She’s Mine by Claire Lewis #BlogTour #Extract (@CSLewisWrites) @Aria_Fiction @HoZ_Books #NetGalley #ShesMine

She's Mine

She was never mine to lose…

When Scarlett falls asleep on a Caribbean beach she awakes to her worst nightmare – Katie is gone. With all fingers pointed to her Scarlett must risk everything to clear her name.

As Scarlett begins to unravel the complicated past of Katie’s mother she begins to think there’s more to Katie’s disappearance than meets the eye. But who would want to steal a child? And how did no-one see anything on the small island?

I’m very happy to be kicking off the blog tour today for She’s Mine by Claire Lewis. My thanks to Victoria Joss at Head of Zeus/Aria for my copy of the book and for allowing me to share the below extract from the book with you.

Extract

That’s the truth, but not the whole truth. What I don’t reveal to her is an incident that took place in Christina’s bedroom the week before we flew out to the British Leeward Isles. I don’t disclose it because the incident doesn’t put me in a good light either! On Tuesdays, Katie does a full day at kindergarten so I have a little time to myself. I’ve got into the habit of using Christina’s en-suite, luxurious, walk-in power shower and expensive beauty products following the weekly hot yoga class that I go to after dropping off Katie. So last Tuesday, I had just finished my shower and wrapped myself in Christina’s bathrobe when I heard her bedroom door opening and then the sound of her antique roll top desk being unlocked.

I thought she must have come back early from work for some reason. There was nothing else for it but to come clean (literally!) and apologise for taking the liberty of using her bathroom without asking first. So I took off her bathrobe, draped a towel around me and opened the door. But it wasn’t Christina. It was Damien with his back to me, checking the contents of the desk. Caught in the act. Hearing the catch he started and turned in alarm. He reddened but quickly composed himself and went on the offensive. 

‘What a vision of beauty!’ he sneered as I stood there, my wet hair dripping onto the carpet. ‘I didn’t realise you and Christina were so intimate.’

‘And I didn’t realise you made a habit of going through her private papers!’ I snapped back. I know very well that the desk, an old family heirloom shipped over from the UK, is a strictly no-go area that she keeps locked at all times. He just laughed and then cool as a cucumber, he slipped some documents into a green cardboard file under his arm, locked the desk, pocketed the key and marched out of the room.

‘Just mind your own business and keep out of our affairs. Or you’ll be going the same way as the previous nanny,’ was his parting shot.

I understood this was no idle threat. Christina’s so possessive and distrustful that I knew if she got wind of this brush with Damien, she would imagine the worst and I’d be out of a job. So I said nothing to Christina in New York and I say nothing to the police officer now as she converses with me in the hotel bedroom.

I decide to keep my suspicions about Damien to myself – for now.

*

For something that was supposed to have been a ‘friendly chat’ the questioning is intense. After asking about my relations with Christina and Damien she embarks on a list of questions clearly aimed at working out a timeline for my movements this afternoon. What time did I arrive at the beach with Katie? Did I speak to anyone? Did anyone approach me or Katie? Did I notice anyone watching her? What time did I fall asleep? What time did I wake up? When did I become aware Katie was missing? What did I do next? Did I see anyone on the beach when I was looking for her? How long did I spend searching the beach before raising the alarm? What time did I tell Christina her little girl was missing? 

My head is pounding and I feel like a criminal by the time the family liaison officer finally puts her notepad away.

‘These questions are nothing to worry about,’ she assures me. ‘We just need to establish the timeline for the disappearance of the little girl.’ She ends the conversation by encouraging me to contact her ‘any time, any place’ if I need support or if I ‘remember’ anything else that may be relevant to the investigation. I half expect her to clap me in handcuffs and announce that she’s putting me under arrest, when at last she says that I’m at liberty to go.

*

In a waking nightmare, we struggle on through the grief-stricken hours of the day making calls, badgering the search team for any new scrap of information and giving interviews to reporters in the belief that getting Katie’s story out there might somehow help in her rescue.

The worst moment comes just after midnight when the operation is called to a halt. I collapse onto a chair in a quivering heap. All the strength has gone from my legs. Christina appears distraught, begging members of the police and emergency services to go on searching. 

‘There’s nothing more we can do tonight. We’ll resume at dawn. You should get some sleep,’ says the commander sternly. Holding our despair at bay and unable to contemplate the thought of sleep, we pace the beaches and the rocky headland for the next two hours, tripping over stones in the darkness, our steps lit only by the moon and stars in the cloudless black sky and the light from our mobile phones. 

I am lightheaded with exhaustion by the time I accompany Christina to her room in the early hours of the morning. We sit out on the balcony mesmerised by the sound of waves rolling on to sand. We are too tired to speak. I make tea and give her three sleeping tablets from a packet I find in her wash bag. Once the tablets take effect, I steer her to bed, her expression vacant and confused, as she lets me pull the covers over her. It’s not until I shut Christina’s door and go down the corridor to the room I’m sharing with Katie that it strikes me again. Where the fuck is Damien? I haven’t seen him all day, not since he handed me the cocktail at the pool. 

When I open the door, there is Katie’s blue bunny, propped up on her newly-made bed. The tears stream down my face. The bedtime story I was reading to her last night is still open at the page we got to when her eyes finally closed. It’s a beautifully illustrated copy of Peter Pan that Christina discovered in a quaint little bookshop called the Book Cellar, one of her favourite haunts for second-hand books. I glance down at the page. ‘The Mermaids’ Lagoon’ – Katie’s favourite chapter. She loves the colour illustrations of the mermaids diving in the waves. The doors to the balcony are open. I shiver in the sea breeze and step out through billowing curtains. 

I stand there for a few moments still clutching Katie’s bucket. 

Lost. Drowned.

If this extract has whetted your appetite to read the book, which I am sure it has, She’s Mine is out today and you can buy a copy here.

To follow the rest of the tour for alternative reviews and exciting articles, check out the poster below:

Blog Tour poster

About the Author

Claire S. Lewis

Claire Simone Lewis studied philosophy, French literature and international relations at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge before starting her career in aviation law with a City law firm and later as an in-house lawyer at Virgin Atlantic Airways.  More recently, she turned to writing psychological suspense, taking courses at the Faber Academy. She’s Mine is her first novel. Born in Paris, she’s bilingual and lives in Surrey with her family.

