Blog Tour: Matchmaking At Port Willow by Kiley Dunbar #BookReview

Matchmaking at Port Willow

I am so happy to be on this blog tour today, as I loved, loved, loved the first book in this series! (You can read my review of Summer at the Highland Coral Beach here.) My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting to take part, and to the author and publisher for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

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Beatrice Halliday has been working hard at the Princess and The Pea Inn, loved up with landlord Atholl and enjoying planning events for the locals. But at Christmas there’s a kick – as she realises she’s expecting.

Despite being fearful of the future, Beatrice is graced with a distraction: the prospects of helping a romance flourish when a married couple spend their first child-free holiday at the Inn – and it becomes clear they need some help rediscovering each other. In true Beatrice fashion, she can’t help meddling.

I couldn’t wait to get back to Port Willow and find out what was happening to Beatrice and Atholl after the end of Summer at the Highland Coral Beach, as I had fallen in love with all of the characters and the setting in the last book. Beatrice’s story is particularly close to my heart, having been through a similar experience myself, so I have a real soft spot for this couple and I wanted to see what Kiley had in store for their future, hoping it was a happy one. Sure enough, they are still loved up and working on improving and building up the business at The Princess and the Pea Inn, and Beatrice has lots of ideas about how to bring in new customers, including trying to find other people the happy-ever-afters she has discovered with Atholl. But, of course, life is never plain sailing and, when Beatrice gets some unexpected news, it stirs up the past and lots of emotion. I can’t say much more without spoiling the story for people who are new to the series but, suffice it to say, Kiley’s handling of this sensitive storyline continues to be delicate and true and I thought it was beautifully done.

And then we have a new character to bring new drama to Port Willow. Poor Nina, she’s like a fish out of water. Transported from a life of glamour in New York to this tiny Scottish village, recently dumped, demoted and spending Christmas amongst strangers, she can probably be forgiven for being a bit miserable and unpleasant, but she is definitely a hard character to like at the beginning. She doesn’t even try and endear herself to the locals, so intent is she on her own misery, but Port Willow and its inhabitants creep under skin anyway. Especially Mutt. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Mutt? (Anyone else got pictures from the first few seasons of Schitt’s Creek in their heads when they hear this name, which isn’t in any way a bad thing as you’ll know if you’ve watched it. I wonder if Kiley is a fan?) Surely Nina can’t be immune to his charms for long? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

There are other guests that arrive in need to Beatrice’s matchmaking skills, the return of my favourite character, Seth, and plenty of and lots of fun going on that feels uniquely Port Willow. If you enjoy Kiley’s writing, all of her usual trademarks are here – gentle humour, great characterisation, a rolling good plot, and serious topics handled with care and charm. I haven’t yet read a book by this author that I didn’t love, and this is no exception. In fact, her writing feels to me like it is getting better and better and I can’t wait to read more. I particularly hope that we will be coming back to Port Willow in the future because I am not ready to leave these characters or this place behind yet. And here I will make my persistent plea to the publisher, please, please, please can we have paperback copies of Kiley’s books for our bookshelves (or just a single copy of each for me will do!) I am determined to wear them down on this issue eventually because these novels really need to exist in physical format for posterity!

Matchmaking at Port Willow is out now in ebook format, and you can buy a copy here.

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

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About the Author

Kiley Dunbar author portrait

Kiley Dunbar writes heart-warming, escapist, romantic fiction set in beautiful places, with One Winter’s Night being shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Comedy Novel Award 2021.

Kiley’s five novels include: The Borrow a Bookshop Holiday (May 2021), One Winter’s Night (September 2020), Summer at the Highland Coral Beach (2020), Christmas at Frozen Falls (2019) and One Summer’s Night (2019).

Connect with Kiley:

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

Facebook: Kiley Dunbar Author

Twitter: @KileyDunbar

Instagram: @kileydunbarromance

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Friday Night Drinks with… Meg Pokrass

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This week, I am delighted to be chatting over Friday Night Drinks to flash fiction author… Meg Pokrass.

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

Steel Rig Porter from Twice Brewed, a sweet local brewery up near Hadrian’s Wall here in Northumberland.

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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? 

Let’s do white wine in Paris and a huge steaming pot of mussels.

Wouldn’t that be fabulous, I can’t wait to get on a plane again! 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? 

