Blog Blitz: The Secrets of Hawthorn Place by Jenni Keer #Extract

The Secrets of Hawthorn Place

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog blitz for the delightful new book by author, Jenni Keer, The Secrets of Hawthorn Place. I haven’t yet managed to read the book, but I will be reviewing it in a few weeks time. For now, I have an appetite-whetting extract to share with you. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the author for allowing me to share this extract with you today.

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Two houses, hundreds of miles apart…yet connected always.

When life throws Molly Butterfield a curveball, she decides to spend some time with her recently widowed granddad, Wally, at Hawthorn Place, his quirky Victorian house on the Dorset coast.

But cosseted Molly struggles to look after herself, never mind her grieving granddad, until the accidental discovery of an identical Art and Crafts house on the Norfolk coast offers her an unexpected purpose, as well as revealing a bewildering mystery.

Discovering that both Hawthorn Place and Acacia House were designed by architect Percy Gladwell, Molly uncovers the secret of a love which linked them, so powerful it defied reason.

What follows is a summer which will change Molly for ever…

Now, over to Jenni to introduce her extract.

Thank you so much for visiting Julie’s blog today. Here is an extract from The Secrets of Hawthorn Place. In the contemporary story, Molly has just arrived in Dorset to stay with her grieving grandfather, and we get a feel for his unusual house through her eyes. Walter isn’t coping with the death of his wife and spoilt Molly is in for a shock as she struggles to take care of him. Little does she know, this is the start of a summer that will change everything, especially when she stumbles across an unbelievable secret in the very heart of the house.

I stood at the top of the steep stone steps and looked down into a dip of tree-shielded land. From the road you’d never guess there was a house nestled at the bottom. It reminded me of childish efforts to stop someone copying my work at school by covering the page – as if the trees were huge hands shielding it from prying eyes. In fact, the closest you could get a car was the main road above, where Brian’s ostentatious Audi was now parked ahead of Granddad’s ancient Fiat. 

We clambered down the steps and my breath caught in my throat as I looked over to Hawthorn Place. With one foot on the bottom step, and the other on the ancient herringbone brick path that curled around the house, I felt as if I was standing over the meridian line in Greenwich. It was a point where I was in two places at once – two different worlds. I could never understand why flint and brick had been used for the house, when the surrounding landscape was awash with scars of pale stone, exposed through the green of the fields and hills. Portland was only a few miles away, famous for its quarries, and the obvious choice of building material. The property was odd not only in its construction, but also its location. It simply didn’t belong here, even though I wasn’t sure where it did belong.

‘I could murder a cup of tea,’ I announced, as I tumbled into the hallway and threw my arms about my dear old Granddad. He looked slightly startled by my exuberance but I’m embarrassingly tactile. Probably the Italian in me.

I abandoned my shoes and hooked my rucksack over the quirky crenellated post at the bottom of the main oak staircase. Identical posts were dotted up the stairs, and always reminded me of tiny wooden castles in the air – all part of the charm and mystery of the house.

‘I’ll put the kettle on, love,’ Granddad said.

‘Molly is capable of doing that. You’re not to run around after her, Dad.’

It wasn’t said unkindly, but I still glared at him. 

‘I’ll make it, Granddad. Sorry. You don’t have to wait on me.’

‘Nonsense, I bet you two are gasping.’ He toddled off to the kitchen, as Brian parked my suitcase at the foot of the stairs and, neither of us commenting on the muddy trail over the cluttered floor, we followed behind… 

I hope readers are curious about the quirky house, and are also pulled to the historical thread, where we follow the Arts and Crafts architect, Percy Gladwell, and discover why Hawthorn Place is so special to him. Thanks so much for letting me share this extract.

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I’m sure, like me, you now can’t wait to read this book and, if so, you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to check out some of the other blogs participating in the blitz, as detailed on the poster below:

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About the Author

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Jenni Keer is a history graduate who embarked on a career in contract flooring before settling in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with her antique furniture restorer husband. She has valiantly attempted to master the ancient art of housework but with four teenage boys in the house it remains a mystery. Instead, she spends her time at the keyboard writing commercial women’s fiction to combat the testosterone-fuelled atmosphere, with her number one fan #Blindcat by her side. Much younger in her head than she is on paper, she adores any excuse for fancy-dress and is part of a disco formation dance team.

Jenni is also the author of The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker and The Unexpected Life of Maisie Meadows.

Connect with Jenni:

Facebook: Jenni Keer

Twitter: @JenniKeer

Instagram: @JenniKeer

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Lynda Stacey

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This week’s romancing writing guest is my neighbour, good friend and amazing author… Lynda Stacey.

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

Hi Julie, thanks for having me. The books that I write are suspense, however they always have an underlying romance. I like to mix the two, because in normal life, none of us can tell what will happen from one day to the next. So, to ensure that my heroine has a great story, along with a varied lifestyle… I throw everything at her, all at once.

Why romance? 

Because in life, we all love to be loved. I honestly believe that people are like pack animals, they want to be part of a group, a tribe, a couple. So romance is a lovely way to show my hero and heroines softer side, even though most of the time I like to give them truly kick ass attitude.

What inspires your stories?

I really have no idea. It’s normally a house, a hotel, a landscape. There’s always a place, or moment in time that I like to grab hold of. Once I have a location, then I tend to build the story around it.

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

I grew up devouring Enid Blyton. All of my age group did. I read every book repeatedly. 

