Florida Straits by Laurence Shames #bookreview (@LaurenceShames) #FictionCafeBookClubChallenge @PaigeToonAuthor @CarrieJoHowe

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“People go to Key West for lots of different reasons. Joey Goldman went there to become a gangster…”

So begins this classic Key West caper, the hilarious and touching book that launched a much-loved series and introduced the world to Bert the Shirt and his chihuahua Don Giovanni, two of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary fiction.

Joey, the illegitimate son of a major NY mafioso, decides to break away from a decidedly unpromising future in the old neighborhood of Queens. But will the old neighborhood and the Family let him go in peace? Not if knucklehead half-brother Gino has anything to say about it. As Joey is finally establishing his new life in sunny Florida, Gino involves him in a disastrous scam featuring a boatload of stolen emeralds and several squads of very nasty thugs. Finding within himself resources of smarts and courage he never knew he had, Joey beats long odds and muddles through to a brilliant solution to the problems dumped on him by Gino.”

The latest fortnightly challenge in my online book group (The Fiction Cafe Book Club – check it out, it is a great place for book lovers to hang out) was to read a book set in my favourite holiday destination. Where is that, Julie, I hear you ask? Well, it’s here:

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Key West!

There are a surprising amount of books set here. One of my favourites is Paige Toon’s The Longest Holiday. I am reading another for my classic of the month, which is Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and next month I will be reviewing another as part of the blog tour for Island Life Sentence by Carrie Jo Howe so come back on 4 June to check out that post. However, for this challenge I have stepped outside my usual genre choices and read Florida Straits by Laurence Shames.

This is the first book in Shames’s Key West Capers series which now stretches to thirteen books. I was initially drawn to it by the funky cartoonish cover. The gangster genre would not be one I would usually be drawn to but the promise of a humorous storyline intrigued me and I am always trying to stretch my reading outside my comfort zone so I decided to give it a try and I am very glad I did.

The main protagonist is Joey Goldman, the half-Jewish illegitimate son of a New York Mafia kingpin who is failing spectacularly in the family business. On the lowest rung of the gangland ladder and with no hope of getting ‘made’, he decides to swap being a tiddler in the huge pond of New York and travel to the sunnier climes of the Florida Keys to set up on his own. Dragging his reluctant girlfriend, Sandra, with him, he sets off with high hopes. Unfortunately, all does not go according to plan as you would expect and he has to battle Cubans, Colombians and his own half brother along the way.

This book is fantastic. The plot is smart and funny, the dialogue is snappy and the characters are diverse and colourful. My favourites are the staid Sandra and Bert the Shirt, a retired mafioso from New York who becomes a kind of mentor to Joey, and pretty much his only friend in Key West. Bert’s chihuahua, Don Giovanni steals the show without any lines.

What I enjoyed most about the book though was the way Shames really brought the setting and the inhabitants of Key West to life. His descriptions are spot on and very evocative – you can practically smell the sun cream and seaweed. The characters, especially the inhabitants of the condo community where Joey and Sandra end up living are so off-the-wall in the way that so many real inhabitants of Key West are (my favourite sighting there has been an elderly lady with two cats dressed in tutus on leads walking around a museum!), I particularly loved the naked landlord. This book really gave you a true flavour of Key West, which is what is what looking for when I picked it up.

I loved this book. It made me laugh, it kept me hooked and it took me back to one of my favourite places on earth. What more could you ask for, except maybe to be drinking a frozen strawberry daiquiri at Sloppy Joe’s as we speak. I wish I was there.

I enjoyed this book so much, I bought the next three in the series. If you would like to get your hands on a copy of Florida Straits yourself, you can buy it here.

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Now, here is a gratuitous picture of a pelican that I took in the Keys, just because why wouldn’t you want to see a photograph of a beautiful pelican?

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About the Author

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Laurence Shames has been a New York City taxi driver, lounge singer, furniture mover, lifeguard, dishwasher, gym teacher, and shoe salesman. Having failed to distinguish himself in any of those professions, he turned to writing full-time in 1976 and has not done an honest day’s work since.

His basic laziness notwithstanding, Shames has published twenty books and hundreds of magazine articles and essays. Best known for his critically acclaimed series of Key West novels, he has also authored non-fiction and enjoyed considerable though largely secret success as a collaborator and ghostwriter. Shames has penned four New York Times bestsellers. These have appeared on four different lists, under four different names, none of them his own. This might be a record.

Connect with Laurence:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurence.shames

Twitter: @LaurenceShames

Website: http://www.laurenceshames.com

Write A Novel in 30 Days by Megg Geri #bookreview (@MeggGeri) @PictPublishing #FictionCafeWriters #FictionCafeReviews

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“This book walks you step by step through planning your novel to writing your novel. This book is full of personal stories, tips, and exercises to inspire you and to help you write your novel. This book is honest and realistic with an easy to follow step-by-step approach to writing a book. This book is for the writer who wants to follow their dream of completing a book but doesn’t know where to start or where to find the time. This is more than just a book about writing, this is a book about surviving the writing process.

