Blog Tour: In The Sweep Of The Bay by Cath Barton #BookReview

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This warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, and the faded splendour of the Midland Hotel.

Ted Marshall meets Rene in the dance halls of Morecambe and they marry during the frail optimism of the 1950s. They adopt the roles expected of man and wife at the time: he the breadwinner at the family ceramics firm, and she the loyal housewife. But as the years go by, they find themselves wishing for more…

After Ted survives a heart attack, both see it as a new beginning… but can a faded love like theirs ever be rekindled?

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for In The Sweep Of The Bay by Cath Barton. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is only a short novella, that took me a scant eighty minutes to read, but what a lot the author managed to pack in to the pages. Pretty much all of human life is here, as we explore the life of Ted and Rene over the course of half a century. From the dance halls of post-war Morecambe to the modern day, the book explores the nuts and bolts of the marriage of two ordinary people living in the confines of an isolated, seaside town.

The book does not run in a linear format, but dodges about through the relationship, between the perspectives of Ted and Rene and other important figures in their lives and the life of the town of Morecambe. Despite this, the book is not at all confusing, but works perfectly to illustrate the changing relationship and feelings that Ted and Rene have for one another over the course of fifty years.

This book is all about relationships, their complexities and mercurial nature, ever-changing over the course of a lifetime, as both internal and external factors but different pressures on them at different times. The feelings of the couple ebb and flow like the tides in Morecambe Bay, which provides the constant backdrop to their evolving lives, and the changing seasons and moods and fortunes of the town echoing the shifts in the moods of their marriage, the sadness coming from the fact that the times the two of them seem to be in synch are rare and fleeting.

The book felt so honest to me, so truly reflective of so many people’s lives, full of disappointment and compromise, with small moments of joy and shared triumph, but all the same looked back on through rose-tinted spectacles when it is over and viewed very differently by outsiders than those living within it. Right from the beginning, we see through the individual thoughts of Ted and Rene that they have not entered this marriage on the back of a grand passion, and this somewhat sets the tone. Their life is not filled with terrible disasters, but small sorrows, the like of which we all suffer, made sadder by their inability to address them from the same page. Overall, the feeling for me is one of melancholy, and I wonder how many people go through their lives in this way – probably many more than we realise.

This was a really beautiful story, told with understanding, tenderness and a deep empathy. I found the writing really moving, and I came away from the book feeling like I had read something profoundly truthful and illuminating. Triumphal.

The Sweep Of The Bay is out now and I can recommend highly enough that you buy it here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

Cath Barton. Author pic. Feb 2020

Cath Barton lives in Abergavenny. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017 for The Plankton Collector, which was published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. She also writes short stories and flash fiction and, with her critical writing, is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review. In the Sweep of the Bay is her second novella. 

Website: https://cathbarton.com/

Facebook: Cath Barton

Twitter: @CathBarton1

Publisher Website: https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/cath-barton

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Blog Tour: The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright #BookReview

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The Bonaventure Circus is a refuge for many, but Pippa Ripley was rejected from its inner circle as a baby. When she receives mysterious messages from someone called the “Watchman,” she is determined to find him and the connection to her birth. As Pippa’s search leads her to a man seeking justice for his murdered sister and evidence that a serial killer has been haunting the circus train, she must decide if uncovering her roots is worth putting herself directly in the path of the killer.

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The old circus train depot will either be torn down or preserved for historical importance, and its future rests on real estate project manager Chandler Faulk’s shoulders. As she dives deep into the depot’s history, she’s also balancing a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease and the pressures of single motherhood. When she discovers clues to the unsolved murders of the past, Chandler is pulled into a story far darker and more haunting than even an abandoned train depot could portend.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright. Huge thanks to Kelly Lacey at Love Books Tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I am an absolute sucker for any book set around a circus. They have always fascinated me, and something that encapsulates childhood magic and fantasy, a feeling we all love to revisit when jaded adulthood and life stress gets us down. I barely even read the blurb for this, I just saw the title and the cover and said ‘sign me up.’

It’s my own fault then that the book wasn’t at all what I was expected! For some reason, I had got into my head that this was some kind of middle-grade, circus-set murder mystery. How wrong I was ! It was something much darker and more complex, a deeply nuanced novel exploring love, family, stigma, and finding oneself through independence. I absolutely blooming loved it.

This is a dual timeline novel, set in the small town of Bluff River, Wisconsin. The narrators are Pippa Riley, a young woman living in the town in 1928. She is an abandoned child of the circus, taken in by the rich owners and brought up as their daughter. Pippa finds herself irresistibly drawn back to the circus and the mystery of her parentage. But the circus can be a dangerous place to be for young women these days…

The second narrator is Chandler, a single mother struggling with parenthood, holding down a job and the ravages of an autoimmune disease. A troubled relationship with her own family leads to a sense of isolation, and she is wary of the friendly approaches of locals in Bluff River, where she has been sent to formulate development plans for the old railway terminus and other buildings connected to the long-defunct circus. But mysterious discoveries and strange goings on mean she has to team up with a handsome stranger to solve a decades-old mystery.

The lives of the two women have so many parallels across the years. Pippa is living at a time of new opportunities for women, but conservative societies are resisting their emancipation, and Pippa is struggling to balance her strict upbringing against her desire to embrace this newly-minted era of female liberation. Chandler is determined that her own independence will not be undermined by her illness or her single-parenthood, and she hides her struggles from everyone in fear of having restrictions placed on her by those who care about her. The book explores the complex dynamics of family and the struggles of women to balance the expectations and judgements of society with their own needs and desires. These dilemmas have not changed much for women over the centuries, and it is something we can all relate to.

The book also explores they way society views and treats people it views as different or abnormal, and how the circus became a refuge for misfits and loners. Often ridiculed as exploitative and voyeuristic, this book explores the idea that it actually provided a place of understanding and companionship for those on the fringes of society. It is a fascinating dichotomy that the author explores with interest and sympathy.

On top of this, there is a fascinating and quite terrifying murder mystery to be solved. A serial killer known as The Watchman seems to be stalking the circus, but years later, the community is questioning whether the real culprit was identified at the time and whether the stigma his descendants have carried through the years has been placed on the correct shoulders. The idea of disparate relations of a serial killer carrying the tarnish of their ancestor’s actions through the years is sad, but used to great effect for the plot of this novel and I thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns of the story. The author weaves the two timelines together with great skill, slowly uncovering the truth across the years, and I was on the edge of my seat by the end, in both the 1920s and the present day!

