Friday Night Drinks… with Elaine Roberts

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

Friday has come around slowly this week! I’ve been very distracted and restless due to the kids being back in school for the first time since March, so I’m really ready for a drink tonight and I am delighted that I have a fellow RNA member and author to keep me company. Welcome to the blog… Elaine Roberts.

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

Thank you for inviting me, I’ll have a Pimms please. It’s one of my favourite tipples; I love a drink that comes with nibbles.

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Lovely, I’ll have one of those too. 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?

I would opt for the theatre; I love a live show or concert and a good meal so it would have to involve food as well. Living relatively close to London and having an excellent local theatre there are always plenty of options.

That would be marvellous, I have really missed trips to the theatre during lockdown. 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 do like a good laugh so I would invite Victoria Wood and Michael McIntyre. They both have had interesting lives. I was lucky enough to see them live and spent the whole evening laughing.

Victoria Wood is a popular choice, I’m very jealous that you saw her live, I absolutely loved her. I’ve seem Michael McIntyre, he is extremely funny. I think we all need a good laugh these days! So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m currently planning and writing the third book in The West End Girls series. It can be complicated when you are writing a series because the books still need to stand-alone. The challenge is to add backstory without giving too much away. I keep changing my mind about which way the story is going so that involves a lot of brainstorming on my part. It takes time for my mind to formulate the story I want to write. This will potentially be the last book in The West End Girls series for my publisher, Aria, Head of Zeus. 

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

I have two proud moments. The first thing I ever had published was a short story, I was never interested in writing them but at the time I was attending The Write Place, which is a writing class, and was told to have a go. At the time I didn’t appreciate what a good learning curve it was to write to a word count. That story was the first time I had experienced someone wanting something I had written, I have to say I couldn’t believe it and was dancing around my front room when I got the email offering to purchase it. My second one is being offered my first three-book contract with Aria, Head of Zeus. I’m in the process of writing my second series for them, The West End Girls.

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

I have written for as long as I can remember but only started taking it seriously about ten years ago, at that time I just wanted to write a novel and see it in the shops. I joined The Write Place and found out I had a lot to learn. To some extent I have exceeded that because I’m currently writing my sixth saga, the third in The West End Girls series, but I would still like to walk into shops and see my books on the shelves. Having said that I love being with my editor and publisher so I have no complaints.

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

My first book, The Foyles Bookshop Girls, was born from a Victorian novel I wrote, which I love. Agents and publishers all said they liked it but at that time the period didn’t sell well. A friend gave me some good advice, which I took. It resulted in moving the family forward to the beginning of World War One. They are all related to my main character in The Foyles Bookshop Girls so I’m now thinking of giving it a good edit and maybe self publishing it. It’s exciting and a little bit scary as I’ve never done it before but I have nothing to lose by trying.

That’s sounds like an exciting challenge. 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?

Being raised in the army I have travelled a lot in my life and spent many years living abroad but one of my lasting memories is going on the Queen Mary 2, with my late husband, to the Caribbean. We were on a local boat when we witnessed dolphins swimming alongside it. I got quite emotional seeing them in their natural habitat. 

I don’t really have a place I’d love to visit above others but what I have discovered is that there are so many beautiful places in Britain that I’ve yet to see. I feel that I haven’t really given my own country the attention it deserves so that’s my plan going forward.

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It’s the right time to do it. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

My father was in the army and I was born in Cyprus. I’m British because I was born in a British Military Hospital, but as a child I stopped telling people where I was born because I used to get called all kinds of names. I suspect it would be labeled as racism these days but I didn’t know about such things back then. My late husband told everyone and I used to tell him off, but he taught me to be proud and not hide away.

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’?

Gosh, this is a difficult question. I have so many favourite authors, in different genres. I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson, there was something about it that touched me. Being a hopeless romantic I would also recommend P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Aherne, I cried buckets when I read that. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult is another one. I could just go on and on, I haven’t even mentioned any saga authors that I love to read. All of the books I have mentioned have been made into films or a television series, and while they have been enjoyable, they were nowhere near as good as the books.

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‘All the stuff in the papers was lies.
We were never The Ice Cream Girls’

Serena and Poppy were teenagers when they were branded as the Ice Cream Girls.

When they were accused of murder, one of them was sent to prison while the other was set free.

Now, 20 years later, one of them is doing all she can to clear her name and the other is frantically trying to keep her secrets.

Which Ice Cream Girl is desperate enough to kill to get what she wants?

Fabulous books. I hated what they did to My Sister’s Keeper in the movie, the changes they made were a travesty! P.S. I Love You was better, largely due to the presence of Gerard Butler! (Gratuitous picture coming up, brace yourselves!)

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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?

When I drink I always get the munchies so eating is always in order at the end of the night, but also first thing in the morning to soak up all the alcohol. I also drink lots of water to keep away the pounding head in the morning.

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

To be lazy, maybe relax, have laughs and chats with my family or read a book with a glass of Pimms.

Perfect. thank you for chatting to me this evening, Elaine, it was just what I needed to wind down at the end of this week.

Elaine’s latest book, The West End Girls was published in June in ebook format, and you can buy a copy here.