Anais Nin and Henry Miller, since we’re already in Paris eating too many mussels. 

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

I’m working on two completely different collaborative hybrid prose manuscripts. My writing partners are Jeff Friedman (in the US) and Rosie Garland here in the U.K. I can’t tell you how much I’m loving this. 

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

Co-writing humor flashes with my literary hero Bobbie Ann Mason, and reading our pieces aloud in a private performance at AWP (with Richard Bausch in attendance!!). Bobbie and I wearing matching pussy hats. It was too incredible. This was back in 2014. 

Okay, one more… can I have 2? Having my work included in 2 Norton anthologies of flash fiction: Flash Fiction International (WW Norton 2015) and New Micro (WW Norton, 2018). 

Biggest challenge: Isolation. And battling with it. 

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!

I’d like to curate a radio show focused on flash fiction. Yes I would!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Meeting up with my writing partner Rosie Garland in September, in Manchester, and planning great things for the not locked-down future!

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? 

Paris. I was only there once and I want to be there again, but 100 years ago. 

And I’d also like to visit Alaska with a warm lover before it melts and becomes as hot as LA. 

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

I’m annoyingly shy. 

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 Last Orgasm by Nin Andrews.

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The Last Orgasm continues the journey of Nin Andrew’s first collection, The Book of Orgasms, which became a cult classic that has been translated into Turkish, performed in Prague and has readers around the globe. In both books the orgasm is an ethereal presence, puzzled by humanity in general and Nin in particular.

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

Drink all day, in tiny bird sips. Hungover, listen to the Magnetic Fields.

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

With a friend, let’s say a new friend, in a place without sheep. 

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Thanks for joining me, Meg, it has been a fun evening, even if it wasn’t quite Paris.

Meg’s latest book, Spinning To Mars, is a collection of 70 linked micro stories about relationships and the difficulties of love. Winner of San Francisco’s Blue Light Book Award, 2021, it became a #1 Amazon Bestseller in Women’s Poetry on the first week of its release. You can buy a copy here.

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Meg Pokrass’s flash fiction has been widely published and anthologized, most recently in 2 Norton Anthologies of flash fiction, The Best Small Fictions (2018, 2019), Best British & Irish Flash Fiction (2019, 2020), Wigleaf Top 50, Flash Nonfiction Funny (edited by Dinty Moore), Flash Fiction Funny, Short Circuits: Aphorisms, Fragments, and Literary Anomalies, Nothing Short of 100, and many hundreds of literary journals and international anthologies of flash. Her seventh collection of flash fiction, Spinning to Mars won the Blue Light Book Award in 2020. Recent writing has appeared in Washington Square Review, Electric Literature, Tupelo Quarterly, Waxwing, Five Points, American Journal of Poetry, Plume Poetry, Jellyfish Review, Wigleaf and Monkeybicycle. Meg serves as Co-Founder of San Francisco’s Flash Fiction Collective Reading Series, Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival, U.K, Founding Editor of New Flash Fiction Review, and Founding Co-Editor of the Best Microfiction anthology series. She resides in Northern England.

You can connect further with Meg via her website, Facebook and Twitter.

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews… with Milly Johnson

Awards

This week’s interviewee in the Romantic Novel Award Winners series is the winner of the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award for her novel My One True North and one of my favourite authors… Milly Johnson.

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Milly, you are no stranger to awards and this is your second year in a row as a recipient, having been given the Outstanding Achievement Award in 2020, yet you still looked so surprised to be announced as the winner. Were you really shocked to win, and was does winning this award with this book mean to you?

The shock was genuine. Despite an Honours Drama Degree! Your mind plays tricks with you when you’re short-listed ‘Oh they’re bound to give it to X because of this/that reason’, you imagine politics might play a part, or it’s a strategic choice. I’ve been caught out with it every time. Maybe it’s just that us writers are strange creatures – full of ego that we have the confidence to write something we are sure will appeal to the masses, and yet we’re riddled with self-doubt that we’re not as good as anyone else and couldn’t possibly be picked because the judges simply liked our book best.