Connect with Claire:

Facebook: CS Lewis Writes

Twitter: @CSLewisWrites

She Saw What He Did by Lynda Renham #Extract #PublicationDay (@lyndarenham) @RaucousPublishi #bookbloggers

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Abby Miller thought she had the perfect family; a good looking, loving husband and a beautiful daughter.  Her life was complete. The shock discovery that her husband, Jared had been having an affair rocked her world. So when Jared suggested a short break to the Cannard Islands, to heal their fractured marriage, Abby agreed. An idyllic holiday turns into a nightmare when Abby witnesses something terrible. Suddenly her life and the life of her daughter are in serious danger and no one seems able to help them.

Happy publication day, today, for Lynda Renham and her new novel, She Saw What He Did. My thanks to Lynda and her publisher for inviting me to join the publication day celebrations by sharing an extract from the book with you and for providing me with a copy of the book.

Unfortunately, due to other pressures this month, I haven’t had chance to read the book yet but I look forward to doing so soon and sharing my review with you then. In the meantime, please enjoy this short extract from the book.

Extract

Sparrow

He looked down at his phone and smiled. A withheld number meant only one thing.

‘Yeah,’ he said roughly.

‘Sparrow?’ questioned the gravelly voice at the other end of the line.

‘Yeah it’s me.’

‘I’ve got a job for you. It’s a bit different from the usual. These are new clients. It’s a big one. Do you think you can handle it?’

Sparrow’s jaw twitched.

‘Sure. Don’t I always?’

‘This is different. You can’t make any mistakes,’ snapped the voice.

Sparrow bristled.

‘When have I ever made a mistake?’

‘Just as long as you understand. I don’t want any problems. There’s fifty thousand in this for you, but these people aren’t amateurs and they don’t take prisoners. This is a big contract. I don’t want it fucked up.’

Sparrow’s eyes gleamed. He’d misheard, surely.

‘How much?’ he questioned. It had always been a few thousand and he’d been more than happy with that.

‘Fifty thousand,’ repeated the voice.

Sparrow whistled. His insides quivered with excitement. That was a hell of a lot of money.

‘No mistakes. You do a good job, you’ll be well rewarded. You mess it up and you’re fucked. Well and truly.’

‘What do I have to do?’ Sparrow asked breathlessly.

‘The same as usual, get the package in safely, except this time you have to caretake for a while longer. This is highly sensitive. We want the heat off before any collection. There’ll be others wanting this cargo and …’

‘What is it?’ he interrupted, pulling a stale sausage roll from a brown paper bag and biting into it. There were a few seconds of silence.

‘Fifty thousand means you don’t ask questions,’ said the voice. ‘The less you know the better.’

Sparrow wrinkled his nose. He wasn’t so sure he agreed with that, but, fifty thousand …

‘Suits me,’ he said, throwing the remainder of the sausage roll into the sea.

‘There won’t be a collection straight after the drop. It’s up to you to keep the cargo safe for a while. A few days, that’s all. ‘

‘Sure,’ he said casually, although he would have been happier knowing just what he’d be caretaker of. Perhaps it was heroin this time. It was drugs, no doubt about that. It must be a big shipment. Still, what did he care?

‘We have to deliver. I’m making myself clear, aren’t I?’

‘How dangerous is this?’ he asked, combing his fingers through his brown curly hair.

‘Fifty thousand dangerous. Take it or leave it. I can find someone else.’

Sparrow doubted there was anyone else on the island that would be able to get the goods in as well as he did.

‘I’ve just got to keep it safe, right?’

‘That’s it. As soon as things are clear it will be collected.’

‘That’s all I’ve got to do?’ asked Sparrow, suspiciously. It seemed too good to be true.

‘You don’t have to take the job. There are others who …’

‘No, I’ll take it,’ interrupted Sparrow.

‘Think of this cargo as your baby,’ laughed the voice.

Sparrow didn’t laugh with him. The sound of the waves breaking on the rocks roared in his ears. The thought of fifty grand had heightened his senses. He’d be set up for life. He could move to South America, maybe even get his own bar. He could buy one of those open- top convertibles. He’s always fancied himself in one of those.

‘So, you’re in?’ asked the voice.

‘I’m in,’ said Sparrow.

‘I’ll be in touch,’ said the voice. There was a crackle and then the line went dead.

If you enjoyed this extract and would like to get a copy of Lynda’s book for yourself, you can buy it here.

Please watch to for my review of the book later this month.

About the Author

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Lynda Renham is author to many popular romantic comedy and gripping psychological thriller novels. She lives in Oxford, UK. She has appeared on BBC radio discussion programs and is a prolific blogger, Twitter and when not writing can usually be found wasting her time on Facebook. Lynda lives in Oxfordshire with her second husband and two cats.

Connect with Lynda:

Website: http://www.renham.co.uk

Facebook: Lynda Renham

Twitter: @Lyndarenham

The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden #BlogTour #Extract (@lumsdenrich) @TinderPress @annecater @Bookywookydooda #RandomThingsTours #TheSixLovesOfBillyBinns

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At well over a hundred years old, Billy Binns believes he’s the oldest man in Europe and knows his days are numbered. But Billy has a final wish: he wants to remember what love feels like one last time.

As he looks back at the relationships that have coloured his life – and the events that shaped the century – he recalls a lifetime of hope and heartbreak.

This is the story of an ordinary man’s life, an enchanting novel which takes you on an epic yet intimate journey that will make you laugh, cry, and reflect on the universal turmoil of love.

I am delighted to be taking my turn today on the blog tour for The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden. My thanks to Anne Cater for offering me a place on the tour and to Tinder Press for allowing me to publish an extract from the book for you today.

Extract

One

I have to get this out.
I have to get it down before it’s gone for good.
While it’s still clear in my head.
While they’re all sat beside me, as alive now as they were then, these people I once loved.

Mary.
Hello, Mary. Do you remember me?
You were my first, though there may have been others before you; slips of things, stolen moments behind a mar- ket stall or in the straw of a cattle barn, but nothing to match the time we shared together. That first eruption of love when the world shifts and everything glows orange.