The prose is richly textured, evocative and an absolute joy to read. It is one of those books that you can get totally lost in, so effective is the author in constructing the time and place in which she has set the novel. I was drawn through the book effortlessly, not wanting to break off and destroy the fictional bubble in which I has been ensnared by her skill. As soon as I had finished the book, I wanted to go and pick up her other novels and see if I could get that feeling back again. This was my first book by Jaime Jo Wright, but it definitely will not be the last. Oh, the joy of discovering a great new author with a back catalogue on which you can binge, is there any greater pleasure for an avid reader?

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus is out now and you must absolutely get you copy here.

About the Author

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Jaime Jo Wright is the author of five novels, including Christy Award winner The House on Foster Hill and Carol Award winner The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. She’s also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of two novellas. Jaime lives in Wisconsin with her cat named Foo, her husband Cap’n Hook, and their littles, Peter Pan, and CoCo. 

Connect with Jaime:

Website: https://www.jaimewrightbooks.com/

Facebook: Jaime Jo Wright

Twitter: @jaimejowright

Instagram: @jaimejowright

Pinterest: Jaime Jo Wright

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Guest Post: A Wing and a Prayer by M W Arnold

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When Betty Palmer’s sister dies under suspicious circumstances whilst landing her Tiger Moth, Betty and three other women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary in WWII England unite to discover who killed her and why.

Estranged from her family, Penny Blake wants simply to belong. American Doris Winter, running from a personal tragedy, yearns for a new start. Naturally shy Mary Whitworth-Baines struggles to fit in. Together though, they are a force to be reckoned with as they face the mystery that confronts them.

Against the backdrop of war, when ties of friendship are exceptionally strong, they strive to unravel the puzzle’s complex threads, risking their lives as they seek justice for Betty’s sister.

Today I am delighted to be showcasing the new novel by one of the small percentage of male authors in the Romantic Novelists’ Association. A Wing and a Prayer by M. W. Arnold will be published by Wild Rose Press on 9 November and the author, known as Mick to his friends, has kindly written me a post about what it is like to be a man in the RNA, and also given me an extract from the book to share with you.

It’s a (wo)man’s world by M. W. Arnold

I am a very lucky chap, in that I have a very understanding and trusting lady wife. Why? Well, I am very fortunate to be a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association. Still no clearer? I’ll elaborate.

Back in 2013, I’d made the decision to turn my writing hobby into something a little more serious. A little research turned up the website of the RNA and subsequently, their New Writer’s Scheme. At slightly past midnight on the correct date, I sent off my email, applying to join and got lucky. Someone had to drop out and I was emailed asking if I’d like to join. Dashed silly question.

What I didn’t realise (and this is very silly in hindsight) was that this was very much a group dominated by women. Can you see what I meant yet? Now the purpose of the New Writer’s Scheme is to help, well, new writers. Once a year you may send in a completed (or partial) draft of what you’re writing. This will then be critueqed by a published writer. If you’re reading this as a ‘would be’ writer, then you know exactly how much of a boon this is. It certainly helped me get published.

One of the highlights of the year is the annual conference and this is where I found our exactly how much the women outnumbered the men. I think it’s about 98% women and 2% men, at last count. So, you can see what I mean about having a trusting lady wife, those are better odds than any dating agency you’ll get! To say I was nervous on my first conference was to state the obvious.

I needn’t have been though. They really are the biggest bunch of friendly, helpful loving folk. I went through a rather difficult time a while back and in the last conference held prior to all this 2020 mess, I discovered just how many friends I had. I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that I may not have made it through that conference without them.

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Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Mick, I’m glad the RNA is welcoming – maybe we can persuade more men to join and even up the numbers a little!

Now for an extract from Mick’s new book, A Wing and a Prayer:

“Mind the duck!”

Mary’s warning was a smidgeon too late. Betty turned her head toward the shout just when she needed to do the exact opposite and keep her eyes on the path.

“Aargh!” cried Betty as she was sent sprawling to the ground.

A loud, angry, “Quack! Quack!” was followed by a flurry of wings and feathers as the slightly stunned duck half flew and half staggered to the sanctuary provided by the river.

“I did tell her to watch out for the duck,” Mary muttered in her own defense as they rushed to help Betty to her feet.

Penny and Doris took an arm each as Mary reached to retrieve Betty’s handbag. It had landed precariously close to the edge of the river, and the dastardly duck was snuffling at it before Mary seized it and handed it back to Betty.

“Mary!” cried Betty. “Grab that envelope!”

Swiveling, Mary saw a large brown envelope and stooped for it before it could fall into the water. “Got it!” she yelled, waving it in the air. Unfortunately, the envelope being upside down, the contents spilled onto the ground around her, luckily missing going into the river. She bent down to pick them up and was surprised to discover they were all newspaper cuttings.

If you appetite has been whetted for Mick’s latest book, A Wing and a Prayer is out this coming Monday and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Mick is a hopeless romantic who was born in England and spent fifteen years roaming around the world in the pay of HM Queen Elisabeth II in the Royal Air Force before putting down roots and realizing how much he missed the travel. This he’s replaced somewhat with his writing, including reviewing books and supporting fellow saga and romance authors in promoting their novels. 

He’s the proud keeper of two Romanian Were-Cats, is mad on the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, and enjoys the theatre and loving his Manchester-United-supporting wife. 

Finally, Mick is a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. A Wing and a Prayer will be his second published novel, and he is very proud to be welcomed into The Rose Garden.

Connect with Mick:

Facebook: M W Arnold Author

Twitter: @mick859

Instagram: @mick859

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Desert Island Books: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Desert Island Books

For my tenth, personal Desert Island Books, I have chosen Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Gaudy Night is the twelfth book in Sayers’ detective series featuring her aristocratic sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, and is, in my opinion, her best novel. I first discovered the book via a recommendation from my school librarian as a teenager. It was the first novel by this author that I encountered and, despite the fact that I have subsequently read all the Wimsey books and enjoyed them, this remains my runaway favourite. I have reread it numerous times during the past 34 years and have taken something different from it on each occasion. Because this is no normal detective novel, and I will explain why.

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Harriet Vane has never dared to return to her old Oxford college. Now, despite her scandalous life, she has been summoned back . . .

At first she thinks her worst fears have been fulfilled, as she encounters obscene graffiti, poison pen letters and a disgusting effigy when she arrives at sedate Shrewsbury College for the ‘Gaudy’ celebrations.

But soon, Harriet realises that she is not the only target of this murderous malice – and asks Lord Peter Wimsey to help.