THE BOOK IS DIVIDED INTO FOUR MAIN SECTIONS: 01 | THIS IS YOUR DREAM This section is all about discovering yourself within the writing world. It’s about getting over your insecurities and creating your dream writing life. 02 | PLAN IT ALL OUT This section teaches you to plot and plan your book. From time scheduling to discovering ideas and writing applications and resources. 03 | WRITE IT OUT This section covers the actual writing process that happens. 04 | WHEN THINGS GET TOUGH This is a survival guide to writing. This section of the book handles everything from writers block to loss of inspiration and falling behind schedule as well as when you’re getting yourself down too.

BONUS MATERIAL This is not called an interactive book for no reason. This book comes with access to a resource library of downloads like; word trackers, worksheets, charts, and checklists. And you will get a 28-day course to get you ready for writing.”

As a new writer working on her first novel and often feeling like an imposter, floundering out of her depth in a strange and alien sea, I jumped at the chance to read and review this writing guide by Megg Geri.

This book is aimed at people trying to complete annual challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month in the joyous madness that is NaNoWriMo. For anyone not familiar with this event – the writer’s equivalent of completing a marathon – you can find details here. I attempted this for the first time last November and failed spectacularly, managing only 32,000 of my target but, of course, I did not have this book then and was under-prepared. However, this book can be used at any time of year, and by anyone intent on beginning to write, even if they do not intend to do it at a sprint.

This book is full of great practical tips on inspiration, plotting and planning, where to find story ideas, how to develop your characters, what software you might like to use, everything you would expect in a book of this type. But this book contains so much more than that. It also deals with the emotional aspects of writing, working out why you want to write, how to keep motivated, what might be stopping you for achieving your goals and how to overcome these hurdles and this, for me, is the real appeal of this book.

What stands out the most is the encouragement. The sheer belief that you CAN write a book if you really want to and, what is more, you should. The belief that you have an important story to tell and that the world needs you to tell it. This is very important as, for me and I suspect many other people, a lack of self-belief is what holds us back. We need encouragement, and this book will give you that.

It is written in a very friendly, personal and approachable voice and in a very easy to read layout with very practical exercises to do at the end of each segment and useful checklists as the end of each part. It is a real, useful, practical book that would be great to refer to, not just for your first book, but again and again at the start of each new novel. I think even experienced writers will find a lot of useful reminders in here.

Interspersed with the tips and exercises are motivational quotes to spur you along which is a nice touch.

I found myself bookmarking a lot of sections as I went through this book which really resonated with me and that I want to be able to refer back to easily which is always a sign that a book has offered me something useful. (My favourite tip in the book was the ‘character’s handbag section). The part that resonated with me most on a personal level was this:

“Hiding behind perfection can also be an excuse not to do the work, or because you’re simply too scared to put your work out there.”

This is a person who understands me!

This book is not too long, not too verbose, not too elitist but full of handy guides, tips, information and encouragement. I loved it so much that I have ordered a paperback copy to keep on my shelf for future reference and I have no doubt it will become dog-eared with use. I think this is a must-have for any aspiring writer out there who needs a friend.

Write A Novel in 30 Days is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Author of Write a Novel in 30 Days also writes fiction and owns Megg & Co Editing Boutique.

She specialises in novel editing and coaching by day and by night she reads, a lot. She also runs an online international book club for women who love to read.

Megg loves interacting with writers on Twitter and Instagram (where she shares her favourite writing tips).

Connect with Megg:

Website: https://megg.me
Goodreads: Megg_Geri

Facebook – TheMeggGeri
Instagram – @megggeri

Twitter: @MeggGeri

#BlogTour Ask Me To Dance by Sylvia Colley #bookreview (@SylviaColley) @MuswellPress @AnneCater #RandomThingsTours #AskMeToDance

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“Rose Gregory has suffered a devastating blow, a double bereavement from which months later she is still reeling. Sanctuary and rest are prescribed by her doctor. But when she arrives at her refuge, a dank and decaying Monastery, she finds it is not the haven promised. Despite the veneer of calm contemplation, the Monastery turns out to be a hotbed of intrigue and disharmony. Rose witnesses bullying and cruelty and ultimately in defence of the vulnerable turns to violence herself.

Sylvia Colley’s extraordinary understanding of a woman s struggle to deal with grief, the denial, the anger, the loneliness, is described without sentimentality. A beautifully written and moving story.”

Today I am delighted to be the first stop on the blog tour for Sylvia Colley’s beautiful new novel Ask Me To Dance. Thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.

Where to start describing this extraordinary book? It is a book that is impossible to categorise and very different to anything I have read recently, neither of which are negatives. I was drawn into the book from the beginning, held throughout and left thinking about it long after I finished it.

The protagonist is Rose, a woman in the grip of a grief that has driven her to the edge of madness. We meet her as she arrives at a monastery where her doctor has sent her to rest and recuperate but it soon becomes apparent that this may not be the right place for her to do that. The monastery is down at heel, on the verge of closing and populated by only a small group of Brothers who are struggling with their own internal and rather petty tensions which in turn infect Rose and disrupt her state of mind further.

The author does a fantastic job of describing the crumbling monastery and its wild and neglected grounds, complete with a graveyard full of deceased Brothers, and it gives the whole book an air of despair and, for me, a slight creeping menace which was the perfect backdrop to the mental disintegration within Rose and the decay of the relationships between the remaining Brothers. Rose has gone there for peace and seclusion and possibly spiritual guidance, but it is clear than none of these things are on offer for her here where the Brothers draw her into their issues rather than helping her with hers.