As an adult, I love Lesley Pearce, Kate Morton and Nora Roberts, I’ve read almost everything they wrote and to be honest, one of my favourite ever quotes that a reader gave to my books was that I wrote like Nora Robert. It’s an accolade which I find both amazing and terrifying at the same time, because I’d love to be compared to her.

This was the quote:

‘Lynda Stacey is up there with Nora Roberts when it comes to writing jaw-dropping, nerve-twisting and addictive tales spiced with intrigue, passion and suspense.’

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

Oh wow, that’s like asking if I have a favourite child. If I were pushed, I’d probably say pretty much anything by Nora Roberts.

Maybe, Sanctuary. It had quite a few twists and turns that I really loved the island setting, along with a ‘will they, won’t they’ love affair that set my spine tingling, that was balanced with the underlying thriller, where you were never sure who was the killer.

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Successful photographer Jo Ellen Hathaway thought she’d escaped the house called Sanctuary long ago. She’d spent her loneliest years there after the sudden, shattering disappearance of her mother. But now someone is sending Jo strange, candid pictures, culminating in the most shocking portrait of all – a photo of her mother, naked, beautiful and dead.

Jo returns home to face her bitterly estranged family, only to find an unexpected chance for happiness in the form of architect Nathan Delaney. But while Jo and Nathan hope to lay the past to rest, a sinister presence is watching from the shadows. And Jo will soon learn there is no peace at Sanctuary . . .

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

I’d have to say, ‘my hero at home’, my husband Haydn is my everyday romantic hero. We’ve been together for 30 years, and I’m not planning on swapping him anytime soon. So, my perfect romantic weekend with him would be on the Maldives, where we could lie in the sun, scuba dive and drink cosmopolitan’s while watching dolphins leap through the waves and take in the sunset as it slips into the sea.

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

The RNA is amazing. I love everything about it. From the day I joined, I became part of a tribe. I got to meet and listen to some of the most amazing authors, who freely gave their knowledge, time, and wisdom. The small nuggets of information that you pick up are priceless and I can honestly say that being a part of the RNA put me on the right path. Without them I doubt I’d have ever become a published author.

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

Listen and learn, and no matter how busy you are each day, take a moment to congratulate yourself for every word you write. It’s one more word that counts and a word closer to writing ‘The End’.

And remember, every word you write means something – even if only to yourself.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

My latest book is called No Place Like Home. 

Sister’s Molly and Beth move to a remote, cliff top property that they inherit following their mother’s brutal murder. It’s a house that overlooks the beach, the sea, and the town of Filey and should be the most beautiful place on earth to live. But someone is out to kill them, and they have no intention of stopping. 

It’s a story of loss, of love and of family ties. A story that shows how extremely protective of her sister Molly is, but it also shows the way she struggles with the fact that she’s suddenly become an impromptu parent – to a very vocal teenager. 

Doing all she can to keep Beth safe, she realises that danger could literally be around every corner, she doesn’t know who to trust and, in the end, she finds herself living in a world where almost everyone around her could want her dead. 

Will Molly manage to survive, will she keep Beth safe? Or will life on the edge of a cliff suddenly become more dangerous than she’d thought?

It’s out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here. (You can read my review of No Place Like Home here.)

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He knows where you are…

Sisters Molly and Beth Winters thought the remote clifftop house would be the perfect place to hide away after their mother’s brutal murder. They were wrong….

He wants revenge…

Because someone from the girls’ past has already found their safe house and he is watching and waiting in the shadows ready to make them pay.

He won’t stop until you’re dead…

Their new home should have been the place the sisters were safe.

But no place is safe forever.

About the Author

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Lynda grew up in the mining village of Bentley, Doncaster, in South Yorkshire,

Her own chaotic life story, along with varied career choices helps Lynda to create stories of romantic suspense, with challenging and unpredictable plots, along with (as in all romances) very happy endings.

Lynda joined the Romantic Novelist Association in 2014 under the umbrella of the New Writers Scheme and in 2015, her debut novel House of Secrets won the Choc Lit Search for a Star competition.

She lives in a small rural hamlet near Doncaster, with her husband, Haydn, whom she’s been happily married to for almost 30 years.

Connect with Lynda:

Website: http://www.lyndastacey.co.uk

Facebook: Lynda Stacey Author

Twitter: @LyndaStacey

Instagram: @lynda.stacey

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews… with Louise Douglas

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In this week’s instalment of my interviews with the winners of the 2021 Romantic Novel Awards, I am chatting with the winner of the Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award, author Louise Douglas.

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Louise, congratulations on winning the Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with your novel The House By The Sea and thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me for the blog.

Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.

The Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award was a new category for the awards in 2020. I remember hearing the new category announced at the 2019 awards and it caused much excitement. How does it feel to be one of the first winners of the award, and to be following in the footsteps of such a titan of the industry?

It feels amazing, something that I shall treasure for the rest of my life. I’m still buzzing! It’s fantastic that the RNA is helping bring the work of wonderful Jackie Collins to new generations of readers and I couldn’t be more proud. #BeMoreJackie

How did you feel on the night when you heard your name announced? You seemed to be stunned that you had won. 

I was stunned! Before the announcement, I was in a virtual ‘green room’ with the other shortlisted authors and it was such a strong line-up; wonderful authors and fabulous books. I still can’t quite believe what happened.

