The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Little Shop on Floral Street by Jane Lacey-Crane #BookReview

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In the wake of tragedy, two sisters have to piece their family back together…

Grace never thought she’d have to return home to Floral Street. Having spent most of her life building a successful career in London, she’s done everything she possibly can to avoid the flower stall that’s been in her family for generations. But when tragedy hits, she’s got no choice. It’s time to face the demons of the past and support her family.

Faith has returned home after years travelling the world. The baby of the family, she always struggled to find her place. She thought that her life would be different after a trip across the globe, but as she settles back into life in her childhood room she has to come to terms with the fact her life isn’t quite what she expected. And she has no way of getting out of the rut she finds herself in.

Faith and Grace have never seen eye-to-eye, always clashing, never forgiving. But they might just find a way to understand one another, to fight their way through their grief and come out stronger. By opening up, they’ll discover they aren’t so different at all. And family will always be there for you.

Category six of The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge was ‘Read a book by an author with the same name as your best friend.’ Now, this caused me a bit of a dilemma as I have a number of close friends and didn’t want to offend the others by naming any one of them ‘best.’ So I chose the name of my first best friend at senior school who moved to Cornwall after a year and who I haven’t seen since 1984! It also allowed me to tick a book off my NetGalley list, so it was win-win. The book I picked was The Little Shop on Floral Street by Jane Lacey-Crane.

I am ashamed that this book has been languishing on my TBR for so long, because I have loved Jane’s previous two books. This one was another great piece of women’s fiction, that spoke to me on a personal level, dealing as it does with the relationship between three sisters. As someone who is the eldest of four girls, and who counts her sisters as her closest friends as well as siblings, the dynamics of relationships between sisters is always something I am interested in seeing explored in a novel.

In this book, two of the sisters have remained close, despite the fact that the eldest left home at a young age after become largely estranged from their father. The youngest sister has been away travelling and her return to the family home marks a period of upheaval for them all, that culminates in a family tragedy that changes them all forever, and has the power to push them all apart or pull them back together.

In this novel, Jane has drawn a truly authentic and believable family dynamic that plays out honestly on the page. I felt that each of the characters, and their relationship to one another, were beautifully realised and explored and I could really relate to all of them. Despite my own closeness to my sisters, the tensions and rivalries between the three girls were very recognisable to me; with the best will in the world every family has difficulties and areas of friction, and the way each of the sisters interpreted events differently depending on their position and role within the family was all too familiar!

As the eldest, Grace was the one to whom I most related. I recognise that feeling of responsibility and having the weight of sorting out the family’s issues and taking on its burdens, whilst the younger sisters have a much more carefree existence. I am sure my sisters would argue that the younger girls have their own crosses to bear, and would recognise themselves more in Hope or Faith, which is the genius of Jane’s drawing of the characters!

The story centres around the family’s flower stall business, and its future in the wake of the tragedy and the shockwaves of its aftermath and, in this regard, it is a tight, small story that could be happening to any family up and down the country today and, in fact, in the wake of so many losses suffered by so many families in the last twelve months, many of the issues explored will be painful and relevant to a lot of people at the moment. In this regard, the book will speak to a lot of people and touch many of us with its message. This is a book that takes a step beyond a typical women’s fiction novel.

I really enjoyed this book. It is a novel with a big heart and a gentle exploration of issues that will have touched most of us in some way at some point in our lives. I would be surprised if there is anyone who can’t find some recognisable experience or emotion in its pages. Well worth reading.

The Little Shop on Floral Street is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jane has reached the age now where she no longer tells people her age! She’s old enough to legally be able to do everything and that’s all that matters. Secrets & Tea at Rosie Lee’s is Jane’s debut novel. Born and brought up in London’s East End, she now lives in Lincolnshire with her family. Thankfully she recently discovered the joys of mail order pie, mash & liquor, so she can relive her youth anytime she feels like it!

Although writing stories was something that Jane had always done, she never thought anyone would pay her to do it so she focused on learning to act instead, figuring that this was a much more reliable way to earn a living. Sadly, her career as an actress was shortlived, actually it was non-existent, so she turned her attention to another reliable line of work – Cable Television! This was where Jane managed to finally get paid (badly!) doing something she enjoyed – writing. She began with scripts for a series all about Serial Killers (imaginatively entitled ‘Serial Killers’) and then moved on to a series of history documentaries. This series never saw the light of day in the UK but Jane has been informed that it used be very popular with insomniacs staying in hotels in the Far East. This may or may not be true.

Jane’s latest book, The Little Shop on Floral Street, is out now and returns to the familiar East London streets where the author grew up.

Connect with Jane:

Facebook: Jane Lacey-Crane

Twitter: @JaneLaceyCrane

Instagram: @janelaceycrane

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Blog Tour: Chasing The Italian Dream by Jo Thomas #BookReview

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I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour today for the latest book by one of my favourite authors, Chasing The Italian Dream by Jo Thomas. It’s also ebook publication day today, so happy publication day, Jo! My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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A summer escape she’ll never forget . . .

Lucia has worked hard as a lawyer in Wales, aiming for a big promotion she hopes will shortly come her way. Finally taking a well-earned break at her grandparents’ house in southern Italy, the sunshine, lemon trees and her nonna’s mouth-watering cooking make her instantly feel at home.

