French mistress in 19th century London. The novel won the Costa First Novel Award 2019.

Connect with Sara:

Website: https://saracollinsauthor.com

Twitter: @mrsjaneymac

Instagram: @saracollinsauthor

Blog Tour: The Little Teashop in Tokyo by Julie Caplin #BookReview

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I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for the latest book in one of my favourite series by one of my favourite authors. It is The Little Teashop in Tokyo by Julie Caplin. Huge thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, received via NetGalley, that I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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For travel blogger Fiona, Japan has always been top of her bucket list so when she wins an all-expenses paid trip, it looks like her dreams are coming true.

Until she arrives in vibrant, bustling Tokyo and comes face-to-face with the man who broke her heart ten years ago, gorgeous photographer Gabe.

Fiona can’t help but remember the heartache of their last meeting but amidst the temples and clouds of soft pink cherry blossoms, can Fiona and Gabe start to see life – and each other – differently?

My reading of late has taken me far from the confines of my armchair and travelling on adventures on distant shores, and today’s book is no different, except this time we are heading east instead of west. To Japan, in fact, a place I have never visited but now feel like I have, and at the same time cannot wait to go.

I don’t know if you have read any of Julie’s Romantic Escapes series, but she I an absolute genius at taking her readers on a journey, both geographically and emotionally, and this one is no exception. In fact, I think it may be my favourite one yet. It has left me feeling enriched in mind and spirit and emotionally uplifted by the love story. I have to confess to having a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I closed the book.

It is really obvious from the beginning that the author has spent a lot of time in the country she is writing about, has made close observation of the people, traditions and energy of the place and has fallen in love with it. You can feel the admiration and affection oozing from every delicious description of the sights, the tastes and the rituals of Japan. She writes with such warmth and appreciation and joy, that it has made me so eager to visit a country that I had never, even as a keen traveller, had any great yearning to visit before. This is a book that has brought Japan alive for me, and I am sure anyone picking up this book will have the same reaction.

As for the characters, I loved every single one. She has created a very sympathetic, but not at all patheti,c heroine and a flawed but redeemable love interest. But it is the Japanese host family that really stood out in this book for me. I wished I could sit around their kotatsu table to share some tea with them, especially at this time of great worry and stress for us all. Julie has woven so many Japanese words in to the book, it feels like a real education while you are reading, and made me keen to learn more. So much research and time and care has gone in to this book to form a rich, immersive tapestry of Japanese life, it makes an exceedingly rewarding read for the internationally curious.

Julie’s books are a cut above a lot of the romance novels that are out there (and I mean that in no degrading way to romance novels, I am a huge fan of the genre and extremely admiring of romantic novels and novelists). Her writing has such care and depth and such…heart… that it cannot help but elicit an equally heartfelt response. An absolutely beautiful and moving read.

The Little Teashop in Tokyo is out now in ebook and paperback, and you can buy a copy here.

Please do make sure you follow the rest of the tour:

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About the Author

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Jules Wake announced at the age of ten that she planned to be a writer. Along the way she was diverted by the glamorous world of PR and worked on many luxury brands, taking journalists on press trips to awful places like Turin, Milan, Geneva, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam and occasionally losing the odd member of the press in an airport. This proved fabulous training for writing novels as it provided her with the opportunity to eat amazing food, drink free alcohol, hone her writing skills on press releases and to research European cities for her books. 

She writes best-selling warm-hearted contemporary fiction for HarperImpulse.

Under her pen name, Julie Caplin, her thirteenth novel, The Little Teashop in Tokyo will be published in ebook and paperback this June.

Connect with Julie:

Website: http://www.juleswake.co.uk

Facebook: Julie Caplin Author

Twitter: @JulieCaplin

Instagram: @juleswakeauthor

Blog Tour: Wilderness by B.E. Jones #BookReview

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A dream road trip turned dark nightmare.

Two weeks, 1,500 miles and three opportunities for her husband to save his own life.

It isn’t about his survival – it’s about hers.

Shattered by the discovery of her husband’s affair, Liv knows they need to leave the chaos of New York to try and save their marriage. Maybe the road trip they’d always planned, exploring America’s national parks – just the two of them – would help heal the wounds.

But what Liv hasn’t told her husband is that she has set him three challenges on their trip – three opportunities to prove he’s really sorry and worthy of her forgiveness.

If he fails? Well, it’s dangerous out there. There are so many ways to die in the wilderness; accidents happen all the time.

And if it’s easy to die, then it’s also easy to kill.