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Growing up on a farm in the country, Annie Cradwell has always dreamt of singing on stage. So when she hears her friend Joyce has a room to spare in London, she sets off with best friend Rose for an adventure beyond anything they could have imagined. 

In London, Annie and Rose stumble into jobs at the Lyceum Theatre. Being a dresser to capricious star Kitty Smythe wasn’t exactly what Annie had in mind. But then the musical director, Matthew Harris, offers her singing lessons. And Annie starts to wonder – could this be her chance? Or is it all too good to be true? 

With the threat of war in the air, everything is uncertain. Is there a place for hopes and dreams when so much is at stake? 

Annie, Rose and Joyce are three girls with very different dreams – but the same great friendship.

Elaine Roberts had a dream to write for a living. She completed her first novel in her twenties and received her first very nice rejection. Life then got in the way again until she picked it up again in 2010. She joined a creative writing class, The Write Place, in 2012 and shortly afterwards had her first short story published. Elaine is very proud of The Foyles Bookshop Girls saga trilogy, which her late husband encouraged her to write. She, and her extended family, live in and around Dartford, Kent and her home is always busy with children, grandchildren, grand dogs and cats visiting.

You can find out more about Elaine and her books via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Romancing The Romance Authors… with Claire Huston

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today is the day! The first instalment in my new feature, Romancing The Romance Authors, where I interview an author of romantic fiction about what makes their love-filled heart tick, what influences their writing, and ask them to give me and other budding romance authors some tips on the genre.

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I am delighted to welcome as my first guineapig guest, lovely romance author and friend of the blog, Claire Huston. Claire won my #underwatervampireerotica competition (it’s a long story) at this year’s RNA virtual conference to be awarded this dubious honour, so let’s hope it was worth it.

Now for those searing questions we all want the answers to!

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

I self-published my debut contemporary romance in April this year. I’ve finished my second book since, another contemporary romance, but I don’t know yet whether that one will be traditionally published or whether I’ll self-publish again. Watch this space!

Why romance?

I enjoy reading a range of different genres. But when it comes to writing, I think I’ve gravitated towards romance because if I’m going to spend months inhabiting a story I want it to have a happy resolution in which things turn out well for the deserving characters. Writing a romance is making a little island of happiness and fairness for readers who live in a world in which those things often struggle to prevail. It’s like spinning a joyful dream you can share with others. 

What inspires your stories?

All sorts of things. Books, movies, conversations with friends, random things overhead when out and about… It all marinates in the back of my mind and eventually ideas emerge out of the soup!

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

Sorry for the unoriginal answer, but I have to say Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. We read Jane Eyre at school when I was twelve, and I think it’s probably influenced me more than I’ll ever realise. 

In the present there are just too many brilliant romance authors to mention so I won’t start in case anyone feels I’ve left them out ☺

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

Persuasion by Jane Austen. It’s my favourite Austen and is often overlooked, partly because it hasn’t had as many lavish screen adaptations as her other works. It’s wonderful and particularly impressive when you consider she was already ill when she wrote it. It hints at how terrific her future books would have been had she not died so young.

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At twenty-seven, Anne Elliot is no longer young and has few romantic prospects. Eight years earlier, she had been persuaded by her friend Lady Russell to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a handsome naval captain with neither fortune or rank. What happens when they encounter each other again is movingly told in Jane Austen’s last completed novel. Set in the fashionable societies of Lyme Regis and Bath, Persuasion is a brilliant satire of vanity and pretension, but, above all, it is a love story tinged with the heartache of missed opportunities.

Persuasion is my favourite Austen novel too and it may be making an appearance on the blog soon in some guise! Which romantic hero would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

This answer will make me sound weird, but… I think the best romances are so effective because readers don’t just fall for the hero, but rather come to love the idea of him and his other half as a couple. It’s the combination of two characters we root for. And so I don’t think I could go off for a romantic weekend with any of the heroes in my favourite books because I’d spend the whole time counselling them about their relationship with their fictional other half and telling them to get back to them! The meddling romance novelist in me couldn’t let it go!

In that sense, I’d probably have a better weekend at a spa with a romantic heroine. I could have a good gossip with Lizzy Bennett and find out how she’s managing Darcy and his ten thousand a year.

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

Getting to talk to other romance writers who are in the same boat as you. Writing can be a lonely and frustrating business. The RNA are a warm, helpful, friendly community and the advice and support of your fellow members when you’re struggling can stop you from wanting to chuck it all in and never pick up a pen again.

I must give a special mention to the Birmingham Chapter members who are the only ones I’ve ever been able to meet regularly in person. They’re a lovely, incredibly talented group and hopefully we’ll be able to see each other soon as I’ve missed our meet ups!

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

There’s no right way to write a book. You may hear prescriptive advice telling you what you must and mustn’t do, such as “You must write every day”. But when I hear definitive statements like that I always think, “What utter rubbish!” 

If you’re starting out it’s likely that you’re squeezing writing in around all the other pressing commitments in your life. So write however suits you and whenever you can. If it works for you and gets you to “the end”, go for it.

Tell us about your latest book.

My debut novel, Art and Soul, came out in April 2020. It’s available in ebook and paperback and free to download with Kindle Unlimited. You can buy it here.