You died much too young, of a broken heart if I remem- ber right. Not sure if it was me or someone else who broke your heart, but we were never meant to last, you and me. Too many complications along the way, what with one thing and another.

Still, I loved you, Mary old girl.

Then Evie.
I loved you, Evelyn Ellis. For a lifetime, if I’m honest.

 

We were the right age for love when we started out. You were my forever girl.

A love that should have lasted to the end, but the world doesn’t work that way.

I loved you from the first moment I saw you. You might say that isn’t true, but you’d be wrong. I loved you then as I love you now.

These dry embers, buried deep, set alight once again at your memory. A fire that burned quiet for the rest of my life.

Archie.
My little boy.
I loved you, son, as soon as I knew you’d sparked into life. Knew you were a boy. I felt you kicking, your tiny feet.

Knew it would be you, Archie Binns. With your scruffy knees poking out of your shorts. Your pockets full of mar- bles; the catseye and the oxblood, the jasper, the aggie and the ruby. Your little hands.

Do you remember how we climbed trees together?
You know how much I loved you.
I’m not sure if I ever said it to you, not out loud anyway.

Not in words so you could hear. But you knew it, didn’t you, son?

Vera.
I was unhappy when I first met you, Vera. Forty-something, was I? Life was on a downward spiral, then you showed up out of the blue. You were so beautiful and you made me very happy.

 

page5image5766720page5image5756736page5image5757120page5image5763264You caused me trouble, too. I paid a price for loving you, that’s for sure. For a while I was lost in the wreckage, but isn’t that what we hope for when it comes to the end: to know we didn’t just pass by but lived through some- thing real along the way?

Everyone should be lucky enough to have a Vera once in their lives. Despite the trouble. Despite the price you end up paying.

To be taken to the edge and made to jump. To love until it hurts.

Mrs Jackson.
Black Betty.
Didn’t think I’d ever get those feelings again, much later on in life. After Evie and Vera and the rest of them. But suddenly there you were. You brought me out of retire- ment, you might say.

We were old when we met. Not proper old like I am now, of course. I was still able to do something about it back when you showed up, and we made it good, the two of us, when there wasn’t much pickings around.

Some lovely years together, me and Mrs Jackson. Funny, still calling you Mrs Jackson after all this time.

Mary, Evie, Archie, Vera, Mrs Jackson.
Five of them in all.
Five loves? Is that it?
It doesn’t sound much after all this time.
I recall the names, but the faces come and go.
When you first meet someone, you don’t know how

page6image5638976page6image5639168page6image5639360long they’ll be in your life for. It could be minutes or it could be forever.

You don’t know when it starts.
And you don’t know when it stops.
Some endings are final, others take you by surprise. Their last goodbye.
The world drags them away and all that’s left is a fading memory, turning to dust like the flesh on these old bones.

I want to remember what love feels like, one last time. To remember each of the people I loved, to see them all clearly again.

I’ll start with Mary.

Get it down on paper, all the details, before it’s gone for good.

While it’s still clear in my head.

If you enjoyed this short extract from the book and would like to read it in full, you can buy a copy of The Six Loves of Billy Binns here.

If you would like to read some reviews and see more content relating to the book, please do follow the blog tour as set out on the tour poster below:

six lives of billy binns blog tour poster

About the Author

richard lumsden author picture

Richard Lumsden has worked as an actor, writer and composer in television, film and theatre for 30 years. As an actor his films include Downhill, Sightseers, Sense & Sensibility and The Darkest Hour, as well as numerous television shows and theatre productions. THE SIX LOVES OF BILLY BINNS is his first novel.

Connect with Richard:

Website: http://richardlumsden.com

Twitter: @lumsdenrich

Random ThingsTours FB Header

 

Chance Of A Lifetime by Kendra Smith #BlogTour #Extract (@KendraAuthor) @Aria_Fiction @HoZ_Books #NetGalley #ChanceOfALifetime

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A new life down under? It’s not as perfect as you’d think.

Katie and Tom’s marriage is in trouble. As is their bank account. So, when Tom tells Katie that they need to talk, she knows it must be about one of two things, and neither are good. But when he blind-sides her saying that his boss is sending him to Australia – permanently – Katie realises it might just be what they need to save their marriage.

Trouble is, she doesn’t like the heat, can’t swim and hates spiders. Not to mention the bouts of homesickness – and Tom’s endless business trips. Katie is finding the hope of saving their marriage slowly slipping through her fingers. But Katie is determined to take the bull by the horns – and her Speedos by the strap – and tackles her new life.

When all is said and done which side of the globe will she decide to call home?

I’m pleased to be taking part in the blog tour today for Chance of a Lifetime by Kendra Smith, a feelgood romance with an exotic setting. My thanks to Victoria Joss at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and providing me with an extract from the book to share with you today.

Extract

Katie’s eyes roamed round the pantry as her mind processed its own inventory. Rice? Yes. Adulterer? That’s a bit harsh, your honour. Filter coffee? Half a packet. Unfaithful? You could call it that. French stick? Might have that for supper. Marriage vows? Need to review. Feeling sick about what you did? Definitely. Great sexual thrill. You bet.

‘Sweetie?’ Katie jumped. Her husband Tom was standing by the pantry door, peering at her.

‘You’re home early!’

‘We need to talk.’ He stared right at her. Oh God, not a ‘need to talk’ moment. Did he suspect? She didn’t actually do very much… She forced a cheery smile. But it soon slipped right off her face.

‘What’s wrong, Tom?’

‘Been repositioned.’ He looked about five-years-old. He was adorable. ‘Like I said might happen.’

‘Repositioned?’ The voice didn’t sound like hers. ‘Where?’

‘Australia,’ he said, as if in a dream. ‘Sydney.’ She stared at him, felt shivery, then walked past him and went upstairs and threw up in their brand-new Villeroy & Boch toilet. She’d never liked heat or spiders.

‘Why Australia?’ she asked quietly, downstairs again, staring into his intense grey eyes. Sitting white-faced in their farmhouse kitchen, clutching her paper napkin and looking round at their beautifully painted duck-egg blue walls, the black and white photos, the blown glass ornaments on the shelf from Italy, shining with a multi-coloured halo from the spotlight below, noticing the dust, the mundane things while the rest of her head was in a spin.

