Publication Day Review: Love Life by Nancy Peach #BookReview

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Today is publication day for Love Life, the debut novel by Nancy Peach. Happy publication day, Nancy. I have been lucky enough to have received an advanced copy of the book for the purposes of review, and am delighted to share that review with you today. Huge thanks to the author and her publisher for providing me with a digital copy of her book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Palliative care doctor, Tess Carter, is no starry-eyed heroine. After all, if your dad left without a backward glance and you found your last boyfriend in bed with another guy, you wouldn’t believe in romance either. And the voices in Tess’s head – you know, the ones that tell you you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not clever enough – well, these voices are very loud. Very loud indeed. Especially when the disagreeable son of one of her patients starts challenging her every decision.

Edward Russell might have a big job and a posh voice, but Tess is determined not to let him get to her, especially if she can get her inner monologue to stop with the endless self-sabotage. And Edward, it turns out, may be less of a prat than he first appears…

In the real world, where gentlemanlike manners and out-of-the-blue declarations of love are a story-book fantasy, it’s up to Tess to decide whose voice to listen to … and how to make her own heard.

A romance book set in a hospice might not be something many feel-good book lovers would rush to pick up but, like the tag line in the book says, ‘Love can be found in the most unexpected of places’ and, similarly, a moving and uplifting love story can be found in the most unexpected of plot lines.

The main character is Tess, a young doctor working in palliative care in a hospice. Tess has been very hurt and let down by most of the men in her life (except her brother, Jake, who I was kind of in love with by the end of the book), so she is swearing off love and concentrating on her career. This approach is tested by the reappearance of a face from the past, which sets in motion the romantic escapades of the book.

Tess will be a very relatable character to most readers of the novel. Despite everyone around her being able to see that she is a capable, caring, genuine, accomplished human being who anyone would be privileged to know, she is riddled with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy and is constantly at war with these feelings which hold her back from having the kind of life she dreams of. This is amusingly illustrated by the warring voices she has in her head, one always telling her what an abject failure she is, the other trying to buoy her up. The fact that the second voice is that of Jane Austen added an extra layer of amusement for me, as the author has captured her voice perfectly. Whilst we may not all have voices literally talking to us as Tess does, we can all relate to what the author is trying to demonstrate – how loud and persuasively our inner critic can seem to us and how much they can influence how we feel and act.

There is no getting away from the fact that the book deals with a difficult topic, that of grief, and how grief again affects the way we act towards those around us. However, the topic is obviously something that the author is experienced in, understands and manages to deal with with a light and sympathetic but authentic touch. She manages to capture the emotion without the book straying into the realms of the terribly depressing, which I think is quite a skill, and may be unexpected to people who are taken back by the blurb. Readers should not let the idea that the book deals with end-of-life issues put them off. As someone who has dealt with a tragic and deeply personal loss in her life, I found the writing relatable and also slightly comforting. The scene in the church near the end, in particular, resonated deeply with me but in a positive way. It’s a hard sensation to describe but I did not come away from this book feeling maudlin.

The chemistry and relationship between the two main characters was believable and charged with heat. I had worried that it might feel inappropriate, given the circumstances of the plot, but it didn’t, even when a scenario in the book WAS inappropriate (people who have read this will know what I mean!) I really wanted Tess and Ed to end up together, I cared deeply about the outcome. The author did a good job of leaving the question of whether it would work out or not hanging, and it caused me real pain to think they wouldn’t. You cannot possibly ask for more from a romance novel that to create this kind of investment by the reader in your characters and their story.

If I had any complaint at all about this book, it would be that I felt the author slightly over-egged the pudding on the use of colloquial dialogue for the Yorkshire-based characters (and I speak as a native of the county) and I wish this has been dialled back slightly. Also, I took the quote in Chapter 8 about people whose well-read and well-loved books remain looking pristine being untrustworthy as a personal affront, as my books always look like they have just come from the shop no matter how many times I have read them! However, if you are a serial book-abuser from any other county in the UK, none of this will bother you at all, I’m sure.

Joking aside, I really loved this book. It dealt sensitively with some difficult issues, portrayed a believable and enthralling relationship, and walked the line between humour and pathos beautifully. I have no hesitation in recommending the book at all and back up this recommendation with the fact that I have purchased a copy of it myself for future re-reading. There is no better accolade I can give a book than spending my hard-earned cash on it.

Love Life is out today as an ebook, and will be available in paperback and audiobook formats on 9 December. You can order you copy here and anywhere else great books are sold.

About the Author

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Nancy is a writer of commercial women’s fiction, a mother of three and an owner of various ridiculous looking pets including a dog who unexpectedly grew to be the size of a small horse. She is also a practicing doctor working for both the NHS and a national cancer charity. Over the years her medical job has provided her with an insight into many aspects of human behaviour, across all walks of life, and she is endlessly fascinated by the people she meets. She has always loved to write and finds the process incredibly therapeutic as well as being a welcome diversion from some of the less glamorous aspects of her other roles. Being a medical doctor, her sense of humour is already quite dark; she prides herself on being able to find comedy in challenging scenarios and has found this to be an essential skill in both her domestic and working life. Love and laughter are the best of medicines and she tries to channel as much of them as possible into her blogs www.mumhasdementia.com  and www.nancy-peach.com as well as her books – casting a wry and discerning eye over the human condition and tackling heavyweight issues with a light comedic touch. 

Nancy’s work has been longlisted for the Comedy Women in Print Prize and shortlisted for a Harper Collins / Gransnet competition. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and is represented by Tanera Simons at Darley Anderson Literary Agency. Her debut novel Love Life is published by One More Chapter at Harper Collins.

Connect with Nancy:

Website: https://nancy-peach.com/

Facebook: Nancy Peach Writer

Twitter: @Mumhasdementia

Instagram: @nancy.peach

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Nancy Peach

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Today’s guest on Romancing The Romance Authors is a debut author whose publication journey I have been following closely so I’m very interested to see her take on writing romance. Pleased to welcome to my blog for the first (but surely not the last) time… Nancy Peach.

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

I’m just beginning my publishing journey so haven’t really fixed on a type yet, but my debut Love Life is published with One More Chapter and probably sits in the rom-com category. Love Life has a Pride and Prejudice style plot, but it’s also set in a hospice, which I think gives it a different perspective. I suppose that if I have a style of writing it is to tackle hard topics with a light touch. I am a big fan of finding humour in dark places and was longlisted for the Comedy Women in Print prize last year for my novel Sandwich which deals with dementia. 

Why romance?

Because love and romance are at the heart of all universal stories – in a way I think it’s impossible to write books and not write about romance. All the greatest authors have known that the most direct route to a reader’s mind is via the heart and many of the fictional characters we hold dear are the ones who have been affected by a doomed romance or a grand passion. Every genre, whether it be crime, historical or dystopian science fiction, has romantic themes running through it and without a hint of a love interest a story loses depth and fails to engage a reader. 

All of the above, plus I like writing sex scenes.

What inspires your stories?

Daily life – I enjoy finding inspiration hidden in the mundane, whether that be at home or at work. Being a doctor means that I am fortunate enough to witness many elements of human behaviour and interaction. It is a great privilege to have this level of access to people’s lives and relationships and it’s one of the things I enjoy most about my job. I am obviously very careful never to break confidentiality and none of my patients’ details will ever make it directly to the page, but a lot of what forms the basis of my books comes from making general observations about the human stories I see unfolding in front of me every day. 

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

Generally, those who introduce an element of humour in their writing. Whether it be sharply satirical like Jane Austen or gently comical like Beth O’Leary, or full-blown hilarious like Helen Fielding, Marian Keyes, Mhairi McFarlane and Lucy Vine. 

Having said that, some of the most deeply affecting love stories I’ve read recently have not fallen into the comedy category – Delia Owens’ ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ and Anthony Doerr’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ had me in absolute bits.

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

That is such a hard question to answer (frantically tries to narrow down enormous shortlist). I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect package than Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare as an example of a modern contemporary romance, but the gold standard for me will always be Pride and Prejudice. I can’t possibly say anything about this book that hasn’t already been said, but each line is a masterclass in wryly observed understatement, like a permanently raised eyebrow. Jane Austen is a genius.