We learn about the events leading to Rose’s breakdown gradually through the course of the book, at the same time as more information is fed to us slowly about the different Brothers and the tensions between us. This approach for me, resulted in a slow build of tension and oppression with minimal actual action until the final explosive events – a very clever reflection of how the tensions and despair and feeling of unfairness and futility have built up in Rose. The book is written mostly in the first person through Rose’s eyes, which let us get further into her mindset and feel what she is feeling and seeing. I was infected with it and the feelings have lingered in me long after I closed the book.

If I had a small criticism, it was that I was left unsure of the relevance of one of the characters introduced, whom I had thought would play a more vital role but it is a small niggle in an otherwise startling book.

This book is clever, thought-provoking, evocative, surprising, difficult, menacing and insidious. It defies the trend towards shoehorning books into a genre, instead leaping outside the box. It is not a comfortable read but it is a true and worthwhile one.

Ask Me To Dance is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Thank you to Anne Cater and the publisher for supplying my copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Follow the rest of the tour and find out what other bloggers think of the novel:

Ask Me To Dance Blog Tour Poster

About the Author

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Sylvia Colley was born in Romsey, Hampshire. She became a teacher and spent many years as Head of English at the Purcell School in North London.
She has published a book of poetry, It’s Not What I Wanted Though, and a novel, Lights on Dark Water. Her work has been read on BBC Radio 4. She lives in Pinner, Middlesex.

Follow Sylvia on social media:

Twitter: @SylviaColley

Website: http://www.sylviacolley.co.uk

A Family Recipe by Veronica Henry #bookreview (@veronica_henry) @orionbooks #AFamilyRecipe #NetGalley

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What’s the secret ingredient to your happiness?

Laura Griffin is preparing for an empty nest. The thought of Number 11 Lark Hill falling silent – a home usually bustling with noise, people and the fragrant smells of something cooking on the Aga – seems impossible. Laura hopes it will mean more time for herself, and more time with her husband, Dom.

But when an exposed secret shakes their marriage, Laura suddenly feels as though her family is shrinking around her. Feeling lost, she turns to her greatest comfort: her grandmother’s recipe box, a treasured collection dating back to the Second World War. Everyone has always adored Laura’s jams and chutneys, piled their sandwiches high with her pickles . . . Inspired by a bit of the old Blitz spirit, Laura has an idea that gives her a fresh sense of purpose.

Full of fierce determination, Laura starts carving her own path. But even the bravest woman needs the people who love her. And now, they need her in return . . .”

I’ve noticed a trend in the books I’m picking up recently towards central female characters that are, shall we say, not in the first flush of youth. I’m not sure if this is because more books are being written and published with older women as the focal point or that my tastes are changing and I am drawn more to novels featuring characters I can relate to as my age increases, possibly it is a combination of the two. Either way, I think it is a positive change and something to be celebrated.

I spent yesterday, my forty-sixth birthday, indulging myself in a my favourite pastime (reading, of course!) and the the book I chose was Veronica Henry’s latest novel A Family Recipe. The main character of this book is Laura, a forty-something woman who is faced with finding herself again after her children flying the nest and a shocking family revelation combine to knock her life off the track it had been trundling along for twenty years. As a woman with rapidly maturing children, relationship upheaval and a major career change behind me, there was a huge amount in this book to which I could personally relate and, as a result, I was drawn into Laura’s story immediately.

I suspect any woman of a similar age reading this is going to find herself able to sympathise with a least one aspect of Laura’s life and this is the skill in Veronica’s writing. Her stories, in this and her previous novels, are built on the personal experiences and domestic dramas of ordinary people and, as a result, her characters and their travails are easy for her readers to relate to. We recognise them and, consequently, care about them – an essential ingredient for a really successful novel.

There are actually two timelines running through this book, and two main characters. We have Laura in the modern day, – trying to find her feet during a rocky time in her life and falling back on the comfort of her family’s traditional recipes to ground her – and Jilly, one of Laura’s ancestors – living at the time of the Blitz in Bath and using the same recipes to comfort herself through the fear and grief of that terrible time.

Veronica weaves the two threads together beautifully to demonstrate the influence of our family on us and the importance of those ties of blood and love to hold us together in times of need. Veronica was inspired to write the novel by her own box of family recipes and the personal connection to the story is palpable in the pages. This novel feels so authentic, so full of passion and love, it is impossible not to get drawn in. I was totally enmeshed in the lives of the characters to the point of tearfulness on more than one occasion and I have been left with a feeling of warmth and tenderness at the end. I love Veronica’s work, and I think this might be my favourite yet.

The beauty of this book is helped along by setting it in the gorgeous city of Bath and Veronica manages to bring that gracious city to life with her deft descriptions. I know this is another aspect of the book that is very personal to the author and her love of the city shines throughout.

All in all, this is a perfectly crafted book, one to treasure and return to whenever you are looking for an uplifting story of family, friendship and food.

A Family Recipe is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Thank you to NetGalley and Orion Publishing for my advance copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

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Veronica Henry has worked as a scriptwriter for THE ARCHERS, HEARTBEAT and HOLBY CITY amongst many others, before turning to fiction. She won the 2014 RNA NOVEL OF THE YEAR AWARD for A NIGHT ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Veronica lives with her family in a village in north Devon.