I loved the fact that you thanked bloggers in your acceptance speech, and name-checked a few who obviously had an impact on you. What do you feel that bloggers can bring to the table for authors?

I’m so grateful to the blogging community and have made some treasured friends. Social media is a major part of most people’s lives now and the work bloggers do to champion books, and reading, is so important for us. It’s brilliant for an author when a blogger writes a fantastic review, or, like you’re doing here, makes a bridge between writers and readers. And, as a voracious reader, bloggers often help me decide which book to pick up next. 

Your winning novel, The House By The Sea, is set in an abandoned villa in Sicily. what inspired you to set a book in that particular location? What research did you do to make the setting so authentic?

We went to the south-eastern region of Sicily to explore the World Heritage baroque towns and cities of the Val di Noto made famous in the TV adaptations of the Montalbano novels. I fell head over heels in love with the region; it is one of my top three favourite places on earth and I would recommend it to everyone. It was during this holiday that we found the villa that was the inspiration for the house in the book.

The success of the novel clearly lies in the strong relationship between setting, characters and plot. Which came first for you when you first conceived this novel? Is that the way is usually works in your writing, that one aspect of the novel draws the rest of it together or is it different every time?

That’s an interesting question. I usually start with a location. If a plot idea comes first, I never use it until I find the right location. With the House by the Sea, I’d wanted to write about people who had been badly hurt by life, and Sicily, a beautiful, deeply interesting island that has itself endured much trauma and that has its dark side, was the perfect setting. 

Your award was in the category for a ‘romantic novel with thriller, mystery, crime or suspense elements.’ Which aspect of this are you drawn to most, the romance or the thriller, or do they always have to work together for you? Can you see yourself ever being pulled in the direction of purely one or the other?

I love writing romance but all my books have a Gothic element to them so I can’t imagine writing a love story without suspense or mystery of some kind. I have written mystery/suspense stories with no traditional romance – although there is always love in some guise. 

Much as we all like to celebrate past successes, our focus soon has to turn forwards and on to the next project. What do you have in the pipeline and what influence do you see winning this award having on your writing and future career?

The biggest boost that winning this award has given me, is to my confidence. It’s made a massive difference and because I wasn’t plagued with as many of the usual insecurities, I finished my next novel in record time. It’s being published in October, is called The Room in the Attic and is set in an old Victorian asylum now used as a boarding school. The main characters are an ageing nurse, the child in her care, and two 13-year-old school pupils. I don’t want to jinx the book but these characters are probably my favourites of all those I’ve ever written. Fingers crossed that other people like them too. 

Thank you so much for the interview and for inviting me onto your blog Julie, it’s lovely to be here and I really enjoyed answering the questions. 

Good luck to all the RNA 2022 entrants!

Louise, thank you so much for answering my questions today, I have loved hearing about your experiences.

The 2022 Romantic Novel Awards are now open for entry until 30 September 2021.

Louise’s award-winning book, The House By The Sea, can be purchased here in all formats. Watch out for my review of the book coming soon.

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The new chilling and captivating novel from the bestselling author of Richard & Judy pick The Secrets Between Us.

When Edie’s mother-in-law, Anna DeLuca, dies, she is relieved. Edie blames Anna for the accident that destroyed her family. So, when her will lures Edie to Sicily and the long-abandoned Villa della Madonna del Mare, she sees through Anna’s games.

Suspecting Anna is meddling from beyond the grave to try to reunite her and her ex-husband Joe, Edie is determined to leave Italy as soon as possible. But before she can, the villa starts to shed its mysterious secrets.

Who are the girls beside Anna in her childhood photos, and why has the face of one of them been scratched out? Why does someone, or something, want them to leave the past untouched? The villa is a place where old ghosts feel at home, but does their legacy need to be laid to rest before Edie and Joe can move on…

Bestselling author Louise Douglas returns with a captivating, chilling and unforgettable tale of betrayal, jealousy and the mysteries hidden in every family history.

About the Author

Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author of 6 novels including The Love of my Life and Missing You – a RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Us was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She lives in the West Country.

Connect with Louise:

Facebook: Louise Douglas Author

Twitter: @LouiseDouglas3

Instagram: @louisedouglas3

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Blog Tour: Blooming Murder by Simon Whaley #BookReview

Blooming Murder

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Blooming Murder by Simon Whaley. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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MURDER IS BLOSSOMING IN THE WELSH BORDERS.

Aldermaston’s having a bad day. A falling hanging-basket has killed the town’s mayor, and a second narrowly missed him. His wife wants him to build her new greenhouse in three days, and some nutter is sending him death threats.

This isn’t the quiet life he expected as the new Marquess of Mortiforde.

It’s the annual Borders in Blossom competition, and Mortiforde is battling with Portley Ridge in the final. But this is no parochial flower competition. The mayor’s mishap looks like murder, and there’s another body in the river. Someone desperately wants Portley Ridge to win for the fifteenth successive year.

So when a mysterious group of guerrilla gardeners suddenly carpet bomb Mortiforde with a series of stunning floral delights one night, a chain reaction of floral retaliation ensues.

Can Aldermaston survive long enough to uncover who is trying to kill him, and why? And can he get his wife’s greenhouse built in time?

