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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Author

Cath Barton. Author pic. Feb 2020

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

Website: https://cathbarton.com/

Facebook: Cath Barton

Twitter: @CathBarton1

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

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Friday Night Drinks with… Jessica Redland

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

It’s the end of another week and time to catch up with someone from the publishing world over a drink. This week I am chatting with author… Jessica Redland.

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Welcome to my virtual bar, Jessica. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thank you so much for hosting me! Tonight, I’m indulging in a lovely chilled glass of White Zinfandel. I very rarely drink but, if I do partake, this is my drink of choice … or a Pino Grigio.

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

In a non-Covid world, we’d be on a night out in Scarborough and I’d probably take you on the Whitsborough Bay pub crawl. I set most of my books in a fictional seaside town which is predominantly modelled on Scarborough and I mention quite a few pubs and bars across the nine books set there. I’d take you round the real-life pubs which have influenced my fictional ones. We might have to restrict it to a small wine or a half in each, though, as it could be quite a big crawl… although it’s downhill which is a good thing!

That would be great. My grandparents had a flat in Scarborough and I have many happy memories of holidays there, right up until I was in my early twenties. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

If you’d just said one male, it would have been Chris Hemsworth but I’m not letting another female get in there 😉 I would therefore draw from the past and invite A A Milne and Beatrix Potter because I’d love them both to know how beloved and enduring their words and images have been. That would be quite a gift to give someone.

Good choices, they would be fascinating to talk to. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

It’s all about the Hedgehog Hollow series at the moment which started with Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow released in July this year. Hedgehog Hollow is a hedgehog rescue centre in the Yorkshire Wolds.

I’ve recently finished the final proofread on the second book – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollowwhich is available for pre-order and out on 7th January 2021. I’m currently doing my final read-through on book 3 – Life Begins at Hedgehog Hollow – as the deadline to submit to my editor is this week. It will be out on 4th May 2021.

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This was going to finish the series although it wasn’t going to be the end of Hedgehog Hollow as I have an idea for a prequel and a spin-off. However, as I got into the final quarter of writing book 3, a fourth one shouted at me and the as-yet-untitled book 4 in the Hedgehog Hollow series will probably be my January 2022 release.

I’ve also been editing the final couple of the books from my back catalogue. My publishers, Boldwood Books, have taken on all my books and, during 2020, six of them were re-released with a fresh edit, new title and new cover. The final two will be re-released in 2021.

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

Oh my goodness, so many proud moments. Although most people will understandably want to forget 2020 and will be relieved when it’s over, it has been the most incredible year for my writing career thanks to Boldwood Books and I’ll cherish that part of it forever. Some amazing achievements this year include:

  • #14 in the UK Kindle chart with New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms
  • #3 in the Australia Kindle chart with Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café
  • #32 in the USA Kindle chart with The Secret to Happiness
  • Bestseller tags on all ten of my books at the same time
  • Passing 1,000 reviews on Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes when my dream for this year was to hit 100 for one of my books
  • Having 3 x books in The Works
  • Being able to leave my day job to write full-time
  • Being offered a second 12-book publishing contract with Boldwood Books
  • Readers getting in touch thanking me for the heart-warming escapism that my books have given them during a busy year – so very humbling

This then links into my biggest challenge because it hasn’t always been like this. This time two years ago, I was so low about my writing that I seriously questioned whether to give it up. I’d originally secured a three-book publishing deal with my debut book but my publisher ceased trading and I got my rights back and became an indie author. With a demanding day job, I didn’t have the time for promotion and I struggled to make an impact on the charts. Those who discovered my books seemed to love them but not many people were discovering them and I was either going to need to continue to flounder and hope for a miracle or secure another publishing deal.

When I sought a publishing deal with my debut novel, rejections didn’t bother me too much but, eight books down the line when I tried again, they floored me. I seriously questioned my ability as a writer and whether I could continue pouring my heart and soul into creating novels nobody seemed to want. But someone did want them. Boldwood Books took me on and I found my writing home.

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

I would absolutely love to achieve a top 10 in the UK Kindle chart. If I’m completely honest, I’d love a #1 – who wouldn’t?! But, for now, a top 10 is my goal. I came so close with New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms getting to #14. Whether I’ll ever get there is debatable but it’s good to have an ambitious goal.

And – because I’m being greedy and picking two – my other biggie is I would love my books to be made into films or a TV series. So many readers comment on this in reviews and I completely agree. They’d be amazing on screen!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I’m really excited about the next books in the Hedgehog Hollow series coming out. Book 2 is on NetGalley at the moment and, although reviews are coming in quite slowly (I think lots of reviewers are reading Christmas books just now), most of the ones I’ve had are extremely positive. We won’t talk about the two that were a bit mean and made me cry!

I’ll be starting on my 2021 Christmas book after Christmas and I’m really looking forward to that because I actually started writing it 3.5 years ago to be my first ever Christmas novella released in 2017. When I’d written about 10k words, it became apparent to me that the story was bigger than a novella so I parked it. I can’t wait to return to it.

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

Right now, I’d happily travel absolutely anywhere! Don’t care where; just let me out of the house!!!! I’m sure most of us feel like that. Like so many, we had holidays cancelled this year and one of those was to celebrate my husband’s 50th birthday.

I love travelling too and there are so many amazing places I’ve been and would love to re-visit, as well as places I’ve never been. We honeymooned in British Colombia in Canada and would love to go back and, twenty years ago, I went to New Zealand with a friend. I’d love to take my husband there and explore the parts my friend and I missed.

We went to Lapland last Christmas and it was one of the best holidays ever. It’s a dream to go back there again.

Top of my bucket list for places I’ve never been would be Iceland. It looks absolutely stunning.

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

Looking at me now, you’d never guess it, but I used to be pretty fit and liked to try out adventurous things in the great outdoors. By my late-twenties, I could tick off climbing, abseiling, gorge-walking, zorbing, sand-yachting, surfing, becoming a qualified scuba diver and doing a 43m bungy jump off a bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand.