Connect with Veronica:

Website: www.veronicahenry.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/veronicahenryauthor/

Twitter: @veronica_henry

Instagram: @veronicahenryauthor

What We Did by Christobel Kent #bookreview @littlebrown #WhatWeDid #NetGalley

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“He stole her childhood. She’ll take his future

What would you do if you accidentally encountered the man who once abused you?

And how would you get away with it?

Bridget’s life is small and safe: she loves her husband, her son and works hard to keep her own business afloat. Then one day her world is changed forever. The music teacher who abused her walks into a shop with the teenager he’s clearly grooming. Bridget is sent spiralling back into her past.

Anthony begins to stalk Bridget, trying to ensure her silence – until suddenly, she snaps.

And now Bridget must find away to deal with the aftermath of her actions…”

Today is publication day for Christobel Kent’s new novel What We Did so I have completed reading it at the perfect time to post my review. Although, this is going to be a tough book to review without giving away any spoilers so I may be briefer than normal. (Was that a small sigh of relief I just heard?)

Let’s just take a moment to admire the cover, which was one of the things that drew my eye to it on NetGalley. I love the grey with the bright spots of orange and green. Would look fabulous on any book shelf, great cover design.

This is a psychological thriller with a tricky subject matter at its heart. Bridget is a survivor of abuse she suffered as a teenager at the hands of her violin teacher. She has built a small, safe life for herself in a provincial university city with a quiet husband and a well-balanced teenage son, running her own clothing shop and working hard to keep her demons at bay. Her husband and her son know nothing about her past and that is the way she would like to keep it so when her abuser casually walks into her store one day in the company of his latest pupil, Bridget believes her whole way of life is at risk.

When I started this book, I had a slightly jaded feeling that I knew how the story would pan out. However, I was completely wrong. Things unfold in a very unexpected way and the story goes off then at a totally different tangent and really drags you with it.

The first quarter of the book was quite slow and I did start to worry that the whole story pacing was going to be too staid to carry me to the end – I have begun to expect more flourishes from a book in this genre – but once the first pivotal act occurs, things pick up and I was totally gripped from that moment on and I ended up staying up late to finish the book. Looking back at the book as a whole, the pacing was perfect for the storyline and the nature of the characters and it was actually a refreshing change from the constant bombardment of action and tension we sometimes get. The gentle start, followed by the sudden shocking change was the perfect reflection of how Bridget’s gentle life is so immediately disrupted when her abuser reappears on the scene.

The characters that need to be sympathetic are sympathetic, the criminal perpetrators are suitably loathsome. Bridget’s sister was my favourite character, and the most complex, I believe, and I also enjoyed the way her innocuous husband’s story arc developed. There was a side storyline involving her shop assistant that I think was meant to throw Bridget’s complicated feelings about her past into relief and give her some enlightenment, but it wasn’t really well-developed enough to end up as anything but a distraction which was a little disappointing.

The main storyline was psychologically twisty enough to keep me guessing about who was involved in what. I suspected people of things they hadn’t ended up doing and didn’t guess the ending so early in the novel that it was an anti-climax when it came. All in all, I enjoyed the book and it is well worth a read. However, it does not have the jaw-dropping twists that have become the norm, this is much more a character-based novel that isn’t relying on any schlock or shock for shock’s sake that some novels in this genre do. You will have to make your own decision about whether this is a positive or negative based on your own preferences for this type of novel.

What We Did is published today and you can purchase a copy here.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little Brown for the copy of this book which I have reviewed fairly and impartially.

About the Author

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Christobel Kent was born in London and educated at Cambridge. She has lived variously in Essex, London and Italy. Her childhood included several years spent on a Thames sailing barge in Maldon, Essex with her father, stepmother, three siblings and four step-siblings. She now lives in both Cambridge and Florence with her husband and five children.

#BlogTour The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley #bookreview (@ZaraStoneley) @HarperCollinsUK @HarperFiction @fictionpubteam @rararesources #TheWeddingDate #bookbloggers

The Wedding Date

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Zara Stoneley’s new book The Wedding Date. a big thank you to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part.

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One ex.
One wedding.
One little white lie.

When Samantha Jenkins is asked to be the maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding, she couldn’t be happier. There are just three problems…

1) Sam’s ex-boyfriend, Liam, will be the best man.
2) His new girlfriend is pregnant.
3) Sam might have told people she has a new man when she doesn’t (see points 1 and 2 above)

So, Sam does the only sensible thing available to her… and hires a professional to do the job.

Actor Jake Porter is perfect for the role: single, gorgeous and cheap! Sam is certain it’s the perfect solution: no strings, no heartbreak and hopefully no chance of being found out.

But spending a week in the Scottish Highlands with Jake is harder than she imagined. He is the perfect boyfriend, charming, sexy and the hottest thing in a kilt since Outlander! And his dog Harry is quite possibly the cutest things Sam has ever seen!

As the wedding draws closer, Jake plays his part to perfection and everyone believes he is madly in love with Sam. The problem is, Sam’s not sure if Jake is acting anymore…”

Before we start, is anyone else salivating over the delicious-looking cake on the cover of this book? Honestly, I can taste it. Congratulations to whoever designed the cover, it is definitely enticing!

This is the first book I have read by Zara Stoneley, although I have a copy of Summer with the Country Village Vet sat on my TBR. Now that I have read this book by Zara, I will be moving that one up the pile to read soon.