This is the first book in a new cosy mystery series featuring, Aldermaston, the Marquess of Mortiforde. Mortiforde is a small market town on the Welsh borders and, at the start of the book they are taking part in the annual border towns flower competition, which they have lost the past fourteen years in a row. This year, they are desperate to break their duck, but someone in their rival town of Portley Bridge seems equally determined to stop them, even to the extent of murdering prominent citizens involved in the campaign. There is something very fishy going on, and Aldermaston is determined to get to the bottom of it.

This book is very, very funny. It is the literary equivalent of slapstick, where one ridiculous thing happens after another in the quest to win the accolade of most blooming market town. I mean, the whole premise if ludicrous, that people would be prepared to murder over a gardening competition, which makes it funny from the off. Of course, there is much more to the story than that, involving dark deeds and money, so the plot goes on convoluted twists and turns that make the story more and more ludicrous, which is all part of the fun. We do get to the bottom of who has been carrying out the murders and why at the end, but by this time we barely care, because we’ve had so much fun along the way. 

The best thing about the book are the characters. The author has created a cast of the most unusual and entertaining characters you can think of in this book. Aldermaston, newly made Marchioness of Mortiforde, is a reluctant inhabitor of the title and seems a little out of his depth through much of the book. His wife, Felicity, has been taken unexpectedly from her old life and thrust into society, where she is uncomfortable and unfulfilled. She makes a new friend in Letitia, who is my favourite character in the book and has set some old lady goals for my life for sure. Lisa and Mark are a great couple of supporting characters who I look forward to seeing more of, Lisa playing a kind of Watson to Aldermaston’s rural Sherlock. The villains are suitably ruthless, there are some other great cameos (‘Hortie’ being a particular highlight), and they all get up to some fabulous shenanigans.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it is a piece of ridiculous, riotous fun. If you are a fan of Midsomer Murders, with it pretty settings, eccentric characters and bizarre and convoluted murders, you will absolutely love this novel. I am really looking forward to the next in the series and can recommend this as a great few hours’ entertainment.

Blooming Murder is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please visit the other blogs taking part in the tour for this book for alternative opinions:

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About the Author

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Simon Whaley is an author, writer and photographer who lives in the hilly bit of Shropshire. Blooming Murder is the first in his Marquess of Mortiforde Mysteries, set in the idyllic Welsh Borders – a place many people struggle to locate on a map (including by some of those who live here). He’s written several non-fiction books, many if which contain his humorous take on the world, including the bestselling One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human and two editions in the hugely popular Bluffer’s Guide series (The Bluffer’s Guide to Dogs and The Bluffer’s Guide to Hiking). His short stories have appeared in Take A Break, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, The Weekly News and The People’s Friend. Meanwhile his magazine articles have delighted readers in a variety of publications including BBC Countryfile, The People’s Friend, Coast, The Simple Things and Country Walking.

Simon lives in Shropshire (which just happens to be a Welsh Border county) and, when he gets stuck with his writing, he tramps the Shropshire hills looking for inspiration and something to photograph. Some of his photographs appear on the national and regional BBC weather broadcasts under his BBC WeatherWatcher nickname of Snapper Simon. (For those of you who don’t know, they get a lot of weather in Shropshire.)

Connect with Simon:

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

Facebook: Simon Whaley Author

Twitter: @simonwhaley

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Desert Island Books with… Diana Jackson

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I am delighted to be hosting a special extra edition of Desert Island Books this week. I normally like to leave a week between guests, just so I can pop over and have a tidy around, change the palm leaves, plump up the sand dunes, air out the driftwood shack, replenish the coconut supply… the usual type of thing. However, I’m squeezing in an extra castaway this month, as she had to postpone her shipwreck earlier in the Spring. So let’s maroon author, Diana Jackson, on the island now and see what she has taken with her.

Book One – The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him all the Rings of Power – the means by which he intends to rule Middle-earth. All he lacks in his plans for dominion is the One Ring – the ring that rules them all – which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as the Ring is entrusted to his care. He must leave his home and make a perilous journey across the realms of Middle-earth to the Crack of Doom, deep inside the territories of the Dark Lord. There he must destroy the Ring forever and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

I’ve only read this twice in my life. The first time was so memorable. My sister and I read it aloud to each other between Christmas and Easter one year, as teenagers three years apart. It was a time when we really bonded; a friendship which has lasted a lifetime.

Being a large tome; three books in one really, I don’t think I would tire of it.

Book Two – The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

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C.S. Lewis’s dazzling allegory about heaven and hell – and the chasm fixed between them – is one of his most brilliantly imaginative tales, as he takes issue with the ideas in William Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’.

In a dream, the narrator boards a bus on a drizzly afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell. He meets a host of supernatural beings far removed from his expectations, from the disgruntled, ghostly inhabitants of Hell to the angels and souls who dwell on the plains of Heaven.

This powerful, exquisitely written fantasy is one of C.S. Lewis’s most enduring works of fiction and a profound meditation on good and evil.

This is nothing to do with divorce but is an allegorical account of heaven and hell, along the lines of Pilgrim’s Progress, but easier to read. It is a meditation that challenges the way we look at life. I love books with messages in picture language, pilgrims or journeys. I know that this this would inspire me to write if I was set on a desert island, because each time I’ve read it a different ‘truth’ leaps out at me.

Book Three – Skallagrigg by William Horwood

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Skallagrigg unites Arthur, a little boy abandoned many years ago in a grim hospital in northern England, with Esther, a radiantly intelligent young girl who is suffering from cerebral palsy; and with Daniel, an American computer games genius.