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for the paperback launch of Wilderness by B.E. Jones. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is going to be a hard book to review without giving away too much plot, but this book is a wild ride in so many different ways. From the narrator to the locations to the intertwined timelines, to the exploration of relationships, infidelity, how people react to it and whether we can really ever know the people we are with, there are so many amazing facets to this brilliant thriller.

The book is narrated by Liv, who has just found out that her husband, Will, has been having an affair. Her seemingly perfect life ripped apart, she decides that they will take a road trip to try and mend their marriage, exploring some of America’s beautiful National Parks. But does a trip in to the wilderness heal or expose the rifts in their relationship, and where does the greatest danger really lie. Liv is a fantastic character to lead the book. The quintessential unreliable narrator, Liv is a deeply flawed and troubled soul dealing with a situation that has rocked her world and it is immediately apparent that she may not be psychologically equipped to cope with what has happened to her, Throughout the book, as we dive backwards through the events surrounding the revelation of the affair, and forwards through Liv and Will’s road trip, all the layers of Liv’s psyche are peeled back, and more and more surprising facets of her character are revealed, so we are always on our toes and never know what to expect.

But Liv is not the only troubled character in this book, demons seem to haunt everyone, secrets are everywhere and it is impossible to know whose version of events to trust and who is telling the truth. The author builds up such a complex web of lies and deceit that, even the most heinous of characters end up with seemingly ‘reasonable’ justification for their immoral behaviour and one of the main questions becomes, who are the real bad guys here, and who amongst them deserves the consequences they end up suffering. Being able to make the reader feel some sympathy and solidarity with characters who are less than clean cut takes some skill, and is brilliantly done here.

The settings of the book really grabbed me too, and perfectly reflected the events taking place. The author makes the teeming city of New York and its vast skyscrapers feel both like a place where it is possible to hide and get lost in order to carry out nefarious deeds, uncaring and impersonal, and a tiny community where you cannot avoid the consequences of your actions at the same time. Then, when the couple hit the open roads of the American West, the vast empty landscapes are actually made to feel claustrophobic and menacing, because of the danger that lurks along every step. The book has an extremely oppressive atmosphere, which really ramps up the tension throughout. There was actually one point where, reading this in bed late at night, one of the WTF Moments (more later) happened, and I actually physically jumped, as I would when watching a scary scene in a movie. Making a book so vivid and immediate is a gift. This book is a joy for an armchair traveller, really bringing a sense of place to the narrative, albeit an ominous one at times.

There were so many themes in this book that are there for unpicking, I think it will reward multiple readings. How well do you know the ones we love? How well do we know ourselves? What are we capable of when under threat, and are we always looking in the right places for danger in our lives? This book has so many twists and turns, and so many things I did not see coming. Just when I thought I could see where things were going, the author spins us off on a completely different track and there was more than one point in the book where I was actually internally shouting, ‘WTF just happened?!!” at the pages. And the ending? OMG. This book is a fantastic and creepy thriller that I read in a single day and had to force myself to set aside in the wee small hours of the morning because I really did not want to put it down.

I absolutely loved this book, it was an extremely rewarding, edge-of-your-seat thriller that did not disappoint on any level. I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Wilderness is out now in all formats, and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you visit the other fabulous blogs taking part in the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Beverley Jones was born in the Rhondda Valleys, South Wales, and started her ‘life of crime’ as a reporter on The Western Mail before moving into TV news with BBC Wales Today. 

She covered all aspects of crime reporting before switching sides as a press officer for South Wales police, dealing with the media in criminal investigations, security operations and emergency planning.

Now a freelance writer she channels these experiences of ‘true crime,’ and the murkier side of human nature, into her dark, psychological thrillers set in and around South Wales. 

Wilderness, her sixth crime novel follows the release of Halfway by Little Brown in 2018.

Bev’s previous releases, Where She Went, The Lies You Tell, Make Him Pay and Fear The Dark are also available from Little Brown as e-books. 

Connect with Bev:

Facebook: Bev Jones

Twitter: @bevjoneswriting

Instagram: @bevjoneswriting

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Blog Tour: Summer in the City by Emma Jackson #BookReview

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Delighted to be one of the blogs closing off the blog tour today for Summer in the City by Emma Jackson. Huge thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me on to the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Sometimes the one thing you’re looking for is right in front of you…

Stephen is on a very personal mission to find his father as per the wishes in their mother’s will. But he has no idea where to start, not that he’s going to tell anyone that… When Noelle, native New Yorker, daughter of a detective and desperate for a distraction from the novel she’s been struggling to write, offers to help, it feels like the perfect solution.