I think in my case it was that I wanted it SO much for this book. I felt it was special as I was writing it and I though we always put our hearts into our stories, this one had all of me in it, my barrel was totally scooped out. One of the major themes was grief and my dad was really poorly as I was writing it. Rather oddly I ended up treading in the footsteps of my own characters when he died. I looked at the short-listed books and what a bunch they were, I really didn’t think I had a chance. SoI was totally gobsmacked. But my goodness – delighted too. My One True North was dedicated to dad so it was ‘our’ book, and that’s why I was so emotional.

I loved the phrase you used in your speech about turning your knock backs on their head and using them as springboards. You are such a great public speaker, and your words resonate with everyone who hears them. Do you prepare what you might say in advance, or is it always off the cuff? Does this come from being a natural storyteller?

I prepare if there are points I want to make sure I get in as I am very good at going off on tangents. And that is kind of you to say, I love an audience. I prefer public speaking to acting, I have to admit (line-learning – ugh). Basically I just treat an audience to all the cock-ups I’ve made in life which has provided a very hefty scrapbook of ideas for me to draw on. Every crap thing that happens to a writer is harvested and recycled and I think people are quite fascinated by stories of others reaching rock bottom and using it to project themselves upwards. I also think I resonate because I’m very ordinary and that makes people really believe that if I can do it, so can they.  And they can.

Your books are phenomenally popular and I think part of the reason for that is that reading your novels feels like being told a story firsthand by a close, chatty and witty friend. Are you a natural raconteur in everyday life?

I love to talk and I love a good yarn – both to tell and to listen to. I write as I speak which is why I always warn people who listen to me at events, if you’ve hated hearing me, don’t buy my books because they’re just me on a flat page. I was a greetings card copywriter for many years and honed the skills of observational humour, keying into those subjects common to so many of us. People love it when I touch on scenarios many of them have been in so they can explore and view them objectively this time around. I consider it a great honour when people tell me that they feel as if I’ve been hanging over their shoulders and have written about their own personal circumstances.

Your novels always feature a perfect balance of joy and anguish, which people respond to because it reflects real life. Is that something you deliberately strive for or does it just come naturally for you to write that way? How much do you plan your books or are you a pantser?

I just write about some extraordinary things that happen within the parameters of ordinary life. Our lives are littered with coincidences, good luck and bad luck, sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction but weirdly in fiction you have to throttle back so that our storylines are believable. My own life has been very big-dipper and that’s obviously translated into how I write because I take my readers through the wringer. But if I’m going to take my reader low, then I also want to rocket them high and leave them with hope. I’m in the business of uplifting not depressing and if that means I have to temper a bit of realism by manipulating a happy ending, then so be it. 

I want my readers to climb into the skins of my characters and walk in them, I want them to cheer on the good guys and boo the bad ones. In life we’d all like to see people get what they deserve but it doesn’t happen, but it does in my books. As for planning – ha! I’ve never planned a book and trust me I’ve tried. It must be magic to be able to see the whole book as a construct from the off – I can only see as far as the next sentence. I might start off with two characters and a house and I am constantly amazed at how much I can pull out of myself and build a whole book from it. When anyone says to me ‘I’d love to write a book but I don’t know where to start’ my stock answer is ‘neither do I!’ Which is why I encourage people to put pen to paper and see where it takes them because I know they’ll be surprised at what is in them waiting to come out.

Being from Yorkshire myself, just up the road from you, I always feel that your characters are people I recognise. Do you steal them from real life?

Some of my characters are from my imagination, but then again that imagination has been fuelled by people I’ve met or heard about. Quite a few might start off based on people I’ve encountered but by the end of the book the reality has been chased away because they’ve grown into their own skins (this is handy as it means I’m unlikely to be sued by someone for libel) Sounds odd, but they are every bit as real to me as those who live and breathe. 

What do you think are the most important ingredients of a successful romance novel and what advice would you give to those of us just starting out in this genre?

I know there is a trend for ‘unlikeable’ characters, but I always find I get into a book much better when I am really rooting for the leads. I have to like their values (Heathcliff hanged a dog – wasn’t interested in him after I read that bit), I don’t want my lovers to be too perfect – a reader has to think the hero is attainable and the heroine would make a nice friend. Any faults have to be redeemable. I also like to tease my reader, make them think that this time I just might not deliver the happy ending (though I always do). I want them to be champing at the bit for the lovers to get together, but I never make it easy for them to do that. We all love a bit of sexual tension, that frustration when they are just about to couple up and then you wrench them apart. I think you have to just write the story in your heart without copying a trend, get that first draft out on paper with all the mistakes and clumsy grammar because that’s the one that captures all the emotion and will give you your direction on what sort of love story you want to write. Getting the emotional feels is harder to do than any editing. It may be a very gentle rolling hills kind of love story or it may be a up Everest in a blizzard sort – and there are audiences for both.