Skallagrigg – whatever the name signifies, or whoever he is – will come to transform their lives. And William Horwood’s inspired, heart-rending story of rescue and redemptive love will undoubtedly touch his readers’ lives, based as it is on a real-life story.

For some reason this is my favourite book of all time. Why? It had such an impact on me, leading to understanding and embracing the truth that all people should be valued. I had always been a strong upholder of equality but, following reading Skallagrig, I looked at folks I met in a different way. It is the quest of a young girl with cerebral palsy who searches for the origins of Skallagrigg, tales which she heard in hospital as a child. Esther has an extremely supportive father who was in the IT business in the 1980’s and ensured that she had every opportunity to reach her potential and explore her dreams in spite of her disabilities. Her link with Arthur, a lad with cerebral palsy who resided in a grim hospital in the 1920’s contrasts with Esther’s life. It is not an easy book to explain in one paragraph. My copy is dog-eared but that doesn’t matter. It is precious nevertheless.

Book Four – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries.

The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

Oh, this was a difficult one! So many of the classics, from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, have influenced both my love of reading but also my writing too. Set in the wilds of the windy Yorkshire moors, it is the vivid descriptions, the intensity of passion and feeling, the supernatural element that love transcends our time on this earth; all these elements bring this novel into sharp focus today, even though I have not read the book since I was a young adult. 

Book Five – The Bible

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

So many books in one. History, songs, prayers, stories, parables, messages, memoir, witness statements; familiar tales known throughout my life but opening The Bible still has the ability to surprise me and it would take me a long while to read it all, or I could just dip into it.

My luxury item

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A pencil. I reason that I would be resourceful and find dried leaves, bark or even rocks and stones to write on, but a pencil would be a life saver emotionally, enabling me to write letters to family, friends and others (even though I knew I couldn’t send them) and a diary. I could also disappear into another world in my own imagination and scribe novels, escaping from my own precarious situation for a while.

About the Author

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Diana Jackson now lives in Fife where she and her husband have become deeply committed to community life in Kinghorn. Before this pandemic curtailed some activities, Diana has enjoyed volunteering; working with the ‘Kinghorn in Bloom’ crowd, ever improving the beautiful areas of Kinghorn and Pettycur; a volunteer at Kirkcaldy Foodbank and also helping her husband at various Rotary events through the year. Her book The Healing Paths of Fife’ tells her story of relocating to Fife in the form of an allegory ~ a walk along the beautiful coastal path.

Diana released the second novel in her ‘Mystery Inspired by History Series’, MISSING, Past and Present just before the lock down overtook life in the UK, back in March 2020.

Until winter 2015 they lived in the heart of Bedfordshire, UK, where Diana was a teacher of English and Business Studies. Having been made redundant, (probably due to being too old at 55 years!) Diana decided to launch a writers’ collaborative publishing company and through this she is still in touch with many authors back in Bedfordshire. She took eighteen months off to settle into her new life in Scotland, but now she has taken up the mantle once more, both in writing and publishing.

Diana’s initial inspiration to write her first novel ‘Riduna’ was her great grandmother, an Alderney girl, leading to the conception of the ‘Riduna Series’. Having said this she stresses that her novels are purely fiction. She takes the reader from the mid Victorian era through to 1920 and plans a third in the series to the mid thirties.

Her other projects include compiling a memoir and writing a murder mystery, ‘Murder, Now and Then’ which was inspired by a true story ~ an unsolved murder in Bedfordshire in 1919. The first novel in Diana’s ‘Mystery Inspired by History’ series.

What links Diana Jackson’s projects? ~ Her fascination for social history, her love of research and using her imagination to create believable characters living in the periods she is studying.

You can buy a copy of Diana’s latest novel, MISSING, Past and Present here.

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Betrayed by her husband’s disappearance and almost destroyed when her foster son vanishes, Dorothy is left almost destitute. With little hope she trudges the countryside, reflecting on all she had left; her memories. Squatting in an empty farmhouse she is haunted by the ghost of an 18th Century aspirant nun, whose presence stirs her out of despair.

Will Dorothy’s resilience win through? Will she find peace and more importantly will she ever learn the truth?

MISSING Past and Present is a captivating, genealogical mystery with a ghostly presence. If you like compelling, emotionally charged British mysteries then you’ll love Diana Jackson’s ‘Mystery Inspired by History’ series.

She is also the author of Search for the Pearl Inside Yourself, a recently published book of encouragement for young adults, school and college leavers who have lost their way in life a bit. Especially pertinent following this pandemic. It was published in March 2021 and is available here.

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Do you know a young person or young adult who needs some encouragement to find their way in life?

It may be a pupil or student, your son or daughter, your nephew or niece, grandchild, neighbour or a friend.

The person you have in mind might lack self-belief, but all they need is a nudge to guide them to think more positively about themselves. 

Here is a book of encouragement with quotations and ideas to help them to let go of those things which are holding them back and

 to discover the pearl inside …

Connect further with Diana:

Website: www.dianamaryjackson.co.uk

Blog: dianamj.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Riduna

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Blog Tour: A Racing Murder by Frances Evesham #BookReview

A Racing Murder

Delighted to be taking my turn on the tour today for A Racing Murder by Frances Evesham. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part, and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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A winning horse. A fierce rivalry. A sudden death. 