The bungy jump was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It was over a river and I was asked if I wanted to touch the water or avoid it. I said touch it but that basically gave them permission to dunk me. I had a baggy T-shirt on and when I got dunked, it got drenched and, hanging upside down, the weight of the water pulled it over my head. So I was basically bouncing up and down on a rope, flashing my bra to the world! Attractive!

You are much braver than me, I can’t jump off things! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

Anything I’ve written!

Is that not allowed? I’m going to go really recent and select one book in the past month that I’ve loved. It’s a Christmas read called Christmas with Cary by Sharon Booth and it is so warm and lovely and simply gorgeous. It is the third in a series but they are absolutely all standalone with no connecting characters; the series is simply the connection of being home for Christmas.

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You never forget your first love.

Molly’s spent every Christmas she can remember surrounded by her family. But this year is different. This year, Molly’s all alone in a strange town. She’s left her family behind, and she’s not sure where she can call home any longer.

All Molly has with her are a few clothes in a suitcase, and a collection of her old friend’s Cary Grant films. Except, there’s one more thing she’s brought along – the whole reason for her Christmas visit.

In her possession is a small, crumpled piece of paper, and on it is written the address of the love of her life. 

Molly and Cary have had many chances over the years, but somehow life kept getting in the way and they always ended up apart once more. Yet Molly has never forgotten the first man she gave her heart to, and now she has one last chance to win him back.

But will Cary welcome her home, or will he tell her what she dreads to hear – that they’ve had their chance, and it’s all too late. That’s if she can even find him…

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

I never used to get hangovers. At university, I was the envy of my friends as I might feel a little spaced the following day if we’d had a big drinking session but I was never hungover.

I got my first one in my late twenties and it was horrific, as though every hangover I’d never had had joined together to give me the biggest one a human could endure without their head actually exploding.

My answer to avoiding one now is I don’t really drink. I never drink at home and even pre-Covid would often go months without a drink as either we weren’t going out or I chose to be the driver. My only cure suggestion if it happens is fairly standard: paracetamol and lots of water. Or a strawberry McDonald’s Thickshake (do they even call them that anymore?) Mmmm

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

Right now, I’d say anything to get out of this house!!!! I work from home and did so for five years before becoming a full-time author in June so my home has been my workplace for a long time. I love it … but I miss venturing out soooo much.

Locally, I’d suggest a walk along the seafront in Scarborough. I like North Bay best where the brightly-coloured beach huts are. We could play crazy golf, have an ice cream (even in winter!) and walk along the promenade and through Peasholm Park. If we were venturing further afield, I’m a fan of castles and stately homes. This time last year, I visited the Christmas displays at nearby Castle Howard. They had a masquerade theme and it was incredible. I’d maybe take you there.

I love Peasholm Park, although I am very sad that the Tree Walk is no more, it used to be my favourite thing, especially the flea circus! Jessica, it has been so lovely chatting, let’s try and do it in person some time soon!

Jessica has two Christmas releases set in Castle Street in Whitsborough Bay – a cobbled street full of independent shops and cafés. Carly’s Cupcakes and The Chocolate Pot are both next door to each other and the owners, Carly and Tara, are good friends.

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Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing.

For Carly, the owner of Carly’s Cupcakes, it’s the busiest time of year getting everyone’s Christmas treats ready on time. However with her clumsy sister, Bethany, as a co-worker, it’s proving a difficult task. They say you shouldn’t mix work with family. Maybe they have a point…

As Christmas approaches, Carly is also eagerly awaiting the return of her best friend to Whitsborough Bay. Liam has no idea he’s been the object of her affection since their schooldays. After years of pining after him, can Carly pluck up the courage to finally tell him how she really feels by 25th December?

Could a little festive magic make all of Carly’s wishes come true this Christmas…?

You can buy Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes here.

Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café

Everyone is getting into the festive spirit on Castle Street – snow is falling, fairy lights are glistening and Christmas shopping is underway.

But for Tara Porter, owner of thriving cafe, The Chocolate Pot, this is the most difficult time of the year. From the outside, Tara is a successful businesswoman and pillar of the community. Behind closed doors, she is lonely. 

With a lifetime of secrets weighing on her shoulders, she has retreated from all friends, family and romance, and shut her real self away from the world. Afterall, if you don’t let them in, they can’t hurt you. She’s learnt that the hard way.

But as the weight of her past becomes heavier and an unexpected new neighbour moves onto the street – threatening the future of her cafe – Tara begins to realise that maybe it’s time to finally let people back in and confront her history. It could just change her life forever…

You can buy a copy of Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe here.

Jessica Redland lives in Scarborough on the stunning North Yorkshire Coast – the inspiration behind the fictional seaside town of Whitsborough Bay – with her husband, teenage daughter and sprocker spaniel, Ella.

She’s a stationery addict with a notepad obsession who loves chocolate (although it doesn’t love her), hedgehogs, 80s music, collectible teddy bears and lighthouses.

Her career has mainly been in HR as a trainer and recruiter but, in June 2020, she became a full-time author. She’s so very grateful to anyone who has bought or borrowed her books in whatever format, helping her fulfil a long-held dream of writing full-time. She still can’t believe she gets to spend every day chatting to her fictional friends and making stuff up.

You can find out more about Jessica and her books on her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Emma Jackson

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today, I am delighted to welcome to the blog to discuss all things romance writing, one of my very good friends and fabulous author, Emma Jackson.

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

I write romantic comedies with (I hope) a touch of honesty and the bittersweet mixed in along the way to my characters’ happy-ever-after. My fourth book, One Kiss Before Christmas, has just released and I’m coming up to the one year anniversary of my debut novel, A Mistletoe Miracle, being published with Orion Dash! I’m not quite sure what the future holds at the moment, as I’m out of contract now – and it’s been one hell of a year! – but I do know I have many more romances to write and stories I want to share with readers.

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Why romance?