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An expert at solving other people’s problems, single mum Becky is hired to help artist Charlie get out of his creative slump. But when she starts falling for her client, will she be able to fix her own love life?

A heart-warming, uplifting romance served with a generous slice of cake.

About the author

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Claire Huston lives in Warwickshire with her husband and two children. Art and Soul is her first novel.

A keen amateur baker, she enjoys making cakes, biscuits and brownies almost as much as eating them. You can find recipes for all the cakes mentioned in Art and Soul at clairehuston.co.uk along with over 100 other recipes. This is also where she talks about and reviews books.

Connect with Claire:

Website: https://clairehuston.co.uk

Facebook: Claire Huston Author

Twitter: @ClaraVal

Instagram: @clairehuston_author

If you are a romance author and think you would enjoy answering this random assortment of questions about writing romance, please do get in touch and you can take part in a future instalment of Romancing The Romance Authors.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Vivien Brown

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There has been a last minute change to my companion for tonight’s Friday Night Drinks and I am really grateful to my guest for stepping in and saving me from being stood up! So I am delighted to welcome to the blog, author…. Vivien Brown.

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

Sorry to disappoint but I don’t drink! I would love a nice ice-cold Diet Pepsi with a slice of lime though, thank you!

Teetotallers are always welcome, alcohol not necessary for a fun evening! 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?

Do you like horses? I really enjoy an evening at the races. Windsor is a lovely course. Out on the lawn in the sun, watching the jockeys fly in by helicopter and then mounting up, picking my favourites, having a little bet and collecting my winnings (if only!), taking lots of photos and enjoying a fish and chip supper. You can even arrive in style, via the Thames, if you feel like a boat trip, taking in a view of the castle, and surrounded by swans.

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I love horses, and racing (how could I not, coming from Doncaster!) 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 would probably be horribly starstruck and too scared to talk, but it would have to be the absolute genius that was Victoria Wood, my comedy writing idol, and my all-time movie heart-throb, Kevin Costner (preferably dressed in his white naval uniform as in the film No Way Out). If he couldn’t make it over from America because of the pandemic I would happily take Aidan Turner in his place.

Oh, Victoria Wood is my idol too, I really miss her. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

The cover was officially revealed this week for my fourth novel, Be Careful What You Wish For, coming out in September. It is already doing very well in pre-sales, so I am hoping for great things. Meanwhile, I am halfway through writing the next one, a story combining themes of organ donation and finding a lost family after adoption, and bringing back some of the characters from earlier novels so readers can find out where they are now. I don’t yet have a contract for it so I just hope it gets published!

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

There is nothing quite like holding your first paperback in your hands. My first two full-length novels, written under a different name, were only e-books, so seeing Lily Alone as a print book was a landmark moment for me. The biggest challenge is always just keeping going, finishing a book after months of writing, staring at another blank page or screen and telling myself yes, I really can do it all again!

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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!

What novelist doesn’t dream of a bestseller? By that I mean the full works – my book on all the bookshop shelves and in the window displays, winning awards, making the Sunday Times lists, and being made into a film starring Kevin Costner… Dream on!

Dreams are good, you never know! What do you have planned that you are really excited about?

Not everything is about my actual writing. At the moment I am most excited about meeting my first grandson, due to be born early in December. And the end of lockdown, so I can see all my writer friends and go to social events and conferences again. So many were cancelled, including a lunch at The House of Lords. I am being as optimistic as I can and planning ahead for lots of such events in 2021.

Here’s hoping. 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?

When I was younger I saw quite a lot of the world. I really loved Hong Kong (before the Chinese took it back), Singapore and Thailand, especially all the lovely temples, flowers and wildlife, including my favourite elephants. And, with my husband, I have enjoyed lots of European beach and city destinations, and explored the beautiful Barbados and Jamaica. We even managed to take in a horseracing meeting while on Barbados! More recently I have thoroughly enjoyed holidays nearer to home, taking my daughter Vicky and the grandchildren to Disneyland Paris, especially as you can get there so easily by train. No waiting around at airports or long flights to endure. Now we can’t easily travel, I would be just as happy in England, especially the beautiful rugged areas of the South West – visiting Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, forever now ‘Poldark country’ to me.

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

No great surprise to those who know me, but I went through five rounds of traumatic and expensive IVF before I could have a family, resulting in twin girls, and I am a bit of a cryptic crossword addict. Sorry, that’s two things!

Two is doubly interesting! 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 Swap by Fiona Mitchell. As a former IVF patient, its theme of two embryos being accidentally swapped at the clinic resonated with me. Two women finding out three years after giving birth that they have the ‘wrong’ baby. Would you keep the one you have raised or swap them back? 

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Two women, two children. But whose is whose?

When two strangers, Tess and Annie, undergo IVF at an American clinic, their embryos are mixed up and each woman gives birth to the wrong child.

The women only discover the devastating error three years later. Tess wants to swap the children back; Annie doesn’t. As the pair wrangle, neither of them expect what unfolds.

That sounds fascinating, I will add it to the TBR. 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?

No alcohol for me, so hangovers don’t happen! 