There is so much going on in this novel, so many different layers and attractions to the story, that it rewards the reader with a new experience every time you pick it up, regardless of the number of times you have read it before. The first time I read it as a teenager, there was no possible way that I could have understood and appreciated all the themes and nuances of this novel, but that did not stop me falling in love with it immediately, and my affection and appreciation for the book has only deepened over the intervening decades.

This is no straightforward detective novel, although it works extremely well purely on that level. The mystery involves a vicious campaign of terror in a women’s college at Oxford University. The ‘terror’ is rather genteel by the standards of today’s crime novels, but the setting for this book is the Oxford of a bygone era. It is set in the inter-war years, where women were just finding emancipation and being admitted to such hallowed institutions as universities, where certain levels of behaviour were expected from women still, and the divisions between the sexes were more firmly delineated. Against this polite backdrop, the acts of the person with a grudge against the college seem almost deranged and dangerous and there is a high level of tension and fear running through the novel. The fact the author manages to make the plot so menacing without having resort to murder is the first evidence of her skill.

Aside from the detective aspect of the novel, this is also a passionate love story. Fans of Wimsey, particularly those who read the novels in order, will be aware that Harriet Vane was first introduced into the world of Wimsey in the novel Strong Poisonwhere she finds herself on trial for murder. She becomes the subject of Wimsey’s romantic affections, but resists his advances for five years. Gaudy Night is the book in which Harriet finally begins to realise that her feelings for Wimsey may not be as platonic as she has always believed, and she begins to explore them more deeply and honestly, and to see him in a new light. It becomes clear that her fears about entering into marriage, particularly to a wealthy, intelligent, successful and powerful man, will require her to give up her own independence and career may be unfounded, and that maybe Wimsey, despite his family’s ancient heritage and traditional background, maybe be a new breed of man who wants a wife who is an equal. Again, the romance and passion in the book are, due to the time at which this was written, are written coyly and through suggestion and innuendo, but this has the effect of somehow making them more intense, not less so. Another nod to the skill and genius of Sayers’ writing.

This leads neatly on to the main subject matter of the book, which is the exploration of female emancipation and what this means for the balance of power and responsibilities between the sexes. This is a world which is having to build relationships and expectations between the genders anew, where women are making choices between old gender stereotypes and fresh opportunities and men are having to adjust their attitudes to match, and there is resistance in some quarters, and from both sides. It is a fascinating window for those of us born into the modern era when these things are taken for granted onto what the struggle was like for those women who paved the way for our modern freedoms, and it is clear that this is something the author is passionate about herself. It has been suggested that Harriet Vane is an autobiographical character, through whom Sayers explored some of her own feelings about her place in the world. Sayers was one of the first women ever to receive a degree from Oxford, when females were admitted to these honours, and also admitted to a level of sexual freedom that was unusual amongst women at the time. Reading Gaudy Night, it is impossible not to conclude that the book is largely a treatise on Sayers’ view of women’s roles in the society in which she lived, how they were changing and the struggles they faced, both external and internal, and it is absolutely fascinating when read as such.

This is a hefty book, and densely written. The language is rich and descriptive and peppered with poetry, Latin and Greek quotations and musical and literary references. This is a scholarly work, written clearly by an academic mind and exceeds any expectations one might have of works of detective fiction. This is no pulpy crime novel, this is a book that is worthy of sitting alongside any classic novel on then bookshelves of the well-read, and I truly wish that it had a wider modern audience. Whilst the works of Agatha Christie are still widely read and celebrated, the works of Sayers seem more likely to slip into obscurity, and I think this is a crying shame because they are just as good in every way, and her skill may exceed Christie in some areas. Gaudy Night is the pinnacle of her work, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who enjoys detective novels set in this period, and enjoys some mental stimulation.

If you have never read any Sayers, I would advise either starting at the beginning with Whose Body?, the first book in the Wimsey series, or Strong Poison, the book which introduces Harriet Vane, and save Gaudy Night until you have eased your way into the world of Wimsey and fallen in love with him, then watch Harriet do the same in this truly astonishing achievement in detective fiction. I promise you will love it. Come back and call me out if you don’t.

Gaudy Night is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Dorothy L. Sayers was born in 1893. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree by Oxford University, and later she became a copywriter at an ad agency.

In 1923 she published her first novel featuring the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who became one of the world’s most popular fictional heroes. She died in 1957.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Liz Harris

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Tonight, I am delighted to welcome to the blog for Friday Night Drinks, fellow RNA member and author… Liz Harris.

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

I don’t even have to hesitate a moment – I’m always up for a gin & tonic. Usually, it’s Fever Tree tonic. It’s healthy, you see. Fewer calories in both the alcohol and the mixer means that I can justify a second, and all on the grounds of improving my health.

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A woman after my own heart. 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?

Money will be no object as I’m going to sell shed loads of my latest novels, of course, so I’m taking you to Kerala in India. We’re going for a trip on the Backwaters in an upmarket peasant rice boat. It’ll be the ultimate in luxury, despite the word ‘peasant’, with a crew of three waiting on just us. As we drift down the blissfully serene Backwaters, sipping our gin & tonics, we’ll chat about books.

While Kerala is a dry state – the wives of fishermen plagued the last government to abolish alcohol as their men were drinking their wages before they got home. The government obliged, and then lost the following election – there must have been more male voters than female. You can now only buy alcohol from sparse outlets.

In one of the hotels I stayed in, wine was put in a teapot and poured from that into our glasses.

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If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Rugged Australian actor Peter Finch would be the man. I fell in love with him in A Town Like Alice, a book I adore, and my love affair continued with The Nun’s Story, one of my all-time favourite books and films.

With Peter Finch as Dr Fortunati in The Nun’s Story at the fore of my mind, I used to want to be a nun, but only on condition that I was sent to tend the sick in Africa, alongside a Dr Fortunati, and only if I looked like Audrey Hepburn when I donned a wimple.

As for a female to join us, Jane Austen. No one can capture  person’s idiosyncracies as she can. But she doesn’t tell you that they’re vain/stupid/self-deluded, etc – she lets them condemn themselves every time that they open their mouth. Throughout our evening together, she would ask leading questions of those at our table, with the straightest of faces, and listening to their replies would be great entertainment.

I LOVE A Town Like Alice, it was my Desert Island Book for August. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

The Dark Horizon, Book 1 of the Linford Series, came out earlier this year, and The Flame Within, Book 2, was published on 1st October this year. Book 3 will be published next spring.

I’m fascinated by history, particularly that of the US and UK after the mid 1880s. I find the years between the wars particularly exciting, with the changing social conventions, developments in housing, and emergence of laws such as The Matrimonial Causes Act, 1923, which took the first step towards bringing equality between the sexes when it came to divorce.