Belinda Sandford thrills to the cheers of the crowd as her beautiful grey racehorse, ‘Butterfly Charm’, thunders past the finishing post first at Wincanton Racecourse. She feels like the luckiest girl in the world.

But joy soon turns to despair as a stewards’ enquiry overturns the result and awards the race to her long-time rival, Alexandra Deacon.

When Alex is found dead in suspicious circumstances, a host of accusing eyes turn to Belinda and her distraught mother begs Adam Hennessy, her neighbour, retired police officer and publican, to help clear her daughter’s name.

As Adam, and local hotelier Imogen Bishop, dig deep into the murky and powerful undercurrents of the horse racing world, they lay bare the lives and loves of local jockeys, grooms, trainers and owners. 

They soon uncover a web of secrets hidden within the spectacular Somerset countryside as they strive to find the killer in time to prevent more murders.

I absolutely love a mystery set in the world of racing – Dick Francis is one of my all-time favourite authors – so I jumped at the chance to read and review this book, despite the fact that I had not read the first Ham Hill mystery book. The fact that I was new to the series did not matter at all, this book works perfectly well as a standalone, but it did make me want to go back and read A Village Murder, which is the first book.

The book is set in a quaint, rural village in Somerset, as you would expect for a cosy, murder mystery, with picturesque houses, a lovely hotel and snug pub… and all the usual bickering, rivalry and intrigue that seems to abound in such backwaters. I live in a small village in Yorkshire and we never have any murders, but the rest of the plot rings very true as to the goings on in a rural setting. They are always gossip central, and no one can ever keep anything quiet, so the idea that a group of locals could solve a murder through wagging tongues and their personal contacts I find entirely feasible!

I really love the gang of characters that the author has created here, especially Imogen and Adam and the friendship between them. They are very authentic, well-rounded and likeable characters, and I love the way Frances has included intrigue and tension in their personal lives, as well as the murder mystery, to push the plot along. In fact, it is the characterisation in particular that has made me want to go back and read the first book in the series and find out more of their back stories, although there is enough information contained in this book to enable the reader to enjoy this storyline without making that necessary.

The murder plot is gentle, not especially gory, but entertaining and diverting and kept me guessing throughout. I loved the peek inside the world of racing and thought Frances had captured that world very well compared to other books I have read written by people actually involved in it (as I said, I am a fan of the genre, and I come from a town where horse-racing is one of our biggest industries). Frances’s writing is very engaging and extremely easy to read, so the pages just slip by. This is a book you can easily devour in one indulgent afternoon without any strain, and you will probably want to as you race to find out whodunnit.

A great book for fans of M.C. Beaton, Betty Rowlands and other cosy mystery writers. Lovely setting, attractive characters and an enticing and gripping plot, what more can you ask for from a book? Thoroughly enjoyable.

A Racing Murder is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for this book:

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About the Author

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Frances Evesham is the bestelling author of the hugely successful Exham-on-Sea murder mysteries set in her home county of Somerset, and the Ham-Hill cosy crime series set in South Somerset.

Connect with Frances:

Facebook: Frances Evesham Writer

Twitter: @FrancesEvesham

Instagram: @francesevesham

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Nesting by C. J. Cooke #BookReview

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A house stands alone in the woods.

Deep in the forests of Norway, Lexi finds a fresh start with Tom and his two young daughters, working as their new nanny.

The darkness creeps closer.

But Lexi is telling lies, and she’s not the only one. This family has a history – and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build this house, and in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks.

Lexi must protect the children in her care – but protect them from what?

Challenge number 9 was ‘Read a book that is on the TBR of a Fiction Cafe Member.’ As The Nesting by C. J. Cooke was on the TBR of Charlene Mattson, and also on my NetGalley shelf, it seemed like the obvious choice. Two birds, one stone and all that. I actually listened to the audiobook, narrated by Aysha Kala, which is a great option if you are considering it. The narration was excellent.

This book is a really interesting mix of gothic fairytale, environmental parable and exploration of depression. It is dreamy and ethereal and dark and scary, and surreal all at the same time. The threads are so tightly and cleverly woven together by the author that, even by the end, you won’t be quite sure what is real and what has been a dream.

The book is told through the voices of a number of people. Troubled Lexi, running from her demons and her problems, finds herself hiding out in Norway, pretending to be someone she isn’t in an effort to find a life better than the one she has been living. Tom, battling the forces of nature in a remote Norwegian forest to balance building his beloved wife’s dream holiday home with protecting this unspoilt wilderness. And Aurelia, feeling isolated in the aftermath of her second daughter’s birth and haunted by the ghosts of the Norwegian forest. Each of them experiences supernatural events in the dark, Norwegian forest and the remote fjord, but which are real, and which are products of troubled minds.

The dive into Norwegian folklore and stories was the part that most drew me to this book, because anything along those lines fascinates me. I loved the way that the author wove them in to the narrative of the novel, and used them to make commentary on the impact of human beings on the planet and its non-human inhabitants without being preachy. It was also a clever way to explore why we are drawn to stories of darkness to explain things that we are afraid to confront inside ourselves.

Aside from these themes, this is just a cracking good story that is a compelling read. What is actually happening out there in the Norwegian forest? What is Aurelia really experiencing, and what is just a result of the problems that can afflict women after child birth that can go unnoticed and unrecognised by those around her? Is Lexi’s past going to come back to haunt her? Is Tom everything he seems to be? I was eager every time to get back to listening to the book, and it made some mundane chores seem a lot less arduous, I was so engrossed.