I became an official romance fan when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I was tired and I didn’t want anything that might unexpectedly upset me after having a bad experience with a Karin Slaughter book I’d been recommended. Great book but it gave me nightmares! So, I sought out stories with lots of emotion and guaranteed happy endings; where I could enjoy the thrill of falling in love again and again. All the different sub-genres of romance from historical to fantasy to contemporary, also mean there’s always something to suit my mood. I’ve always written stories, so it made sense for me to write what I enjoyed reading.

What inspires your stories?

It’s usually from one little ‘what if’ thought that comes to me. It could be from a place I’ve been or listening to a song or visiting a shop or reading a newspaper story. It then grows as more ideas come to me or characters become a little more solid. I’ve just started planning out and tentatively drafting another Christmas story, which weirdly came to me because of a comment another author (Isabella May) made about my debut in a review.

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

I love Tessa Dare and Mhairi McFarlane. They are auto-buys for me. They both write laugh out loud books but also cover some heavy themes with such skill.

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

This is so hard, but I think one of my favourite reads this year, Beach Read by Emily Henry, was fantastic. The hero and heroine are both writers of very different genres who challenge each other to try and write the other’s way. It’s very funny – extremely meta for romance readers and writers – but even if you aren’t a fan of romance already, I think it would do an amazing job of helping you understand why people love romance so much, and why it isn’t something fluffy or frivolous to try to have a bit of hope. It’s also very sexy and heartfelt. It works on so many levels!

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He doesn’t believe in happy endings.
She’s lost her faith that they exist.
But could they find one together?

January is a hopeless romantic who narrates her life like she’s the lead in a blockbuster movie.
Gus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale.

But January and Gus have more in common than you’d think:

They’re both broke.
They’ve got crippling writer’s block.
And they need to write bestsellers before summer ends.

The result? A bet to swap genres see who gets published first.
The risk? In telling each other’s stories, their worlds might be changed entirely…

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

Is it really terrible if I say one of my own heroes? I think I’d love to spend a weekend with Olivier from One Kiss Before Christmas because he’s so easy-going and fun, and also because he could take me to Paris to give me a tour around the museums and galleries, cook gorgeous food for me, and then we could snuggle up and watch old movies. Bliss.

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

The sense of community. I have found so many amazing friends since I joined and been given so much support. It’s transformed my knowledge of the industry because there is always someone willing to offer advice and it’s turned what can be a very lonely profession into one where I feel genuinely connected.

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

Keep going. Perseverance is as much one of the tools you need to keep in your arsenal as an ability to think up great hooks. From getting from ‘chapter one’ to ‘the end’, to sending out queries, it’s so important to find a way to keep yourself going that works for you.

Tell us about your latest book.

One Kiss Before Christmas is a gorgeously romantic festive read guaranteed to warm your heart this Christmas and you can buy it here! (I reviewed One Kiss Before Christmas on the blog a few weeks ago, and you can read my review here.)

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Could it be the start of her happy ever after?

Ashleigh could use a little Christmas magic. She’s still living in Brighton with her Nan – who could give the Grinch lessons in how to be miserable – her acting career has been reduced to playing one of Santa’s elves, and not even the prospect of a friend’s winter wedding can cheer her up…

That is until Olivier, the gorgeous French chef, reappears in her life. Or more accurately, next door.

When they were teenagers, Olivier would spend every Christmas with his mother, who just happens to be Ash’s neighbour and owner of the best chocolate shop in England.

If anyone can bring a little sparkle back to Ash’s life, it’s Olivier. All she needs is one kiss before Christmas…

About Emma Jackson

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Author of the Best Selling A MISTLETOE MIRACLE and contender for the Joan Hessayon Award 2020, Emma has been a devoted bookworm and secret-story-scribbler since she was 6 years old. When she’s not running around after her two daughters and trying to complete her current work-in-progress, Emma loves to read, bake, catch up on binge-watching TV programmes with her partner and plan lots of craft projects that will inevitably end up unfinished. SUMMER IN THE CITY, was released in June, and her latest festive romance, ONE KISS BEFORE CHRISTMAS is now available.

Emma also writes historical and fantasy fiction as Emma S Jackson. THE DEVIL’S BRIDE was published by DarkStroke in February 2020.

Connect with Emma:

Website: https://esjackson.co.uk

Facebook: Emma Jackson Author

Twitter: @ESJackson1

Instagram: @emma_s_jackson

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Friday Night Drinks with… Natalie Normann

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

So, another Friday has rolled around and I have has a helluva week so I am very much looking forward to sharing a Friday Night Drink with tonight’s guest, author….. Natalie Normann

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

I really don’t drink much alcohol, and my favourite drink is Ice Lattes, or if I’m celebrating, I’ll have an Ice Mocha.

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It being Friday is as good a reason for celebration as any! If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Since my latest book is set at Christmas, I think you have to taste some proper Norwegian Christmas food. I’m from the west part of Norway, and we usually eat ‘stick meat’, smoked mutton ribs, on Christmas Eve. In Oslo they traditionally serve pork ribs, with crackling and all the trimmings – not brussel sprouts, though. Most restaurants will serve both. This is rich food, so we’d have Christmas beer, a bit darker and sweeter than regular beer, and also ‘akkevitt’, or aquavit, if you want to taste. We are very traditional about our Christmas food, and most people would protest if the restaurant got fancy with the recipes. Me included.

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

I once interviewed Martina Cole, and I think she would be fun to talk to again. And then there’s Keanu Reeves. I have a suspicion he can be funny.

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

I have been a historical writer for almost 12 years now, and now I’m also writing contemporary romance in English. I would like keep doing that and see what happens. I  have so much fun writing in English. I expected it to be so difficult, but mostly it has been interesting and challenging, and I like that. Writers need to challenge themselves, I think. It’s not a profession where you ever stop learning, and I love that. 

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

There’s been more than one proud moment, to be honest. The first book I published 25 years ago was a fantastic moment. Then again when I could finally be a full-time writer, writing a historical romance series in Norway – it was scary as hell. I signed a contract to write six books a year and I was completely overwhelmed, until I realised I had to take it one book at the time and just get on with it. And recently when I had the opportunity to write contemporary romance with One More Chapter. In English. I still have to pinch my arm about that. I recently found Summer Island in a bookshop in Oslo, and actually squealed.