Each of the novels in the series can be enjoyed on its own, without the others having been read. Each focuses on a different member of the Linford family.

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

After writing for seven years, submitting my novels in vain throughout those years, I submitted The Road Back to Choc Lit. When I heard back that they loved the novel and were going to publish it, I was overwhelmed. My husband was out, and I couldn’t wait for him to return. When heard the car draw up, I held the door open, smiling. Surprisingly, he didn’t pick up that there must be something momentous as I was gazing at him so pleasantly, and just walked on into the house.

I’ve heard from Choc Lit, I called to his retreating back. He turned. I burst into tears. He came forward, arms outstretched. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘Someone will take your book.’ And he hugged me. I managed, when I finished blubbing, to let him know that those were tears of pride and pleasure.

People said really lovely things about The Road Back, including the late Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse, who asked if he could say something to go on the cover. My biggest challenge since then has been to write novels that will be enjoyed as much as The Road Back. I hope I’ve succeeded.

I am dreaming of that moment, it must have been amazing! What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

My mother was an actress, and I did a lot of amateur dramatics before I had my two sons. I tend to think, and write, in scenes, and I think any of my novels would make an absolutely superb film. My backgrounds – America, India, Ladakh, France, Italy, to name but a few – scream out for the big screen.

I’m thinking of a film with the stature of ‘The English Patient’, for example. Well, you did say to be as ambitious as I like!

What have planned that you are really excited about?

I went to Vietnam earlier this year, from the Mekong Delta up to Hanoi, just before Covid-19 took over and dominated our lives. It was amazing! Sadly, my trips to Italy, Greece and France this year have all had to be postponed. As soon as there’s an approved vaccine, I shall start travelling again, and those locations will be at the top of my list.

But keen as I am to start travelling again, the biggest thrill will be meeting up again with the friends I’ve made through writing, at RNA parties for example, or at chapter get-togethers. Zoom is better than nothing, but there’s nothing that beats the real thing!

In the interim, I’m very partial to the local pork sausages. I have some for dinner tonight, and I’m really excited about that!

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 can’t list a favourite, I’m afraid. I’ve been to places that I knew would interest me, and I’ve loved exploring them all and learning about their past.

Top of my bucket list is the west coast of Canada and thence up to Alaska. I’d intended to do that last year, but ended up going to the east of Canada, and visiting Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara. I had a fabulous time. I’d now like to fly to Calgary, get the Rocky Mountaineer to Vancouver – first class, of course – spend a week in Vancouver and then take a leisurely cruise up to Alaska. Bliss!

All of those things are top of my bucket list! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I lived in California for six years in my early twenties, a year in San Francisco and five in Los Angeles. During the LA years, I was friendly with an actor. While he was looking for roles, he used to drive the studio tour bus for MGM. I would go on the tours with him as a resident starlet, hair down to my shoulders, hanging over one eye, meaty thighs peering forth from beneath mini-skirts, and in low-fronted tops. At the end of each tour, I was photographed with the visitors. It was huge fun! I got to know just about everyone in the various series being filmed, and those in the films that were in production.

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 a copy of The Nun’s Story, by Kathryn Hulme. I thought this a deeply romantic novel in parts, even though ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ never exchanged a kiss. It fired my imagination, and has lived in my head in all the years since I read it.

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The lead character of the book, Sister Luke (pre-convent name Gabrielle Van Der Mal), finds her faith tested in Africa where she finds herself at odds with headstrong Dr. Fortunati, operator of a remote Congo hospital, with whom she gradually builds respect, and again during World War II, when she is ordered not to take sides. Ultimately, Sister Luke is forced to decide whether to remain in the convent or return to the outside world.

Gabrielle/Sister Luke is stretched between her desire to be faithful to the rule of her congregation and her desire to be a nurse. As a nun she must remove all vestiges of “Gabrielle Van Der Mal” and sublimate herself into the devoted bride of Christ. As a nun there is no room for her personal desires and aspirations. Ultimately, the conflict between her devotion to the Church and the nursing profession, juxtaposed with her passionate Belgian patriotism and her love of her father (killed by Nazi fighter planes while treating wounded) bring her to an impasse, which serves as the dénouement of the novel. 

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

The advantages of being a secondary school teacher, which I used to be, is that there’s a Science department in the school. In order to help the sixth formers who were rolling up in a hungover state for my early Monday morning class, and certainly not because I thought it would be useful for me to know, I asked one of the scientists to come up with a fast and effective remedy for a hangover. Drink gallons of water before you go to bed, he said, and I the morning, and fresh orange juice, too.

Apparently, fresh orange juice is infinitely better than strong coffee, which, contrary to belief, is about the worst thing you can take for a hangover.

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

Having left the Backwaters in Kerala, we would head to the of town of Fort Cochin. We’d explore the town, which is interesting and exotic, and end up in the gardens of a superb hotel that actually serves wine, poured from a bottle into a glass. As daylight fades, fairy lights start sparkling in the trees, and it feels like paradise.

That sounds wonderful, I wish we could go right now! Liz, thank you so much for a marvellous evening, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Liz’s latest book, The Flame Within is the second book in her Linford Series is out now and you can buy a copy here. The first book, The Dark Horizon, is also available.

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London, 1923. 

Alice Linford stands on the pavement and stares up at the large Victorian house set back from the road—the house that is to be her new home.
But it isn’t her house. It belongs to someone else—to a Mrs Violet Osborne. A woman who was no more than a name at the end of an advertisement for a companion that had caught her eye three weeks earlier.
More precisely, it wasn’t Mrs Osborne’s name that had caught her eye—it was seeing that Mrs Osborne lived in Belsize Park, a short distance only from Kentish Town. Kentish Town, the place where Alice had lived when she’d been Mrs Thomas Linford.
Thomas Linford—the man she still loves, but through her own stupidity, has lost. The man for whom she’s left the small Lancashire town in which she was born to come down to London again. The man she’s determined to fight for.

Born in London, Liz Harris graduated from university with a Law degree, and then moved to California, where she led a varied life, from waitressing on Sunset Strip to working as secretary to the CEO of a large Japanese trading company.

A few years later, she returned to London and completed a degree in English, after which she taught secondary school pupils, first in Berkshire, and then in Cheshire.

In addition to the eight novels she’s had published, she’s had several short stories in anthologies and magazines. Her latest novel, The Flame Within, is the second in The Linford Series, a sweeping saga set between the wars. Each of the novels in the series is a standalone. 