But she’s shocked to learn that her grandfather is retiring from the beloved family pizzeria and will need to sell. Lucia can’t bear the thought of the place changing hands – especially when she discovers her not-quite-ex-husband Giacomo wants to take it over!

Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life. Is this her chance to carry on the family tradition and finally follow her dreams?

Jo Thomas is queen of the travel novel, and this time she effectively whisked me from my armchair and straight to the heart of an Italian village near Naples where the air is fragrant with the scent of flowers, lemons…. and pizza! Workaholic Lucia is taking her annual holiday with her grandparents in Italy, while she waits to hear about a big promotion at her law firm back in Wales. However, she finds that her stable world in Italy is about to change when her Nonno retires from the family’s generations-old pizza restaurant, and passes it on to her estranged ex-husband of all people. Lucia begins to wonder is her future lies in law, and in Wales, at all.

Jo has created a wonderful mix of characters here. Lucia is a modern woman to whom we can all relate. Independent, feisty and not prepared to take no for an answer when she wants something, but at the same time generous and caring in the way she deals with other people. The relationship between Lucia and her grandparents is heart-warming and honest and I really loved watching it being explored on the page. The friendships she has in Italy, and the way the women all help each other out, is a fabulous dynamic to explore and I absolutely loved the theme of women’s lib playing out in a small, Italian pizzeria. I was cheering them on all the way!

At the same time, what is a holiday novel without a holiday romance, although in this story it is with a bit of a twist because Lucia and Giacomo have a long and tangled history, so they are not just getting to know each other. I found this a refreshing twist on the overseas romance novel, and enjoyed the way their past played into the story and caused the tension in the events unfolding on the page. There was definitely heat between the two of them coming off the page, and it wasn’t just from the hot Italian sun or the forno!

The star of the show, and the reason we all pick up a Jo Thomas novel, is, of course, the setting. It is a holiday in book form. Jo is the mistress of actually bringing her settings to life on the page so you are actually THERE as you read. Her books are a feast for every sense, with all of the sights, sounds, scents, textures, and particularly tastes, described in detail. You can feel the sun warming your shoulders, hear the waiter singing, feel the stone of the piazza under your flip flops, smell the earthy tomatoes and the zesty lemons, and taste the food.

Oh the food, the food, the food. Anyone who has read her books or follows Jo on Twitter will know how much she loves to describe food, and she does so in such a way that you can actually taste it. It instantly makes you want to eat whatever she is describing, and here it is one of my favourite cuisines… Italian. You can virtually enjoy the soft dough, the tangy tomato sauce, the melting mozzarella and the earthy basil. The gelato. The pasta, the vegetables. I’ve made myself hungry again just thinking about it, just as Jo did all the way through the book. If you love to read about food, you have to read this book.

The book was everything I wanted in a travel romance. I spent a day (which is all the time it took me to read this, I couldn’t put it down) in the sun-drenched Italian countryside with some lovely people eating pizza, drinking wine and enjoying the family drama. What more do you want? Can’t wait to get the paperback to slide on to my bookshelf next to Jo’s other books, ready for the next time I want to be whisked away to Italy.

Chasing The Italian Dream is out today in ebook format and will be published in paperback on 10 June. You can order your copy here.

Make sure to follow the rest of the tour for more reviews and other great content from my fellow bloggers:

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About the Author

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Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Radio 2’s The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.

Connect with Jo:

Website: https://jothomasauthor.com/

Facebook: Jo Thomas Author

Twitter: @jo_thomas01

Instagram: jothomasauthor

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Blog Tour: Staying Out for the Summer by Mandy Baggot #BookReview

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I am delighted to be one of the blogs kicking off the tour today for Staying Out for the Summer by Mandy Baggot. Happy Publication Day, Mandy! My thanks to Victoria Joss at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part and for providing me with a digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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After a summer of staying in, it’s time to let your hair down and escape to Greece!

For Lucie Burrows, it’s time to embrace Greek life and put the past behind her! Having spent the summer of 2020 battling a global health crisis, Lucie Burrows is looking forward to a summer out of lockdown.

When best friend, Gavin, finds them the perfect Greek escape Lucie finally starts to think this summer might just go without a hitch.But after a landslide puts the village into a local lockdown, Lucie is thrown together with Michalis Andino, the super sexy village doctor. It’s not quite the holiday she had planned, but things could certainly be worse.

As Lucie relaxes into the Greek way of life, she begins to wonder whether this lockdown might just end in a new life, a new love…

Like me, you’ve probably been wondering how authors are going to deal with the pandemic crisis that has gripped the world for the last twelve months in their writing. I think there are going to be three ways of going about it. Firstly, people can set there books in some kind of world, either pre- or post-pandemic, where the crisis is not mentioned at all and life carries on as if it never happened, secondly it could be mentioned just in passing but largely ignored, or thirdly the author can deal with the issue head on and fully incorporate it into their writing. I have seem some discussion about what readers are going to be looking for in this regard, and I have seen mixed responses with some saying they are not ready to read about the pandemic in fiction yet because they turn to books to escape it, and some saying they would be happy to see books reflecting the reality of what we have been through. Horses for courses.