Like when my father died, she thought, all I could do was keep loading the dishwasher and watch baked beans slide off the plates – as if I could keep the stabbing pain away by worrying about how to clean the filter.

Tom paced up and down the wooden floors, his suede brogues making loud clipping noises.

‘Do you mean the E word…’ Her world was crashing around her. ‘Emigrate…’ Katie whispered, slightly hysterical by then, the napkin pink paper shreds. ‘We’ve just had all this done…’ Her voice trailed off, her hand gesturing to the granite work surfaces, the wooden floor, the gleaming glass extension that had robbed the garden of at least six metres. But in fact who cared what they’d had done to the kitchen? She wasn’t really terrified about leaving granite work surfaces; what she was terrified about was leaving her house, her home, England, Britain

‘K-A-T-I-E.’ Tom said her name in a very slow, deliberate way. ‘Martin has just offered me a job as head of New Asian Markets for Trent Financial – he says it’s exactly up my street, says my CV is perfect. He told me, Katie, that at forty-seven, I don’t have many options.’ He closed his eyes, leant his head back, clutched the grey granite work surface. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open again. He stared at her. ‘It’s a great salary and they’ll pay all our moving costs. It’s not emigration, it’s…’ he hesitated ‘…for a few years, a contract. An opportunity, that’s what it is.’ He smiled shakily at her. He’s trying to be his usual self, his alpha male, mused Katie. An opportunity for him maybe, but it might as well have been a job offer to Pluto; she felt like she couldn’t breathe.

‘But shouldn’t we—’

‘What? Wait for me to get another job? The country’s in a total recession.’ He folded his arms. ‘Bankers are getting fired everywhere, Katie, don’t you see?’ He sighed. ‘We are mortgaged up to the neck – especially with the bloody extra borrowing on the extension—’ She scraped her chair back, guiltily, remembering the cost.

‘You wanted it as much as me. Wanted to show off to all your clients…’ she whispered.

‘Katie, sweetheart – I’ve had a hell of a day,’ he said sweeping his fringe from his forehead and looking across at her. The look said don’t challenge me; don’t knock me when I’ve been kicked in the balls today and have managed to come up for air already. It said don’t try me when we are up to our necks in debt and I feel like I’m drowning.

She supposed that was the beauty of working for such a massive financial player as Trent Financial, and that was the beauty of having an ego the size of Tom’s – you could get redeployed anywhere. She remembered when she’d first met him; he was the Financial Director of the publishing house she was working for and several years older than her. She’d noticed him straight away. Tom with his long lashes, with his sandy-blond hair and schoolboy fringe, his oddly dark eyebrows, freckled nose and square jaw. He was rather like an older Prince Harry.

She’d been working there for two years, slowly inching her way up from Sales Assistant, (‘Can you photocopy this whole book before lunch? There’s a love’), to Senior Staff Writer. It hadn’t been easy, but she’d loved the work and loved the industry. Born with printer ink running through her veins, she used to say.

Tom had tested her one day. ‘Katie?’

‘Yes?’

‘Get that proof from the colour printer, will you?’ She’d ventured into the room where the huge colour printers hummed away. Coming out of the machine before her proof (‘How to meet Justin Timberlake this weekend!’) had been a pink and flesh-coloured ensemble of places where the sun don’t shine in the female anatomy. Her face had taken on a similar hue of magenta.

‘All right?’ Tom had smiled, taking the proof from her hand and looking her straight in the eye. (This was his little test she later found out to see who’d sink, who’d swim in this particular publishing house that also churned out a number of distasteful top-shelf titles as well as her teen magazine.)

‘Fine. Want a cappuccino?’ she’d asked.

He’d given her a quick look and said with a faint smile, ‘Thanks. Latte. No froth.’ That was the first time she’d seen that look on his face, one that was a mixture of mirth and mischief.

She had learnt her trade there. An editor who would not give up until everything was perfect; a ‘small team’ (that’s three full-timers and three and a half days’ worth of Claire, the anorexic office assistant) so you were forced to learn each other’s roles. She’d learnt how to cheat so it didn’t show.

‘Katie?’ Tom was looking at her. He put his huge hand over hers. ‘Are you all right?’

God, where had all those days gone, she wondered and then shook herself, tried to smile at him and squeezed his fingers. They should eat. Yes, remember the beans. Eat in a crisis. She watched Tom pour himself his second single malt. She walked past him towards the fridge, then suddenly had to grip the side of the counter as hot blood flooded over her chest and rose, like crawling spiders legs up her neck and face: Australia?

If you enjoyed this short extract from Chance of a Lifetime, you can buy a copy here.

If you would like to read some reviews of the books and see other interesting content, make sure you visit the rest of the stops on the tour:

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About the Author

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Kendra Smith has been a journalist, wife, mother, aerobics teacher, qualified diver and very bad cake baker. She started her career in Sydney selling advertising space but quickly made the leap to editorial and went on to work on several women’s magazines in both Sydney and London. With dual Australian-British nationality, she currently lives in Surrey with her husband and three children.

Connect with Kendra:

Website: http://kendrasmith.co.uk

Facebook: Kendra Smith Author

Twitter: @KendraAuthor

The Kindness of Strangers by Julie Newman: Urbane Extravaganza #Extract (@julesmnewman) @urbanebooks #LoveBooksGroupTours

Urbane Pub - Extravaganza

Today I am delighted to be taking my turn on the Urbane Extravaganza where, between 24 November and 31 December, a host of bloggers will be showcasing a different Urbane publication each day. My thanks to Kelly Lacey at Love Books Group tours for asking me to take part in this great celebration.

I have drawn The Kindness of Strangers bu Julie Newman, so let’s take a look at the book and the extract that I have kindly been invited to publish for you.

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Widow Helen is desperate for a perfect family life, and will do everything she can to get what she wants.

A veteran of the Afghanistan conflict Martin is adrift and seemingly without hope – can he ever win back his estranged family?

Pregnant teenager Charley is striking out on her own to create a new life for her unborn child, but her mother Lizzie has other ideas.

When three seemingly disparate lives connect, the past and the present collide to reveal secrets, lies and how far people are willing to go to hide the truth.