 Liz now lives in Oxfordshire. An active member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novel Society, her interests are travel, the theatre, reading and cryptic crosswords. She also – pre-covid – gives regular talks to WI groups, book clubs and at literary conferences.

To find out more about Liz and her work, visit her website, or find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Tracy Baines

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today author Tracy Baines has kindly volunteered to undergo my grilling on what it means to be a writer of romance.

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

My books are WW2 sagas set in Variety Theatres. It’s something I know well but more importantly, something I love. I used to work in stage management and my husband was a variety entertainer.

My first two novels, The Variety Girls and Christmas With The Variety Girls, have been published this year by Ebury Press – an imprint of Penguin. For many years I wrote short stories and articles because our life was chaotic and I could always find time for them. All the things I learnt writing short stories have been invaluable in the long run – especially learning to get over the rejection. I learnt that it was nothing personal, I just hadn’t got it quite right that time.

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Why romance?

I think every story is a love story. Whether it is between two people or between a character and their dream. Passion in anything is attractive. The energy that drives you towards your heart’s desire is my idea of romance.

What inspires your stories?

My love of theatre, but mostly of my family and home. My books are set in Lincolnshire and Norfolk the place of my birth and that of my ancestors. I haven’t lived there for over 30 years but when I go back home to visit my mum and sisters everything becomes so clear and pronounced and I carry all the sensory memory back to Dorset with me. When I work at my desk I am hearing the voices of the past. It’s the sense of community, of people facing hardship and pulling together to overcome it.

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

I don’t have a particular favourite – I just like discovering stories. I’ve enjoyed so many great books over the years that it’s hard to choose.

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

Canopy of Silence by Margaret Graham. It’s set in Australia in the 1920s and covers the Group Settlement Scheme devised to develop a self-sufficient dairy industry. I was absolutely swept away by it. Those people endured such hardship and their struggle is conveyed so piercingly. My heart ached for dear Debs, that she world find love and happiness. It is brilliantly written with tension that keeps you turning page after page. It stirs my emotions just thinking about it.

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Deborah Morgan, an only child, is unwanted by her parents, who only have time for each other; as a result, she leaves Somerset and follows sheep farmer Patrick Prover to Australia, but finds herself an outsider there too, especially when Patrick leaves her to run the farm alone.

She embarks on an ill-advised affair but soon returns to her loveless marriage, pouring all her love into the care of her baby son.

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

It would have to be Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind as played by Clarke Gable in the film. Was there ever a finer hero? Devilishly handsome and undoubtedly dangerous. We’d go to the theatre, to a musical or preferably back in time to the golden age of the Crazy Gang and Gracie Fields. Dancing afterwards and then a meal in a cosy backstreet restaurant that stayed open just for us; then a walk through Hyde Park until the dawn broke. A day on the Thames and dinner at the Ritz the following day. It would have to be something perfectly glamorous – and so not me!

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

The support and encouragement is second to none. I have two local chapters within easy distance and it’s great to meet up and chat with people who know exactly what you’re going through.

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

Keep going and keep learning. Writing a book takes a lot of mental energy and it’s easy to get disheartened. Nothing is ever wasted. I learn more with every piece I write and I hope it always stays that way.

Tell us about your latest book.

It is the latest in my Variety Girls series, Christmas with the Variety Girls and you can buy it in all formats from Thursday here.

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Will Christmas bring an unexpected reunion?…

Frances O’Leary has always dreamed of being a dancer. But after war is declared and the theatres begin to close, Frances and the variety girls must search for work elsewhere.

However, Frances is hiding a secret. As far as her best friend Jessie knows, Frances is a young aunt who adores her niece, Imogen – but what she doesn’t know is that their relationship runs much deeper. Now, with the sweetheart who cruelly abandoned her returning to England, will her secret finally be revealed?…

About the Author

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From the age of sixteen, Tracy Baines worked summer seasons, pantomimes and everything else in-between at the local end of the pier show. She met her husband when he was appearing with the Nolan Sisters and she was Assistant Stage Manager.

Her knowledge of the theatre world from both sides of the stage and the hierarchy that keeps the show running really bring this saga to life. She’s also written articles and short stories for key publications for this audience including Woman’s Weekly, Take a Break, The People’s Friend and My Weekly.

Connect with Tracy:

Website:  www.tracybaines.co.uk

Facebook: Tracy Baines Author

Twitter: @tracyfbaines 

Instagram: @tracyfbaines         

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Friday Night Drinks with… Jane Davis

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

Tonight I am delighted to be welcoming to the blog for the first Friday Night Drinks of October, author… Jane Davis.

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

I’ll have a gin and tonic, please. If there’s a choice of gin, my favourite is Portobello Road.

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Sky Garden, which styles itself as London’s highest public garden. When the Walkie Talkie was built, it was the city skyscraper everyone loved to hate (there was controversy when it was still under construction and was blamed for reflecting light which melted parts of a car in a nearby street) but then some bright spark had the idea of creating a palm house and viewing platform on its uppermost floor. Add a bar and a restaurant and it has become one of the best spots to look down over the City. But the time when Sky Garden really comes into its own is sunset. There is a moment at which the glass and steel constructions of Canary Wharf turn to gold, and it’s just magical.   

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That sounds fab, I will have to pay it a visit if I ever make it to London again! 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?

My first guest would be someone who was very famous in his day, but who history has almost completely forgotten, and the reasons for that interest me. James Naylor was a pastry chef by trade, but in 1784 he became the first English aeronaut, just a year after the first balloon flights. Naylor had no formal education to speak of and was almost certainly illiterate, but his understanding of heat (learned in the kitchen) enabled him to introduce innovations to his balloon design. He was the first to create an adjustable fire to control altitude, and the first to use hydrogen, but his inventions weren’t restricted to hot air balloons. He also worked on steam engines and improved on the design of rifles and cannons (including the ones aboard Nelson’s HMS Victory), after noting that over one third of weapons missed their target by over five feet. Like Nikola Tesla, Naylor is someone who was interested in the science rather than money. I’m sure he would have a few stories to tell.

My second choice would be the poet Edith Sitwell. Her eccentric style of dress, captured so perfectly by Cecil Beaton, gave the impression that she was a throw-back from another era. She herself told the tale that she was descended from the Red Rose Plantagenets on one side, and on the other from an errand boy who walked all the way from Leeds to London, barefoot, where he made his fortune. She mixed in extraordinary literary and artistic circles and, although she described one of her hobbies as ‘silence’, recorded interviews suggest she was never short of something to say. I hope that she might be persuaded to tell us how she struck up a friendship with Marilyn Monroe after a meeting in Hollywood. It would probably be some time before I plucked up the courage to confess that my character Lucy Forrester from My Counterfeit Self is a cross between her and Vivienne Westwood. I wonder if she’d recognise herself.