In her latest book, Mandy Baggot has firmly taken the third route and put a nurse and a doctor in the aftermath of the pandemic firmly at the heart of the story and has not shied away from exploring what these people have been put through over the past twelve months and how they are dealing with it. I think this is a very brave move, because there are people who are just not going to be ready for books that contain any reference to the difficulties the world has faced recently, especially those that are otherwise a light-hearted romance, but personally, I really enjoyed this book and felt that Mandy dealt with what could be a tricky subject with grace and compassion and honesty, whilst still retaining her trademark warmth and humour in a way that demonstrated great skill in her craft.

I love Mandy’s books for the escapism they provide, and this one is no different. Here she transports nurses Lucie and Gavin to the sun-drenched shores of Corfu, where they are taking a well-earned break from the stresses they have been under working in the NHS throughout 2020. But it is not that easy to relax whilst the after effects of the pandemic are still washing around the world. Doctor Michaelis has returned from the Greek mainland to his small home village in Corfu for similar reasons, not expecting to find romance with someone who really understands what he has been through, but fate always has other plans in romance novels!

Michaelis and Lucie are both great characters with lots of heart and some issues to work through, and they had fabulous chemistry. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them, as they got to know each other. I also absolutely adored Gavin and Michaelis’s sister, Nyx, who were larger than life and great fun to read. Mandy has also provided a fantastic cast of supporting characters, worthy of any greek tragedy or an instalment of the ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ franchise, and the whole book is a performance a maximum drama, whilst still exploring some difficult issues sympathetically. I think the author has struck a great balance here between humour and pathos.

We all need a bit of escapism at the moment, and many of us long for those warm beaches and blue seas. Unfortunately, the world has not moved on maybe as far as Mandy imagined when she was writing this book, and foreign travel is going to be merely a memory for a bit longer I fear. So, this kind of armchair travel might be our only option for a while, and I for one will take it as the alternative for now. I know some people may feel like they don’t want to read about a world that is currently only wishful thinking, but I welcome the change of scene, even if it is only imaginary.

I admire Mandy for writing about the world as it actually is, rather than how we might wish it could be. I know not everyone will agree but, if you are a fan of Mandy’s books and are looking for that armchair escape, without shying away from our new reality, this is the book for you. A light, romantic, honest novel with a bittersweet kick.

Staying Out for the Summer is out in ebook format today, and will be published in paperback on 10 June and you can get a copy here.

Make sure you check out some more reviews on the rest of the blog tour:

Staying out for Summer Blog Tour 1

Staying out for Summer Blog Tour 2

About the Author

Mandy Baggot

Mandy Baggot is an international bestselling and award-winning romance writer. The winner of the Innovation in Romantic Fiction award at the UK’s Festival of Romance, her romantic comedy novel, One Wish in Manhattan, was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year award in 2016. Mandy’s books have so far been translated into German, Italian, Czech and Hungarian. Mandy loves the Greek island of Corfu, white wine, country music and handbags. Also a singer, she has taken part in ITV1’s Who Dares Sings and The X-Factor. Mandy is a member of the Society of Authors and lives near Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK with her husband and two daughters.

Connect with Mandy:

Website: http://mandybaggot.com

Facebook: Mandy Baggot Author

Twitter: @mandybaggot

Instagram: @mandybaggot

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Blog Tour: The Winter Girls by Roger Stelljes #BookReview

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“Gazing out the cabin window at the raging blizzard, fear suddenly floods through her as she feels a stranger’s hand clamp across her mouth. No one can hear her stifled screams as she is dragged from the couch by the fire out into the snow.”

When seventeen-year-old Savannah Devenish vanishes from her family’s remote vacation cabin in Minnesota, FBI Agent Tori Hunter races along treacherous icy roads to be first on the scene. Savannah’s parents are frantic with worry for their beautiful, carefree girl. Haunted by memories of her own missing sister, Tori vows to do whatever it takes to reunite this family.

When the police uncover that Savannah’s father Jacob was having an affair, they suspect his involvement, but Tori is convinced his despair is genuine. Her close relationship with the chief detective means the team won’t listen, so Tori strikes off alone, persuading Savannah’s distraught best friends to share their secrets. It seems this ‘good girl’ was sneaking out to parties to meet up with a mysterious man…

Then another teenager is snatched from the street, snowy footprints and a discarded hot chocolate cup the last trace of her. The girls are the same age, strikingly pale and blonde. Is a twisted collector stealing them away? And what chance is there that they are being kept alive?

With a deadly snowstorm closing in, Tori battles the elements—and her own team—as she follows the trail to an abandoned cabin by a frozen lake. In the basement are bedrooms filled with clothes for teenage girls. Tori was too late to save her own missing sister twenty years ago, but can she find these girls before they disappear forever?

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Winter Girls by Roger Stelljes, the second book in the Tori Hunter series. My thanks to Noelle Holten at Bookouture for inviting me to take part in the tour and for providing me with a digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a new series to me and I have to say I have become addicted almost immediately to these characters and to Roger’s writing and I can’t wait to go back and read the first book. I was gripped by this book from start to finish, the tension just ramped up and up throughout the novel, it gives you everything you could possibly want from this type of crime thriller.