The main character in this book is travel agent, Sam. Recently dumped by boyfriend, Liam, Sam is presented with an invitation from her best friend, Jess, to join her elaborate wedding party in Scotland. To Sam’s dismay, not only will she have to deal with celebrating romance whilst facing her own heartbreak, her ex, Liam will be the best man and Sam will come face to face with the physical evidence of his infidelity in the form of his very-pregnant girlfriend. Unable to face the ordeal alone and deal with the pity on the faces of her family and friends, Sam decides to hire actor Jake to pose as her handsome and charming new boyfriend for the week. As you do.

It was very easy to relate to Sam. She is a warm and slightly hapless character and we can all put ourselves in her shoes, feeling the humiliation of being cheated on and dumped and then having to face her ex in public. The ordeal has sapped her of all her self-confidence and she is at a very low ebb when she concocts the slightly crazy plan of hiring a fake boyfriend to take to her best friend’s wedding. I doubt most people would go that far but I could appreciate the impulse and Zara’s humorous and entertaining writing made the plan seem a lot more plausible than it probably would be in real life.

Jake, the impoverished actor that Sam manages to bag as her fake date is almost too good to be true. Handsome, charming and kind, he is the kind of man that every woman wishes to have on her arm, but Sam struggles at times to work out how much of his behaviour is an act and how much is genuine, which becomes a problem when she finds herself falling for him, despite her best efforts to keep him at arms length. Jake is no cardboard cut-out romantic lead though, he has a complicated past of his own which stops him being as one-dimensional as is sometimes the case with romantic leads of this ilk.

This book is written in the first person from Sam’s point of view and I really enjoyed being in her head and seeing everything from her slightly-neurotic point of view. Her inner monologue was completely authentic – somewhat reminiscent of Bridget Jones – as she worries about her weight, wanting to look amazing when she first sees her ex, whether anyone will find out that she and Jake are faking it. She is so likeable, it really carries the story along and had us rooting for her and a positive outcome.

The story is filled with humour, which made it a really easy read. There are some scenes that will have you howling with laughter and wondering how anyone can get themselves into such scrapes. I loved the character of Sam’s mother, who just added to the cringe-factor of some of the scenes, and there was a nicely rounded cast of friends and family to fill out the story. I did feel like the character of Ruby, who was set up to be a bit of a villainess, was slightly wasted and could have been used to throw a bit more of a spanner in the works and I wondered if that was a plot point that was in the original draft but then tailed off. It felt like a bit of an unfinished thread. However, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. The mystery of Jake’s past also went in a different direction than the one I had imagined, but it has given me an idea for a story twist that I might use in the future since it didn’t turn out to be the solution I had imagined in this book, so that was a bonus from my reading. Thanks, Zara, for sparking my imagination!

This was a lovely, light and funny read and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading romantic fiction. You won’t be disappointed. Now I’m off to track down that piece of chocolate cake.

The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley is out now on Kindle and you can buy a copy here.  The paperback version will be published on the 28th of June and you can pre-order it here.

Follow the blog tour and see what other readers are saying about The Wedding Date:

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Amazon/Goodreads

About the Author

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Born in a small village in Staffordshire, Zara Stoneley wanted to be James Herriot, a spy, or an author when she grew up. Writing novels means she can imagine she is all these things, and more!

Zara’s bestselling novels include ‘The Holiday Swap’, ‘Summer with the Country Village Vet’, ‘Blackberry Picking at Jasmine Cottage’ and the popular Tippermere series – ‘Stable Mates’, ‘Country Affairs’ and ‘Country Rivals’.
She lives in a Cheshire village with her family, a naughty cockapoo, and a very bossy cat, and loves spending time in sunny Spain.

Connect with Zara:

Website: http://www.zarastoneley.com
Twitter: @ZaraStoneley
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ZaraStoneley

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zarastoneley/ 

The House of Birds and Butterflies: Twilight Song by Cressida McLaughlin #bookreview (@CressMcLaughlin) @HarperCollinsUK @HarperFiction @fictionpubteam #TheHouseofBirdsandButterflies #TwilightSong #NetGalley

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“Spring is blooming at Meadowsweet nature reserve. Although the sunshine is drawing in the visitors like never before, events co-ordinator Abby knows she’s treading on thin ice. She’s spending more and more time with village newcomer Jack, and she’ll need to make a real success of the springtime camping extravaganza at the reserve if she’s to keep her disgruntled boss off her back.

Abby hasn’t thrown too many questions at Jack about his shadowy past – she’s enjoying the budding romance, so why break the spell? But when the secrets start spilling out and a glamorous blonde presenter from the nature show, Wild Wonders, turns Jack’s head, Abby knows it’s time to face the music…”

Part three of Cressida’s new four part serial and things are finally moving on between Abby and Jack – hurrah! Abby’s feelings for Jack have grown stronger along with mine as a reader, very cleverly managed by the author, and I am happy that Abby had finally managed to put her reservations aside and admit to herself how she feels.

However, there are still a few spanners to be thrown in the path of true love, as you would expect. Abby’s boss at the nature reserve is not happy that Abby is becoming distracted from her work as event co-ordinator, just when the reserve needs her most. Abby’s sister still has reservations about Jack and is not backward about sharing them, and Jack’s nemesis has come out of the woodwork to stir the pot and imply that Abby still does not have the full story about Jack’s troubled past.