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The pride of high-ranking Mr Darcy and the prejudice of middle-class Elizabeth Bennet conduct an absorbing dance through the rigid social hierarchies of early-nineteenth-century England, with the passion of the two unlikely lovers growing as their union seems ever more improbable.

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 would jump into bed with Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy and likely never be seen again.

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(PSA: Anyone who ever chooses Mr Darcy as the answer to this question will invoke the gratuitous photo of Colin Firth in a wet shirt. you have been warned.)

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

The RNA was my first introduction to fellow writers. Before joining I had no idea about the publishing industry, no knowledge of writing technique and no concept of how to turn my idle scribblings into a real piece of work. I stumbled across the New Writer’s Scheme in 2019 when I had completed a very rough draft of what was to become Love Life and couldn’t believe that there was a way of having my manuscript critiqued by people working in the industry and for it to be included in my membership fee. More specifically, the RNA was an invaluable source of advice during that first year when I was hopelessly naïve about publishing deals. If I hadn’t had their support at that critical point in my writing journey, I think I would be in a very different place now.

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

Keep writing and make sure you are always doing it for fun. It’s easy to get bogged down with whether you’re going to get an agent, whether you’ll be published, and whether you’ll be able to give up the day job and pursue a career as a writer. This makes the whole thing feel terribly pressurised and the reality may be that an ultimate dream of being a professional writer is either unattainable or takes an extraordinarily long time to realise. So, whilst you are waiting for international fame and glory, my advice is to treat writing like a brilliant, gloriously fulfilling hobby. By saying this I am in no way intending to diminish the experience or the process, but I see writing as a release valve, its primary function is to do me good and to make me happy. If what I produce makes other people happy too then great, but I try not to lose sight of why I write – I do it because it love it, anything else is a bonus.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

Love Life is a romantic comedy featuring a hospice doctor, Tess, who is having difficulty recovering from the shock of finding her boyfriend in bed with another man. Whilst at work she encounters Edward, a man who is in denial about his mother’s terminal illness and who, as a result, hates the hospice and all it stands for. Unsurprisingly Tess and Edward dislike each other in the beginning, despite having met before in entirely different circumstances, but as Edward’s mother becomes more unwell, they begin to discover common ground. The story also features a daytime television host battling it out with a Jane Austen character as dual narrators, an absent father, an over-protective mother, a problem with binge-eating, a blind date with an estate agent, a veterinary emergency, a brush with the General Medical Council and a fair bit of shagging. You can buy a copy of the book here.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Yorkshire lass in possession of a career, a house, and a cat, must be in want of a husb—
Oh get a grip!

Dr Tess Carter is no starry-eyed Jane Austen heroine. After all, if your dad left without a backward glance and you found your last boyfriend in bed with another guy, you wouldn’t believe in romance either. And the voices in Tess’s head – you know, the ones that tell you you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not clever enough – well, these voices are very loud. Very loud indeed. Especially when the proud and disagreeable son of one of her patients starts challenging her every decision.

Edward Russell might have a big job and a posh voice, but Tess is determined not to let him get to her, especially if she can get her inner monologue to stop with the endless self-sabotage. And Edward, it turns out, may be less of a prat than he first appears; he’s certainly handy in a crisis.

In the real world, where gentlemanlike manners and out-of-the-blue declarations of love are a story-book fantasy, it’s up to Tess to decide whose voice to listen to … and how to make her own heard.

About the Author

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Nancy is a writer of commercial women’s fiction, a mother of three and an owner of various ridiculous looking pets including a dog who unexpectedly grew to be the size of a small horse. She is also a practicing doctor working for both the NHS and a national cancer charity. Over the years her medical job has provided her with an insight into many aspects of human behaviour, across all walks of life, and she is endlessly fascinated by the people she meets. She has always loved to write and finds the process incredibly therapeutic as well as being a welcome diversion from some of the less glamourous aspects of her other roles. Being a medical doctor, her sense of humour is already quite dark; she prides herself on being able to find comedy in challenging scenarios and has found this to be an essential skill in both her domestic and working life. Love and laughter are the best of medicines and she tries to channel as much of them as possible into her blogs www.mumhasdementia.com  and www.nancy-peach.com as well as her books – casting a wry and discerning eye over the human condition and tackling heavyweight issues with a light comedic touch. 

Nancy’s work has been longlisted for the Comedy Women in Print Prize and shortlisted for a Harper Collins / Gransnet competition. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and is represented by Tanera Simons at Darley Anderson Literary Agency. Her debut novel Love Life is published by One More Chapter at Harper Collins.

Connect with Nancy:

Website: https://nancy-peach.com/

Facebook: Nancy Peach Writer

Twitter: @Mumhasdementia

Instagram: @nancy.peach

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Desert Island Books with… Jill Piscitello

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Today I am transporting another literary traveller to my virtual desert island with only five books and one luxury item to keep them company. Today’s willing strandee is author… Jill Piscitello.

Book One – The Bible

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The Bible is the most important book in the history of Western civilization, and also the most difficult to interpret. It has been the vehicle of continual conflict, with every interpretation reflecting passionately-held views that have affected not merely religion, but politics, art, and even science.

To date, I have not read The Bible cover to cover.  However, I imagine if stranded on a desert island, this is the one book that I would want to have with me.

Book Two – The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

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The phenomenal and inspiring bestseller by the father of positive thinking. THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING is a practical, direct-action application of spiritual techniques to overcome defeat and win confidence, success and joy.

Norman Vincent Peale, the father of positive thinking and one of the most widely read inspirational writers of all time, shares his famous formula of faith and optimism which millions of people have taken as their own simple and effective philosophy of living. His gentle guidance helps to eliminate defeatist attitudes, to know the power you possess and to make the best of your life.

A tried and true read to encourage faith in one’s own abilities to persevere, to reduce stress and worry, to tackle problems, and to (of course) maintain a positive outlook regardless of circumstance.  This book would provide the extra dose of optimism needed if marooned in the middle of nowhere.

Book Three – Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

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Pippi Longstocking is nine years old. She has just moved into Villa Villekulla where she lives all by herself with a horse, a monkey, and a big suitcase full of gold coins. The grown-ups in the village try to make Pippi behave in ways that they think a little girl should, but Pippi has other ideas.

She would much rather spend her days arranging wild, exciting adventures to enjoy with her neighbours, Tommy and Annika, or entertaining everyone she meets with her outrageous stories. Pippi thinks nothing of wrestling a circus strongman, dancing a polka with burglars, or tugging a bull’s tail.

This childhood favourite would elicit fond elementary school memories of one of my first introductions to chapter books.  I remember being fascinated by Pippi’s outrageous life, non-traditional pets, and friendships.  Pippi’s adventures might help my new castaway-self find the joy in making discoveries and having new experiences on the island.

Book Four – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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Jane Eyre ranks as one of the greatest and most perennially popular works of English fiction. Although the poor but plucky heroine is outwardly of plain appearance, she possesses an indomitable spirit, a sharp wit and great courage.

She is forced to battle against the exigencies of a cruel guardian, a harsh employer and a rigid social order. All of which circumscribe her life and position when she becomes governess to the daughter of the mysterious, sardonic and attractive Mr Rochester.

However, there is great kindness and warmth in this epic love story, which is set against the magnificent backdrop of the Yorkshire moors. Ultimately the grand passion of Jane and Rochester is called upon to survive cruel revelation, loss and reunion, only to be confronted with tragedy.

This classic book lacks for nothing and is a joy to revisit over and over again.  A coming of age tale infused with love, secrets, betrayals, 3D characters, and a setting that envelops the reader.

Book Five – A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford 

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A WOMAN’S AMBITION…
In the brooding moors above a humble Yorkshire village stood Fairley Hall. There, Emma Harte, its oppressed but resourceful servant girl, acquired a shrewd determination. There, she honed her skills, discovered the meaning of treachery, learned to survive, to become a woman, and vowed to make her mark on the world.

A JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME…
In the wake of tragedy she rose from poverty to magnificent wealth as the iron-willed force behind a thriving international enterprise. As one of the richest women in the world Emma Harte has almost everything she fought so hard to achieve-save for the dream of love, and for the passion of the one man she could never have.

A DREAM FULFILLED-AND AVENGED.
Through two marriages, two devastating wars, and generations of secrets, Emma’s unparalleled success has come with a price. As greed, envy, and revenge consume those closest to her, the brilliant matriarch now finds herself poised to outwit her enemies, and to face the betrayals of the past with the same ingenious resolve that forged her empire.

My first four book choices came easily.  The fifth was a challenge.  I wanted this book to be an entertaining, fictional read.  I finally decided on one of my favourites, A Woman of Substance, because this expertly written saga has it all.  Emma’s story begins in the servants’ quarters in the Yorkshire moors and follows her ascension from poverty to power and wealth.  Her tale of perseverance, grit, and determination never gets old.  Love, betrayals, a vivid story world, and a cast of complex characters round out this unforgettable book.  An added bonus for someone stranded on a desert island is the hours slipping by unnoticed due to an 800+ page count.

(Blogger’s note: A Woman of Substance is currently available for 99p on a Kindle special deal)

My luxury item

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Besides books, another essential item that I could not live without would be a blanket for cool nights.  I’m one of those people who is always cold.  Having a blanket handy would provide a huge dose of comfort.

About the Author

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Jill Piscitello is a teacher, author, and an avid fan of multiple literary genres. Although she divides her reading hours among several books at a time, a lighthearted story offering an escape from the real world can always be found on her nightstand.

A native of New England, Jill lives with her family and three well-loved cats. When not planning lessons or reading and writing, she can be found spending time with her family, trying out new restaurants, traveling, and going on light hikes. 

Jill’s upcoming novella, Tinsel and Tea Cakes, has been contracted by The Wild Rose Press as part of the Christmas Cookies series and will have a cover reveal soon.

Hair stylist Scarlett Kerrigan lost her job and her apartment. To alleviate a touch of self pity, she succumbs to her stepmom’s pressure to attend a wedding in the New Hampshire White Mountains. Unfortunately, she runs into the vacation fling who promised the moon but disappeared without an explanation. Months have passed, but she is not ready to forgive and forget.

After a chaotic year, executive Wes Harley settles into his family’s event venue, The Timeless Manor. His carefully structured world is shaken to its core when Scarlett arrives for the Victorian Christmas wedding weekend. The feelings he never quite erased flood to the surface.

When secrets are revealed, will a magical chateau and a sprinkle of tinsel be enough to charm Scarlett?

Jill is also the author of Homemakers’ Christmas published by Satin Romance, an imprint of Melange Publishing and you can buy a copy of that book here.

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One woman’s journey from nothing to everything…

A recent error in judgment has deposited Cricket Williams, her daughter, and a son spiking a high fever into a homeless shelter. A touch of Christmas magic is sprinkled upon her family when an eccentric volunteer invites them into her New England farmhouse. Blindsided with the proposition of a contractual living arrangement, Cricket is seized with renewed hope for her future.

Boris Glynn is in town visiting his grandmother but harbors a secret that will impact her life and the lives of his dearest friends. Complications arise when he is unable to restrain himself from pursuing his grandmother’s beautiful new neighbor.

As Cricket begins to succumb to Boris’s attention, her new world is shaken by a series of events that have the potential to destroy her plans for a fresh start.

Connect with Jill:

Website: https://jillpiscitello.com/

Facebook: Jill Piscitello

Twitter: @Piscj18

Instagram: @jillpiscitellobooks

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Blog Tour: Starlight Cottage by K. T. Dady #BookReview

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I am delighted to be taking part today in the blog tour for Starlight Cottage by K. T. Dady. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part, and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Welcome to Pepper Bay. A small close-knit community where you’ll find chocolate box cottages, quaint shops, drama, friendship, and love.

Starlight Cottage – Anna Cooper and Jake Reynolds both live at the luxury London building, River Heights. The only difference is that Jake lives in the penthouse, and Anna lives in a tent on the roof.

When Jake finds out, he offers Anna a chance of a new life in his grandmother’s childhood home in Pepper Bay, and she decides to take the opportunity to see if she really can make a fresh start somewhere else.

The beauty of Pepper Bay, with its quaint shops, chocolate box cottages, and all of Jake’s closest friends, immediately fills Anna’s heart with nothing but love, and it isn’t just Starlight Cottage that she finds herself falling in love with.

This is the first in a new series set in the charming Pepper Bay and sets up the community and a cast of characters that I am sure are all going to get their own full stories in future editions. However, in this first book we are mainly concerned with Jake and Anna in an ‘opposites attract’ story.

Anna has had a tough life. Raised without parents, she latched on to others who don’t treat her well and finds herself homeless and living in a tent on the roof of a posh apartment building in London with only her dog for company. Jake lives in the penthouse, and meets Anna by chance, eventually figuring out where she is living and taking her under his wing, despite them being totally different in every way, from personality to circumstance.

Anna as a character was someone that my heart went out to from the beginning. She seems kind and sweet, but way too trusting and I just wanted someone to take care of her. Her most recent ex is one of the most despicable characters I have ever seen written in a book and I was desperate for him to get him comeuppance, so the author has done a great job of getting me invested in the outcome of the book from early one.

Jake was a totally different personality and I wasn’t sure about him to begin with. He didn’t seem like a good fit for Anna, and I was worried he was going to crush her further, and I suppose that this tension is what makes for a compelling story. However, the author gradually reveals hidden depths to Jake, and we see that his life hasn’t been all sunshine and roses and that he has his own problems that make him more sympathetic.

Once we leave London and arrive in Pepper Bay, I was completely sold on the charming setting and great community that the author has created there and can see how this is going to make the beginnings of a great series. This is the perfect type of cute, cosy romance that will ease you out of summer and into the darkening, cooling days of autumn and you begin to curl up on the sofa of an evening and lose yourself in a good book.

If I had to pick any faults with the book that just stop it being a five-star read, I would say that the feelings between Anna and Jake develop a little too quickly to be entirely credible, given their vastly different circumstances, so the plot requires quite a stretch on the suspension of disbelief front. There were also a couple of places where events took an inexplicable jump and I thought I had missed a page out, which made me a bit confused (although I was reading late at night sometimes so it could just be my sluggish brain!).

Overall, I enjoyed the book very much and would not hesitate to recommend it to fans of the genre. An exciting new author to look out for.

Starlight Cottage is out now and you can buy a copy here.

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

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About the Author

Author, reader, mum, chocolate lover, and a huge fan of a HEA. I was born and raised in the East End of London, and I’ve been happily writing stories since I was a little girl. When I’m not writing, I’m baking cakes or pottering around in my little garden in Essex, trying not to kill the flowers. I’m the author of contemporary romance, middle-grade, and the thought-provoking thriller about mental illness, The Focus Program.

Connect with K. T. Dady:

Website: https://ktdady.com/

Twitter: @kt_dady

Instagram: @kt_dady

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Julie Houston

Awards

Today I am delighted to be interviewing the winner of the Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with her novel Sing Me A Secret. Please welcome to the blog, author… Julie Houston.

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Julie, congratulations on your win and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog during the entry period for the 2022 awards.

This award was voted for by book bloggers, librarians and book sellers. That is a hard crowd to impress. What does it mean to you to win this particular award and what it is about this book that you think spoke to them out of the hundreds they read each year?

I am totally in awe of the people who voted for me for this award, but particularly the book bloggers. They are an amazing set of readers, giving their time and expertise to reading countless books and yet always positive and with something lovely to say. I have to mention, particularly, the wonderful Anne Williams and Grace Reviewerlady who are both unstinting in the job that they do so brilliantly, as well as writing such encouraging and positive things. If I ever hit the imposter brick wall, I reread their reviews! So, to win this particular award, voted for by these lovely people, is just a dream come true. What is it about the book? I honestly don’t know. My aim always is to produce a jolly good read – isn’t that what we all want? – with a bit of a twist and flavoured with some down to earth, good old Yorkshire humour.

Sing Me A Secret is your seventh novel. Do you think winning this award will change things for you going forward in your career?