I know your dedicated readers, of which there are many, are always desperate for your next novel, so can you give us any details of what is on the horizon and when we can look forward to seeing it?

It’s called ‘The Woman in the Middle’ and it’s out in hardback on October 14th. And it’s very much based on my experiences as someone in that sandwich generation, having to look after elderly parents and deal with kids who might be adult in age but your apron strings have no intention of untying from them yet. 

It’s about Shay who has spent most of her adult life looking after her in-laws, her parents, bringing up children, being the chief cook and bottle-washer for her electrician husband Bruce. Now her children have left home and it’s time for Shay and Bruce to finally have some ‘us’ time. But the delivery of an orange skip on her mother’s neighbours’ drive sets in motion a series of life-changing events as long-buried secrets are forced to the surface and turn Shay’s world on its head. And, life being as unfair as it is, sometimes it doesn’t stop kicking you when you’re down but continues to batter you long past your point of coping.

The only way Shay can truly recover is to go back to the place she was brought up and try and right a great wrong that was done to her when she was only sixteen, which put her on a path to a life she should never have had. 

It’s the story of family and friendship, community, first-cuts being the deepest, of there being no guidebook to parenting. I think us parents often wish we had a rewind button when we’ve made wrong decisions with the best intentions, believed our intuitions. In the sandwich generation, we have to watch our parents become the children and our idea of world order becomes upset – at the same time as we have to stand back when our children flap their wings and try to fly their own way. It’s a very hard place to be in which I wanted to explore. It’s a massive book with so much going on in it, but at its heart it’s the tale of a woman who deserves better than she got and she finds the strength to rise up from rock bottom and fight for herself and those she loves. I had the best fun writing it, it’ll be a hard read in places but there’s a lot of lightness too. Some of my favourite characters ever in this one – and some scenes I never wanted to stop writing.

Milly, thank you so much for answering my questions, it is always a delight to hear from you. The entry period for the 2022 Romantic Novel Awards is now open and will close on 30 September.

Milly’s award-winning novel, My One True North, is out now and you can buy a copy here.

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Laurie and Pete should never have met.
But fate has pushed them together for a reason.

Six months ago, on the same night, Laurie and Pete both lost their partners.
Struggling to manage the grief, they join the same counselling group – and meet each other.

From their sadness, Pete and Laurie find happiness growing and they sense a fresh new beginning. 
Except, the more they talk, the more they begin to spot the strange parallels in their stories.
Then Pete discovers a truth that changes everything.
 
But, as surely as a compass points north, some people cannot be kept apart.

About the Author

MILLY JOHNSON was born, raised and still lives in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. A Sunday Times bestseller, she is one of the Top 10 Female Fiction authors in the UK with millions of copies of her books sold across the world. In 2020, she was honoured with the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award and was a featured author in the Reading Agency’s Quick Reads and World Book Night campaigns.

A writer who champions women and highlights the importance of friendship and community, Milly’s characters are celebrations of the strength of the human spirit. Her nineteenth novel, The Woman in the Middle, is published 14th October 2021 in hardback by Simon & Schuster.

Connect with Milly:

Website: www.millyjohnson.co.uk

Facebook: @millyjohnsonauthor

Twitter: @millyjohnson

Instagram: @themillyjohnson 

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Julie Houston

Awards

Today I am delighted to be interviewing the winner of the Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with her novel Sing Me A Secret. Please welcome to the blog, author… Julie Houston.

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Julie, congratulations on your win and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog during the entry period for the 2022 awards.

This award was voted for by book bloggers, librarians and book sellers. That is a hard crowd to impress. What does it mean to you to win this particular award and what it is about this book that you think spoke to them out of the hundreds they read each year?