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

My one big thing was to be published in English. Now that it has  happened, I would like to keep doing that. The next steps would be have one of my books made into a movie, have translations and a few bestseller flags wouldn’t be amiss. I’d enjoy that.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Well, I have several ideas that I’m working on, and that I’m thrilled with. I love the idea stage, when it’s all fresh and I keep getting scenes in my head. Right now, I have a deadline, and I can’t really write anything else, but I make notes and explore characters and settings, and have a great time doing that.

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

I love London. My dad was a sea captain, and he used to sail between London and Jamaica, and ever so often, we would go with him during the summer holidays. Back then, it would take two days to come from my hometown to London, and I loved every minute of it. London was vibrant and exciting, and I never wanted to go home. Still don’t.

On the top of my bucket list is New York. I have never been there, and I always wanted to go. Maybe next year, right?

I love New York. I’ve been four times now, it was the last place I managed to visit back in early February before the world changed. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’m Norwegian and I can’t ski. I’m great at falling, but that’s about it. 

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

The one book that really surprised me this year, was Dead in Venice by Fiona Leitch. It’s a serial killer story, set in Venice, and it’s well written, pretty dark and also hilarious. Not many writers can pull that off. 

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Award-winning crime novelist Bella Tyson has it all: a successful career, devoted fans – and a bad case of writer’s block. So when a fan sends her a book of Venetian ghost stories and offers her the use of an apartment near Piazza San Marco, Bella jumps at the chance to get her Eat Pray Love on, consume her bodyweight in gelato and explore the atmospheric canals of Venice.

She meets Will, a mild-mannered, middle class Interpol agent working in the city, and is swept away by him. And when a series of gruesome murders occur he’s on the case – with Bella in tow.

Her writer’s block is well and truly cured, her new novel is under way, and she’s madly in love. But Bella realises that not everything in Venice is as it seems…

I’ve not read this one, I will add it to the list. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Drink lots of water and go to bed to sleep it off. 

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

I have written two books set on an island on the west-coast of Norway, so not surprisingly I love islands. I now live in Oslo, and if this weekend is in the summer, we’d take a trip on the Oslo fjord. I don’t have a boat, but there are places in the fjord that you can travel to without your own boat. There are some lovely islands with great beaches only a short ferry trip away. Buy some shrimps on the harbour, find someone who sells strawberries, and bring some coffee or white wine. And also pastry. They have some amazing pastry in this city. The water is usually really, really cold, so swimming is up to you.

In the winter, the best thing to do, is to take a drive up the mountains, to Frognerseteren, an old ski lodge, now a restaurant. If we take the underground, we have to walk down a forest path to get there. Usually there’s snow up there, and you get a feel of the fairy tales we have. Trolls are a plenty up there.

The restaurant have a huge fireplace where the fire will be roaring, making everything smell of smoke,  and warm an cosy, and they serve delicious Norwegian comfort food. Their speciality is hot chocolate with whipped cream, made with real chocolate, and their famous apple cake. If you’re adventurous I recommend trying the buns with brown cheese.

Eplekake Frognerseteren

Summer Island and Christmas Island are set on a fictitious island, but heavily inspired by the islands I have been on when I grew up. It’s filled with memories of summers swimming in cold water – it was always cold –  eating ice cream, drinking soda and eating hot dogs. The smell of the sea and the weather always changing. It’s wild out there, and that’s why I love it. I’d rather be outside in a storm or walking the beach when it rains, than most other places. Mostly I like to stay with my laptop, of course.

Natalie’s new book, Christmas Island, is out on 30 November and you can buy a copy here.

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In the bleak midwinter…
A really frosty wind is making Holly’s life absolutely miserable

After all the years of hard work it took Londoner Holly Greene to become a doctor, now it could all be taken away and she only has herself to blame. She’s retreating to her brother’s rustic home on an island off the coast of Norway to lick her wounds. Only, it’s the middle of winter and icy slush plus endless darkness isn’t exactly the cheery, festive getaway she had imagined.

Nearly stumbling off the edge of a cliff in the dark, Holly is saved by Frøy, a yellow-eyed cat of fearsome but fluffy proportions, and his owner – grouchy, bearded recluse, Tor. Tor has his own problems to face but the inexplicable desire to leave a bag of freshly baked gingerbread men on Holly’s doorstep is seriously getting in the way of his hermit routine.

Call it kindness, call it Christmas, but Holly’s arrival means midwinter has never looked less bleak.

Here is the fabulous trailer for the book

Natalie Normann grew up in a small shipping town on the west-coast town in Norway. She wanted to be a writer as soon as she realised that books were written by real people. Her debut novel was published in Norwegian in 1995. Summer Island and Christmas Island are her first books in English.

You can find out more about Natalie and her books via Facebook and Twitter.

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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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RNA Media Star of The Year!

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I’m sure most of you will already have heard my fantastic news from yesterday, which is that I was announced as the Media Star of the Year at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Industry Awards. I’m still digesting the news, because it was totally unexpected given the other amazing nominees in the category, but I’ve been floating on cloud nine ever since. Thank you so much to everyone who has congratulated me across all my social media channels since then, I hope I have managed to respond to you all but I may have missed one or two in the chaos. My notifications have never blown up so much, so apologies if anyone slipped through the net.

Normally the awards are announced at the RNA Winter Party but, times being as they are, the presentation was done over Zoom. In many ways this was very sad, because I really missed seeing all my RNA friends and socialising with other industry professionals and bloggers on the night. In fact, due to coronavirus, it has been almost exactly a year since I have seen most of my writer friends in person at last year’s party, and I miss them all very much. This was the view from my hotel room last year, right by the Tower of London, which reminded me of what I was missing.