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

Get up late on Sunday, have a long hot soak in a very bubbly bath with a good book, fruit and pastries for breakfast, read two newspapers and do the crosswords in them, a lovely roast for lunch, send my husband out to his bowls club so I can have more reading time before settling down with my cats Pixie and Dixie for an evening by the fire in my cosy pyjamas, watching several episodes of Poldark. 

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Cute cats! Vivien, thank you very much for joining me at the last minute, I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.

Vivien’s latest book, Be Careful What You Wish For will be published on 26 September, and you can pre-order a copy here.

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Two strangers. Two very different lives. A chance to escape…

Veteran stage actress Madi needs to escape from her lonely London life. The showbiz world is wearing thin. Estranged from her only son and still recovering from a traumatic breast cancer operation, she’s started to forget things and has the strongest sense she is being watched…

Prue feels suffocated by her claustrophobic village life, especially when she is humiliated in the most public way. Now Prue is desperate for anonymity whatever the cost.

A life swap seems the perfect escape for both women. But will changing places solve their problems? Or will happiness come at a dangerous price?

Originally trained in finance and banking, but more recently working with young children and their families in libraries and children’s centres, Vivien started her writing career, using her then name of Vivien Hampshire, with a 150-word paragraph that won the Mail on Sunday ‘Best Opening to a Novel’ competition in 1993, although the completed book was never published. Since then she has sold around 150 short stories to UK women’s magazines and 250 articles about working with children to professional nursery and childcare magazines, and has had two e-novels and a My Weekly pocket novel published as Vivien Hampshire, along with a non-fiction book on how to ‘crack’ cryptic crosswords. 

As Vivien Brown, she has had three women’s contemporary novels, Lily Alone, Five Unforgivable Things and No Sister of Mine published by One More Chapter, all with domestic drama/family relationship themes. Her fourth, Be Careful What You Wish For, comes out on 26 September 2020 in e-book, with the paperback to follow at Christmas. 

Vivien lives in Uxbridge, Middlesex with her husband and two cats. She has twin daughters, now grown-up, and two young granddaughters who keep her busy and entertained. When not writing she loves reading, watching TV quizzes, hospital and period dramas, and tackling and compiling tricky crosswords, many with personalised clues which clients commission as gifts. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a fellow of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ).

You can find out more about Vivien and her writing on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.  

Book Review: The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

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Mickey is a Lincoln Lawyer, a criminal defence attorney who operates out of the back of his car, a Lincoln, taking whatever cases the system throws in his path. He’s been a defence lawyer for a long time, and he knows just how to work the legal systems. When a Beverly Hills rich boy is arrested for brutally beating a woman, Haller has his first high-paying client in years. The evidence mounts on the defence’s side, and Haller might even be in the rare position of defending a client who is actually innocent.

But then the case starts to fall apart, neither the suspect nor the victim are quite who they seem – and Haller quickly discovers that when you swim with the sharks, it’s easy to wind up as prey.

After looking through my large collection of legal thrillers last week for an Instagram post, I began to wonder if there was any ‘must read’ legal thriller I didn’t own. This lead me down a Google rabbit hole of list after list of top legal thriller titles. One  book appeared on all of them, and it was the number one book on a list of top legal thrillers as judged by lawyers (which would seem to be the highest accolade a legal thriller can get.) That book was The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly.

I remember watching the movie starring Matthew McConaughey years ago, but I couldn’t remember the story, and I haven’t read the book, so I decided to rectify that oversight immediately and bought a copy. You can’t have an outstanding collection of legal thrillers without the top one, can you, regardless of whether you have a copy of everything John Grisham has ever written!

The Lincoln Lawyer is a fairly meaty tome, with around 450 pages, but the action and pace is frenetic from beginning to end. The protagonist is Michael Haller, twice-divorced defence (sorry, I just can’t bring myself to spell it the American way *shudder*) attorney who works out of the back of his car, hustling for briefs from drug dealers, street walkers and anyone else who can afford to pay his fees. Unexpectedly, a rich client falls into his lap, and one who seems to be innocent of the crime he has been charged with, a case too good to be true. But, as Michael’s father once said, ‘there is no client as scary as an innocent man.’

So begins a tale full of twists and unexpected turns, as Micheal fights to get his client acquitted and the victim shown up as the lying chancer she is. But obviously, it’s not that simple and, throughout the 450 pages, Michael plays a game of wits against a devious adversary who will stop at nothing to make sure the truth never comes out. I found the plot completely gripping, and wished I’d had more time to devote to reading it because I didn’t really want to put it down once I’d started. Unfortunately, the arrival of a new puppy prevented that, but I raced through it as fast as I could. (Do you want to see the new puppy? Of course you do!)

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Anyway, I can see why lawyers love this book, it gives great descriptions of the trial process and the cut and thrust of adversarial law, without being dry and dull, or at least I thought so. The plot is clever, with enough surprises to keep the reader guessing to the end, and Haller is an appealing character to carry us through, which is no mean feat, considering what a loathed and ridiculed breed lawyers often are. I’m going to watch the movie again this afternoon while I do my ironing, as I have no memory of it really and I’m interested to see how it compares to the book while that is fresh in my mind. (Matthew McConaughey gives good lawyer too, his Jake Brigance in A Time To Kill is one of my favourite of his performances.)