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So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’ve also started work on a new novel, Encroachment. I’m very superstitious about saying too much about works in progress, but the plan is that it will have a dual timeline, one in the late Victorian era when my main character spends his life savings on a plot of land, where he creates what will be one of England’s last pleasure gardens. The gamble doesn’t pay off and he is forced to sell off the land, plot by plot, to property developers. The second part of the story is set in the present day, in a house that was the ticket office for the pleasure gardens, when the encroachment comes in the form of neighbours from hell. It’s a story about trying to live out our dreams only to have them trodden on. The second project I’ve been working on is editing the diary I kept about helping to care for my father during his last eighteen months of dementia. (He passed away in April during the COVID crisis.) I’m not quite sure what I should do with it yet, except that I would like to do something. One in fifteen adults over the age of 65 suffers from some form of dementia. By the time you reach the age of 80, the odds increase to one in six – and yet talking about dementia seems to be taboo. I have so many incredible anecdotes that might provide reassurance to those whose relatives have a diagnosis, but another approach would be to produce a more serious work of non-fiction about how so little help is available for the army of unpaid carers who are looking after family members. And that’s a national scandal.

They both sound fascinating, but what a difficult topic you have chosen for the second. You are very brave. What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My debut novel, Half-Truths and White Lies won the Daily Mail First Novel Award, and Joanne Harris gave me a lovely quote for the front cover, but it’s actually the two smaller awards I won since I turned indie that acknowledge both writing and publishing standards that I’m most proud of. The single biggest challenge is how to gain visibility in a saturated marketplace. On the 3 September, 600 new titles were released on a single day, and that figure doesn’t include self-published books. How to make ourselves stand out from the crowd is the question we authors have to ask ourselves most often.

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

The organisers of many awards claim to be looking for the best in fiction, but even when self-published authors are allowed to enter (which is rarely), many awards have prohibitive entry fees. Even the Guardian’s Not the Booker which relies on nominations from its readership excludes self-published titles. For a competition that is supposed to provide an alternative, that seems particularly narrow-minded. What I’d like is the opportunity to compete on an even footing with traditionally published authors.

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

2020 is a year when planning seems futile. Every event I planned to attend has been cancelled, so I’ve more or less given up getting excited. On the bright side, next year’s calendar is filling up quite nicely… But seriously, I think now is a time for caution and taking care of those around us. Perhaps to make longer term plans.

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?

That’s a hard choice. I fulfilled one of my longest-held ambitions by going to China. Seeing the Terracotta Army was one of the most mind-blowing experiences I’ve had. Not just the scale of it, but to understand the belief systems that went behind it. But I also loved the temple complexes at Angkor in Cambodia.

For myself, these days I tend to stay far closer to home. (When I renewed my ten-year passport last year, I realised I hadn’t used it once.) I’m a keen hillwalker and enjoy regular trips to the Lake District, but there are so many parts of the UK I have yet to explore. I’d love to go to what I think of as ‘Local Hero’ country – the northern reaches of Scotland in the hope of seeing the northern lights. I’d also like to walk the St Michael ley-line which runs from Cornwall to Essex.

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Cambodia is top of my wishlist. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

Although most of my musical connections are on my mother’s side of the family (my grandfather was a composer and maternal uncles were very well-known flautists), it’s on my father’s side that I’m related to Annie Adams, one of our first Music Hall singers to become an international stars. She began her singing career singing in her father’s pubs but by 1871 she was touring the States, from New York to San Francisco.

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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’?

My favourite fiction title of last year was Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott. I instantly fell in love with the tone set by the book’s anonymous narrator, who recalls the story of Truman Capote’s relationship with his ‘swans’, who invited him into their homes (and onto their yachts and private jets) and confided in him, only to discover that he had betrayed them when he used their stories in his fiction. When he found himself shunned, Capote’s reaction was ‘What did you expect? I’m a writer’.

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They told him everything.

He told everyone else.

Over countless martini-soaked Manhattan lunches, they shared their deepest secrets and greatest fears. On exclusive yachts sailing the Mediterranean, on private jets streaming towards Jamaica, on Yucatán beaches in secluded bays, they gossiped about sex, power, money, love and fame. They never imagined he would betray them so absolutely.

In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him? Whatever the motive, one thing remains indisputable: nine years after achieving wild success with In Cold Blood, Capote committed an act of professional and social suicide with his most lethal of weapons . . . Words.

I have this on my TBR, I must get round to it soon. 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?

My failsafe plan is the stick to the same drink. (I probably should never have started on the gin!) I have to tell you, things get pretty ugly if I have a hangover. In all honesty, I’d probably pull a duvet day.

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

If we were to stay overnight in the City, I’d use it as an excuse to continue my exploration of its nooks and crannies and take you to see some of my favourite finds. A short wander will take us to Bunhill burial grounds where we’ll find William Blake’s gravestone and those Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan, author of pilgrim’s progress. I’d take you to see the Thomas Hardy tree in old St Pancras churchyard. (Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley’s mother is also buried here.) Just around the corner is Word on the Water – a floating bookshop based on the Regent’s Canal at King’s Cross. If you follow the canal in the direction of Camden you come to one of my favourite architectural developments, Gasholders, literally built within the framework of the decommissioned Victorian gas holders. We could picnic in the park, or have lunch in nearby Coal Drops Yard. On Sunday, I might take you for a tour of Highgate cemetery. We can explore the East cemetery at our leisure, where we’ll find the graves of plenty of authors, from George Elliot to Douglas Adams. To access the West cemetery, we’ll have to book a place on a tour, but it’s well worth it to see the Grade 1 listed Egyptian Avenue and the Circle of Lebanon. Perhaps I’ll be able to tempt to you back to Carshalton for a pint at my local, The Hope, which the community clubbed together and bought to save it from being snapped up by a supermarket chain. It’s clocked up no less than five CAMRA Greater London Pub of the Year awards and holds monthly beer festivals. Our pub cat even has its own Twitter account @pubcathope.

Jane, I have had a wonderful evening, thank you so much for joining me.

Jane’s latest book, At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock is out now and you can buy a copy in either ebook or paperback format here.

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London 1949. The lives of three very different women are about to collide.

Like most working-class daughters, Caroline Wilby is expected to help support her family. Alone in a strange city, she must grab any opportunity that comes her way. Even if that means putting herself in danger.