Except the last time she spoke to Stephen he thought they’d be seeing the New Year in together and instead she stood him up and sold him out! Stephen’s big enough and been around the block enough times to understand that all is fair in love and war, isn’t he? But when Stephen accepts her offer and they begin their search across the city, it soon becomes clear that the weather isn’t the only thing that’s heating up.

I absolutely love New York. I was there in early February, just before the whole coronavirus pandemic shut the world down, and who knows when I’ll get back there again, so I was very much looking forward to an armchair visit back to the Big Apple via this book.

The author definitely does not disappoint on this front. As someone who has been to NYC multiple times, I found her descriptions of the city accurate and very evocative of my happy memories of the place. I particularly like the fact that she explores some of the more off-beat neighbourhoods of New York, rather than just sticking to the familiar tourist trail, and the plot device of a manhunt across the city was an inspired way of doing this. It gave the book a slightly different twist than you often see in NYC-set romance novels.

I really enjoyed the fact that this book was a combination of mystery story and romance. A mystery writer helping someone solve a real-life mystery to unlock her writer’s block was a really cute idea and, as pointed out before, allowed the story to range across a large area of New York. It worked really well, and I was intrigued to see how that mystery would pan out for both Noelle and Stephen. The chemistry between the two was sizzling, and I was very invested in the outcome, although the repeated misunderstandings and will they, won’t they had me practically screaming for them just to give in and get on with it by the end!

As well as being a romance, a mystery and a travelogue, the particular strength of this book is its exploration of family. What they mean to us, how they shape us and affect our choices going forward in life. I found the author’s exploration of this topic very thoughtful, and I particularly liked the way that there was one aspect that wasn’t all tied up in a neat, happy bow. It’s important that romance novels retain the ability to be shocking and disappointing in some regards, if they are not to end up too saccharine and predictable as a genre, and I’d like to see more of this. Bittersweet is a good take for me in women’s fiction, and I’d really like to see more of it, it lends books the authenticity I need for me to remain invested. After all, this is how life is for most of us.

Emma’s writing is light, fun but sensitive and honest and the book is a very enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys a charming but easy romance with a bit of spark. Plus, since it may be the only holiday any of us get this year, this virtual trip to New York provides a welcome break from our own four walls.

Summer in the City is out now as an ebook and you can get a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour:

Summer in the City Full Tour Banner

About the Author

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Author of the Best Selling A MISTLETOE MIRACLE, published in 2019 by Orion Dash, Emma has been a devoted bookworm and secret-story-scribbler since she was 6 years old. When she’s not running around after her two daughters and trying to complete her current work-in-progress, Emma loves to read, bake, catch up on binge-watching TV programmes with her partner and plan lots of craft projects that will inevitably end up unfinished. Her next romantic comedy, SUMMER IN THE CITY, is due for release in June 2020.

Emma also writes historical and speculative romantic fiction as Emma S Jackson. THE DEVIL’S BRIDE will be published by DarkStroke in February 2020.

Connect with Emma:

Website: https://esjackson.co.uk

Facebook: Emma Jackson Author

Twitter: @ESJackson1

Instagram: @emma_s_jackson

 

Tempted by … Macsbooks: Scorched Grounds by Debbie Herbert

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In the eighteen years since her father went to prison for killing her mother and brother, Della Stallings has battled a crippling phobia. Her fear only grows when her father’s released. She still believes he killed her family, but the police don’t have enough evidence to arrest him again.

When new grisly murders occur—each bearing the telltale signs that seem to implicate her father—Della begins to wonder if the real murderer is still out there. Could her father have been framed?

To find the truth, Della must face her greatest fears and doubts—not only to find justice for her family but to ensure her own survival.

Today’s Tempted By… involves me being enticed to buy not one, but two books by the same author, after reading this review on the blog, Macsbooks.

I have mentioned repeatedly on the blog before my love of books set in the South of the USA, so the opening lines of the review immediately caught my attention. However, the books I normally pick up set in this region tend to be romances, family sagas or historical fiction, so I was drawn to the fact that Scorched Grounds is a dark, Southern noir thriller, quite unlike other Southern literature I’ve read, so I knew I had to grab a copy. In addition, who wouldn’t want to read a thriller set in a town called Normal, which promises to be anything but. When I saw that this was the second book set in this location, I decided to get them both and read them in order, so you can see my copy of Cold Waters peeping out underneath.