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Still, the one advantage of not being there in person that no one could see the fact that I actually shed a tiny tear when I realised I had won. Public crying is never a good look! All the nominees had to record an acceptance speech in advance, in case we won, which was an odd thing to have to do. Watching mine, all I could think was that I should have worn more makeup and smiled a bit more! My bookshelves which were behind me got a lot of love afterwards though.

It’s really hard to say how much this award means to me, and how stunned I was to get it. I set up my blog towards the end of 2016. I had discovered book blogs earlier that year (I know, late to the party or what?) and started following a couple of people. Emma Welton at damp pebbles and Kaisha Holloway at The Writing Garnet were two that really stood out to me and, after a while I thought maybe this was something I would like to do to keep track of my reading. I started blogging properly in January 2017, although I had no clue what I was doing to start with and it was all a bit hit and miss. Gradually, I discovered more and more bloggers, got involved with some blog tours and began to find my feet. And it was other bloggers that I learnt from, who guided me, welcomed me into the community, inspired and supported me to enable me to get to this point. I am not very good at keeping track day to day of who shares my posts but I hope me returning the favour lets you know how much I appreciate all your support and I am going to take this opportunity to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for making me feel welcome in your world, supporting me and becoming my friends. Being part of this community has given me so much pleasure over the last four years.

The first blogger I met in person was actually Anne Williams of Being Anne, at the RNA York Tea in September 2018. She was immediately friendly and welcoming. Anne was the RNA Media Star last year, and was nominated again this year, which is a fantastic achievement and shows how much she does to promote romantic fiction and how valued she is by the community. To stand alongside her, a titan of book blogging, was a huge honour.

One of the other nominees, Rachel Gilbey, is possibly the most well-known blogger name in romance. Not only does she blog herself at Rachel’s Random Reads, but she also runs a fabulous blog tour organising business in Rachel’s Random Resources, the go to promoter for romance. Rachel was one of the first people to trust me, as a newbie blogger, with reviewing books and she has become a great friend over the past few years. She is also an absolute minx at getting me to agree to blog tours when I have decided I’m not putting any more in the diary, so she is definitely someone you want promoting your book. I love her to bits and she has been nominated for this award three times now. What a massive achievement that is.

The final nominees were the team from #UKRomChat, who are an amazing group and do so much to promote romantic fiction. Jeanna was the very first one to congratulate me personally yesterday, and this was their second nomination in a row too. Given who I was up against, is it any wonder that I was having to pinch myself at winning? Congratulations to all of you, it is such a privilege for me to be in that company.

Aside from all the amazing bloggers who have inspired and supported me, my blog would be nothing without three other groups of people. Firstly, the publishers who put their trust in me and allow me to read their books in advance and help launch them into the world. It is a massive privilege always to get hold of an advance copy of a book and one I never take for granted. There are so many fabulous publishers out there, big and small, battling against the odds to keep bringing us fantastic escapism in book form, and I think we’ve all realised just how important this is over the course of the year, so thanks for letting me be involved.

Secondly, the authors. I’d have nothing to write about if you weren’t writing, and nothing to do with my free time or, indeed, keep me sane. Between the covers of a book has been my happy place since I first learnt to turn the pages, and you are the ones that bring me that joy. As well as that, I appreciate all the time you take to put together guest posts, or answer my ridiculous questions for my various blog features. I am never in doubt that the quality of content on my blog depends largely on the quality of what you produce for me to talk about and share. So thank you all.

Finally, my readers. Without you, I’d be shouting into the void like a crazy person. Every time you read, like, share and comment it makes me happy and feel like the work is worth it. I never take you for granted.

Finally, a huge thank you again to the RNA for this award. I discovered the RNA at roughly the same time as this blog started, although it took me a while to pluck up courage to apply to the NWS. Since then, I have been taken to the bosom of the loveliest, friendliest, most sociable and supportive bunch of people you could ever wish to meet and I have enjoyed every second I have spent with all of you. This award is just the icing on an already delicious cake and I am just delighted with it.

I have heard the RNA Chair, Alison May, talk about how, when she joined the RNA, she had ‘found her people.’ I feel like this about the publishing world in general, and the book blogging and RNA communities in particular. Whenever all the crappy news of what is going on currently in this chaotic world gets too much, I know that books, and the book community are going to be a place of refuge and positivity, which is something priceless.

So, now I have written a blog post gushing enough to rival even Sally Field’s cringe-worthy 1985 Oscar-acceptance speech, I am done with the sentiment. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Kendra Smith

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today I am delighted to be quizzing author Kendra Smith on what being a romance author means for her.

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

I write commercial women’s fiction. I try to write the kind of books that I like to read. A bit funny, a bit sad, books with a dollop of hope and ones that I’d like to think reflect life – and always with one or two characters looking for love – maybe that’s to love themselves, or someone else, or exploring the love in and of their family. That’s an important theme for me. I’m published by Aria Fiction, and I have written four books (fourth due out next year, just gone to editor, so fingers crossed!)

Why romance?

I think some of the best stories are romantic. It doesn’t always have to be happy ever after, but aren’t we all looking for a bit of romance? It’s the glue that binds us all together as humans; who’s not looking for love in their life?

What inspires your stories?

Real life! And also there may be snippets I overhear, a soundbite from the radio, or something that piques my interest from a feature I’ve read in the Sunday papers (that’s when I get the chance to read them…) and I think, ‘I wonder,’ or ‘what if..?’ and then I start toying with ideas, car journeys or walks become thinking time, figuring out what my characters would do in various situations. And, of course, when I read other writers, that inspires me too.

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

I used to read Jilly Cooper’s novels as a girl, ones like Imogen or Harriet at home, then while at school it was Jane Austen’s Emma and Pride and Prejudice. On the other side of the spectrum, along came Helen Fielding who made 20-somethings laugh out loud as she charted Bridget Jones’s romantic escapades… and of course I love Marian Keyes who writes about life and love; and Jojo Moyes and Jill Mansell, Sarah Morgan, Sue Moorcroft, Lucy Diamond and I loved Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare, oh and so many more!