I am totally in awe of the people who voted for me for this award, but particularly the book bloggers. They are an amazing set of readers, giving their time and expertise to reading countless books and yet always positive and with something lovely to say. I have to mention, particularly, the wonderful Anne Williams and Grace Reviewerlady who are both unstinting in the job that they do so brilliantly, as well as writing such encouraging and positive things. If I ever hit the imposter brick wall, I reread their reviews! So, to win this particular award, voted for by these lovely people, is just a dream come true. What is it about the book? I honestly don’t know. My aim always is to produce a jolly good read – isn’t that what we all want? – with a bit of a twist and flavoured with some down to earth, good old Yorkshire humour.

Sing Me A Secret is your seventh novel. Do you think winning this award will change things for you going forward in your career?

I suppose winning this has made me realise that people do actually want to read my books. Since Sing Me A Secret I’ve published – with Aria/HeadofZeus – A Village Vacancy, and A Family Affair and my new one out in 2022, Exit North. I’m now gazing at a blank screen once again which, I know excites some writers, but has me in a state of panic. This is the worst bit about writing – the blank screen. 

How long after you started writing did it take you to get published? Have you had any formal training in creative writing and do you think this is helpful for an author on the path to publication? Do you have any tips for those of us still toiling up the publication hill?

Like every writer I meet, I wish I’d started earlier. But work, family commitments, kids get in the way. So, I wrote Goodness, Grace and Me as an experiment I suppose to see if I could actually write a book. It went through the RNA New writers’ Scheme and, although there were encouraging sounds made, it didn’t go where I wanted it to go ie with an agent. So, I found one myself.  It took a lot of rejections, but then along came the lovely Anne Williams (yes, there are two Anne Williams in my life) at KHLA Literary agency. Being a Yorkshire girl herself and with kids the same age as mine, she said something just struck a note and she took me on. Anne is brilliant because, as a former commissioning editor for Headline and working with fabulous writers such as Lyn Andrews and Sheila Flanagan, she was ready with her red pen, making sure the book was as good as it could be before sending it to publishers. Ten books on, Anne’s red pen is still in action before a manuscript goes to my editor. We were taken on by Amazon’s White Glove which was great because Amazon promoted the books and gave me Deal of the Day a couple of times, sending Looking For Lucy to Number 1 in Australia and the others into the top 50 here in the UK. Then, in 2018, Sarah Ritherdon at Aria gave me a 3-book deal as well as taking on and rebranding the earlier books. A Village Affair, the first with Aria, did so well, selling to date around 300,000 copies in ebook and paperback. The lovely Hannah Smith was then my editor before she left for Bonnier, and now I’m excited to be working with Thorne Ryan.

No, I have no formal creative writing training. And, when I’m teaching, I’d rather teach maths and science than teach creative writing – which makes me ponder whether it can ever be taught or is the creativity innate? 

You live in Yorkshire and your books are all set there. What is it about our beautiful county (there is a slight possibility I may be exhibiting some bias here) that inspires your writing? Do Yorkshire folk lend themselves particularly well to being characters in humorous romance novels?

I think so. I think Yorkshire folk have the ability to not take themselves too seriously. They’re down to earth, but friendly and call a spade…. That’s probably totally stereotyping. I think my dad always had a sense of humour. He and his three sisters could all make me laugh when telling one of their stories. Whether that’s his Yorkshire heritage or the Italian ancestry I couldn’t say.

I noticed from your author bio that we have some odd ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ connections. As well as having the same first name and both being from Yorkshire, you are a magistrate and I am a qualified solicitor, and Helen Fielding and Joanne Harris are both fellow alumni of my secondary school. Do you think it is part of human nature for us to seek out tenuous connections and things in common with our fellow man and do you use this tendency to connect with readers in your writing?

Oh, how interesting! I didn’t know that. My daughter must have gone to the same school as you then. I honestly don’t know, is the answer to your last question, but it’s certainly a good one. I’m sure we become friendly with people who are like ourselves and enjoy things in common. I’m big into ancestry and spend far too much time trying to work out connections between myself and those with the same DNA. I should have been a detective. Or maybe I’m just plain nosy. 

Aside from the fact that they have given you this lovely award, what other benefits have you gleaned from your membership of the RNA and what is your favourite thing about being a member?