Is it me, or does anyone else really want to go and see what the real Normal, Alabama is like after reading this review, or is that an odd reaction to have after seeing this creepy cover?

I really enjoy following Mac’s blog as, being in the States, she often reviews books that I am not coming across on many of the blogs run by UK bloggers and I really enjoy that diversity. She also has a very approachable reviewing style, and I enjoy catching up with her mini reviews. Her blog always seems fresh and vibrant, make sure you check it out if you haven’t done so before. You can find her at https://macsbooks311.wordpress.com

If you now fancy taking a literary trip to Normal, Alabama yourself via Debbie Herbert’s writing, you can grab your own copy of Scorched Grounds, here.

 

Friday Night Drinks with…Jill Marsh

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Tonight, after a grey, wet, miserable day, I am delighted to be joined for a cheery Friday Night Drinks session by author…. Jill Marsh.

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

Since lockdown, Friday evening has been cocktails and a game of cards online with the gang. So I’ve made us a cocktail classic called Damn the Weather: gin, vermouth, Triple Sec and orange juice. I hope you like it.

Damn the weather indeed, that sounds delicious. 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 James Joyce, a pub here in Zürich, apparently transported from Dublin. The great man lived here for many years and is buried on the cemetery on the hill. It has green leather banquettes, murals on the wall and a long wooden bar. You’d love it.

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As someone who has spent (probably too) many hours in Irish pubs, that looks pretty authentic! 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?

James Joyce himself could be a candidate, but I’d like to put the world to rights with some contemporary insightful minds. My guests would be Nick Cave and Angela Merkel.

I think that would be a really interesting combination. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

After twelve novels in my European crime series, I’m branching out into something new. I read a lot of non-fiction about psychology and the human mind. The aim is to write something quite chilling, involving no gore or abuse, and offer an insight into people’s psyches. 

I absolutely love that kind of book, so that sounds really intriguing. What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

Every time I publish, I feel great. Nervous, but great. But what makes me the proudest is when I’ve helped another writer, whether through encouragement, a positive critique, a team event or editing a good book to make it shine. 

The greatest challenge is always the same, even after fourteen books. It’s that nagging question: am I a fraud?

I think anyone who is creative will absolutely relate to that feeling, I know I certainly do. 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!

As a Swiss-dweller, a country with four languages, I would love to see my work translated into German, French, Italian and why stop there? My detective, Beatrice Stubbs, loves travel (and food) and she would relish going global.

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

Apart from my abs? I’m co-writing with my husband. We’re pooling our skills to see if we can create something greater than the sum of its parts. It involves cellos, orchestras, gaslighting, Salzburg and the worst and best of humanity.

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?

Me too! When I was a kid, my family lived in Africa, the Middle East and Hong Kong, giving me such an education into the world. As an adult, I travelled to the Caribbean, Goa, Belize and Alaska, which were all astoundingly lovely. Yet I think my heart belongs to Europe. For research purposes, I visited Naples in Italy and it got under my skin. It’s so gloriously chaotic and crazy and full of life. Top of my bucket list is Deià in Mallorca. If I ever get there, I may never come back.

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.

My real name is not JJ Marsh.

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’?

That’s  a tricky one without knowing your personal tastes, but I’ll recommend Smash All the Windows by Jane Davis. She creates a fictional disaster and its aftermath with such brilliance, I still think about those characters and how they’re doing.

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It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.

It will take courage to learn how to live again.

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

That sounds fascinating, and I love the cover. Thank you for the recommendation. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

I grew up in a pub, Julie, I am the Queen of Non-Hangovers. My advice is to avoid the nightcap and have a cup of herbal tea instead. If I really have overdone it, a bottle of Coke perks me up.

Advice from an expert is always worth listening to! After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Cycle up to the lake for a swim, homemade pizza, a bottle of red and an arty film with my husband that we can argue about later.

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That sounds perfect, and what a gorgeous place to be able to go for a swim. Jill, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me this evening, I have really enjoyed it.

Jill’s latest book, Odd Numbers by JJ Marsh is hot off the press and you can buy a copy here.

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Can you forgive a friend?

Strange things bring people together. Like a tragic death.

Over two decades, five friends reunite every other New Year. They celebrate, grieve and heal. Memories grow dusty and the nightmare starts to fade.

On the 20th anniversary, in a remote snowy chalet, old doubts surface.
Wounds reopen and morality comes into question.