Following the gripping and controversial Beware the Cuckoo, Julie Newman’s thrilling new novel lifts the lid on the dark past that haunts a seemingly happy household.

I just love the cover of this book, don’t you? Here is the extract, as promised, to whet your appetite.

“Helen
A SLIVER OF SUNLIGHT forces its way through the tiny gap between the blind and the window frame; it’s enough to tell me that night has given way to day.
I stretch and realise I’m precariously close to the edge of the bed. I roll over and move towards the centre of the bed reaching out with my arm, searching for him, for his touch and his warmth. The coldness stills me. I allow my eyes to focus properly, and the outline of his pillow greets me. It is smooth and free of indentation suggesting no head has lain upon it. I sit up and stare at the space where he should be, wondering where he is and worrying that he is okay. Then it descends, the gloom and the anguish, for now I remember…
One
I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START. I’ve never felt so daunted by a task, ever. Which is quite ridiculous as it is a relatively simple task, not one that requires any particular skill; and yet it challenges me. I’ve brokered million-pound deals, chaired more meetings than I care to remember and managed teams of people. Yet I can’t seem to do this one simple thing.
As I stand in the doorway of his dressing room I am immobilised; I feel like I’m standing on the high board at a swimming pool, not only afraid to jump but unsure if I can swim when I hit the water. And I feel like a trespasser. This was his space, as my dressing room was mine; is mine, for I’m still here. Not that we weren’t allowed into one another’s rooms, of course we were, but rarely was there a need. Yes, I know, his and her dressing rooms sounds rather grand and over-indulgent, but to be honest it suited our lifestyle. It was a necessary convenience. A convenience that allowed us to have our own space and time, either to get ready for whatever the day held or to unwind at the end of the day. There were many occasions when one of us had a function to attend or a late night at the office. I recall reading somewhere that it’s quite common for couples to argue before going out as they often get in each other’s way while getting ready – and let’s be honest, men can leave bathrooms in a complete state of disarray. Therefore these additional rooms probably prevented many cross words or heated exchanges. Robert’s mother couldn’t understand why we didn’t just use one of the guest rooms if either of us were late home. She thought the dressing rooms an unnecessary extravagance; but then she thought that of most things we had or did, unless it involved her of course. She was happy enough to accompany us on luxury holidays, and she didn’t refuse when we paid for her new kitchen. What she didn’t understand was that despite having these rooms we still liked to spend the night together; we rarely spent a night apart. There was the odd overseas business trip, but whenever possible we would accompany each other on those trips. In fact, I can count on one hand the nights we’ve spent apart. Well I could, before …
We bought this house over twenty-five years ago. It was a house we would often drive past and admire, both saying we’d like to have something similar one day; although at the time that notion was just fanciful daydreaming. Over time the house began to look a little shabby and uncared for, eventually becoming rundown and derelict. Such a shame we thought; we hoped someone would come along with time and money to restore it to its former glory. Never daring to think it might be us who would take on that mantle.
It was 1992 and we were in a taxi on our way home, following a very boozy evening. We’d been out celebrating Robert’s bonus – which was unexpected and an extraordinary amount – when we passed this house. There was a sign outside saying it was for sale at auction. Robert got the taxi driver to stop and we both got out of the car.
What do you reckon?” Robert asked. I looked at him and shrugged, thinking he was asking me how much I thought it was worth. “It might need work, but with my bonus, well I think we could do it.
“Do what?” I asked a little densely, for I was feeling the effects of my alcohol intake in the cold night air.
“Buy it.”
“Really?”
“Yes, really. We’ve always loved this house and as you keep telling me, we have outgrown the flat.”
“That’s true, but I’m not s–”
“Meter’s running pal and I do have another job to get to,” interrupted the taxi driver.
We got back into the car and headed home, but I could tell Robert wanted this. It wasn’t just an alcohol fuelled fantasy, this was a long-held dream that now seemed attainable. For him, it felt like the stars had aligned and it was the right thing to do. He was convinced it was what his bonus was meant for. So we bought it. It was two years before we moved in though, two long years. It needed a lot of attention: wiring, plumbing, structural reinforcement. And none of these things were cheap. We seemed to be writing endless cheques, and to me the house didn’t look any different from the day we first picked up the keys for it.
“That’s because all these improvements are unseen,” said Robert, “but they’re essential. I know you just want to get on with the business of decorating and furnishing and you will, soon. Then you‘ll see the difference.” He was right, as he so often was.
The house is magnificent, it oozes charm and character. It has a large entrance hall with a wonderful sweeping staircase in the centre. The original stairs were removed as they were rotten; I wanted the staircase to be a strong feature, make a statement, which it now does. Up the stairs and to the right are two guest bedrooms and a bathroom, and to the left is our bedroom and the dressing rooms. When we first moved in we didn’t have his and her dressing rooms. There were three bedrooms, one fair sized, one and two smaller ones; we knocked down walls and created a master bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and just one dressing room, a dressing room that in time would become the nursery. Well, that was the plan, but as time went on we realised that it probably wasn’t the best use of the space. I think it was me who first suggested each of us having our own dressing rooms with bathrooms. I love a bath, laying in the water, relaxing, allowing the cares of the day to float free from you. And back then was no different, I liked nothing more than an uninterrupted soak. Increasingly I’d been using the bathroom across the landing. Self- indulgent, uninterrupted me time; time for solitude, during which to reflect and contemplate without Robert’s analytical input. He liked to talk, find a solution or reason for every problem or situation, but sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes things just are. So we had our own dressing rooms and very soon we forgot that the room was ever meant for anything else.
I step across the threshold and into the room, still keeping hold of the door jamb, steadying myself. This feels wrong. I would never come in here without him being here, but I have to do this, it’s time. Tentatively I take another step. I decide to start with the wardrobe. I slide open the door; it’s very ordered, shirts together, trousers together, etc. and all arranged by colour. Many of his clothes are still draped in the plastic covers that the dry-cleaners put on. I begin with the shirts and they are as good as new; all sharply ironed and neatly hanging in regimented rows. It seems a shame to remove them from the hangers, so I don’t. I lay them on the bed as I sort through them. It seems he liked blue, almost all of his shirts are blue: blue stripes, blue checks, plain blue.
I hadn’t noticed this before. If anyone had ever asked me what colour he likes to wear I would have said … actually what would I have said? I don’t know, I don’t know what he liked anymore. Why don’t I know? Did I ever know? Clearly it was blue as that is the over-whelming colour of his wardrobe, but I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think blue was his favourite colour at all. As I struggle to recall this one thing which I feel I should know, my eyes moisten. I didn’t think it would be this hard. I coped just fine with the legalities and financial issues that had to be dealt with, but this is different. It could be because these are his personal things, maybe that’s the difference; clothes he wore, books he read, music he played, the things he touched and that touched him. I have to do this. If I can just sort out his clothes today; that would be something. I dab my eyes with a tissue and continue removing things from his wardrobe. When it’s empty I look at the mountain of clothes on the bed. Nothing has made the throwaway pile, it’s all too good, but as I have no-one to give them to I’ll take it all to the charity shop – tomorrow, I’ll do that tomorrow.”