The book begins with a shocking opening as a young woman is snatched from her family’s weekend home under brutal circumstances.The investigation initially leads the detectives in one direction, but it is soon clear that certain facts have been hidden by the victim’s father, which leads to alternative threads of enquiry being opened up. The premise behind the plot is fresh and unique and not something I have seen explored in this type of book before, so my interest was piqued very early on and held me throughout the book and, as the tension grew, I became more and more desperate to find out what was going to happen, until the ending blew me away, The book is extremely well-plotted in this regard.

The story is told through a variety of voices which all bring a different perspective to the story. We have the victim, the perpetrators and Tori on the investigative team. The fact that we know early on who committed the crime could be fatal to the tension, but it isn’t here because it is the WHY less than the WHO that is driving the narrative, which again makes the book a little different and more interesting to anyone who reads this type of book regularly. The author does a great job of separating the voices of the different characters into distinct personalities.

This book also has a real sense of place, as we explore the frigid, snowbound landscape of northern Minnesota, its remote lakes and isolated places in the hunt for the missing girl. I could sense the vastness and loneliness of the place and the helplessness of anyone held far from civilisation against their will, what and impossible task the investigators have in trying to track people down in this huge expanse of nothingness in harsh weather conditions. It is a great skill to draw a place so vividly, and the author has it. The cover of the book portrays it brilliantly, I just love it, it was what initially drew me to the book.

The relationship between Tori and Braddock is one of the highlights of the book, and it is fascinating to see it develop. Tori’s ongoing issues, and the new life she is trying to build in northern Minnesota, recovering from the events of the first book. The whole situation feels very authentic, and illustrates the humanity of the people behind the investigation and the personal passions that drive them to do what they do. I think this is one of the main things that makes the book so compelling and makes me want to read more about these characters that I have grown so fond of via Roger’s writing.

If I had one small niggle, it would be that the first chapter of the book which recapped the back story of Tori and Braddock and how she ended up where she did felt a little disjointed and didn’t flow well. If I had been a different type of reader, more impatient, it might have put me off reading any further because it felt so clunky. However, it is well worth persevering past this small portion of the book, because it gets very good very quickly and settles down into a good and smooth flow that carries you through the narrative. If you encounter this same issue, please don’t let it stop you reading on through the book, it is well worth it.

A great crime thriller with interesting characters that I hope will be the start of a series that I can immerse myself in at regular intervals. Highly recommended.

The Winter Girls is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the tour and take a look at the other blogs taking part for alternative reviews and content:

The Winter Girls - Blog Tour

About the Author

Roger Stelljes

Roger Stelljes is the acclaimed New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of pulse-pounding murder mystery and suspense novels, including the Tori Hunter and McRyan Mystery Series. Roger’s crime thrillers are noted for their fast-paced, yet intricate plots filled with layered and complex characters.

Roger started his first novel in July 2002 while on vacation in Minnesota’s Brainerd Lakes area and has been writing ever since. His debut book, The St. Paul Conspiracy, was nominated in genre fiction for the Minnesota Book Awards along with finalists Brian Freeman and William Kent Krueger. With his follow-up, Deadly Stillwater, where Vince Flynn hailed Roger as a “powerful new thriller voice”, he won the Midwest Independent Book Publishers award for commercial fiction.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Roger still lives there with his family. In addition to his work as an author, Roger is a partner in his law firm. Roger is an avid sports enthusiast and enjoys spending time outdoors boating, attending hockey games, and honing his golf game.

Connect with Roger:

Website: https://www.rogerstelljes.com/

Facebook: Roger Stelljes

Twitter: @RogerStelljes

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Blog tour: Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker #BookReview

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THIS MOTHER’S DAY YOU WILL CALL HER MUMMY

Glamorous, beautiful Mummy has everything a woman could want. Except for a daughter of her very own. So when she sees Kim – heavily pregnant, glued to her phone and ignoring her eldest child in a busy shop – she does what anyone would do. She takes her. But foul-mouthed little Tonya is not the daughter that Mummy was hoping for.

As Tonya fiercely resists Mummy’s attempts to make her into the perfect child, Kim is demonised by the media as a ‘scummy mummy’, who deserves to have her other children taken too. Haunted by memories of her own childhood and refusing to play by the media’s rules, Kim begins to spiral, turning on those who love her.

Though they are worlds apart, Mummy and Kim have more in common than they could possibly imagine. But it is five-year-old Tonya who is caught in the middle…

CALL ME MUMMY. IT’LL BE BETTER IF YOU DO.

I’m delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker. My thanks to Sahina Bibi of Viper Books for inviting me to take part and for supplying me with a digital copy of the book for review purposes. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

It’s your worst nightmare as a parent, losing your child. Even them disappearing out of your sight for a second has your heart plummeting to your shoes and panic grabbing you by the throat. So imagine if they really were gone and you had no idea where or if you would ever see them again. This is the nightmare scenario explored in this book, and the author paints such a vivid picture that my heart was in my mouth from start to finish.