Star of the silver screen, Ursula Delancy, has just been abandoned by the man she left her husband for. Already hounded by the press, it won’t be long before she’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Patrice Hawtree was once the most photographed debutante of her generation. Now childless and trapped in a loveless marriage, her plans to secure the future of her ancient family home are about to be jeopardised by her husband’s gambling addiction.

Each believes she has already lost in life, not knowing how far she still has to fall.

Six years later, one cause will reunite them: when a young woman commits a crime of passion and is condemned to hang, remaining silent isn’t an option.

“Why do I feel an affinity with Ruth Ellis? I know how certain facts can be presented in such a way that there is no way to defend yourself. Not without hurting those you love.”

Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of nine thought-provoking novels.

Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.

Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards. Smash all the Windows was the inaugural winner of the Selfies (best independently-published work of fiction) award 2019.

Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.

You can find out more about Jane and her work on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Tempted By… Over The Rainbow Book Blog: The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox

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A town gripped by fear. A woman accused of murder. Who can save Pale Harbour from itself?

1846. Desperate to escape the ghosts of his past, Gabriel Stone takes a position as a minister in the remote Pale Harbour, but not all is as it seems in the sleepy town.

As soon as Gabriel steps foot in town, he can’t escape the rumours about the mysterious Sophy Carver, a young widow who lives in the eerie Castle Carver: whispers that she killed her husband, mutterings that she might even be a witch.

But as strange, unsettling events escalate into murder, Gabriel finds himself falling under Sophy’s spell. As clues start to point to Sophy as the next victim, Gabriel realises he must find answers before anyone else turns up dead.

I have to admit, it was the fabulous cover of this book that first caught my eye when I saw it on Joanna’s fantastic blog, Over The Rainbow Book Blog. Whoever designed it is a genius because it is so atmospheric, it draws you right into the story before you have even read a page.

Once I started reading the review Joanna had written about the book, I was irretrievably Tempted By… her glowing words and absolutely had to get a copy for myself. I absolutely love a gothic novel, and the allure of a dark mystery tied to the works of Edgar Allan Poe was too good to resist.

Reading the review, the book hints at a gothic mystery combined with a crime story and a romance, all wrapped up in one. Who could possibly turn down the chance to read their three favourite genres in a single novel? Jo does a great job of boiling all of the most attractive features of the book into a short, sweet review and it certainly worked its magic on me!

I absolutely love Joanna’s blog. She is so down to earth and to the point with her reviews that you are never in any doubt how she feels about a book and she manages to get to the heart about what is great about any book she reviews. If you are looking for straight forward opinions about a book that will really give you an clear idea about whether you will like a book or not, make sure you head over to Over The Rainbow Book Blog.

And if you have been tempted by Jo’s review to get your own copy of The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox, you can buy it in all formats here.

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Guest Post: A Tuscan Memory by Angela Petch

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In a tiny hamlet nestled in the Tuscan mountains, farmers gather after a hard day in the meadows, and children’s laughter rings across the square: but one little boy does not join in their play. Behind his deep brown eyes, hides a heartbreaking secret…

Ninety years later. When elderly Giselda Chiozzi discovers a lost little boy, curled up asleep in the beech forest outside her grand but empty home, she can’t help but take pity on him. It’s been a long time since she had a visitor. Waking up to her kind smile and the warming smell of Italian hot chocolate, Davide soon blurts out what drove him into the cold Tuscan night: he’s different from everyone else, he’s never belonged anywhere, and now his beloved mother is ill.

With her heart full of sadness for this lost child, Giselda promises to help Davide trace his family history – she knows better than anyone that connecting with your roots can ground you in the present, and hopes it will make Davide realise that home is where he truly belongs.

Together the unlikely pair discover the story of Davide’s great-grandfather, Giuseppe Starnucci, a young boy who spent his days milking cows, helping with the harvest, and hammering horseshoes in the forge. But after a terrible incident that changed his life forever, Giuseppe also ran away. Forced to become a man before his time, Giuseppe joined the treacherous pilgrimage all Tuscan farmers must make from the mountains to the plains, sacrificing everything to ensure the survival of their families.

Engrossed in the story, Davide is slowly starting to heal when he and Giselda discover a shocking secret which Giuseppe took to his grave – and which now threatens to tear apart Davide’s family for good. Will Davide let the pain of the past determine his future, or can he find the courage, love and loyalty within him to return home… and even if Davide himself finds peace, will it be too late for Giselda?

This week marks the publication of the latest novel by Angela Petch. A Tuscan Memory was published in digital format by Bookouture on 7 September and, to celebrate, Angela has kindly agreed to visit the blog and tell us a bit about the inspiration behind her writing.

Italian Inspiration by Angela Petch

They say truth is boring and that fiction makes truth more exciting. But, having lived in several countries, I have never found my life boring.  Maurice and I met in Sicily where we both worked for a Dutch construction Company. I had escaped to Italy after a disastrous relationship and had given up on men. (My husband always feels uncomfortable when I say that. “Am I not a man, then?” he asks.) When you are least expecting it, something brilliant happens. Escaping from one man, I fell in love with another and Maurice and I married in Italy less than one year later. Then we moved to Tanzania where we worked and explored this fascinating country for three years. We have been together for forty-three years. Maurice has an Italian mother and I spent my early years in Rome, so this beautiful country has always had a hold on both of us.

Wind back twenty years from today. Three children growing up and the decision to downsize and buy a ruin in Italy with what was left over (after a parents’ evening that didn’t go so well and made us run for consolation to the pub). It was one of the best things we ever did.

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Ten years further on, and a health warning led to early retirement. By now, our children were more or less independent and we packed up to start a dream life: six months in Tuscany each year, running our small holiday rental business.

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At the age of sixty, I finally had time to write. I think that in the interim I had been gathering ideas and stories, like a seamstress collecting patches of material to sew into a quilt. Before then, I wasn’t ready.

It hasn’t been difficult to find more stories where we live in our remote river valley hidden in the eastern Tuscan Apennines.

When I walk along the ancient mule paths, I feel that I am breathing in history. Our area was occupied during the Second World War and this is the period that fascinates me. I combined local accounts from elderly friends with the experiences of my Italian mother-in-law who met and married her handsome English army Captain when he was stationed nearby. My husband describes himself as a son of the Gothic Line – a defensive barrier constructed by the German army which extended from east to west coast and practically past our door. I have uncovered plenty of facts about local partisan activity and escaped POWs and they feature heavily in the three books that I have written so far. Having been indie, I am now published by Bookouture and am under contract to write two more Second World War novels.

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I write most afternoons in a study on a mezzanine at the top of our converted stable.