I suppose winning this has made me realise that people do actually want to read my books. Since Sing Me A Secret I’ve published – with Aria/HeadofZeus – A Village Vacancy, and A Family Affair and my new one out in 2022, Exit North. I’m now gazing at a blank screen once again which, I know excites some writers, but has me in a state of panic. This is the worst bit about writing – the blank screen. 

How long after you started writing did it take you to get published? Have you had any formal training in creative writing and do you think this is helpful for an author on the path to publication? Do you have any tips for those of us still toiling up the publication hill?

Like every writer I meet, I wish I’d started earlier. But work, family commitments, kids get in the way. So, I wrote Goodness, Grace and Me as an experiment I suppose to see if I could actually write a book. It went through the RNA New writers’ Scheme and, although there were encouraging sounds made, it didn’t go where I wanted it to go ie with an agent. So, I found one myself.  It took a lot of rejections, but then along came the lovely Anne Williams (yes, there are two Anne Williams in my life) at KHLA Literary agency. Being a Yorkshire girl herself and with kids the same age as mine, she said something just struck a note and she took me on. Anne is brilliant because, as a former commissioning editor for Headline and working with fabulous writers such as Lyn Andrews and Sheila Flanagan, she was ready with her red pen, making sure the book was as good as it could be before sending it to publishers. Ten books on, Anne’s red pen is still in action before a manuscript goes to my editor. We were taken on by Amazon’s White Glove which was great because Amazon promoted the books and gave me Deal of the Day a couple of times, sending Looking For Lucy to Number 1 in Australia and the others into the top 50 here in the UK. Then, in 2018, Sarah Ritherdon at Aria gave me a 3-book deal as well as taking on and rebranding the earlier books. A Village Affair, the first with Aria, did so well, selling to date around 300,000 copies in ebook and paperback. The lovely Hannah Smith was then my editor before she left for Bonnier, and now I’m excited to be working with Thorne Ryan.

No, I have no formal creative writing training. And, when I’m teaching, I’d rather teach maths and science than teach creative writing – which makes me ponder whether it can ever be taught or is the creativity innate? 

You live in Yorkshire and your books are all set there. What is it about our beautiful county (there is a slight possibility I may be exhibiting some bias here) that inspires your writing? Do Yorkshire folk lend themselves particularly well to being characters in humorous romance novels?

I think so. I think Yorkshire folk have the ability to not take themselves too seriously. They’re down to earth, but friendly and call a spade…. That’s probably totally stereotyping. I think my dad always had a sense of humour. He and his three sisters could all make me laugh when telling one of their stories. Whether that’s his Yorkshire heritage or the Italian ancestry I couldn’t say.

I noticed from your author bio that we have some odd ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ connections. As well as having the same first name and both being from Yorkshire, you are a magistrate and I am a qualified solicitor, and Helen Fielding and Joanne Harris are both fellow alumni of my secondary school. Do you think it is part of human nature for us to seek out tenuous connections and things in common with our fellow man and do you use this tendency to connect with readers in your writing?

Oh, how interesting! I didn’t know that. My daughter must have gone to the same school as you then. I honestly don’t know, is the answer to your last question, but it’s certainly a good one. I’m sure we become friendly with people who are like ourselves and enjoy things in common. I’m big into ancestry and spend far too much time trying to work out connections between myself and those with the same DNA. I should have been a detective. Or maybe I’m just plain nosy. 

Aside from the fact that they have given you this lovely award, what other benefits have you gleaned from your membership of the RNA and what is your favourite thing about being a member?

Obviously, this absolutely wonderful award has been the icing on the cake as it were. But I have become friendly – real mates – with other writers who are always generous enough to share contacts, knowledge and are up for an early read of a new MS. Big friends with Tracy Bloom and Jo Courtney (Anna Stuart) who I met at my very first RNA conference in Chichester. We have regular writerly rants and celebratory picnics along the bank of Ladybower in Derbyshire, a central meeting point. Through RNA contacts I have met up with my fellow Apricot Plotters, a small group set up to chat, celebrate and commiserate with any writing issues we might have. I would wholeheartedly recommend the RNA to anyone. Can’t wait for the next conference when we can get together again.

Your latest novel, A Family Affair, was published vey recently, so I am sure you are enjoying a well-earned break, but what can we expect next from Julie Houston and can you ever see yourself giving up teaching completely to become a full-time author?

I’ve really already given up teaching full time. I just teach now when the phone rings to cover an absent member of staff. And I still love it. But I certainly couldn’t both teach full time and write. It’s taken me ten years to actually answer “I’m a writer” instead of “I’m a teacher”. To be honest, I usually say, “I’m a teacher by trade, but spend my days writing now.” So, Exit North has gone off to my editor, Thorne, at Aria and I’m at the ‘staring at the blank screen and thinking how the hell did I ever write one book, let alone ten!’ stage which attacks me once I’ve sent off my latest beloved characters into the world. There are, signs of little seeds a-sprouting and soon I’ll have pages covered with characters, their family trees and their personalities. They’ll then take over and, if I’m lucky, these characters will just take over and write the story themselves…

Won’t it be fantastic to get to that stage! Thank you for so much for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been great fun.

Julie’s award-winning novel, Sing Me A Secret, is available here.

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The four Sutherland sisters have all had very different paths in life, but one secret and a slightly tense production of Jesus Christ Superstar are about to bring them all back together again…

When the news that pop-superstar Lexia Sutherland is returning to Westenbury, not everyone is thrilled by the news – including Lexia. There are too many memories she doesn’t need to face – or need re-surfacing.

Meanwhile, Juno Sutherland just wants a little peace and quiet. As the local village doctor, she’s got her priorities in order; kids, job, husband, tenacious pony, a role in the village musical… So when the sexy new locum turns up – and steals her office – the last thing she needed was to be hit with rising temperatures and an over-active imagination.

Will these sisters be able to uncover the past, deal with the future and put on the performance of a lifetime?

About the Author

Julie Houston’s first three novels GOODNESS, GRACE AND ME, THE ONE SAVING GRACE and LOOKING FOR LUCY were all Amazon Humour #1 best sellers both here in the UK and Australia. LOOKING FOR LUCY hit the #1 best seller overall in Australia. Her A VILLAGE AFFAIR was the seventh most downloaded book of 2019 and has sold over 300 000 copies in ebook and paperback. She is published by Aria/Headof Zeus and has just completed her tenth novel, EXIT NORTH. Her seventh novel, SING ME A SECRET won the Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award in 2021.

Julie lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire where her novels are set, and her only claims to fame are that she teaches part-time at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old junior school and her neighbour is ‘Chocolat’ author, Joanne Harris. After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years, she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country. She now just teaches when the phone rings to cover an absent colleague, and still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the past twenty years. Julie is married, has a twenty-seven-year-old son and twenty-four-year-old daughter and a ridiculous Cockerpoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book. 

She hates skiing, gets sick on boats and wouldn’t go pot-holing or paddy diving if her life depended on it.

She is published by HeadOfZeus/Aria and represented by Anne Williams at KHLA Literary agency.

Connect with Julie:

Website: www.juliehouston.co.uk

Facebook: Julie Houston Author

Twitter: @JulieHouston2

Instagram: @juliehoustonauthor

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Desert Island Books with… Adrienne Vaughan

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Today I am delighted (if that is not a weird thing to say!) to be stranding on my literary atoll, romance author… Adrienne Vaughan. Let’s see what bookish delights she has selected to be her companions in isolation.

Book One – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

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Romantic, heroic, comic and tragic, unconventional schoolmistress Jean Brodie has become an iconic figure in post-war fiction. Her glamour, unconventional ideas and manipulative charm hold dangerous sway over her girls at the Marcia Blaine Academy – ‘the crème de la crème’ – who become the Brodie ‘set’, introduced to a privileged world of adult games that they will never forget. 

 Set between the wars, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark might at first appear to be a ‘light’ read, but don’t be misled. For me, this slim, witty, exquisitely written book is a slice of history poised at a moment in time before things change forever. It’s also a wonderful portrayal of a very influential woman, flaws and all and the fact that I’m still applauding her, here in 2021, would please her no end, for she is indeed, still in her prime!