This story is told by three voices. Kim, the mother whose daughter is taken from under her nose whilst out shopping; Mummy, the woman who takes the child in desperation; and Tonya, the abducted girl. This is a very effective construction, as we get to see the story from all sides and it reveals a lot of intimate thoughts and consequences of the abduction that you might not have thought about. Because the reaction of neither woman in the aftermath of the kidnapping is exactly what you’d expect if you have ever given the matter any serious thought.

As well as exploring what motivates such actions by a woman, and what the parents of the missing child might be going through, the book explores the reactions of the world at large, and how we, as an amorphous group rather than individually, judge people on surface appearances without really knowing all the facts. Kim is the ‘wrong sort’ of mother, and she is judged harshly and cruelly as a result. She doesn’t play the sympathy game properly, and people troll and abuse her, despite the fact she is a victim. The pressure put on her family, how it affects her other children, her friendships and her relationships, is all explored with a keen eye and I’m not sure it’s Kim who comes off worst in my judgment by the end.

On the other hand, on the surface, Mummy is the complete opposite. She looks like the kind of woman you might place a child with if they needed a good home. But no one knows what goes on behind closed doors or in the mind of a person, and outward appearances can be deceptive. The book reminds us not to take things at face value and not to believe everything we see. Less than perfect people are capable of empathy, care and love, and the most respectable looking people can be battling with demons.

The book also explores the effect that childhood trauma can have on a psyche and the kind of people we turn into. Despite the fact of what Mummy did, the author tries to dredge up some sympathy for her when we hear about her past, although it is the thinnest of thin threads to hang on to. The author does manage to make clear the pain that not being able to have a child causes to a woman, and for that alone you have to feel for Mummy. But Kim’s pain is greater. Losing a child is like losing an essential part of yourself. But if you can understand the pain a woman feels when they lose a child, then you must also be able to feel the pain of a woman who can never have one to begin with, the two things are inseparable.

The author explores this issue with searing understanding and honesty, but not in the direction you might expect, and what she has produced as a result is a dark, twisted, terrifying but absorbing read that will keep you awake at night and leave you with thoughts and questions that might be painful to address. This is a confident and accomplished debut and is highly recommended for anyone who likes a thought-provoking, gripping but uncomfortable read.

Call Me Mummy will be released in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats on 25 February, and in paperback in September 2021 and you can buy a copy here.

Please do visit some of the other wonderful blogs involved in the tour as detailed below for alternative reviews of the book:

Call Me Mummy - Blog Tour Asset - Twitter Tour - Twitter

About the Author

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Tina Baker, the daughter of a window cleaner and fairground traveller, worked as a journalist and broadcaster for thirty years and is probably best known as a television critic for the BBC and GMTV. After so many hours watching soaps gave her a widescreen bum, she got off it and won Celebrity Fit Club. She now avoids writing-induced DVT by working as a Fitness Instructor.
Call Me Mummy is Tina’s first novel, inspired by her own unsuccessful attempts to become a mother. Despite the grief of that, she’s not stolen a child – so far. But she does rescue cats, whether they want to be rescued or not.

Connect with Tina:

Website: http://www.tinabaker.co.uk/books

Twitter: @TinaBakerBooks

Instagram: @tinabakerbooks

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Book Review: The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker

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Will all three women have their Christmas wishes come true?

Christmas is coming and best friends ChloeJules, and Lucy are needing change… so swapping homes for the holidays could be the perfect present for all of them!

Australian Chloe spends her Christmas in a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, England. She is totally star-struck when she discovers who lives across the road.

Lucy, who has jetted off to snowy Colorado for her dream-come-true white Christmas, is taken into the fold of Jules’s loud and brash family, discovering more about herself in a few short days than she has in years.

And Jules leaves the cold climes of Colorado to spend her Christmas on a beach with Chloe’s friends in Melbourne, finding that time away is just what she needed.

The only thing better than one Christmas romance is three.

This week I am taking part in the One More Chapter Readalong for The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker and I’m delighted to be sharing my review with you today.. My thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I was just in the mood for an uplifting, festive read when I picked up this book, the news is quite depressing at the moment isn’t it, and what a perfect choice this is for anyone looking for something to warm their cockles and bring a sprinkling of Christmas cheer into their lives. It also addresses one of the burning questions of the age – is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

The book follows three friends who meet on holiday aged eleven and forge a bond that survives over the years, despite the fact they all live on different continents. Fast forward a couple of decades and all of the girls are at some kind of cusp in their lives with issues that need a shake up. Will swapping homes and Christmases for one year provide the catalysts they need to move to the next stage of their lives?

The premise of the book is charming and it works perfectly. Cue the opportunity for the author to transport us to three very different countries for three very different Christmases. In Oxford, Melbourne and Colorado, the three girls are taken in by their friend’s families and find out how the other half does Christmas. Warm beaches, snowy mountains and the English countryside provide the perfect backdrops against which the girls can explore unique Christmas traditions, and maybe make new friends, even of a romantic variety! The author does an absolutely fabulous job of drawing the different environments and transporting the reader there. This book is armchair travel at its most enticing and I felt like I had been transported to the locations in the novel. I defy anyone to come away from reading this book and not wish they could be snow-shoeing through a quiet, Colorado forest or doing a horseback tour of Australian wineries. My passport is itching just thinking about it, especially given my lack of travel this year.