I really enjoyed the camping weekend event that was organised at the reserve, and the first signs of thawing in the frosty Penelope, but the reserve’s situation seems to be coming ever more precarious and a sinister figure is now stalking the reserve to press the point home. We are left wondering if the reserve can be saved, what will be the fate of Swallowtail House and why is Flick Hunter hanging around? Is is because of Jack?

As a contrast to her wellie-clad work at the reserve, Abby attends a glamorous literary function with Jack as he tries to redeem his reputation in the literary world. This seems to be working until Eddie pops up, trying to scupper his chances and he draws Abby into his scheme to re-blacken Jack’s name. I wonder if Abby is prepared to be pulled out of her safe little world in Meadowsweet and into the spotlight, and whether Eddie will succeed in arousing further doubts in her mind about Jack.

Cressida does a great job of balancing the romance and tension and suspense in this instalment of the series, it was my favourite one of the series so far. We are fully immersed in the charming village of Meadowsweet and the travails of the reserve that they are as important to the reader as to the characters. At the same time, I am rooting for the romance of Abby and Jack.

My only problem with this book is that it was way too short and left on the cliffhanger of Jack finally revealing all of the details of his turbulent past. Will it be something Abby can live with? Will her sister’s doubts be allayed? What is the fate of Meadowsweet Reserve and Swallowtail House? Will Abby be able to do enough to save them? I am also sure that there is more to come from Flick Hunter and the presence of Wild Wonders at the rival Reston reserve.

Watch this space, the denouement is thankfully only a week away!

The House of Birds and Butterflies: Twilight Song is out now and you can buy a copy here. All four parts of The House of Birds and Butterflies will be released as a single paperback on 9 August 2018 and you can pre-order a copy here.

Thank you to Harper Collins and NetGalley for the copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Amazon/Goodreads

About the Author

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Cressy was born in South East London surrounded by books and with a cat named after Lawrence of Arabia. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and now lives in Norwich with her husband David.

Cressy’s favourite things – other than writing – include terrifying ghost stories, lava lamps and romantic heroes, though not necessarily at the same time. (Though perhaps a good starting point for a story . . ?)

When she isn’t writing, Cressy spends her spare time reading, returning to London or exploring the beautiful and romantic Norfolk coastline.

Connect with Cressida:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CressidaMcLaughlinAuthor/

Twitter: @CressMcLaughlin

Instagram: @cressmclaughlin

Website: https://cressidamclaughlin.com

Front Porch Lemonade by JudiLynn Taylor #bookreview #NetGalley #FrontPorchLemonade

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“On the front porch of one Victorian home in the small Southern town of Eubanks, six women gather to indulge themselves in some cutting up, cutting loose, and an unparalleled stream of blowing off steam.

While these friends cannot stop the events that at times attempt to knock them off their charted courses, they do find a way to embrace the changes in their lives—through each other’s support, laughter, and a healthy dose of Miss Abby’s lemonade. Hold the vodka?”

One of my favourite books, which I go back to repeatedly, is The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells and I am consistently drawn to any book that promises tales of warm, Southern life and female friendship. From the description, I thought this was going to be such a book, and the colourful jug of lemonade on the cover seduced me further but, having read it, I am afraid I have been left wanting.

This book centres around the friendship of six Southern women who gather frequently on the porch of their unofficial leader, Abigail Ashhurst, to drink her famous homemade lemonade (the recipe for this delight is in the front of the book and I am definitely going to give it a try soon) and put the world to rights. These women are strong and sassy and have each others backs through the onslaught of trials, tribulations and tragedies that befall them over the course of two years.

I say two years but the time frame is not clear as it is not a linear story but rather jumps around in time from one day to another and then weeks or months ahead and then back to a few days apart. It is often hard to tell exactly when in time we are in relation to the last chapter which made the read a little disorienting.

In addition, and to confuse things more, this is not a clear, linear plot but a series of vignettes and stories about each of the six women intermingled, so you are often trying to sort out which character is which, who their husbands/children/dogs/colleagues are and what they each do, as well as the relevance of the anecdote. It does not make for easy reading and I also found that the jumping around made it impossible for me to bond with any of the characters enough to particularly care about them. This became an issue when the author was trying to address some serious issues faced by a couple of the characters towards then end. I had no emotional investment in the characters which lessened the impact of these events. I think the author was trying to use these stories to reveal the character of the six women and the Southern way of life, but it really didn’t work for me at all.

There was some really good scene setting which gave us a feeling of what the town of Eubanks was like and an insight into the peculiarly Southern way of life but there wasn’t enough of this to satisfy me or make up for what the book lacked in other areas.

One of the main issues I had was the main character of Abby and trying to work out her character. I think the women are all supposed to be of a similar age – mid-40s – but a couple of them spoke and acted like teenagers and ‘Miss Abby’ came across as about 80. She was so uptight (she runs the local school of etiquette) with seemingly no private life and no sense of humour that she was totally impossible to relate to. I just did not connect with any of the characters at all which made this a tough read.

This isn’t a terrible book, I didn’t hate it. On finishing it I mainly felt a sense of relief and a certain dissatisfaction that I hadn’t gained anything from the reading experience.