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

One romance novel: That’s too hard, sorry! (see above!)

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

Now, the problem is that I have created romantic heroes in my books that I’d like to spend time with – and I feel I know them so well! Daniel, in A Year of Second Chances would be someone I’d like to get to know. He’s the Indiana Jones who comes home… I’d go white water rafting with him!

COVER; A YEAR OF SECOND CHANCES:KENDRA

Three Women. Three very different lives. One life-changing adventure.

Charlie is a single mum unlucky in life. Her multiple jobs make barely enough to feed the family cat, never mind being able to give her son the life he deserves. So when an opportunity to make a lot of cash comes along, she simply has to take it.

Suzie has always wanted to be a mother. But fate has been cruel and now time is running out. Soon her final frozen egg will be destroyed and her last chance of having a baby will go with it. With her husband resolved to their childless life Suzie takes matters into her own hands.

Dawn is about to turn fifty and seems to have misplaced her mojo along with the car keys. But with an interfering mother-in-law and a gaggle of judgemental mums at her children’s school, it’s proving harder to find than a decent fitting bra. Especially after a series of highly embarrassing incidents…

Over the course of a year three lives are about to collide and as they do be prepared to laugh, cry and fall in love with these women as they discover how life can give you a second chance.

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

I love being part of the community there – whether it’s the New Writers’ Scheme I was part of for a time, the parties , the Conferences, and of course the online support. It’s like a big, extended family! I have met lots of friends through the RNA, and received so much support from the whole organisation and of course it has led to useful talks and meetings with industry professionals to help my career. They also provide that boost when you least expect it. This year I was shortlisted for the Elizabeth Goudge Award for my fourth book. That was a real treat.

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

One piece of advice? Enjoy your writing!

Tell us about your latest book.

Take A Look At Me Now is an uplifting, romantic adventure and you can buy a copy here.

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Out with the old…

Maddie Brown has spent most of her life putting everyone else’s needs above her own. But with her marriage crumbling and her nest scarily empty, she realises it may be time to spread her own wings and fly.

In with the… ex?

At a university reunion, Maddie meets Greg. He was the love of her life – and the one that got away. Some things never change, and neither of them can deny the feelings that linger between them. But there are so many reasons they can’t be together… not least the massive secret she has been keeping from him all these years. 

Maddie is SO ready for a brand new start. But what do you do when the past just won’t stay in the past?

About the Author

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When she is not writing, Kendra spends her time looking for odd socks and other random duties associated with being the mother of three boys. She has lived and worked in Sydney and London and has been a writer and journalist for over 20 years. She currently lives in Surrey and moves from keyboard to cooker with ease. She can rustle up a 90,000 word novel, but finds it hard not to burn boiled eggs. 

Connect with Kendra:

Facebook: Kendra Smith Author

Twitter: @KendraAuthor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mind the duck!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

Connect with Mick:

Facebook: M W Arnold Author

Twitter: @mick859

Instagram: @mick859

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Blog Tour: One Kiss Before Christmas by Emma Jackson #BookReview

One Kiss Before Christmas - Blog Tour

I am delighted to be be taking my turn on the blog tour today for One Kiss Before Christmas by Emma Jackson. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s RandomResources for inviting me on to the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Could it be the start of her happy ever after?

Ashleigh could use a little Christmas magic. She’s still living in Brighton with her Nan — who could give the Grinch lessons in how to be miserable — her acting career has been reduced to playing one of Santa’s elves, and not even the prospect of a friend’s winter wedding can cheer her up…

That is until Olivier, the gorgeous French chef, reappears in her life. Or more accurately, next door.

When they were teenagers, Olivier would spend every other Christmas with his mother, who just happens to be Ash’s neighbour and owner of the best chocolate shop in England.

If anyone can bring a little sparkle back to Ash’s life, it’s Olivier. All she needs is one kiss before Christmas…

Gosh, these are stressful times, aren’t they? Another Covid-19 lockdown starts tomorrow. EU are sending final demands to Boris over Brexit. Terrorist attacks on our continental neighbours. And Election Night in the US with who knows what constitutional crisis looming over there, whichever side wins. It’s enough to give anyone sleepless nights.

The only thing to do is what I always do at such moments, and bury my head in a happy, stress-free, fictional world where none of the above things are happening and all the problems are of a romantic nature, which you just know will get resolved happily by the end of the novel. The book which has been fulfilling this need over the last few days is One Kiss Before Christmas by Emma Jackson, and what a beautiful job it did.

I was on board with this book from the first page where our heroine, Ash, is dressing as an elf. You heard correctly… an elf. She is going to spend the Christmas season working at a kind of Christmas pageant on a farm. This immediately reminded me of happy times as, every year I have taken my children to just such a place near Harrogate, where they have visited Santa, ice skated, Nordic skied through a forest lit with glowing, wintery light tableaux and solved a Christmassy maze. This book is the closest I will get to that experience this year I think, since Covid has killed all such frivolous, pleasurable activity stone dead, so thanks for allowing me that virtual experience, Emma!

Any character for whom the pinnacle of their year is dressing as an elf is going to have my sympathy, and Ash needs all the sympathy we can give her, as the rest of her life is a disaster. No real career (not sure being an elf counts, as it is fairly seasonal work!), not love life to speak of, a Christmas-hating Granny as a housemate and absentee parents. Not much to bring her comfort and joy this year. Until her childhood friend and neighbour, Olivier, rocks up from Paris to spend Christmas with his mum.

Ah, Olivier! He is everything you want in a sexy, three-quarters French romantic lead. Handsome, charming, courteous, slightly troubled and smelling largely of chocolate. Can’t think of much more to ask for there. Oh, and he can cook! Marry him on the spot, girl. It is like Emma has tapped into those fantasies you have in private moments. (Just don’t tell the Irishman, he is convinced he is my fantasy man!)