Miss Jean Brodie teaches at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh. Charismatic, beguiling and unconventional, she’s a force of nature, rebelling against the shackling morality and conventions of the time in her own sublime way.

Totally devoted to her ‘girls’ – known as the ‘Brodie set’, Miss Brodie is also fond of reminding everyone that she’s ‘in her prime’. And though the story spans quite a few years – effortlessly moving back and forth following the girls’ lives – it seems Miss Brodie remains in her prime throughout. A philosophy I’ve happily adopted!

Although, an excellent teacher, Miss Brodie veers off the curriculum revealing her own tragic love story to the girls, thereby bringing them into her confidence. However, when one of her closest choses to betray her and the layers begin to peel away, it’s hard not feel every nuance of agony on behalf of our heroine; having devoted her whole life to her ‘girls’ and career.

Stylish, pared down writing, laser-like attention to detail and so much more going on than what’s being said! I highly recommend this classic be read more than once.

Book Two – Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier

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On a trip to the South of France, the shy heroine of Rebecca falls in love with Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower. Although his proposal comes as a surprise, she happily agrees to marry him.

But as they arrive at her husband’s home, Manderley, a change comes over Maxim, and the young bride is filled with dread. Friendless in the isolated mansion, she realises that she barely knows him. In every corner of every room is the phantom of his beautiful first wife, Rebecca, and the new Mrs de Winter walks in her shadow.

 I write Romantic Suspense, and if there’s one standalone shining example of this genre, it’s Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier.On the surface the story of a young woman who, while working as a Lady’s companion, meets the recently widowed Max de Winter and in true ‘holiday romance’ style they fall madly in love and marry almost immediately. However, once they leave the glamorous south of France for Manderley, Max’s family home on the Cornish coast, the new Mrs de Winter – our heroine – begins to realise that although Rebecca might be dead she haunts every room, and is being deliberately ‘kept alive’ by the equally ghoulish housekeeper, Mrs Danvers.

Mesmerising and atmospheric, Manderley and it’s fabulous coastal setting are so vivid I feel as if I’ve been there and this, combining with a cast of beautifully yet sparsely drawn characters, makes it a book that really takes hold. Not only because I’m desperate to find out what happened to Rebecca, (I know but that doesn’t change the fact that I need to know again!) but I’m also desperate for our hero and heroine to be once more happily in love.

I read it again only recently, and it’s still so highly addictive, I devoured it in two days. A masterpiece, from the unforgettable opening  ‘Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again’ – to the closing – ‘And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea’. Oh, and there are spaniels too and  as I’ll be missing mine, it’s a must for me.

Book Three- Notes from A Small Island by Bill Bryson

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In 1995, before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire to move back to the States for a few years with his family, Bill Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.

His aim was to take stock of the nation’s public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyse what precisely it was he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite; a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy; place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey and Shellow Bowells; people who said ‘Mustn’t grumble’, and ‘Ooh lovely’ at the sight of a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits; and Gardeners’ Question Time. 

 US travel writer and author Bill Bryson was leaving the UK to go back to America, and before he left came up with the brilliant idea of travelling around the whole of Great Britain on public transport and diarising his experience. First published in 1995, Notes from A Small Island  by Bill Bryson has sold millions of copies and well deserves its place on this list and in my heart. Not only does it manage to portray the deep and wonderous love the author has for his adoptive country, while at the same time making us laugh out loud at things we say and hear every day. But it also portrays such stoicism, resilience and gritty fortitude, that at times it moves me to tears. I’m a great fan of PG Wodehouse, and Bill Bryson’s writing has that same effortless elegance that can capture a character, nuance and even a nation in just a handful of words.

I always think of this book when anyone mentions ‘St Martin in the Fields’, because I recall Bill’s mystified fascination with this small island’s delectation for weird and wonderful place names, and for some reason the words ‘St Dionysius Behind the Wardrobe’ pop into my head, which always makes me smile.

A book of true charm, that will remind me of home and perhaps even fondly of Marmite, though that might be going a bit far!

Book Four – The Van by Roddy Doyle

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Shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize, and set in a Dublin suburb during the 1990 World Cup, this completes a trilogy which began with “The Commitments” and “The Snapper”. Jimmy Rabbite Sr seeks refuge from the vicissitudes of unemployment by joining a friend in running a fish-and-chip van.

Another book that truly deserves its place in my heart, is The Van by Roddy Doyle. Roddy writes with such affection, admiration and a certain amount of pride for Jimmy and his long-time pal Bimbo –  two out of work Dubliners in the 1980s – that this story is both hilarious and heart-breaking at the same time. It’s a story of true friendship, as these middle aged men battle to overcome numerous obstacles, trying desperately to make a success of their new project, a derelict chip van.

All the characters are adorable, infuriating and so beautifully drawn – I just loved Jimmy’s wife, the indomitable Victoria – and anyone familiar with this wonderful city would surely have come across their like along the way.

I read this novel for the first time on holiday many years ago and a particular scene featuring a dead cat and a deep fat fryer made me so helpless with laughter, my husband raced to my aid, for fear I would not only fall off my lounger – which I had – but off the balcony too!

We were in Turkey, but in my head I was overhearing a fabulous story told in a solid Dublin accent on top of a bus heading towards An Lár! (The city centre)  Another book that takes me home.

(Blogger’s note: I would have allowed Adrienne to take the entire Barrytown Trilogy with her to her desert island as it is available in a single volume, which would be a permissible way of sneaking in an extra two novels in the form of The Commitments and The Snapper, both of which are also excellent. Mainly because I am a HUGE fan of Roddy Doyle myself and these three are my favourite of his books.)

Book Five – Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

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This is the bestselling true story of three men and their dreams for a racehorse, Seabiscuit.

In 1938 one figure received more press coverage than Mussolini, Hitler or Roosevelt. He was a cultural icon and a world-class athlete – and an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse by the name of Seabiscuit.

Misunderstood and mishandled, Seabiscuit had spent seasons floundering in the lowest ranks of racing until a chance meeting of three men. Together, they created a champion. This is a story which topped the bestseller charts for over two years; a riveting tale of grit, grace, luck and an underdog’s stubborn determination to win against all odds.

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand is a story of the triumph of the underdog over every obstacle imaginable. Set in the US during the Depression, the blurb says ‘In 1938 one figure received more press coverage than Mussolini, Hitler or Roosevelt. He was a cultural icon and a world-class athlete – and an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse by the name of Seabiscuit.’ It’s the true story of three men and their dreams for a racehorse, the well-bred,  but misunderstood Seabiscuit. Like all the best ‘true-life’ stories, you couldn’t make it up but when wealthy businessman Charles Howard, sets reclusive trainer Tom Smith the task of finding him a racehorse to bring on, Tom not only finds Seabiscuit but the troubled yet talented jockey Red Pollard; another underdog. The trio went on to win everything in American racing.

But this book is so much more than that, it’s a snapshot of yet another pivotal moment in history, the reality of the effects of the Depression rawly told and the will to survive easily mistaken for hard-nosed ambition and vice versa. Yet interlaced throughout this wonderful tale are heart-warming love stories, human for human, man for animal and animal for man. The connection between all the characters – including this remarkable little horse –  so vivid, so real, that every time Red gets into the saddle my heart starts to pound and I’m whispering in Seahorse’s ear as they make their way to the start, you can do this, boy, this one is yours.

As you can probably tell, I love horses and feel their part in the building of our world is often underplayed; we owe these noble creatures so much.

Laura Hillenbrand is a fantastic writer, truly deserving of her best seller status, and she clearly loves history but I suspect, having read this, horses are a particular passion too. Truly magical and highly recommended.

My luxury item

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Having read and re-read all these wonderful books, I’ll be totally inspired and will have to write! I write by hand, then type what I’ve written as a first edit. If I’m only allowed one essential, can it be a stock of spiral bound note books please?  I know I won’t have a pen, but if I can devise a way of making ink with leaves, plants or whatever I can find on the island, I can resort to using a quill, which – if there’s wildlife – should be available in abundance. 😊

About the Author

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Adrienne Vaughan is an award-winning author of 5 Star romantic suspense.