Front Porch Lemonade is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Thank you to NetGalley and thewordverveinc for my copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Amazon/Goodreads

About the Author

JudiLynn Taylor is a Southern gal through and through . . . with an accent to prove it.
Her laugh is both unique and infectious, and she shares it generously, naturally drawn to the humor in life. When she is not spending time with her family and close friends—her greatest of joys—you may find her hiking along the Georgia trails, gardening in her yard or stirring up a batch of homemade chocolate truffles. Currently, JudiLynn lives in the North Georgia area with her husband Mike and their two Cocker Spaniels, Oskar Myer and Gracie Grace.

The Company of Eight by Harriet Whitehorn #bookreview (@H_Whitehorn) @LittleTigerUK @StripesBooks #TheCompanyOfEight #NetGalley

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“Cass has always wanted to audition as an acrobat for the famous Circus Boat that sails the warm seas of the Longest World. But when her chance is snatched away, she comes up with a new plan. Soon she has secured a job on the Palace Boat, following the circus around the islands. Yet Cass has been invited on the boat for a very different reason – and it’s not long before she is embroiled with thieves, sword fighters and a mysterious group of women called The Company of Eight…”

Middle grade fiction is not something I read a lot of but sometimes my daughters will insist that I read a book they have particularly enjoyed. Such a book I read earlier this year was The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave which Mini Me adores and has recommended to everyone she knows. When I saw this book on NetGalley, I thought I would give it a read and see if it was something she might enjoy. Plus, who isn’t a sucker for a story set in a circus?

This book does indeed have a lot in common with The Girl of Ink & Stars. A strong teenage female protagonist, exotic, foreign world and tales of derring-do. Plus, this book has the aforementioned circus (one which tours around on a ship, to add to the excitement), pirates, an island full only of strong women, sword-fighting a-plenty and a secret company of female…spies I suppose you might call them.

I really enjoyed this book. The world-building was well done, the story rolled along at a great pace and I really enjoyed the female lead, Cass. In fact, there were a lot of strong female characters in this book which is always something I am looking for, being the mum/step-mum of 5 daughters. I liked the way that the women were in charge of their own destinies, not damsels in distress waiting for the boys to sail to their rescue.

I wish there had been a little more time spent in the circus and more detail about the different acts and characters. The chapter where Cass finally confronts the pirates and the following chapter seemed a little rushed, as if the author could see the end in sight and were galloping to the finish, which made the pacing uneven at the end. However, these are minor niggles in a book that I don’t regret investing the time in.

I would definitely recommend this book for children who enjoy this kind of fantasy novel and I have now bought a paperback copy for my children to read. I’ll come back and give you their feedback once they have read it.

I believe this is the start of a series of books set in this world starring Cass and her friends and I look forward to the next one.

The Company of Eight is out now and you can buy a copy here.

My thanks to NetGalley and Little Tiger Group and Stripes Publishing for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

About the Author

Harriet Whitehorn is the author of the award-nominated VIOLET books, a middle-grade detective series from Simon and Schuster. Titles include VIOLET AND THE PEARL OF THE ORIENT, and VIOLET AND THE SMUGGLERS. Nominations include the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award. Harriet lives in London with her husband and three daughters.

Connect with Harriet on:

Website: https://harrietwhitehorn.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/harriet.whitehorn

Twitter: @H_Whitehorn

Instagram: harrietwhitehorn

#BlogTour A Clean Sweep by Audrey Davis (@audbyname) @rararesources #ACleanSweep #retroreview #miniblitz #bookbloggers

Clean Sweep

Today I’m delighted to bring you my stop on the Mini Blitz Retro Review Blog Tour for Audrey Davis’ book A Clean Sweep. Thank you to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part.

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“A CLEAN SWEEP is a laugh-out-loud tale of love, lies and second chances.
Love comes around when you least expect it. Fifty-something widow Emily isn’t expecting romance. Nor is she expecting a hunky twenty-something chimney sweep on her doorstep.
Daughter Tabitha knows something isn’t quite right with her relationship, while her boss – Abba-loving Meryl – thinks she’s found the real deal. Are they both right, or pursuing Mr Wrong?
Emily’s sister, Celeste, has the perfect marriage … or does she? Can a fitness tracker lead her down the path to happiness or heartbreak?
Susan is single, overweight and resigned to a life of loneliness. There was the one who got away but you don’t get another try, do you?
Prepare for a rollercoaster ride of emotions in a book that will grab your heart, make you smile and wish you had a chimney to sweep.”

Chimney sweeps, are they even a thing any more? I’ve lived in this house for thirteen years and I’ve never had my chimney swept. I may have to remedy that situation now that I’ve read this book as it can obviously lead to interesting encounters!

This is the story of a group of women – ordinary women with ordinary lives – and the not-very-extraordinary things that happen to them. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? Well, do you know what, there is drama and passion and tension and heartbreak and joy in the not-very-extraordinary lives of these women and the genius of this book is making a funny, page-turning and heart-warming story out of the ordinary things that happen to ordinary people like you and I.

Emily is a middle-aged woman, widowed from a mundane marriage and just happy trundling along day to day, not expecting much until a chance encounter with hunky Joe who comes to sweep her chimney (not a euphemism to begin with but it soon turns into one, and this book is full of them!) turns her life on its head. There is an instant attraction, but is the substantial age gap a stumbling block to a proper relationship?