If you have enjoyed this extract from The Kindness of Strangers and would like to read the rest of the book, you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Julie was born in East London but now lives a rural life in North Essex. She is married with two children. Her working life has seen her have a variety of jobs, including running her own publishing company. She is the author of the children’s book Poppy and the Garden Monster.

Julie writes endlessly and when not writing she is reading. Other interests include theatre, music and running. Besides her family, the only thing she loves more than books is Bruce Springsteen…

Connect with Julie:

Website: https://julienewmanauthor.com

Twitter: @julesmnewman

 

If you would like to check out the other posts in the Urbane Extravaganza, here are the tour stops:

24th Nov Chat About Books @chataboutbooks1
25th Nov Over The Rainbow Book Blog @JoannaLouisePar
26th Nov Being Anne @Williams13Anne
27th Nov On The Shelf Bookblog @OnTheShelfBooks
28th Nov Nicki’s Book Blog @nickijmurphy1
29th Nov My Reading Corner @karendennise
30th Nov Portable Magic @bantambookworm
1st Dec Black books blog @SimonJLeonard
2nd Dec Rae Reads @rae_reads1
3rd Dec So Many Books, So Little Time @smbslt
4th Dec Orchard Book Club @OrchardBookClub
5th Dec Zooloo’s Book Diary Zooloo2008
6th Dec Nemesis Book Blog @NemesisBlogs
7th Dec Katie’s Book Cave @katiejones88
8th Dec Books and Me @bookkaz
9th Dec Tangents and Tissues @tangentsbb
10th Dec Go Buy the Book @karen55555
11th Dec Cheekypee reads and reviews @cheekypee27
12th Dec Nicki`s Life Of Crime @NickiRichards7
13th Dec Emma the Little Bookworm @EmmaMitchellFPR
14th Dec Rather Too Fond of Books @hayleysbookblog
15th Dec Seansbookreviews @Seant1977
16th Dec Lizzums Lives Life @LizzumsBB
17th Dec The Magic Of Wor(l)ds @MagicOfWorldsBE
18th Dec On The Shelf Reviews @ljwrites85
19th Dec Grab This Book @grabthisbook
20th Dec Life Of A Nerdish Mum @NerdishMum
21st Dec The Quiet Geordie @thequietgeordie
22nd Dec eBook Addicts @ebookadditsuk
23rd Dec On The Shelf Reviews @ljwrites85
24th Dec Varietats @Sweeet83
25th Dec eBook Addicts @ebookadditsuk
26th Dec Portable Magic @bantambookworm
27th Dec Love Books Group @LoveBooksGroup
28th Dec A Little Book Problem @book_problem
29th Dec It’s all about the books @DeeCee334
30th Dec The Quiet Geordie @thequietgeordie
31st Dec Zooloo’s Book Diary @Zooloo2008

The Good, The Bad & The Rugby by Mark Farrer #BlogTour #Extract (@mark_farrer) @damppebbles #Giveaway #TheGoodTheBadTheRugby #damppebblesblogtours

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“Getting to the truth. By trial… and eror error.

Cullen is on jury duty, and the sleepy Scottish town of Melrose is experiencing a rare crime wave: the famous Rugby Sevens trophy is stolen, a dead body is unearthed, there is a spate of petty arson, and someone drives a van into Gloria’s front room.
Why? And what is her husband doing every night up on Eildon hill?

In this hilarious crime romp, misguided loyalties, thwarted love, and unbelievable gullibility reach crisis point on the one day in the year when the world pays a visit to Melrose.

At the final whistle, Cullen will ensure that justice is done.
Because sometimes twelve good men just isn’t enough.”

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Good, The Bad & The Rugby by Mark Farrer today, and this post is packed full of delightful things for you. I have an extract from the book, a link to a free download of the author’s previous book and a giveaway to enter. See, I’m really spoiling you today! My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the author for allowing me to publish this extract from his book today.

Extract

“Big Paul was sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage. He was walking his dogs out over Minch Moor and the spring sunshine was unseasonably warm. As he walked, he was unconsciously playing fetch with his dogs. Ant would retrieve the scabby old tennis ball from the undergrowth and trot back to Paul with it in his mouth; Paul would extract the slobbering article from the dog’s soiled mouth and mindlessly throw it overarm, whereupon Dec would take up the chase, find the ball and bring it back. The three participants all knew their roles and played them on auto-pilot – the only difference being that whilst the dogs were having a rare old time of it, Paul was otherwise occupied. Whilst they happily snuffled and frolicked in the heather, weeing up against the small conifers, Paul had other things on his mind.

Well, one other thing.

Shirley.

Paul and Shirley had been a thing for over a year now and whilst all was lovey and, indeed, dovey on the surface, even Paul’s atrociously underdeveloped senses were picking up signs that Shirley was dissatisfied at the moment. What the problem was, and what he could or should do about it, however, were issues which completely evaded him.

He ran his mental slide rule over the problem at hand. First off, he obviously couldn’t ask her what the problem was. Noooo. Schoolboy error. Asking a woman what the matter was merely opened you up to an accusation that you were insensitive, unfeeling or insufficiently engaged in the relationship. A man should know what the problem was – since, usually, it was the man that was the problem.