For me, the most compelling thing about this book is the portrayal of the friendship between the three girls. Each of the characters was perfectly drawn and absolutely believable, and the dynamic between them realistic and charming to read. I have two very close groups of female friends who mean the world to me and are the first people I would turn to, in times of trouble and turmoil, but also in times of joy and success. I recognised immediately the workings of the friendship between these women, even went it was sent slightly off track, and it was such a joy to read. I so wanted everything to work out for them, shared their happiness and disappointment throughout and, by the end, I didn’t want to leave their company. I felt like they had become my friends, and I really want to know how things end up for them.

This is a really cheering read with the perfect flavour of Christmas to get you in the mood for the upcoming holiday. I would highly recommend it to all fans of romance looking for a bit of Yuletide cheer. And, as for that burning question at the beginning – is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Of course it is, and that is a hill I am prepared to die on.

The Christmas Swap is out now in ebook and paperback and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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I’m a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list. I love exploring new places, outdoor adventures, and eating and drinking like a local when I travel, and many of my travel adventures have found homes in my novels. I’m also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover and a coffee snob.

My first novel, a romantic comedy set in Greece and inspired by my real-life love story, was published in June 2019 by One More Chapter (HarperCollins). In 2020, two follow-ups in the Holiday Romance series hit the shelves: That Night in Paris and A Sunset in Sydney. My novel, The Christmas Swap, is a stand-alone inspired by some of my own Christmas adventures, and I am currently writing my 5th book (the 4th in the Holiday Romance series) and 6th book (a stand-alone), with plans for 7 and 8!

Connect with Sandy:

Website: https://sandybarker.com/

Facebook: Sandy Barker Author

Twitter: @sandybarker

Instagram: @sandybarkerauthor

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Book Review: Love in Lockdown by Chloe James

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Do you believe in love before first sight?

Lockdown is putting Sophia’s life on pause – just as she planned to put herself out there and meet someone. When the first clap for the keyworkers rings out around her courtyard, she’s moved to tears for all kinds of reasons.

Jack is used to living life to the fullest. He’s going stir-crazy after just days isolating. Until the night he hears a woman crying from the balcony under his. He strikes up a conversation with the stranger and puts a smile on her face.

Soon their balcony meetings are the highlight of Jack and Sophia’s days. But even as they grow closer together, they’re always kept apart.

Can they fall in love during a lockdown?

This book was reviewed at the request of the author. I received a digital copy via NetGalley, so my thanks go to Avon Books for supplying the book for review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I am sure there are going to be a proliferation of romance novels set during these strange lockdown times we have been suffering over the last nine months and, I have to say, it was with some trepidation that I approached this book. I am not a fan of gimmicky books that are written just to take advantage of a current trend, they often lack in any passion or conviction. Having just finished Love in Lockdown by Chloe James, wiping tears from the corner of my eyes, I am delighted to say that this is definitely not one of those books and I absolutely loved it.

The book follows the stories of Sophia and Jack who live above one another in a block of flats. They have never met but, as the UK goes into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, they introduce themselves during the Thursday night ‘Clap For Carers,’ and things move on from there. The question is, is it possible to fall in love with someone whom you’ve never seen.

The author has done an absolutely fantastic job of capturing a lot of the tiny things that became symbolic of the pandemic and the unique times we are currently living in. The sense of isolation, but also the new community spirit and idea of caring for others that has grown up out of necessity in recent months. All of the familiar goings on are here – the difficulty of getting supermarket delivery slots, lack of flour, trying to explain Zoom to the elderly generation, NHS rainbows, the importance of pets, antibaccing your shopping, bad haircuts, socially-distanced weddings, furlough, and everything else that is the new normal. Does anyone even remember what the world used to be like?

Despite the fact that she has shoehorned all of this into the book, it never feels contrived or unnecessary. The writing is done in such a sympathetic and understanding way that it is very difficult to believe this book was written while lockdown was going on, and not with the benefit of some distance from the experience. I am amazed that she has managed to achieve such balance and beauty in the writing in these circumstances; there is no doubt that the author is very talented.

There were so many really touching moments in the book that moved me to tears, and other moments of real humour. It is a very uplifting book, which I wasn’t expected, mired as we in this as an ongoing problem and something that is causing so much anguish still. I know that for many people it is going to be too soon to be reading about the situation in a piece of fiction, it is still too close and raw a pain, but if you do want to read a novel set in this time, you won’t do much better. If you are a fan of books such at Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare, this has a similar feel and I am sure you would enjoy this.

Love in Lockdown was an unexpected, positive pleasure and I would not hesitate to recommend it to romance fans everywhere.

Love in Lockdown is out as an ebook on 23 November, and in paperback in March 2021, and you can pre-order your copy here.

About the Author

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Chloe James is a pseudonym for Fiona Woodifield whose debut novel, ‘The Jane Austen Dating Agency‘ was published in February 2020.

Fiona writes uplifting romantic comedies. When not to be found with her head in a book, she is usually out in the countryside enjoying the changeable British weather with her family and three dogs.

Connect with Chloe:

Website: https://fionawoodifield.co.uk/

Facebook: Fiona Woodifield

Twitter: @FionaWoodifield

Instagram: @f.woodifield

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Book Review: Silent Night by Nell Pattison

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What happened while they were sleeping?