As we live in a remote area in Italy, there are no local writing groups to join, so I’m so pleased that we now have access to the internet and I can engage with the writing community.   I started off as an indie author, but as a result of involving myself with groups online and joining the RNA, I am now published by Bookouture and haven’t looked back. In the early days, the only way to access the internet was to use a dongle and drive up the mountain to a layby where I could get reception. I won’t expand on some of the dodgy propositions I received, sitting there in my car…

Our life in England where we live in the winter is much busier. I manage to write more in Italy. The country inspires me; it is so beautiful and intriguing.

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Thank you for sharing that with us, Angela, you obviously live in the midst of an inspiring landscape.

A Tuscan Memory by Angela Petch is out now and you can buy a copy here along with Angela’s other two Tuscan-set historical novels, The Tuscan Secret and The Tuscan Girl.

About the Author

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Angela Petch shares her year between the Tuscan Apennines and West Sussex. 

Her love affair with Italy was born at the age of seven when she moved with her family to Rome. Her father worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and he made sure his children learned Italian and soaked up the culture. She studied Italian at the University of Kent at Canterbury and afterwards worked in Sicily where she met her husband. His Italian mother and British father met in Urbino in 1944 and married after a wartime romance.

Her first book, Tuscan Roots was written in 2012, for her Italian mother-in-law, Giuseppina, and also to make readers aware of the courage shown by families of her Italian neighbours during WW2. Signed by Bookouture in 2018, this book was republished as The Tuscan Secret in June 2019. The Tuscan Girl followed in February 2020.

Now and Then in Tuscany, was self-published in April 2017 and features the same family. The background is the transhumance, a practice that started in Etruscan times and continued until the 1950s. Bookouture has since acquired the rights, and under a new title, A Tuscan Memory will be released on September 7th 2020. Research for her Tuscan novels is greatly helped by her knowledge of Italian and conversations with locals.

Although Italy is a passion, her stories are not always set in this country. Mavis and Dot, published at the end of 2018 and sold in aid of research into a cure for cancer, tells the story of two fun-loving ladies who retire to the Sussex seaside. They forge an unlikely friendship and fall into a variety of adventures. Ingenu/e Magazine describes it as: “Absolutely Fabulous meets Last of the Summer Wine… a gently hilarious feel-good book that will enchant and delight…”. 

A prize-winning author and member of the RNA, she also loves to travel and recently returned to Tanzania, where she lived at the start of her marriage. A keen tennis player and walker, she enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren and inventing stories for their entertainment. 

Her short stories are published by PRIMA and the People’s Friend. 

Connect with Angela:

Blog: https://angelapetchsblogsite.wordpress.com

Facebook: Angela Petch Author

Twitter: @Angela_Petch

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Desert Island Books: A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

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Jean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins.

When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle – an experience that leads to the deaths of many.

Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners and many end up owing their lives to her indomitable spirit. While on the march, the group run into some Australian prisoners, one of whom, Joe Harman, helps them steal some food, and is horrifically punished by the Japanese as a result.

After the war, Jean tracks Joe down in Australia and together they begin to dream of surmounting the past and transforming his one-horse outback town into a thriving community like Alice Springs…

The eighth book on my Desert Island Books list is A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which is one of my favourite love stories. And I am not just talking about the romance between the young English girl, Jean Paget, and the heroic Australian, Joe Harman, but the underlying, unrequited love that the narrator, Noel, feels for Jean, and which informs the whole way he tells her story.

This is a book of two halves. The story starts with the reader being introduced to a lawyer, Noel Strachan, who is employed by an infirm Scottish gentleman to draw up his will, some time in the early 1930s. The war then intervenes, and after the war, the gentleman dies and Noel has to track down his niece, and inform her that she has come into an inheritance, of which he is the trustee. So Noel’s involvement in Jean’s life begins. 

During the course of administering the trust, Noel hears Jean’s story of being taken prisoner in Malaya during the war and being marched across the country with a party of other women because the Japanese don’t know what to do with them. A terrible incident occurs during this time which deeply affects Jean and stops her fully recovering after the war. She tells the whole horrifying story of her wartime experiences to Noel, so we hear them as he does, firsthand. Before I read this book for the first time as a teenager, I knew very little of what had occurred during the war in the Far East, as my school studies of the period concentrated on the action in Europe, so this story really piqued my interest and encouraged to to expand my reading on the subject to the wider content of the war beyond the repercussions in Europe to the actions of the Japanese and the involvement of our Commonwealth allies. This is what good fiction can do, encourage further reading into the actual events upon which they are based, even if the fiction is written with a little poetic licence.

In the second half of the book, the action moves to Australia and Jean’s attempts to find Joe Harman after the war, and how together they work to expand a community in the Australian outback. I know some people find the second half of the book less exciting, given the horror and high drama of the first half, but they are missing the point. For a young, ambitious girl on the brink of adulthood with big plans for her future, this story of a woman alive in a time of burgeoning opportunity for females, who defies convention and strikes out into the unknown on her own, following her heart but using her head as well, was revelatory. Whilst it is hard to recognise the kind of attitudes that prevailed in that day when reading from a modern day position, I defy anyone not to be inspired by Jean Paget and be cheering her on from the sidelines

If you are coming to A Town Like Alice for the first time in 2020, it is going to make you very uncomfortable in parts. The attitudes to gender, colour and a lot more besides are going to be jarring when you look at them with a twenty-first century eye, and I know people will find this off-putting. This is a book of its time, it reflects society as it was in the early 1950s and needs to be read with that firmly in mind. If nothing else, it gives a clear picture of how far attitudes have moved on since then, even if we have a long way still to go. But setting these acknowledged issues with the novel aside, this is a uplifting and tender love story of triumphs in the face of adversity, powerful love overcoming severe obstacles, and how love can take many forms, and how wonderful it it when reciprocated. For anyone who is a true romantic, this is a beautiful story.

I have read this book many times over the last 30+ years. Inbetween readings, I sometimes wonder whether it will continue to age well, or if one day I will come back to it and find it no longer speaks to me. Although there are aspects of it which are unpalatable in our, hopefully, more enlightened times, the core story of a brave, resourceful and determined young woman setting out to find the man she loves and build a good life for them both is still moving and inspiring and I would definitely like to have it with me on my desert island to remind me what people can achieve if they set their minds to it.

A Town Like Alice is available in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Nevil Shute Norway was born on 17 January 1899 in Ealing, London. After attending the Dragon School and Shrewsbury School, he studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. He worked as an aeronautical engineer and published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they went on to have two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death on 12 January 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), No Highway (1948), A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957).

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