So all is set for a rekindling of childhood crushes, peppered with the problems of what will happen when Christmas is over, giving plenty of romantic tension to the plot. This is all set against the perfect, postcard backdrop of Brighton at Yuletide, with the glittering Pavilion, busy pier and quirky Lanes, all to be explored by our amorous pair as the reacquaint themselves. The author has wrung every bit of Christmassy joy from the setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking an armchair trip to the south coast for a few hours. Emma has come up with some great hooks for the story in this book. I particularly enjoyed their trip to the aquarium for inspiration for Olivier’s project (turtle poo, anyone?), and the drama of the covert Christmas lights operation. The book is full of sweet and funny moments that fulfil every wish you might have for a romantic Christmas story.

This is a charming, funny, touching and enjoyable festive romance that kept me occupied and distracted for a pleasant few hours this week. I loved all the characters, the plot and the setting, and relished every minute spent in the fantasy world that the author has created. If you are looking for a romance novel to transport you away from current, depressing reality, ease you gently into the Christmas spirit and fill you with romantic, Yuletide cheer, look no further. This is a great read.

One Kiss Before Christmas is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

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

One Kiss Before Christmas Full Tour Banner

About the Author

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Author of the Best Selling A MISTLETOE MIRACLE and contender for the Joan Hessayon Award 2020, Emma has been a devoted bookworm and secret-story-scribbler since she was 6 years old. When she’s not running around after her two daughters and trying to complete her current work-in-progress, Emma loves to read, bake, catch up on binge-watching TV programmes with her partner and plan lots of craft projects that will inevitably end up unfinished. Her latest romantic comedy, SUMMER IN THE CITY, was released in June 2020.

Emma also writes historical and fantasy fiction as Emma S Jackson. THE DEVIL’S BRIDE was published by DarkStroke in February 2020.

Connect with Emma:

Website: https://esjackson.co.uk

Facebook: Emma Jackson Author

Twitter: @ESJackson1

Instagram: @emma_s_jackson

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Desert Island Books with… Helen Matthews

Desert Island Books

Today I have marooned author Helen Matthews on my isolated atoll with only five novels and one luxury item standing between her and madness. Let’s see what literary companions she has chosen, shall we?

Thanks for inviting me, Julie. I’ll be happy on the desert island for a while but please send a helicopter drop of more books after I’ve been there a couple of months.

I’m drawn to the darker side in my own writing and in my reading choices: flawed characters, unreliable narrators, unexplained deaths and hidden secrets. As well as psychological thrillers, I also read what I’d call ‘state of the nation’ novels by the likes of John Lanchester and Jonathan Coe, plus I try to keep up with literary fiction and books shortlisted for major prizes. When it came to choosing my desert island books, I was surprised to find I was drawn to thought-provoking books and some classics.

Book One – The Siege by Helen Dunmore

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Leningrad, September 1941.

Hitler orders the German forces to surround the city at the start of the most dangerous, desperate winter in its history. For two pairs of lovers – Anna and Andrei, Anna’s novelist father and banned actress Marina – the siege becomes a battle for survival. They will soon discover what it is like to be so hungry you boil shoe leather to make soup, so cold you burn furniture and books. But this is not just a struggle to exist, it is also a fight to keep the spark of hope alive…

I discovered Helen Dunmore in the early 2000s, initially through her psychological suspense novels. Long before Gone Girl made the genre as popular as it now is, Dunmore was writing atmospheric twisty novels that stripped away layers from the characters to expose the darkness of their hearts. In her novels the bad guys don’t necessarily win: Your Blue-Eyed Boy; Zennor by Darkness; Mourning Ruby and With Your Crooked Heart are all dark reads, but they’re Iiterary in style with breath-taking imagery that gives a visceral satisfaction to the reading experience. Dunmore was a poet and writer of short stories before she turned to longer form but, later, she focused on historical novels. For my desert island book, I’ve chosen The Siege, set in Leningrad in September 1941 when Hitler’s troops surround the city and put it into lockdown. The novel is meticulously researched and depicts a level of human suffering we can scarcely imagine – boiling up shoe leather to make soup and, the ultimate sacrilege, using books to make a fire. The characters, a young couple, Anna and Andrei, and Anna’s father, are so psychologically real you feel as if you are with them, experiencing their suffering and terror along with their will to survive. The book has mini-epic qualities so there’s plenty to reflect on when I’m on the desert island.

Helen Dunmore died, aged 64, on the same day as my mother in June 2017 and I read her moving final poem ‘Hold Out Your Arms’, in which she reflected on her own death, at Mum’s funeral.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/06/helen-dunmores-family-reveal-poem-written-in-the-authors-last-days.

Book Two – My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante 

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From one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, comes this ravishing and generous-hearted novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime.

The story of Elena and Lila begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, as their friendship, beautifully and meticulously rendered, becomes a not always perfect shelter from hardship.

Ferrante has created a memorable portrait of two women, but My Brilliant Friend is also the story of a nation. Through the lives of Elena and Lila, Ferrante gives her readers the story of a city and a country undergoing momentous change.

When My Brilliant Friend was published a few years ago the author’s identity was a closely guarded secret. There are four books in Ferrante’s series of Neapolitan novels including Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay; The Story of a New Name, and The Lost Child. The novels became word of mouth best sellers and have since been broadcast and filmed but I’ve not felt the need to watch the film because the books were so vivid. The novels are deceptively simple and tell the story of best friends, Lena and Lila, growing up in poverty in a working-class district of Naples in the 1950s. Both girls are extremely bright and must battle to get an education. Against a background of violence, prejudice in post-War, politically turbulent Italy, their lives pan out quite differently. The friendship between the women spans decades, yet we know from the opening of the first book that Lila has disappeared and read through the quartet of novels, desperate to unpick what happened to her. In putting the spotlight on her ‘brilliant friend’, Lila, the narrator, Lena, draws us in while her own story, equally transformative, emerges more slowly. Reading this novel was an immersive experience and I can only compare it with the joy I felt as a child when I first discovered the thrill of reading.