She has written three highly acclaimed novels, The Hollow Heart, A Change of Heart and Secrets of the Heart, together with an award-winning collection of poetry and short stories, Fur Coat & No Knickers. Her short story Dodo’s Portrait was short-listed for the Colm Toíbín Award at the Wexford Literary Festival in 2018.

Adrienne was brought up in Dublin and lives in rural Leicestershire with her husband, two cocker spaniels and a rescue cat called Agatha Christie – ‘We never know who she’s going to kill next!’ 

Two of her favourite places in the world are the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland and the coast of South Devon, both great influences on her writing. 

And although being a novelist has always been her dream, she still harbours a burning ambition to be a Bond girl!

Today, she runs a busy PR practice, writing novels, poems and short stories in her spare time.

Do check out Adrienne’s debut novel, The Hollow Heart, which is the first in the Heartfelt series, three standalone novels set in Ireland and New York. It is currently on offer at the special price of 99p/99c and is available here.

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Marianne Coltrane is a feisty, award-winning journalist who is far from lucky in love. Taking a broken heart, a bruised career and her beloved terrier, Monty, off to the west of Ireland she is determined to embrace a quieter life. But when she literally runs into Ryan O’Gorman, one of the most infuriating men in the world, she wonders if moving to this tiny island is the right decision after all. He’s an actor who’s just landed the biggest role in movie history and he loathes journalists. One thing they do have in common is they both think their chance of true love has passed them by, but of course, fate has other ideas.

Filled with a cast of colourful characters, betrayal and heartache and ultimately love and laughter, this twisting tale takes us from Ireland to New York and back to an island you’ll never want to leave.

Connect with Adrienne:

Website: http://adriennevaughan.com/

Facebook: Adrienne Vaughan

Twitter: @adrienneauthor

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Frances Mensah Williams

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Delighted to welcome my latest guest to the blog to chat about writing romance and who is the perfect hero. This week’s guest is author… Frances Mensah Williams.

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

My books fall into the category of contemporary women’s commercial fiction and to date, I have three published novels and two novellas. I’m incredibly excited to share that my next book will be published in Summer 2022!. My novels are influenced by my African ancestry and the settings include both London and modern-day Ghana. 

Why romance?

Why not romance? I mean, who doesn’t love a happy ending? I think romantic fiction is an incredibly optimistic and positive genre of writing and one which suits my world view. I also find that romantic relationships are a fantastic and relatable vehicle for showing how women encounter challenges, face their personal demons, and grow as people. Typically with my heroines – both the main and often the secondary characters in the story – their romantic relationships become the tests that help them discover who they are, what they’re made of, and what – or who – they really want in life.

What inspires your stories?

Like so many writers, my ideas can appear quite randomly! The idea for one of my novellas came as I was coming out of the supermarket into the car park and saw a woman driving in, circling the parking bays, and then almost immediately driving out! I have had some brilliant plot ideas while I’m taking a walk or in the shower (which can be awkward when you’re desperate to write down the idea before you forget!). I’m also inspired by song lyrics or a bit of shameless eavesdropping. 

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

I have to say that for me romance comes in many flavours. For example, I love the African American author Terry McMillan for her insightful relationship-driven novels, Jilly Cooper and Penny Vincenzi for their huge casts and sweeping sagas, Lesley Lokko for her vivid international settings, Dorothy Koomson for her romance tinted thrillers, and Marian Keyes for her funny, family-driven love stories. Then there’s Jane Green, Jill Mansell, Milly Cooper… I could go on.

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

That’s a tough question but I would probably recommend Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan. Set in America, it follows the love lives of four single girlfriends and shines a painfully humorous spotlight on the challenges of having to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince. I also love that all four women at the centre of the story are women of colour. 

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When the men in their lives prove less than reliable, Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria, and Robin find new strength through a rare and enlightening friendship as they struggle to regain stability and an identity they don’t have to share with anyone. Because for the first time in a long time, their dreams are finally OFF hold….

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

Does the Duke of Hastings from the Bridgerton novels, as depicted on Netflix, count? Well, if I could transport him into the present day, visions of a dinner for two as the sun sets over a deserted beach come to mind…

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

What I love about the RNA is that it is first and foremost a community. As a writer of romantic fiction, you can feel a bit like the neglected stepchild in the hierarchy of publishing. Writing romantic fiction as a black woman can make you feel like the invisible neglected stepchild! But, in joining the RNA, I found a community that immediately felt welcoming and inclusive. I’m a member of a couple of the RNA groups and continue to learn so much from the other members who are incredibly generous with their advice and support. If you want to know more about independent publishing or tackling challenges with your plot, characterization – or any aspect of your craft as a writer – the RNA network is invaluable.

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

It’s probably a good idea to make sure you know the plot rules of the romance game and remember that while your hero/heroine will – and should – struggle, your goal as a writer is to help them reach their happy place. In doing so, be mindful to focus as much on your protagonist’s internal journey as on their external struggles. 

Tell us about your most recent novel.

It’s called Imperfect Arrangements and was published in March 2020. It’s the story of three couples who struggle with their less than perfect romantic arrangements. Best friends Lyla, Maku and Theresa have a rock-solid friendship – it’s the other relationships in their lives that are causing them heartache. When ambitious Theresa moves with her husband to Accra, the cosmopolitan capital of Ghana, not only does it show up the cracks in her seemingly perfect relationship, but it also forces her friends look more closely at their lives and choices. Set in contemporary Ghana, it’s a story full of twists and turns, drama and humour. The novel also shows the perspectives of the men in the relationships, which was an interesting challenge! If you enjoy female-centred dramas, I hope you’ll give this a try. 

You can buy a copy of Imperfect Arrangements here.

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There are two sides to every story…

In the sun-soaked capital of Ghana, best friends Theresa, Maku and Lyla struggle with the arrangements that define their relationships. Ambitious, single-minded Theresa has gambled everything to move with her loving husband Tyler from London to cosmopolitan Accra. Feisty Maku is desperate for professional recognition – and her dream white wedding.  Churchgoing Lyla married Kwesi in haste, but while she battles her growing attraction to the mysterious Reuben, her husband has bitten off more than he can chew with his latest mistress.

Facing lies, betrayal, and shattered illusions, each couple must confront the truth of who they have become and the arrangements they have enabled. Against the backdrop of a shifting culture, each woman must decide what – and who – she is willing to sacrifice for the perfect marriage.

About the Author

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Frances is a British-Ghanaian author. Her debut novel, the romantic comedy From Pasta to Pigfoot which follows hapless PA Faye Bonsu in her search for love and identity, went straight to no. 23 of WH Smith Travel’s Top 100 Summer Reads.  It was followed by From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings. Frances is also the author of the novel Imperfect Arrangements and a novella series (Marula Heights Romances) which includes Sweet Mercy and River Wild. An entrepreneur, consultant and executive coach, Frances has led numerous international skills and business development projects, receiving a CBE from HM Queen Elizabeth II in the 2020 New Year Honours List for her services. Frances’s non-fiction books are Everyday Heroes: Learning from the Careers of Successful Black Professionals and I Want to Work in Africa: How to Move Your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent. 

Connect with Frances:

Website: www.francesmensahwilliams.com

Facebook: Frances Mensah Williams

Twitter: @FrancesMensahW

Instagram: @francesmensahw

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Book Review: Sleepless in Sicily by Emma Jackson #BookReview

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Under the starry Italian skies, anything can happen…

For most women, getting locked into a storeroom with movie star and undeniable heartthrob Rowan during a pre-production shoot in London would be the stuff of dreams. But for shy makeup artist Lila, it’s more like a nightmare. It doesn’t matter that Rowan is kind, easy to talk to and even more gorgeous up close. With her social anxiety, she can’t bear the idea of being embroiled in gossip and rumours about what exactly they were doing together.

More scandal is also not an option for outspoken Rowan, whose agency is threatening to drop him if he doesn’t toe the line. After the two make their escape, they promise to keep the incident a secret, and when they meet again on set in stunning Sicily, they pretend not to know each other. But between the blue skies and sizzling Italian heat, it becomes impossible to ignore the attraction simmering between them…

Lila and Rowan couldn’t be more different… but can they find a way to bring their worlds together?