This book is a great addition to my collection of legal thrillers, and definitely a must read for anyone who loves the genre. Do you have any other recommendations for me?

The Lincoln Lawyer is out now in all formats, and you can buy it here

About the Author

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A former police reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Connelly is the internationally bestselling author of the Harry Bosch series, and several other bestsellers including the highly acclaimed legal thriller, The Lincoln Lawyer. The TV series – Bosch – is one of the most watched original series on Amazon Prime and is now in its third season. He has been President of the Mystery Writers of America, and his books have been translated into thirty-nine languages and have won awards all over the world, including the Edgar and Anthony Awards. He spends his time in California and Florida.

Connect with Michael:

Website: https://www.michaelconnelly.com

Facebook: Michael Connelly Books

Twitter: @Connellybooks

Instagram: @michaelconnellybooks

Spotlight: 200 Foot Game by Kathy Obuszewski

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Fate threw them together, the world is trying its best to tear them apart.

A car accident isn’t a great place to meet a woman, right?
Right. I knew that. Besides, she’s older than me.
But when we met again at my star player’s party, who am I to say no to destiny?
She’s the fire to my ice and I want to hold onto her forever.
Cancer is trying to tell me I can’t.

I’m shining the spotlight today on the latest release in the Cleveland Sound series by Kathy Obuszewski, 200 Foot Game. Perfect for any fans of a sports-centred romance, it is a book that you might need a box of tissues at hand for as you read!

The book is available to read for free on Kindle Unlimited, along with the first book in the series, Deking The PuckKathy is also the author of The Sound of Christmas, also available on Kindle Unlimited, and will be releasing another book in early October.

If you would like to get hold of a copy of 200 Foot Game, you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Kathy is a passionate hockey fan. She plays, she watches and dreams of it, so she decided to start writing hockey romances.

You can find out more about Kathy by following her social media:

Website: https://kathyobuszewski.com

Facebook: Kathy Obuszewski

Instagram: @kathyobuszewski

Blog Tour: Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald #BookReview

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Fran hates her hometown, and she thought she’d escaped. But her father is ill, and needs care. Her relationship is over, and she hates her dead-end job in the city, anyway.

She returns home to nurse her dying father, her distant teenage daughter in tow for the weekends. There, in the sleepy town of Ash Mountain, childhood memories prick at her fragile self-esteem, she falls in love for the first time, and her demanding dad tests her patience, all in the unbearable heat of an Australian summer.

As past friendships and rivalries are renewed, and new ones forged, Fran’s tumultuous home life is the least of her worries, when old crimes rear their heads and a devastating bushfire ravages the town and all of its inhabitants…

I am happy to be taking my part in the blog tour today to mark the paperback publication of Ash Mountain by Helen Fitzgerald. Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part, and to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books for my digital copy, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is quite a difficult review to write, because I want to give a true reflection of how I felt about the book, whilst balancing that with external factors that I believe affected my reading of it. I have really struggled this last week emotionally for a variety of reasons and, unfortunately, I think this bled through to my reactions to this book. In fact, if I hadn’t been reading it for a blog tour, I probably would have set it to one side to come back to at another time, when I was in a different frame of mind. As it was, I ploughed on, but probably had a different feeling about the book than I would have if I’d come to it in a more upbeat frame of mind.

I’ve had a difficult week, and I think I really needed some escapist fiction, and this isn’t it. This is a dark, noir exploration of the dark undercurrents running through a small town, which are brought in to sharp focus when Fran returns to the place she hates to nurse her seriously ill father, just at a time where the town is threatened by a deadly bush fire. A lot of the topics explored in this book are extremely harrowing, and the author addresses them head on, without flinching and with huge emotional impact. This is something I normally love in a book, and I know it will be what draws a lot of readers to the novel. Rightly so, the novel deserves a wide readership because the writing is stunning, unfortunately I was emotionally unequipped to deal with it this week and it felt extremely bleak to me.

There is no doubt that the character development in this book is expertly done and works perfectly to draw the reader in and make the reader love or hate them. Again, this was part of the problem. I was TOO emotionally invested in the characters to deal with their struggles at the moment, and could feel their pain and distress. The book is a real rollercoaster of a ride emotionally, and the reader needs to be prepared for it. It packs a powerful emotional punch that I am sure would leave me fairly breathless at any time but completely floored me on this occasion.

The timeline jumps about between the day of the fire, the ten days or so leading up to it, and events that happened thirty years before when the main protagonist, Fran, was a teenager. At times I did find it a little hard to follow the timelines, because they were so disjointed, but this I know is deliberate and was done to add to the feeling of tension and anxiety which permeated the book. It just needs a level of concentration that was just a little of a strain for me at the moment, but I know I would take in my stride and truly appreciate for what it adds to the story at any other time.

This is a book that is powerful, emotional, challenging and full of tension from first page to last. The author is skilled at manipulating all of these elements and this is clear throughout. Unfortunately for me, she does this a little too well and I was just mentally in the wrong place for this book when I read it. I could see glimpses of the humour that I have seen other bloggers refer to within it, but just couldn’t appreciate it fully. Fabulous book, wrong time for me. I know it is one I will put aside and reread when I am in the right mindset for it. I would not want anyone else to be put off reading it though, because this is a wonderful book, and I know the issue was me and my emotional state at time of reading. More emotionally robust readers will love it, I have no doubt.