On the other hand, maybe he could resolve the situation by buying her some flowers. Didn’t even matter, then, if the problem was real or all in his imagination. Flowers would fix it, if it existed; if it didn’t, she would love them anyway. What woman doesn’t love flowers? 

That’d sort it. If he had money. 

Flowers were expensive and right now Paul had a minor cashflow problem. Again. Buying flowers was a ten pound solution to a five pound problem. He tried to recall when he’d last bought Shirley flowers. Her birthday, was it? Shit! Had he missed her birthday? No, that was September the somethingth. He made a mental note to see if he could somehow pry free the actual date from her later.

Anniversary then? How long had they been together now? He couldn’t recall buying her anything for an anniversary, or celebrating one with her. And he’d have remembered if Shirley had proudly presented him with a card and a gift one day only to discover that he had no clue what was going on. He’d not forget a real dignity-stripper event like that.

So there was still time. Cool! He didn’t know how much time, right enough, but he wasn’t too late. That in itself was a novelty he was prepared to relish while it lasted. Pleased with this mental exertion, he corralled his dogs off the moor and onto the track heading down to the car park. So, if their anniversary was coming up. And he had no money. What exactly was he going to do?

“No.” Cullen had said.

“Why not?”

“Neither a borrower or a lender be.”

“But it’s only a few quid! I’ll pay you back.”

“That is not the point.”

“Well, what is the point?”

“I’ve just told you.”

“Aw, fuck.” Paul’s huge shoulders heaved beneath his black T-shirt. “You realise this’ll ruin me and Shirl?” Cullen remained impassive while Paul rumbled around the sink and poured boiling water from the kettle. “It’s alright for you. You don’t have a partner. You don’t have to consider anyone ‘cept yourself. Me and Shirl – we’ve got a good thing going here. Don’t want to fuck it up.”

“In that case you should have thought about buying her an anniversary gift.”

“I have! That’s why I need the money.”

“Beforehand.” Cullen emphasised. “It’s called budgeting. Planning. Thinking ahead.”

“I am thinking ahead.” Paul slopped a mug down in front of Cullen. “I’m thinking of what it’s like trying to find a potential partner once you’re past forty.”

“By a considerable margin.”

“Alright, Methuselah. I’m still younger than you.”

Cullen regarded the muddy liquid in the mug in front of him. “I didn’t want tea. You know I don’t drink tea.”

“Well I’ve made it now so get it down you.”

Cullen took a sip and grimaced. “What is this?”

“I’ve told you. It’s a nice hot cup of tea. Get it down you.”

“Hmm. Let’s not be so free and easy with the noun tea here, shall we?”

“Thought you said you didn’t drink tea?”

“I don’t.” Cullen put the mug down. “And I’m not going to. I think what we have here is… a cup of hot. Let’s just leave it at that, hmm?”

“Everyone’s a critic.” Paul snarked. “Look. My point is, once you get past forty, finding a potential partner… it’s like trying to find a parking space in Sainsbury’s. They’re either taken, handicapped, or w-a-a-a-a-y out there.”

“Like I said. Thinking ahead. You should try it sometime.”

“Thanks, pal. Thanks a fucking lot.”

Cullen sighed and looked at his friend thoughtfully. “You know what you should do?”

“No.” Said Paul. “What?”

“Trust the soup.”

Trust the soup was Paul’s unofficial motto. His official motto was: Ah, That’ll do.

What trust the soup boiled down to was: don’t worry, be happy, something will turn up, the universe will provide and everything will be alright, you’ll see. Paul had, it was true, come to rely upon this to the extent that he  repeatedly pushed the very fabric of the universe to its limits, in attempting to fulfil its duty to provide. But it usually came through, so Paul continued to push, while the universe continued to heave and sweat and toil and still, somehow, deliver. If Paul had been a reader of management theory (or, come to that, a reader), he would have realised that what he had managed to do – very successfully – was outsource the need to worry. To the point where the outside observer might even replace the term outsource with the verb abdicate.

He unlocked his van and slid the door open for his dogs to leap in but only Dec obliged. He sat obediently on the dirty towel, draped over a couple of bags of finishing plaster, while Paul did his best to wipe most of the mud off his legs and belly. 

“Ant, mate?” Paul looked round. “Here boy!”

When the dog didn’t materialise, Paul gave a loud whistle and looked back up the hill to see if he had absently left him stranded somewhere on the trail. He heard a series of barks behind him and turned to spot a tail stump wagging excitedly in the bushes at the edge of the hard scrabble area.

“Mate!” Paul shouted, but Ant resolutely stayed put. Paul let out a deep breath, pointed at Dec to stay, and strode over to the bushes.

Ant was scratching around in the dirt and when Paul pulled him away he saw a glint of gold shining up through the soil and brambles. He reached down and picked up a dirty sack with a torn neck and peeled back the sacking to reveal a large silver trophy on a mahogany base. It was inscribed The Ladies Cup, Melrose Rugby Club and some smaller cursive writing that Paul’s eyesight couldn’t make out. 

Ant returned his nose to the shallow hole and continued scrabbling and scooping earth back between his hind legs. 

“Mate! Come away. I think you’ve found the treasure.” He reached down and grabbed Ant by the collar, dragging him out of the bushes while the dog continued to resist. When Paul had wrestled the determined creature back into full daylight he saw more gold glinting in the dog’s mouth. He held Ant’s snout and put his fingers into the dog’s mouth to prise its teeth apart. What dropped into his grimy hand was a necklace on a gold chain. The pendant on the necklace was a gold disc with S S on one side and a centred H on the other. Paul flicked it with a finger and the small disc spun quickly round, creating the appearance of a single side bearing the initials SHS.

Well, bugger me, thought Paul. SHS. Shirley Harriet Simpson.

The soup had truly outdone itself this time.”

If this has whetted your appetite for more, you can order your copy of the book here.

And if you would like to take advantage of a free download of Mark’s previous book, Dirty Barry, you can find that link here.

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Giveaway

As if all that wasn’t enough, we have a giveaway of 2 bookmarks featuring the covers of all four of Mark Farrer’s books, all you have to do is click on the Rafflecopter link below.

Please note this a UK only giveaway.  The 14 winners will be selected at random and your postal address will be passed onto Mark Farrer.  There is no cash alternative.  The giveaway ends of midnight (GMT) on 16th November 2018.  Any personal information stored by the Rafflecopter giveway will be deleted after the winners have been drawn.