The Nesting is a great book for anyone who loves the gothic and the mythic, but also for anyone interested in the human brain and the things it can do for us when we are thrown off balance. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will definitely be recommending it to a few friends.

The Nesting is out now in all formats and you can buy it here.

About the Author

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C J Cooke (Carolyn Jess-Cooke) lives in Glasgow with her husband and four children. C J Cooke’s works have been published in 23 languages and have won many awards. She holds a PhD in Literature from the Queen’s University of Belfast and is currently Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, where she researches creative writing interventions for mental health. Two of her books are currently optioned for film.

Connect with Carolyn:

Website: https://carolynjesscooke.com/

Facebook: C J Cooke Books

Twitter: @CJessCooke

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Book Review: Lost Children by Willa Bergman #BookReview

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A celebrated painting, the Portrait of the Lost Child, has been missing for over a decade. Eloise Witcham is commissioned to find it, but if she does she will have to confront a past she thought long behind her and face up to the dark fears that still haunt her dreams.

A stylish, intelligent, contemporary thriller set in the secretive world of high end art.

I am delighted to be sharing my review today of Lost Children, the debut novel by Willa Bergman. My thanks to the author for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

When the author approached me about reviewing this book I agreed because I was intrigued by the premise of a thriller set in the world of art theft. It is not something I have come across before and I thought it would make an interesting basis for a story. I wasn’t wrong on this point, it was a really cleverly plotted story featuring the race to determine the whereabouts of a missing painting that jumps from the UK to New York and then back to France, but the reasons for each individual’s desire to track down the painting are clouded in mystery and not as straight forward as they first seem.

The main character is Eloise, a member of the private sales team at an auction house who is asked to track down the painting which was stolen fifteen years before. She finds herself promoted within the auction house and will a certain amount of autonomy which is useful for the hunt, as there are certain things about her past she is keen to keep quiet. However, it brings her into direct conflict with a rival art investigator who is determined to get to the painting before her. It is quite hard to talk any further about the plot without revealing spoilers but, suffice it to say, the book is full of action, intrigue and international travel and the plot moves along at a cracking pace, keeping the reader engaged throughout.

I have to say that the book requires some suspension of disbelief to enjoy. I’m not 100% convinced that Eloise would be able to do all she does without her employers raising a few eyebrows, and the ending gets very exciting. Still, no one reads these type of thrillers for absolute authenticity and it is a cracking good story. I really enjoyed the dip into a different world, high end art crime, and a female protagonist who doesn’t need a man to help her solve the problems.

Highly entertaining.

Lost Children is out now as an ebook and paperback, and is available to read for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. You can get your copy here.

About the Author

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Willa Bergman lives in London with her husband and two children. Lost Children is her first novel.

You can connect with Willa via Goodreads.

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Blog Tour: The Lynmouth Stories by Lucy V Hay #BookReview

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Beautiful places hide dark secrets … 

Devon’s very own crime writer L.V Hay (The Other Twin, Do No Harm) brings forth three new short stories from her dark mind and poison pen:

– For kidnapped Meg and her young son Danny, In Plain Sight, the remote headland above Lynmouth is not a haven, but hell.

– A summer of fun for Catherine in Killing Me Softly becomes a winter of discontent … and death.

– In Hell And High Water, a last minute holiday for Naomi and baby Tommy  becomes a survival situation … But that’s before the village floods.

All taking place out of season when the majority of tourists have gone home, L.V Hay uses her local knowledge to bring forth dark and claustrophic noir she has come to be known for.

Did You Know …?

Known as England’s ‘Little Switzerland’, the Devon village of Lynmouth is famous for its Victorian cliff railway, fish n’ chips and of course, RD Blackmore’s Lorna Doone.

Located on the doorstep of the dramatic Valley of The Rocks and the South West Cliff Path, the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth have inspired many writers, including 19th Century romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who honeymooned there in 1812.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Lynmouth Stories, a short story collection by Lucy V Hay. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a very brief book containing just three short stories but it packs a punch that greatly belies its length. Tightly woven with impressively realised characterisation in such a small word count, Lucy V Hay has produced here a masterclass in the art of the short story.

All three stories are set in the tiny, coastal village of Lynmouth, popular with tourists. However, we visit during the low season, when the village shuts down and empties out, giving it a deserted and melancholy air, which provides the perfect backdrop for this collection  of dark and brooding stories. Focusing on the kind of threats that lurk behind closed doors, they remind us that appearances can be deceptive and we never know what dangers are lurking unseen in the most ordinary of settings.

All three stories have female protagonists, who are all very different. Some strong and determined, some finding strength they never knew they had and some crumbling under pressure, the stories explore different reactions under stress and what women can do in protection of themselves and those they love. Probing the darkest aspects of the human psyche, the author manages to convey an awful lot about these women in a very compact word count so you can feel exactly what they are going through in that moment. I really enjoyed the fact that the focus here was entirely on the women and their experiences, with the men largely remaining nameless, shadowy figures whose feelings and motives exist only in relation to the women’s.