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of review, for which they have my heartfelt thanks. As always, I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

The cover of this book leads you to believe that is going to be a certain kind of holiday romance that you have seen many times before, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I absolutely love holiday romance stories, I read them by the stack in the summer and have several waiting for my attention as we speak that I can’t wait to sink back into my deckchair and devour in place of actually going on an overseas trip this summer. However, this book doesn’t fall quite comfortably into that niche, it is something a bit different, but no the less fabulous for it.

When you read the blurb, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is going to develop along the standard lines, and it does contain all the bits of those holiday romances you love. A trip to the sun-drenched shores of Sicily, a glamorous film set location, hunky leading man sets shy, ingenue makeup artist’s heart a-fluttering. However, the book goes beyond this superficial love story to delve deeply into the motivations and personality traits of the leading characters in a way that is painfully observant and so realistic that, if you have any of these traits yourself, it will make your heart hurt in empathy. Or that is certainly what happened to me when I read it.

Whether she meant to or not, it is clear to the reader that the author has left a big part of herself on the pages of this novel. Noone can truly write such an authentic character as Lila if they haven’t had some personal experience of what she is suffering, whether themselves or through a loved one. The portrayal in this book of what it is like to live with social anxiety is the closest thing to reality that I have ever read. Although this is something that I experience to a much lesser extent than Lila, her thought processes are something I recognised all too readily, which meant I felt complete sympathy for her throughout the novel, really living the highs and lows with her, feeling the pain and pleasure. Being so immersed in a character’s story is a rare and precious experience and only happens when the author has felt the same thing as they write. I could feel the author living this book as she created it.

This is a fantastic book that takes the sun lounger novel to a different place. I’m not sure if I felt this just because I could relate so closely to the main character, but it has all the elements I look for in a summer read, as well as a profoundly relatable character in Lila. It left me feeling moved and seen in a way that in unusual in a genre many people deem superficial and fluffy, which just goes to prove that the people who look down on romance, probably don’t read many. True gems are out there if you look hard enough, and this is one.

If you are looking for something both entertaining and insightful to add to your holiday reading, here it is.

Sleepless in Sicily is out now in ebook format and you can buy a copy here. What are you waiting for, go, go, go.

About the Author

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Author of the Best Selling A MISTLETOE MIRACLE and contender for the Joan Hessayon Award 2020, 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. Following her debut, SUMMER IN THE CITY and ONE KISS BEFORE CHRISTMAS were released in 2020 and her next contemporary romance SLEEPLESS IN SICILY is scheduled for 29th July 2021.

Connect with Emma:

Website: https://esjackson.co.uk

Facebook: Emma Jackson Author

Twitter: @ESJackson1

Instagram: @emma_s_jackson

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Desert Island Books with… Suzanne Snow

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Today’s castaway is fellow RNA member and romance author, Suzanne Snow. I’m intrigued to see which five books Suzanne has chosen to keep her from almost certain insanity on her desert island with only her own thoughts and one luxury item to aid her survival.

Book One – My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

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Escaping the ills of the British climate, the Durrell family – acne-ridden Margo, gun-toting Leslie, bookworm Lawrence and budding naturalist Gerry, along with their long-suffering mother and Roger the dog – take off for the island of Corfu.

But the Durrells find that, reluctantly, they must share their various villas with a menagerie of local fauna – among them scorpions, geckos, toads, bats and butterflies.

This was a book given to me as an adult and I adored it. I found it full of pathos, endless humour and sharp observation. The sense of place, of being alongside Gerry as he went on his island escapades and made friends with the characters who share his passion for nature, is a joy. Such a different way of life in a very different world, and it’s a book I can return to time and again.

Book Two – Rivals by Jilly Cooper

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Into the cutthroat world of Corinium television comes mega-star Declan O’Hara. Declan soon realises that the Managing Director, Lord Baddingham, has recruited him merely to help retain the franchise for Corinium. Baddingham has also enticed Cameron Cook, a gorgeous, domineering woman executive, to produce Declan’s programme. 

As a rival group emerges to pitch for the franchise, reputations ripen and decline, true love blossoms and burns, marriages are made and shattered and sex raises its head at almost every throw….

I enjoyed Riders, especially as a pony-mad girl who grew up with horses. Rivals is a book I’ve read several times and Jilly is brilliant at bringing the characters to life, often with just a line of dialogue or the barest of detail and making them leap off the page. I’m sure I’m not alone in appreciating Rupert Campbell Black meeting someone who sees the best in him and finally falling in love. It’s such a witty and clever book, and my favourite of Jilly’s novels.

Book Three –  Full Circle by Michael Palin

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In this account of the third of Michael Palin’s travel adventures for BBC Television, he journeys for almost a year, covering 50,000 miles and all of the 18 countries that border the Pacific Ocean, encompassing a wide diversity of landscape, culture and people. The Pacific Rim is one of the world’s most volatile areas, with economies that are expanding faster than anywhere else on earth – and here the earth itself is in a constant state of flux. Not for nothing is the Pacific coastline known as the “Ring of Fire” – volcanoes mark Palin’s journey like stepping stones, and he climbs one which has recently erupted and is still smoking.

He negotiates mountains and plunging gorges, crosses glaciers, dodges icebergs, follows great rivers such as the Yangtse and the Amazon, and confronts the notorious Cape Horn and the wild and windswept beaches of western Alaska. The people Palin meets include one of the few remaining survivors of a Siberian Gulag camp, head-hunters in Borneo, and Japanese monks. He eats maggots in Mexico, rustles camels in the Australian desert, lands a plane in Seattle, and sings with the Pacific Fleet choir in Vladivostock.

As someone who isn’t a natural traveller, I love watching programmes where others introduce me to locations I know I’ll never see. Michael visits so many countries on his Pacific exploration and I enjoy anything that takes me off the beaten track for a glimpse into a different world. From the wilds of Alaska to Japan, China, Vietnam (somewhere I would love to go), Australia, New Zealand, the Americas and all the characters and places in between, it’s a journey that precedes social media and all the better for it.

Book Four –  Persuasion by Jane Austen

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What does persuasion mean – a firm belief, or the action of persuading someone to think something else? Anne Elliot is one of Austen’s quietest heroines, but also one of the strongest and the most open to change. She lives at the time of the Napoleonic wars, a time of accident, adventure, the making of new fortunes and alliances.

A woman of no importance, she manoeuvres in her restricted circumstances as her long-time love Captain Wentworth did in the wars. Even though she is nearly thirty, well past the sell-by bloom of youth, Austen makes her win out for herself and for others like herself, in a regenerated society.

My favourite of Jane Austen’s books, partly because of the opportunity of a second chance at love for Anne and Wentworth after their engagement had fallen foul of other influences. Several years have passed and their circumstances have changed when they meet again, and a sense of hopelessness and resolve feels apparent in these early meetings. But Anne has retained her faithfulness and her feelings for Wentworth, and Austen gave him, for me, the most beautiful line in all her novels by way of expressing himself to Anne.

Book Five – Dark Fire by C J Sansom

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England, 1540: Matthew Shardlake, believing himself out of favour with Thomas Cromwell, is busy trying to maintain his legal practice and keep a low profile. But his involvement with a murder case, defending a girl accused of brutally murdering her young cousin, brings him once again into contact with the king’s chief minister – and a new assignment . . .

The secret of Greek Fire, the legendary substance with which the Byzantines destroyed the Arab navies, has been lost for centuries. Now an official of the Court of Augmentations has discovered the formula in the library of a dissolved London monastery. When Shardlake is sent to recover it, he finds the official and his alchemist brother horribly murdered – the formula has disappeared.

Now Shardlake must follow the trail of Greek Fire across Tudor London, while trying at the same time to prove his young client’s innocence. But very soon he discovers nothing is as it seems . . .