Book Three – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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The heroine of Tolstoy’s epic of love and self-destruction, Anna Karenina has beauty, wealth, popularity and an adored son, but feels that her life is empty until she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky. Their subsequent affair scandalizes society and family alike, and brings jealousy and bitterness in its wake.

Contrasting with this is the vividly observed story of Levin, a man striving to find contentment and a meaning to his life – and also a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself.

A long time ago, when I was reading English at Liverpool University, I remember a professor telling us that Anna Karenina was the perfect novel. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his reasons why! He also thought, in his opinionated way, that War and Peace was flawed. On the desert island I’ll need some massive epics to keep me engaged so I’ll pick up the challenge and decide for myself if this is the perfect novel. Choosing a nineteenth century classic rather than a serious contemporary novel is interesting. Why didn’t I go for Hilary Mantel? I’ve enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies and have yet to tackle The Mirror and the Light but I can’t explain why that didn’t attract me.

Anna Karenina is superficially a love story that turns sour and ends in tragedy but it’s a universal story that still has resonance today. In many countries and cultures, twenty-first century Anna would be treated equally cruelly for leaving her husband and abandoning her son (thought that wasn’t her intention) to be with her lover, Vronsky. The world Tolstoy depicts is teeming with the vanished world and culture of pre-revolutionary Russia – a world that can only be explored in the pages of a novel and in the imagination.

Book Four – Beloved by Toni Morrison

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It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love. Told with heart-stopping clarity, melding horror and beauty, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s enduring masterpiece.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a harrowing story because it reflects the reality of a black woman’s experience in slavery. Even after escaping to Ohio, Sethe, the main character, still isn’t free. She’s haunted by the ghost of her dead baby, and by guilt, and her life is still unbelievably hard. The book made a profound impression on me when I first read it many years ago so I think it will be interesting to reread with a new perspective on the legacy of slavery from, for example,  the Black Lives Matter movement. In Britain, we used to smugly pretend to occupy some kind of moral high ground due to leading the movement to abolish slavery, but we can no longer turn a blind eye to how the likes of Bristol’s Edward Colston masqueraded as a philanthropist, while making his fortune as a slave trader. Novels like Beloved challenge us to be more empathetic and to better understand the legacy of slavery and how it still has an impact today.

Book Five – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Elizabeth Bennett has a keen mind, a sharp wit, and no desire to marry for convenience. When she meets Mr Darcy, her first impressions are far from favourable, and he shows little interest in her. Nor do their opinions improve with further acquaintance. There seems to be little hope of romance; indeed, it might be impossible unless they can confront the flaws in their own natures. Perhaps their first impressions were mistaken?

Profuse with her inimitable wit and charm, Pride and Prejudice is one of Austen’s most beloved novels, and stands among literature’s greatest love stories.

With so many books and so little time, I’m not normally a big re-reader but I make an exception for Jane Austen. I’ve read all her novels at least four times but, if I have to choose one, it will be Pride and Prejudice. The superb characters and calm predictability of the plot with so many setbacks along the way to the happy ending, will soothe me when I’m alone on the island.

I live in Hampshire not far from the village of Chawton, where Austen spent her last years and wrote her greatest novels. Her mother and sister, Cassandra, are buried in the local churchyard but Jane’s grave is in Winchester Cathedral. We think of the Austens as a well to do, middle class family but, in fact, they were downwardly mobile. Jane was born in the rectory at Steventon, where her father was the vicar. After his retirement, the family moved to Bath and lived in rented apartments that were far from grand. After the father’s death, the Austen women became increasingly impoverished and moved to Southampton where one of Jane’s brothers supported them. At last their fortunes changed. Another brother,  Edward Austen, had been adopted when he was a young boy by wealthy relatives, who had no children of their own (that was a thing back then). Part of the deal was that Edward changed his name from Austen to Knight. He inherited two vast country estates, one in Kent and another in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, described by Jane as ‘the Great House’. When Edward came into his inheritance, he offered his mother and sisters a substantial house in Chawton where they settled for the rest of their lives. During her lifetime, Jane actually received two marriage proposals and turned both of them down. She and her sister, Cassandra, were incredibly close and I’m guessing that Jane understood perfectly well that, if she got married and had children, her time wouldn’t be her own – she’d never be able to write. Cassandra took on Jane’s share of household tasks so her sister could devote herself to her writing. Isn’t that amazing? Every author needs a Cassandra in her life.

My luxury item

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I’m a keen cyclist so would love a bike to ride around the island.

About Helen Matthews

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Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her first novel, suspense thriller After Leaving the Village, won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade was  published by Darkstroke Books in September 2020.

Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine.

She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France. Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.

Helen’s latest novel Façade is psychological suspense and was published on 17 September this year by Darkstroke Books. It’s dark and twisty family noir and  reviewers have said they couldn’t put it down. You can buy the book here.

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A drowned child. Estranged sisters. A once-perfect home.

Silence echoes louder than truth.

When seventeen-year-old Rachel’s baby brother drowns and her older sister, Imogen, escapes to live abroad with Simon, her musician boyfriend, Rachel must face the family’s grief and disintegration alone.

Twenty years later, Rachel is a successful businesswoman, with a daughter of her own, supporting her parents and their elegant Georgian home, The Old Rectory, that shackles them to the past.

Simon’s sudden death in Ibiza brings Imogen back, impoverished and resentful. Her family owes her, and she will stop at nothing to reclaim what she believes is rightly hers.

The rift between the sisters seems permanent. While Imogen has lived a nomadic life, filled with intrigue, in Spain and Tunisia, Rachel’s has appeared stable and successful but, behind the veneer, cracks are appearing. Now, she is vulnerable.

As the wall of silence and secrecy crumbles, danger stalks Rachel’s family. She must re-examine her baby brother’s death, find out what happened in Tunisia, and fight to hold onto everything she’s achieved –or risk losing it all.

Façade is a gripping tale of loss, guilt and danger.

Connect with Helen:

Website: https://www.helenmatthewswriter.com/

Facebook: Helen Matthews

Twitter: @HelenMK7

Instagram: @helen.matthews7

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