This book left me feeling very unsettled. The author has produced an oppressive atmosphere throughout the stories, asking the reader to put themselves in the far from comfortable shoes of the protagonists and walk a little way in them. The stories will shake you out of your complacency and ask you to think about what other women may be dealing with in places we don’t see, even in the cosy seaside towns that the rest of us visit on happy family holidays for reasons of pleasure. It’s easy to sail along, forgetting that our fellow women may be struggling and fighting against enemies we can’t envisage. Maybe we should be more alert for the signs that may be laying in plain sight. The stories are asking us to look and ask, to think about what we are actually seeing. 

A short, uncomfortable but enthralling read.

The Lynmouth Stories is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

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

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About the Author

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Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. She is the associate producer of Brit Thrillers Deviation (2012) and Assassin(2015), both starring Danny Dyer. Lucy is also head reader for the London Screenwriters’ Festival and has written two non-fiction books, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays, plus its follow-up Drama Screenplays. Her critically acclaimed debut thriller The Other Twin was published in 2017.

Connect with Lucy:

Website: https://linktr.ee/lucyvhayauthor

Facebook: Lucy V Hay Author

Twitter: @LucyVHayAuthor

Instagram: Lucy V Hay Author

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Blog Tour: Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage by Samantha Tonge #BookReview

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A new start can come from the most unexpected places…

It’s been years since Lizzie Lockhart spoke to her parents. But she was safe in the knowledge she knew everything about them. Once upon a time, they were as close as could be. Until they weren’t.

After receiving the earth-shattering news of their passing, Lizzie decides it’s time to unearth some family secrets and find out just who her parents really were… starting with Streamside Cottage. A cottage Lizzie never knew existed, in a place she’s never heard of: the beautiful English village of Leafton.

Leaving behind London, and the tattoo parlour she called home, Lizzie finds herself moving to the countryside. Faced with a tight-lipped community, who have secrets of their own, Lizzie is at a loss for what to do, until her rather handsome neighbour, Ben, steps in to help.

As Lizzie finally begins to piece together the puzzle of her family history she realises she has to confront the truth of the past in order to face her future.

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for the new book by Samantha Tonge, Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage. My thanks to Victoria Joss at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part and providing me with a digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Lots of books start off with a character being jolted out of their current life and into a new situation but few people have such a shocking and dramatic change as Lizzie does at the beginning of Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage. What could possibly persuade a London-based tattoo artist to move to a tiny cottage in a rural setting, and how on earth will she fit it when she does? Was there ever a more fish-out-of-water scenario to open a book?

Well, finding out how this can all possibly work out is the joy of this book, and Samantha does a fantastic job of unfurling a convincing story out of this implausible scenario and making it all make sense. There are family secrets lurking in the walls of Streamside Cottage and Lizzie is determined to weed them out and try and make sense of why she became estranged from her over-protective parents, and why some villagers in Leafdon are so reluctant to talk about the past of Streamside Cottage.

Wrapping up an intriguing mystery with an exploration of family dynamics and what it really means to love and lose another person, this book has so much to offer to a range of different readers. It also seemed early on that the story might have a touch of the paranormal about it, until it took a very different direction. The story jumps backwards and forwards to different points in Lizzie’s life, so you have to pay quite keen attention to the headings at the beginning of each chapter to check what point you are at at any given time or the story won’t make sense, and the time jumps are not linear, but if you do that, the story will flow quite easily. I did have an inkling fairly early on as to what part of the secret might be, but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book as I was eager to find out if I was right – and the answer was – not 100%!

I loved the fact that Lizzie was a tattoo artist – not something you come across often as a profession in a novel – and Samantha has included a little fact at the beginning of each chapter about tattoos, which tied in with events in that chapter. I found myself googling some of the things she referred to, I was so interested. She had obviously done a lot of research, and it was something Lizzie is very passionate about in the book. After living for 10 years with someone who has a bit of a tattoo addiction and having watched him add to them, I understand how meaningful they can be, and how much thought goes in to them, and this really came across in the writing here.

The storyline of the book is quite complex and dark, and the writing doesn’t shy away from this. I actually found myself in tears close to the end, so this may not be the light and fluffy read people come to expect from this type of fiction. However, this is something that appeals to me, I like the fact that romance novels can address some very personal and intense topics in an accessible way and I think people often underestimate this about the genre. This novel offers the reader a lot to think about during the read, and proved very satisfying.

This is a meaty read from Samantha Tonge, and will be enjoyed by anyone who loves a romance novel that they can get their teeth into.

Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage is out now an an ebook and will be published in paperback in July, and you can buy a copy here.

Please visit some more bloggers taking part in the tour for alternative reviews and extracts:

Summer Secrets at Streamside Blog Tour 1

Summer Secrets at Streamside Blog Tour 2

About the Author

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Samantha Tonge lives in Manchester UK with her husband and children. She studied German and French at university and has worked abroad, including a stint at Disneyland Paris. She has travelled widely. When not writing she passes her days cycling, baking and drinking coffee. Samantha has sold many dozens of short stories to women’s magazines. She is represented by the Darley Anderson literary agency. In 2013, she landed a publishing deal for romantic comedy fiction with HQDigital at HarperCollins and in 2014, her bestselling debut, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award. In 2015 her summer novel, Game of Scones, hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart and won the Love Stories Awards Best Romantic Ebook category. In 2018 Forgive Me Not heralded a new direction into darker women’s fiction with publisher Canelo. In 2019 she was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association romantic comedy award

Connect with Samantha:

Website: http://samanthatonge.co.uk/

Facebook: Samantha Tonge Author

Twitter: @SamTongeWriter

Instagram: @samanthatongeauthor

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