Ash Mountain is out as an ebook and audiobook, and will be published in paperback on 20 August and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. Her 2019 dark comedy thriller Worst Case Scenario was a Book of the Year in both The Guardian and Daily Telegraph. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia, and now lives in Glasgow with her husband.

Connect with Helen:
Twitter: @FitxHelen
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Guest Post: Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz

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I think we should take it through Guatemala.

A random text from a stranger inspires agoraphobic Colin to leave New York. His first stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender, half-Mayan Luci Bolon, her ancient but feisty great-uncle Ernesto, and Miss Mango, a bright-orange Kubota tractor. Ernesto’s dream is that Miss Mango be driven to Belize and given to the family he left behind nearly seventy years ago. Colin agrees to join Luci on the long journey through Central America.

In 1949, seventeen-year-old Belizean Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to America.

The past and present unfold through two journeys that traverse beautiful landscapes. Painful histories are soothed by new friendships and payments of old debts.

I am delighted today to be featuring on the blog this fascinating sounding book, Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet, although I will have a review of it coming for you a little later in the year. In the meantime, Karen has kindly written a guest post for me to share with you about her love for Belize, the setting of a large part of the novel.

Something About Belize by Karen Winters Schwartz

In all my travels there was something about Belize, Central America that touched me like no other county. The place, its people, its history, and culture went on to inspire much of my writing including my just released, newest novel Legend of the Lost Ass. From my first breath of Belizean air, I was in love with the place. My husband and I bought property and built a house on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Hopkins, Belize nearly 15 years ago.

There are so many reasons to love Belize. It’s not just the beauty of the land or the sea, but the magic of the culturally diverse people who call this place home. Belize is a melting pot consisting of mainly Mestizos, Mayans, Garinagu, Chinese, Mennonites, Kriols, and expats from Europe, US, and Canada. The pot is small, but it’s rich and deep with welcoming people.

Years ago, my then teenaged daughter, Sarah, and I were walking along the beautiful, debris-covered beach of the village of Hopkins. The day was awesome—the air still, with no humidity—the sea, a shimmering blue. Small terns strutted ahead anxiously, never taking flight, as they were not quite sure of our intentions. The gentle waters lapped at our feet as we studied the fresh array of unmatched shoes, coconuts, plastic bottles, brown clusters of seaweed, copious amounts of green sea grass, shattered unidentifiable pieces of plastic, neatly sliced halves of oranges with their gut sucked clean, the severed head of a pineapple… All of which had found their way onto the shoreline of Belize.

Sarah declared, “I want a coconut!” 

“Take one. They’re everywhere.”

She found a beautiful large green monster of a coconut which she lugged along before coming to a rare, but hard, rock thrusting out from the edge of the surf. Nearby five small Garifuna children played and splashed in the shimmering blue water. Sarah began throwing the coconut against the rock in an attempt to break its thick green covering. I began to help her. We took turns thrusting it against the rock. It wasn’t long before the children waded out of the water and grabbed this massive nut.

We stepped back in surprise (had we taken a coconut that we had no right to?) and then in amusement, as they took their own turns throwing the coconut against the rock. They got down on their knees in the surf, the Caribbean waters glistening and slipping off their dark bodies, and took turns banging it repeatedly. They stood up and threw only to sit back down and continue the assault. Sarah and I smiled and watched. I threw in a “Wow” here and there, but the children weren’t talking; they were strictly concentrating on the task at hand. Finally, after a good ten minutes, the green nut began to give up and split apart. The children dropped to the wet sand and used hands, feet, and fingers. Banging and tugging at the white pulpy fibers that covered the inner stone, they threw the strands of fibers above their heads and flung it into the sea. Another ten minutes later and a perfect light tan globe about the size of a small cantaloupe was revealed.

The oldest, and most hard-working of the boys, stood up, dripping from the sea, and proudly handed the coconut to Sarah. She bowed slightly, smiled, and said, “Thank you! Let me shake your hand.” She shook all the children’s hands. Then they splashed, without a word, back into the sea. 

I don’t remember how that particular coconut tasted or even if we ever ate it. What I remember was the magic of the moment when that little boy offered up the nut as if he were welcoming us to his world. It’s this magic and the character of Central America that I strive to capture in my novels. 

In Legend of the Lost Ass, my characters are part of the beauty of Central America. The missent text I think we should take it through Guatemala inspires agoraphobic adventure novelist, Colin, to leave the safety of his NY apartment. First stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender of the text, a half-Mayan woman named Luci, who, at thirty, has yet to confront her role in the death of her father when she was six. They instantly find each other annoying. He also meets a bright orange Kubota tractor named Miss Mango and Luci’s ancient but feisty Great Uncle Ernesto. It’s Ernesto’s dream that Miss Mango be driven to Belize as an atonement to his family, which he abandoned nearly seventy years prior. 

In 1949, British Honduras (now Belize), seventeen-year-old Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to the States.