A school for the deaf takes an overnight trip to the snowy woods. Five teenagers go to sleep, but only four wake up. Leon is missing, and a teacher’s body is found in the forest…

Sign language interpreter Paige Northwood is brought in to help with interrogations. Everyone at the school has a motive for murder – but they all have an alibi.

As Paige becomes increasingly involved, she suspects there’s something sinister going on. With the clock ticking to find Leon, only one thing is certain: the killer is among them, and ready to strike again…

My thanks to the publisher for my advance digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley for the purpose of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by this author. I did see a lot of posts about the first Paige Northwood book, Silent Housewhen it came out earlier in the year but I never got round to reading it. However, the fact I hadn’t read the first book did not detract at all from my enjoyment of this one, although it did make me want to go back and read it to plump out the back story that is reprised briefly in this book.

From the title and cover, you might expect this to be a Christmas book, but it isn’t at all. It is a thriller set in the enclosed world of a school for the deaf. A child goes missing on a school residential trip, and a body of a teacher is found. The protagonist, Paige, is an interpreter brought in to assist the police in solving the crime within the close knit deaf community.

I have never read a book set within this world before and I thought it was absolutely fascinating and illuminating, shedding light on issues that many of us probably give very little thought to in our day to day lives if it is not something we are affected by directly. This is where novels come into their own, educating us without seeming to, which hopefully might give us all some additional insight and compassion into daily struggles we might otherwise unaware of.

I thought the author created a raft of really interesting characters in the novel and an intriguing dynamic. Watching the inter-play between the adult and teenage characters was gripping. You would assume that the children would prove to be the less reliable narrators, but this is not necessarily the case. There are also some interesting issues explored in the book, including recovering from abusive relationships and online child safety. Plenty of meat to get your teeth into here.

The plot was extremely twisty, I had absolutely no idea who was behind the crimes until the very end. If I had any criticisms, it might be that the novel was a little unevenly paced, with a flurry of frenetic action right at the end. There were also some decisions made by Paige in the story that frustrated me, because there didn’t seem to be any consistent logic behind them, other than to serve the plot. One minute she was revealing stuff to someone that she shouldn’t, the next failing to tell someone something that she should. However, this is really me nit-picking. On the whole, I enjoyed the book and the positives far out-weighed any minor niggles I may have. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a gripping thriller and is looking for something with a little more depth than the norm.

Silent Night is out now as ebook, paperback and audiobook and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Nell Pattison is the author of a crime thriller series featuring British Sign Language interpreter Paige Northwood. Her debut novel, The Silent House, was a USA Today bestseller.

After studying English at university, Nell Pattison became a teacher and specialised in Deaf education. She has been teaching in the Deaf community for 13 years in both England and Scotland, working with students who use BSL. Nell began losing her hearing in her twenties, and now wears hearing aids. She lives in North Lincolnshire with her husband and son.

Connect with Nell:

Facebook: Nell Pattison Author

Twitter: @Writer_Nell

Instagram: @writernell

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Book Review: Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You by Annie Lyons

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Eudora Honeysett is done – with all of it. Having seen first-hand what a prolonged illness can create, the eighty-five-year-old has no intention of leaving things to chance. With one call to a clinic in Switzerland she takes her life into her own hands.

But then ten-year-old Rose arrives in a riot of colour on her doorstep. Now, as precocious Rose takes Eudora on adventures she’d never imagined she reflects on the trying times of her past and soon finds herself wondering – is she ready for death when she’s only just experienced what it’s like to truly live?

This week I have been taking part in the One More Chapter Readalong for Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You by Annie Lyons, and today I am sharing my review of the book. I want to thank One More Chapter for my digital copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

It’s going to be very difficult to do this book justice in my review without giving away any spoilers because what I would really like to do is gush endlessly about how marvellous every word of the novel is and tell you in excruciating detail exactly why. However, this blog is, and always will be, guaranteed spoiler-free, so I’ll do my best by the book in more limited terminology.

Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You is one of those gems of a book that comes along quite quietly, without huge fanfare, but when you discover it you are torn between wanting to tell everyone you meet that they must read it immediately and hugging it to yourself as a cosy little secret. But since I am a kind and generous book blogger, I am going to share the secret with all of you. Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You is going to be one of my books of the year, without a shadow of a doubt. I absolutely loved it, have already bought the paperback, want to tell everyone I ever meet about it and am telling you that you absolutely must, must read it at once.

This is a story about loneliness and friendship and family and disappointment and giving up and not giving up and intergenerational relationships and death and all kinds of love and how life isn’t over until it’s over. It has a dual timeline, amazing characters and every single emotion you can think of ranging through it. It will make you laugh and possibly cry (don’t read it at bedtime unless you want to have to sleep on a soggy pillow) and, as soon as you have turned the last page, want to immediately go back to the beginning and start all over again.