“He is a twenty-something hunk who wouldn’t look twice at someone old enough to be his mother. Cougars, wasn’t that what they were called these days? Except Emily felt she was about as predatory as an ancient feline who craved nothing more than a saucer of milk and a good ear scratch.”

Emily’s daughter Tabitha has problems of her own. Stuck in a job she doesn’t want and a relationship that could best be described as ‘tepid’, her life is not at all what she imagined. Does she have the courage to make drastic decisions to change it all? And what will she say when she finds out about her mum’s toy boy?

“One old crone – who really should only have been let out at Halloween – had spent almost half an hour slathering “try me” samples of organically produced hand creams on her wizened claws. Then complained that the smells were ‘quite obnoxious’. As she scuttled off back to her broomstick, Tabitha resisted shouting after her that six different fragrances mixed together didn’t necessarily make for olfactory heaven. Maybe eye of newt and tongue of bat would have been more up her street. Up yours, Endora.”

Tabitha’s boss, Meryl, is searching for love online and thinks she may finally have found it in charming suitor, Miroslaw. But can you really know someone you meet online?

Emily’s sister, Celeste, is married to the love of her life, Martin. But ghosts from Martin’s past are threatening to upset the stability of Celeste’s seemingly charmed life, and she only has herself to blame.

Lonely Susan is battling life’s problems solo. When faced with the biggest challenge of her life, she wonders if things would have been different if she hadn’t thrown away her one chance at love twenty years ago. But there is no point is wishing she had made a different decision now, is there?

This book is set in an ordinary town that could be anywhere, it is not relying on a picturesque or exotic location for colour. These are women that you know, that you meet in every day life, that could be you. The things that happen to them are the things that happen to all of us, every day, everywhere. There are no shocking twists or outlandish escapades. The drama is the small drama that happens to all of us all of the time. The kind of thing that isn’t going to make ripples for anyone else in the wider world, it isn’t going to make the front page of the paper but that can change an individual’s life forever in an instant. The author very cleverly makes us care about the characters in this book so much that these ordinary things become as important to us as they are to the individuals involved and you become very invested in a positive outcome very quickly. Honestly, I was so impressed by how she has managed to draw such a poignant story out of things that, on the face of it, seem fairly undramatic.

This book is carried along by the author’s warm and engaging voice and the strong vein of humour that runs through the book. I was laughing out loud one minute and then my heart was breaking for one of the characters the next. I completely bought in to everything that was happening and really wanted everything to turn out well for them all. I read this book in one sitting, and the time just flew by. It is utterly charming and I would highly recommend it. It is refreshing to see such a fantastic story made out of ordinary lives, featuring real people. I loved it.

A Clean Sweep is available now and you can buy a copy here.

Follow the blog tour and find out what other readers thought of this book

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About the Author

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Audrey Davis survived secondary school on the West coast of Scotland. Rubbish at science but not too bad at English, she originally wanted to be an actress but was persuaded that journalism was a safer option. Probably wise. She studied at Napier College in Edinburgh, the only place in Scotland at that time to offer a journalism course.
Her first foray into the hard-nosed newspaper world was as a junior reporter in Dumfriesshire. Duties included interviewing farmers about the prize-winning heifers to reporting on family tragedies. She persuaded her editor to let her launch an entertainment column which meant meeting the odd celebrity – or just the downright odd. From there, she moved to the loftier rank of senior reporter back in her home patch. Slightly more money, less farm animals but a higher crime rate. As Taggart would say: ‘There’s been a murrrrder!’
After a stint in London on a video magazine – yes, she is that old – Audrey moved to Singapore with her fiancé. She tried valiantly to embrace the stinking heat, humidity and lack of jobs, although she did work briefly on a magazine which was banned by the government for ‘artistic’ use of naked men’s bottoms.
Next on her adventures was a land Down Under where her main focus was raising Cost Centre One (aka firstborn) and coming to terms with the imminent arrival of Number Two. Still, she loved the Aussie way of life – BBQs, beaches and bring your own booze to restaurants – so it came as a blow when OH announced a move back to the UK. Not a job between them, the climate a possible deal breaker and an Exorcist-style vomiting infant on the flight home didn’t bode well …
Always a survivor, Audrey sought out similar-minded friends (i.e. slightly bonkers), got the children into a good school and thought about taking up writing again. Sadly, thinking about it was as far as she got, unless you count shopping lists. Then, hubby drops another bombshell. Switzerland. As in – it’s packing time again. Off to the land of cheese, chocolate, scarily efficient trains and a couple of teeny, tiny issues. Like driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and speaking a foreign language (French). The former was conquered fairly quickly (we’ll skip over the wall demolition in week two), the latter remains an ongoing battle of the hopeful against the hopeless. At least she provides amusement for the local workforce.

It wasn’t until 2016 that Audrey rediscovered her writing mojo with an online Writing Fiction course. From there, her first novel – A Clean Sweep – was born, although it took a bit longer than nine months from conception. A short, darker prequel – A Clean Break – followed, and in November 2017 she published the first in a novella trilogy, The Haunting of Hattie Hastings Part One. Part Two is published on 21 March 2018, with the conclusion following in May/June. After which she might have a wee lie down …

Connect with Audrey:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/audreydavisbooks

Twitter- https://twitter.com/audbyname