What I enjoyed most about writing Legend of the Lost Ass was merging my personal Belizean experiences with massive amounts of research, creating a story where past and present unfold in two parallel journeys with slightly crazy characters put in even crazier circumstances. Through their eyes, I’m pretty darn sure, I succeeded in capturing the place, its people, its history, and its culture.

 

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Karen, thank you so much for sharing that experience with us, it is a beautiful story and Belize sounds like a place I need to be adding to my bucket list.

Legend of the Lost Ass is out now and, if you have been enticed to buy a copy by the glimpse into the country which inspired the book, you can buy a copy here. Watch out for my own review of the book coming in the autumn.

About the Author

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Karen Winters Schwartz wrote her first truly good story at age seven. Her second-grade teacher publicly and falsely accused her of plagiarism. She did not write again for forty years.

Her widely praised novels include WHERE ARE THE COCOA PUFFS?; REIS’S PIECES; and THE CHOCOLATE DEBACLE (Goodman Beck Publishing). Her new novel, LEGEND OF THE LOST ASS, was released by Red Adept Publishing on July 21, 2020. 

Educated at The Ohio State University, Karen and her husband moved to the Central New York Finger Lakes region where they raised two daughters and shared a career in optometry. She now splits her time between Arizona, a small village in Belize, and traveling the earth in search of the many creatures with whom she has the honor of sharing this world. This is her second year as a Rising Star judge. 

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenwintersschwartz.com

Facebook: Author Karen Winters Schwartz

Twitter: @authorKWS

Instagram: @_kaws_

 

Tempted by…Herding Cats: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

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On an island off the windswept Irish coast, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater.

Old friends.
Past grudges.

Happy families.
Hidden jealousies.

Thirteen guests.
One body.

The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.

All have a secret. All have a motive.
One guest won’t leave this wedding alive . . .

Today on Tempted by… I am featuring The Guest List by Lucy Foley, which I was given the final nudge in to buying by this review, written by Kerry on her blog, Herding Cats, which has the honour of being one of the best named blogs I follow.

I have to be honest, I probably would have bought this book anyway, as I loved Lucy Foley’s last book, The Hunting Party, when I read it last year (you can read my review of The Hunting Party here.) But Kerry’s review definitely nudged me to go over and order the book there and then, and I am sure would encourage anyone who hasn’t read any of Lucy Foley’s other books to pick it up.

The premise of the book sells itself, doesn’t it? It contains all my favourite things in a novel. An Irish setting. A wedding (always ripe for tension and drama), murder, secrets, stranded guests cut off from escape. How can it not be brilliant? Kerry’s review confirms that Lucy manages to draw all these promising threads together to weave a story that captured Kerry’s imagination and kept her frantically turning pages from beginning to end. Bloggers who read huge numbers of books are adept at spotting books that don’t quite work and separating the wheat from the chaff, and we can become very picky, so any book that someone like Kerry describes as ‘fantastic and compulsive’ is always going to be one that I need to give my attention to. I like the fact she is describing it as a quick read with short chapters that pull you through the narrative, you just know it is going to be one of those books that keep you up late as you read just one more chapter! The best kind of insomnia!

Kerry’s blog is a real treasure trove of book reviews and other enticing content for readers of all ages and tastes. She is one of those rare talents who reviews all genres of book, including children’s books and young adult books, with equal care and passion  and she is an enthusiastic and generous member of the blogging community who I always reading and sharing. You can feel her energy coming off the page, it sometimes leaves me a bit breathless how much she gets done with all she has going on, and definitely envious – I wish I was that productive! If you haven’t visited Kerry’s blog before, you can find it here.

And, if you fancy getting hold of your own copy of The Guest List, having read Kerry’s review, it is available now in hardback, Kindle and audio versions, and will be published in paperback in September, and you can buy a copy here.

Blog Tour: Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage by Liz Hurley #BookReview

Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage

Delighted to be on the blog tour today for this beautiful, summery looking read, Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage by Liz Hurley. Thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources 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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Sitting alongside the beach and just up from the gently lapping waves, sat a perfect cottage. She had found where she was going to live. Her own little cockleshell cove.

Ever since the Byrne sisters – ArianaAsterClemPaddy and Nic – discovered they were heiresses to the vast Hiverton fortune, their lives have never been the same. No longer living in poverty in London, they now own an estate in Norfolk, a castle in Scotland and a picturesque village in Cornwall.

When sensitive Paddy, the baby of the family despite her successful career as a model, swaps the catwalks of Paris Fashion Week for the cobbled lanes of Tregisky on the beautiful Cornish coast, it’s time for her to stand on her own two feet.

Soon, she’s settled in her new home of Cockleshell Cottage overlooking the wild surf, the seals her closest companions.

And when she meets ex-soldier Hal, she’s instantly smitten. Funny, considerate, and not to mention drop dead gorgeous, he’s perfect in every way apart from one – he’s engaged. But after a misunderstanding brings the two together in ways they couldn’t have imagined, it seems like they might just change each other’s lives.

Will Paddy fall in love with more than just the glorious blue skies of Cornwall? Or are there storm clouds gathering ahead?