Annie Lyons has created a superb character in Eudora Honeysett. She goes on one of the most transformative journeys of any fictional character I have come across in fiction this year. The Eudora I met in the first chapter of this book is a totally different person to the one I left on the last page. The author’s deftness in peeling back the layers of Eudora’s back story over the course of the book at the same time as showing her emotional journey in the present is a thing of joy to behold and I am full of awe and admiration for her skill in playing with the reader’s emotions in this way. Despite being a very prickly character when we first meet her, she is totally sympathetic and, by the end of the book I was completely and irrevocably in love with her as if she were real and a member of my own family. Anyone who loved Eleanor Oliphant, Susan Green from The Cactus or Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things is going to adore Eudora Honeysett.

But Eudora doesn’t go through this transformation in isolation. All changes need a catalyst, and Eudora’s comes in the form of a tiny, rainbow tornado of a next door neighbour who shakes up Eudora’s ordered but sterile life, completely against Eudora’s will. Rose is a bright force of nature and a more delightful character has never been written. She represents all that is good and pure and positive in this cynical world and is the perfect antidote to all the stress and worry and loneliness that we are currently experiencing. This book could not have come along at a more opportune time for all of us and, if you are looking for a cheering, uplifting, escapist read that addresses a lot of issues that we are all currently facing, look no further.

There are a host of other fantastic characters to support these two, including the adorable Stanley ,who everyone must want as their grandad, Rose’s mum and baby sister, and Montgomery, a cat full of personality. The plot is unique and thought-provoking. It really made me think about getting older, loneliness and what it must be like to contemplate your death in old age. The author does an impeccable job of capturing the unique perspectives of the different generations and their individual concerns. Every word of this book is believable and informative and reading it was an enriching experience, as well as being fun and emotionally moving. Quite an accomplishment.

I really cannot sing the praises of this book highly enough. If you haven’t realised by now, I adored it and think everyone should read it. I hope it gets a lot of attention, because it really deserves it. I know it is a book I will continue to think about long after I’ve finished it and will return to again. The pinnacle of uplit and the perfect book for a lockdown lift.

Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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After a career in bookselling and publishing, Annie Lyons published five books including the best-selling, Not Quite Perfect. When not working on her novels, she teaches creative writing. She lives in south-east London with her husband and two children.

Connect with Annie:

Website: https://annielyons.com/

Facebook: Annie Lyons

Twitter: @1AnnieLyons

Instagram: @annielyonsauthor

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Blog Tour: A Perfect Paris Christmas by Mandy Baggot #BookReview

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United in grief. Pushed apart by tragedy.

Keeley Andrews knows more than anyone that you only live once. So when she receives an invitation to spend two weeks in Paris, all expenses paid, she jumps at the chance.

Ethan Bouchard has had the worst eighteen months of his life. He’s ready to give up on everything, including his hotel chain. So when he meets Keeley, it simply isn’t the right time.

As Keeley and Ethan continue to bump into each other on the romantic Parisian streets, they can’t help but wonder whether this is fate telling them to let go of the past and leap into the future…

My first Christmas read of the year! I don’t normally do them this early, but who could resist the lure of a new Mandy Baggot Christmas novel? Certainly not me! So I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for A Perfect Paris Christmas and I am very grateful to Victoria Joss of Head of Zeus for allowing me to be part of the tour and for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

What a great one to start with. I absolutely adored this story from the opening pages right through to the end. Everything about it is warm and appealing and uplifting, just the way a Christmas story should be and anyone who loves this kind of festive fiction will not be at all disappointed if they pick this one up.

It has everything you might want from a Christmassy romcom. Appealing and sympathetic heroine? Check. Hot, sexy but troubled hero? Check. (Bonus points for being French awarded in my not-at-all arbitrary marking system.) Beautiful, romantic, escapist setting? Check. Family drama to cause chaos? Check. Nemesis at whom to direct our ire? Check. Misunderstandings and false victories? Check. Happy ending. Of course. Check, check, check, this book has it all.

Mandy manages to imbue every page of this novel with romance and joy and festive cheer. I was transported to Paris and immersed in a gorgeous, Christmas dream. I totally believed in the characters, their story and their relationship. I thought the novel dealt with some interesting and evocative topics beautifully, and it gave the story that bit of punch that makes it all the more satisfying.

I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Mandy Baggot book. She is fabulous at creating emotion in her readers, and her books are always truly transportive in every way. This might be my favourite yet, and fans of her work will not be disappointed by her latest book. If you have never read one of her books before, this is the ideal one to start with, I guarantee that if you are a lover of festive romcoms with real heart, you will immediately fall in love with this book.

A Perfect Paris Christmas is out now as an ebook and will be published in paperback on 1 October, and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to check out the other blogs taking part in the tour:

About the Author

Mandy Baggot

Mandy Baggot is an international bestselling and award-winning romance writer. The winner of the Innovation in Romantic Fiction award at the UK’s Festival of Romance, her romantic comedy novel, One Wish in Manhattan, was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year award in 2016. Mandy’s books have so far been translated into German, Italian, Czech and Hungarian. Mandy loves the Greek island of Corfu, white wine, country music and handbags. Also a singer, she has taken part in ITV1’s Who Dares Sings and The X-Factor. Mandy is a member of the Society of Authors and lives near Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK with her husband and two daughters.

Connect with Mandy:

Website: http://mandybaggot.com

Facebook: Mandy Baggot Author

Twitter: @mandybaggot

Instagram: @mandybaggot

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