I’ve read Sansom’s Shardlake series and absolute adore it, but this novel is the one I would read again and again. Sansom cleverly uses Cromwell off the page to present a sense of fear, and this, along with the stifling heat, brilliantly invokes an atmosphere of menace. London is such a wonderful setting for historical crime and the city is a character of its own, particularly for a lawyer trying to go about his own business and who finds himself caught up in the intrigues of the Inns of Court and at the mercy of Cromwell, and the King, by association. 

My luxury item

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 I’d like to say my friend Lisa as she’s one of the most resourceful people I know but as I’m not allowed, I’m going to say a solar powered booklight to make sure I can always see to read.

About the Author

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Suzanne writes contemporary, romantic and uplifting fiction with a strong sense of setting and community connecting the lives of her characters. When she’s not writing or spending time with her family, she can usually be found in a garden or looking to the landscape around her for inspiration.  

Suzanne’s latest book, A Summer of Second Chances, is the third in the Thorndale series and is out now as an ebook and in paperback. You can buy a copy here.

A Summer of Second Chances Book Cover

Sparks and tempers fly when Ben comes to stay in Daisy’s holiday cottage.

Daisy likes routine. She goes to work, makes dinner for her son, then loses herself for an hour or two in her sewing. She’s not looking for change, until Ben crashes – literally – into her life.

Ben is training for a triathlon, working himself to the limit in an attempt to forget a recent trauma. Daisy wants to help, but even as they draw closer with every week that passes, he pushes her away whenever things threaten to get serious.

Can Ben open himself up to love again? And with Daisy’s life in the Yorkshire Dales and Ben’s in New York, can they have a future together even if he does?

Connect with Suzanne:

Website: https://www.suzannesnowauthor.com

Facebook: Suzanne Snow Author

Twitter: @SnowProse

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Friday Night Drinks with… Jeevani Charika

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Tonight I am very excited to be joined on the blog for Friday Night Drinks by fellow RNA Member and hugely inspirational author… Jeevani Charika, who also writes as Rhoda Baxter.

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Welcome to the blog, Jeevani. Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Can I have a hot chocolate? I don’t drink alcohol much (I know, shocking for a romance novelist!). I drink copious amounts of tea and would drink my own bodyweight in hot chocolate if I were allowed.

I drink more tea than anything else, to be honest. Yorkshire Tea for preference. 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?

Possibly an odd choice, but I’d take you to a place that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s downstairs in the Horse and Jockey pub in Oxford (which was turned into flats at the end of the 1990s). It’s a quirky space with lampshades made out of random objects (like cheesegraters!) and walls covered in posters and artwork from local artists. I used to go there for meetings and I loved discovering a new poster or a piece of art that I hadn’t spotted before. I think we’d have lots of fun there.

Back in time, that’s a first on this feature, I love it! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

I think my brain just exploded at the possibilities. I think I’d like to chat to people who made me laugh. So maybe Holly Walsh (I’ve just watched The Other One and Motherland) and Bill Bailey. 

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

I’m writing a book about two people who are put in a team together for an online game competition. They don’t know each other’s secret identities. He’s in love with her in real life. She’s in love with him online. It started because I started watching Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir with my daughter a few years ago and got completely hooked. I wanted to write something with a similar love … quadrangle? Parallelogram? … you know what I mean. Where do I want it to go? Well, to ‘the end’ as fast as possible, please. I still haven’t worked out how to make the books write themselves, so I guess I have to do it the old fashioned way and put words down on paper. 

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

My favourite moment was when I read a review of A Convenient Marriage which said ‘I feel seen’. It made me so happy that I had a little cry.  My biggest challenge is being consistent with my marketing. I know I have to wave my arms about a bit if I’m to sell any books, but I don’t particularly like doing it and I often forget.

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

I want my books to be turned into a film or a series that’s huge on Netflix so that people will buy lots of copies of my books and make me rich! It’s a fairly common dream, I’m guessing. 

I’d like to have so much money that I could seriously consider paying to have a commercial jumbo jet painted to look like a blue whale. I have no reason for wanting this apart from the fact that I like the idea of a whale flying around the world. I might ask the artist to add a bowl of petunias, too.

That might be the best ambition anyone has come up with yet and, as a massive Douglas Adams fan, I am on board with it! What have you planned that you are really excited about?

I’m quite excited about the book I’m writing. I’m also drafting a course on Point of View for writers. I like teaching creative writing. Most creative writing advice is basically saying the same thing but the way you say it can resonate differently with different people. I’ve read so many writing books and I’ve learned different bits of things from each one. 

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I don’t have a bucket list. I tried it once but I kept changing my mind. I have a sort of mini list of goals instead. As for travel – my dad is an engineer (not retired) and he took jobs all over the world, so I’ve lived in Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Yap (in Micronesia) as well as Yorkshire. I would really love to take my family to Yap. I’m sure it’s changed a lot now, but I have such happy memories from my time there, I’d love to go back and see it again.

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

I once banged my head on the top of a doorframe. This is not surprising for tall people, but I’m only four foot eight. We were on a tour of Canterbury Cathedral and had to go through a low door. The guide said ‘mind your head’ and, since I’ve never had to mind my head in my life, I ignored him. Someone said something and, distracted, I walked smack into the doorframe. I was knocked flat on my back and no one helped me up because they were all laughing so hard.

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

I’d give you Nation by Terry Pratchett. Partly because it ties in quite nicely with my nostalgia for Yap, but also because it’s a wonderful book. It’s not set in the Discworld, but on a tropical island. I have re-read it many, many times.

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Prepare for the world to be turned upside down . . .

For Mau, halfway between boy and man, it happens when a great wave destroys his entire village. For Daphne, it’s when the same wave crashes her ship into the island that was once Mau’s home. Everything they once had is now so far away, lost to distance and time.

But when Daphne stops trying to shoot Mau (she did apologise for it), and instead uses a salvaged invitation card to invite him to tea, they discover a new home can be theirs.

And then people start arriving on the island – some very good, some very bad. And it’s soon clear that Daphne and Mau must fight for their Nation.

Then a discovery is made that will change the entire world forever . . .

I love the Discworld books but I haven’t read this by Terry Pratchett, I will have to check it out. 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?

Does anyone have a failsafe plan to avoid a hangover apart from ‘drink less’? Thinking back to when I used to drink – I found spicy chicken wings were a brilliant hangover cure. Chilies and protein. Perfect.

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

At home, with a cup of tea, some dunkable biscuits and a good book! (I don’t often get this because the children are at home, but it would be the perfect way to spend the weekend).

Thanks for the fantastic chat, Jeevani, I have really enjoyed my evening.

Jeevani’s latest book is A Convenient Marriage, the story of a gay man and a straight woman who get married to escape pressure from their traditional Sri Lankan families. They have the perfect marriage, until they both fall in love with other people. A Convenient Marriage was shortlisted for the RNA Contemporary Romantic Novel award in 2020. You can buy a copy here.

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It was the perfect marriage… until they fell in love.

Chaya is a young woman torn between her duty to family and her life in the UK. While her traditional Sri Lankan parents want her to settle down into marriage, what they don’t know is that Chaya has turned away the one true love of her life, Noah, terrified of their disapproval.

Gimhana is hiding his sexuality from his family. It’s easy enough to pretend he’s straight when he lives half a world away in the UK. But it’s getting harder and harder to turn down the potential brides his parents keep finding
for him.

When Chaya and Gimhana meet, a marriage of convenience seems like the perfect solution to their problems. Together they have everything – friendship, stability and their parents’ approval. But when both Chaya and Gimhana find themselves falling in love outside of their marriage, they’re left with an impossible decision – risk everything they’ve built together, or finally follow
their heart?

Will they choose love, or carry on living a lie?

Jeevani Charika writes women’s fiction and contemporary romances with a hint of British cynicism.  (In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced Jeev-uh-nee.)

There’s a whole lot of other stuff she could tell you – but mainly: she’s a former scientist, an adult fan of Lego, an embarrassing mum, a part time geek (see ’embarrassing mum’) and a Very Short Person.

She also writes romantic comedy under the pen name Rhoda Baxter. So why the two names? Well… Jeevani writes about British-Sri Lankan main characters. Rhoda, not so much.

You can find out more about Jeevani, and Rhoda, via her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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