This is the second in the series featuring the Byrne sisters, and I really loved the first book, A New Life For Ariana Byrne, (you can read my review of that book here), so I was looking forward to getting stuck into this one. Having read it, I can tell you that this book works perfectly well as a standalone novel, so don’t be put off if you haven’t read the first book.

This book follows the story of Paddy, one of the de Foix sisters who is a twin, and she is a totally different character to Ari, so this added an intriguing divergence from the first book from the beginning. Despite the fact she has been working as a model since she was 16, her other sisters seem to think she is a bit helpless and they fuss over her and baby her, which she finds infuriating. I wonder if any of my three younger sisters can sympathise! Given how her sisters treat her, I was rooting for Paddy to make a go of her mission in Tregisky from the off, just to prove them wrong! The author very cleverly gets the reader on her side from the beginning.

The setting of this book is escapist perfection, a tiny seaside cottage, covered in shells where Paddy can go sea-swimming with seals. Take me there immediately! I defy anyone not to enjoy being transported to this idyllic Cornish setting for a few hours, especially when we have all been locked in our homes for so long. I guess some people may find it a bit too twee, but if you are a fan of this type of romance novel, you will love it. The premise of the family owning a whole village and having to manage it, and all its eclectic tenants is inspired and novel, and gives the author chance to introduce a great range of fun, eccentric minor characters.

The romance between Paddy and Hal develops nicely along, possibly predictable, but challenging lines that will keep you interested. I like the way that Liz makes us really dislike Hal early in the book so he has to work hard to win us round, and throwing in the scheming and manipulative Bianca gives enough conflict to carry the book along at a nice clip. A very satisfying plot, all in all.

If I had one minor complaint, it would be that the time line is a little disjointed at the beginning, doing time jumps that don’t flow particularly well. I had to check back at one point to make sure there wasn’t some text missing from my proof copy. This made the narrative a little angular to start with. Not a word I have ever applied to a novel before, but it seemed the best way of describing it. I wish the transitions had been smoother. However, this was not a problem that the first book had, and it soon ironed itself out in this one, so I would not say it was too detrimental to my enjoyment of the story.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes this genre of sweet romcom. The relationship between the five sisters continues to delight me, and I am hoping we get Clem’s story next. I think the premise the author has used to bind the series together is fresh and interesting, and I definitely want to read on. A lovely, summer read.

Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

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

Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage Full Tour Banner

About the Author

When I grew up I wanted to be an underwater archaeologist or an astronaut but I ended up in a library. Everyone laughed as I’m not a naturally quiet person but I loved it. I went on to become a professional librarian for the money and the glamour. Not finding quite enough of either my husband and I set up a bookshop.  We didn’t find much there either so I started writing. Now I have loads of money and glamour but only in the pages of my books! In the meantime I dive and look at the stars.

Connect with Liz;

Website: https://www.lizhurleywrites.com

Facebook: The Other Liz Hurley

Twitter: @hello_hurley

Instagram: @liz_hurley_writes

Tempted By … Live and Deadly: The Holdout by Graham Moore

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One juror changed the verdict. What if she was wrong?

‘Ten years ago we made a decision together…’

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher, Bobby Nock, is the prime suspect. It’s an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed.

Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, persuades the rest of the jurors to vote not guilty: a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever.

Ten years later, one of the jurors is found dead, and Maya is the prime suspect.

The real killer could be any of the other ten jurors. Is Maya being forced to pay the price for her decision all those years ago?

Today’s Tempted By… was a no-brainer for me, to be honest. As an ex-lawyer, any books set in a legal environment are automatically appealing but it was the reference in this review by Mary Picken on her blog, Live and Deadly, to one of my favourite films that sealed the deal.

“A sort of reverse 12 Angry Men.” It wasn’t really going to take anything more than that to persuade me that The Holdout was a book I needed to read. 12 Angry Men is one of my favourite films and if you haven’t seen it, you need to go and watch it immediately. Henry Fonda gives one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever seen as the single juror trying to turn the minds of the other eleven jurors, who are convinced of the defendant’s guilt. It was nominated for three Oscars, so I’m not alone in thinking it is brilliant. How, therefore, could I resist a book that is being touted as  12 Angry Men on adrenaline.

Besides, Mary says that this is a belter of a legal thriller and, if there is any blog that I trust to know her thriller onions, it’s this one. Live and Deadly focuses on crime and thriller books, and she reads an awful lot of them, so she knows what she is talking about when it comes to judging a thriller. When she tells me a book is nicely paced with some good twists and turns, I am going to believe her and it is definitely one I am going to pick up. I am really looking forward to reading this when it gets to the top of my TBR pile.

If you are a lover of crime and thriller novels, Mary’s blog is one that you should be following. She is a prolific poster, reviewing all of the top new releases plus loads of great books from smaller, indie publishers that you may not otherwise come across, so this is the place to discover those hidden gems in crime fiction. She has a real knack for concise but precise reviews, so if you prefer a succinct reviewing style that really boils down the salient information, rather than my long, often inane, ramblings, this is the blog for you. Plus, she is one of the loveliest, kindest and most supportive bloggers on the scene and I love her to bits. You can find Mary’s blog here.

If this post and Mary’s review has made you eager to pick up a copy of The Holdout (and why wouldn’t it have?), it is available in hardback, audio and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.