Rafflecopter

To read some reviews of The Good, The Bad & The Rugby and other great content, check out the rest of the blog tour on the poster below:

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About the Author

Mark Farrer

Mark was born in Liverpool, studied Computer Science at Hull University, then had a successful career in IT management in London and the South-East for twenty years before moving to Edinburgh in 2001. He continued working in IT until 2015 when he decided to retire from the rat race and focus on becoming a writer. He now spends half his time writing and the other half worrying why he is not yet making money from writing.

The Good, The Bad & The Rugby is Mark’s third comic novel featuring a morally righteous loner called Cullen. He also has a perma-free novella on Amazon, called Dirty Barry, which tells how Cullen and Big Paul first met. He is currently at work on a second novella, called Bronchial Billy.

Mark has three children, one at University, one on a gap year in Ghana, and one still at High School. He lives with his partner Claire, a photographer, near West Linton, in the Scottish Borders.

He likes: his Mini Cooper, songwriting, playing piano, vanilla panna cotta, The Beatles, woodburning stoves, wittertainment, Bill Bailey, #sadmanonatrain, fruit gums, Carl Hiaasen, The Wire, spicy food, Van Gogh, Lindsey Buckingham, oaked chardonnay, House MD, long walks, cinema, reading in bed, florentines, Only Connect, board games, Otis Lee Crenshaw, Budweiser, GBBO, India, cheese, David Armand’s mimes, bookshops, Scandi Noir, Diet Coke, The Economist, Blackadder, good sausages, Dickens, Helena Bonham-Carter (secret crush), the Times crossword, the song mmmbop, and pies.

And lists.

He dislikes: ITV, pinot grigio, tattoos, ballet, ready meals, rap, religion, clutter, artificial raspberry flavouring, marmite, jazz, under-powered showers, people who don’t look after their stuff, opera, sprouts, and waste.

And mashed potato.

He really doesn’t like mashed potato.

Connect with Mark:

Website: http://markfarrer.com

Facebook: Mark Farrer

Twitter: @mark_farrer

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The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard #BlogTour #Extract (@CBcrime) @fahrenheitpress @damppebbles #TheTaintedVintage #damppebblesblogtours

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“In the small Czech town of Vinice the mayor has been found dead in his wine cellar.

Detectives Jana Dvorska and Ivan Dambersky are called to the scene and soon realise that despite appearances, Mayor Slansky’s death was most definitely not from natural causes.

Almost immediately, the close-knit community closes ranks to try and brush the unexplained death under the carpet with the minimum of fuss.

Dvorska & Dambersky are drawn deeper and deeper into secrets that many hoped would remain buried forever and they’re forced into pursuing an investigation where their own lives are put in danger.

The Tainted Vintage is the first book in a wonderful new series set in and around The Czech Republic, an area rich in history, literature and culture that still remains largely unexplored by contemporary crime fiction fans.”

Delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard. My thanks to Emma Welton at damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me on to the tour and to the author for allowing me to reproduce the extract from the book for you below.

 

On an instinctive whim, Dvorska went into silent mode to see what effect it would have on Mrs. Slanska, who she could see from these first few minutes was used to having the upper hand in most conversations. Under certain conditions, silence – especially when unexpected – could be one of the most powerful weapons in the interrogation repertoire. So, she flicked her inner mental switch into freewheel, focused softly on her breathing, in and out, in and out, and waited…

It couldn’t have been more than twenty seconds before she noticed the sharp blue eyes of Magda Slanska darting across at her over the immaculately ironed tablecloth, attempting to gauge her intentions. But Dvorska had arranged her features into a veil of blandness. Quietly, deliberately not meeting Mrs. Slanska’s gaze, she took another sip of her coffee, and waited a little longer. Her silence was starting to make Mrs. Slanska feel uncomfortable, as if she were being wordlessly probed. It was Dvorska’s hope that when the silence became too much for Mrs. Slanska, it would break at the point of greatest weakness in the family façade. So Dvorska waited a little longer.

“Of course Daniel was such a wonderful husband and father,” Slanska eventually blurted out with a proud flourish.

“Bingo!” thought Magda to herself, trying hard not to show her reactions. Mrs. Slanska’s last statement almost certainly meant that Daniel Slansky had been anything but a wonderful husband and father, just as she had suspected. Why else, she had been asking herself for the last twenty-four hours, would the Slansky children have been dispatched to their other grandmother in Brno at the very time when you would most expect a family to want to be together?

“I’m sure he was,” Dvorska answered, putting down her coffee cup and lying through her teeth. She went on, carefully maintaining her blandness: “This must be a terrible time for the children. You must be so worried about them.” Magda Slanska now clutched for all she was worth at the straw she had been offered. “Oh yes! – they’re absolutely devastated! They adored their father!” she effused in relief at restoring the conversation to the track from which she feared it had been derailed. But Dvorska now seriously doubted that the Slansky children had adored their father. 

“So Petr and Jirina are staying with their other grandmother in Brno?” she asked cheerfully, putting down her cup and standing up to leave.

“Oh, oh yes. They were so upset!” answered Mrs. Slanska, evidently a little surprised that Dvorska already knew the answer to the question she was asking.

“I can imagine,” said Dvorska. “Well, thank you so much for the delicious coffee. Don’t worry, I can see myself out!” And she was gone before Mrs. Slanska could think of anything more to say.

If this extract has whetted your appetite for the book, you will be pleased to know that The Tainted Vintage is out now and you can buy a copy here.

If you would like to read some reviews of the book, you can follow the blog tour below:

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About the Author

Clare Blanchard

Originally from the North Yorkshire coast in England, Clare Blanchard spent half her lifetime in the Czech Republic, where her books are mainly set. Inspired by Nordic noir, where the settings are often like another character in the plot, she writes crime mysteries and other fiction, usually with a historical twist. She loves beautiful landscapes and architecture, cross-country skiing, the wine of South Moravia, and of course Czech beer. When she’s not being literary she knits funky socks.

Connect with Clare:

Website: https://www.clareblanchard.com

Facebook: Clare Blanchard Books

Twitter: @CBcrime

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