Is friendship a safety net or a tie that hobbles to the past?

They thought they knew each other’s secrets.
Did they miss the biggest one of all?

When history is rewritten, they must act to preserve the future.
A fatal decision means this reunion will be their last.

JJ Marsh is the author of The Beatrice Stubbs series, featured in The Guardian Readers’ Recommend and The Bookseller’s Editor’s Choice

Jill is a founder member of Triskele Books, an award-winning author collective founded in 2011, Swiss Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors, Co-editor of The Woolf, Zürich’s literary ezine and writers’ workshop and reviewer for Bookmuse, the readers’ site with a difference

She lives in Switzerland with her husband and three pugs, and in an attic overlooking a cemetery, she writes.

You can connect with Jill further via her websiteFacebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Next week I will be joined on the blog by author, Audrey Cowie, so make sure you join us then.

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

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‘Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,’ says Thomas More, ‘and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.’

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor.

Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 but yet it lurked on my TBR unread for many a long, shameful year. Then I discovered I was not alone! Another much-admired book reviewer on Twitter came out as a fellow shirker, then slowly, more and more of us came out of the shadows and owned our ignominy publicly. We then decided to do a buddy read of the book to put our chagrin firmly behind us.

The read started at the beginning of April, and slowly people began to drop out. I totally understand why this happened. This book is not an easy read. Mantel uses a narrative construct that is not easy to navigate and is a little confusing until you get used to it, which makes the book a read that requires concentration and application, it is not something you can just skim. Unfortunately, this read started just as we were entering lockdown in the UK in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, we were all trying to adjust to this completely alienating new reality and, for many, this was not the time to be tussling with this tome.

I actually felt the opposite. Reading has always been my respite in times of trouble and, during lockdown, I escaped even deeper into fictional worlds, consuming novels at a record rate (I have now read 90 books this year.) Being able to lose myself in a book that demanded my full attention was a welcome distraction from the terrible news that was hitting us day by day, and it returned the novel rewarded me tenfold.

I have always been fascinated by the Plantagenet and Tudor periods of history, and have read a lot of historical fiction set in this period, but Mantel’s book goes way beyond anything I have read before. She dives so deeply into the psyche of Cromwell, revealing to us the whole panoply of life in Tudor England through his eyes, that it feels like a lived experience. The book is written in the present tense, as if you are actually in that time, and it is very effective. Her writing gives the man a humanity that is missing from his portrayals in a lot of history books, and it has given me a totally different perspective on his role in this period.

Her research is obviously extensive and meticulous, and she feeds the book with exquisite detail and texture that is just delightful to absorb. This is a book that you can actually FEEL through all of your senses. Although it is slow moving, it is curiously addictive. Every time I picked it up I felt transported and was loathe to put it down and return to the real world. I was so absorbed that this monster of a novel felt too short, and I am so glad that there are two other novels coming for me to enjoy. I haven’t started them yet, as I am still revelling in the afterglow of the first book and am going to delay the gratification of starting book two until I can bear it no longer.

I know this book is not going to be for everyone. Some will find it too ponderous, and the slow richness of the writing that I adored will be the very thing that discourages others. Mantel’s prose and use of ‘he’ to refer to Cromwell throughout, rather than calling him by his name, can be confusing at times (particularly as there are so many Thomases in the book) and requires a level of concentration that can prove tiring, especially when you are going through a time of stress. It is a book that needs a particular moment, a particular frame of mind to appreciate. I think she is a writer that may seem to lack some warmth for some people, focused as she is on the historical detail, her writing can come off as dispassionate, which may be this books downfall for some. I can understand why people might fail to engage with Cromwell as protagonist to a degree that they cannot care about his story. But, if you can get past this, there is no doubt at all that this book is a masterpiece of historical fiction that will give the persistent reader a whole new insight into this period of history.

I bloody loved it and I owe huge thanks to Jules Swain for finally getting me to pick it up.

If you would like to give it a go yourself, you can buy a copy of Wolf Hall herealong with books two and three of the trilogy, which are all out now.

About the Author

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Hilary Mantel is the two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize for her best-selling novels, Wolf Hall, and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. Wolf Hall has been translated into 36 languages, Bring Up the Bodies into 31 languages, and sales for both books have reached over 5 million copies worldwide. She is the author of fourteen books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, and the memoir Giving Up the Ghost. In 2014 she was appointed DBE.

Connect with Hilary:

Website: https://hilary-mantel.com

Facebook: Hilary Mantel Author