Obviously, this absolutely wonderful award has been the icing on the cake as it were. But I have become friendly – real mates – with other writers who are always generous enough to share contacts, knowledge and are up for an early read of a new MS. Big friends with Tracy Bloom and Jo Courtney (Anna Stuart) who I met at my very first RNA conference in Chichester. We have regular writerly rants and celebratory picnics along the bank of Ladybower in Derbyshire, a central meeting point. Through RNA contacts I have met up with my fellow Apricot Plotters, a small group set up to chat, celebrate and commiserate with any writing issues we might have. I would wholeheartedly recommend the RNA to anyone. Can’t wait for the next conference when we can get together again.

Your latest novel, A Family Affair, was published vey recently, so I am sure you are enjoying a well-earned break, but what can we expect next from Julie Houston and can you ever see yourself giving up teaching completely to become a full-time author?

I’ve really already given up teaching full time. I just teach now when the phone rings to cover an absent member of staff. And I still love it. But I certainly couldn’t both teach full time and write. It’s taken me ten years to actually answer “I’m a writer” instead of “I’m a teacher”. To be honest, I usually say, “I’m a teacher by trade, but spend my days writing now.” So, Exit North has gone off to my editor, Thorne, at Aria and I’m at the ‘staring at the blank screen and thinking how the hell did I ever write one book, let alone ten!’ stage which attacks me once I’ve sent off my latest beloved characters into the world. There are, signs of little seeds a-sprouting and soon I’ll have pages covered with characters, their family trees and their personalities. They’ll then take over and, if I’m lucky, these characters will just take over and write the story themselves…

Won’t it be fantastic to get to that stage! Thank you for so much for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been great fun.

Julie’s award-winning novel, Sing Me A Secret, is available here.

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The four Sutherland sisters have all had very different paths in life, but one secret and a slightly tense production of Jesus Christ Superstar are about to bring them all back together again…

When the news that pop-superstar Lexia Sutherland is returning to Westenbury, not everyone is thrilled by the news – including Lexia. There are too many memories she doesn’t need to face – or need re-surfacing.

Meanwhile, Juno Sutherland just wants a little peace and quiet. As the local village doctor, she’s got her priorities in order; kids, job, husband, tenacious pony, a role in the village musical… So when the sexy new locum turns up – and steals her office – the last thing she needed was to be hit with rising temperatures and an over-active imagination.

Will these sisters be able to uncover the past, deal with the future and put on the performance of a lifetime?

About the Author

Julie Houston’s first three novels GOODNESS, GRACE AND ME, THE ONE SAVING GRACE and LOOKING FOR LUCY were all Amazon Humour #1 best sellers both here in the UK and Australia. LOOKING FOR LUCY hit the #1 best seller overall in Australia. Her A VILLAGE AFFAIR was the seventh most downloaded book of 2019 and has sold over 300 000 copies in ebook and paperback. She is published by Aria/Headof Zeus and has just completed her tenth novel, EXIT NORTH. Her seventh novel, SING ME A SECRET won the Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award in 2021.

Julie lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire where her novels are set, and her only claims to fame are that she teaches part-time at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old junior school and her neighbour is ‘Chocolat’ author, Joanne Harris. After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years, she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country. She now just teaches when the phone rings to cover an absent colleague, and still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the past twenty years. Julie is married, has a twenty-seven-year-old son and twenty-four-year-old daughter and a ridiculous Cockerpoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book. 

She hates skiing, gets sick on boats and wouldn’t go pot-holing or paddy diving if her life depended on it.

She is published by HeadOfZeus/Aria and represented by Anne Williams at KHLA Literary agency.

Connect with Julie:

Website: www.juliehouston.co.uk

Facebook: Julie Houston Author

Twitter: @JulieHouston2

Instagram: @juliehoustonauthor

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Summer’s One #MustReadBook 2021

I was thrilled to be invited by Carol at Reading Ladies blog to take part in her international blogger collaboration, Summer’s One #MustReadBook 2021. Here is the post – a fabulous collection of reading recommendations by an amazing collection of bloggers. Prepare to flex your wallet in your local bookstore!

Reading Ladies

July 9, 2021

Find Your One “Must Read” Book of Summer 2021!

One Great Summer Read (20 Bloggers Offer ) imOne Best Rec) Image: tight focus of a woman sitting beside water reading

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Are you pondering what book to choose for your vacation or staycation?

Are you in limbo trying to decide what ONE great book to read this summer?

Do you ever wish someone would just TELL you what book to read?

Are you looking for a list of trusted book review bloggers?

Do you spend more time thinking about which book to pack for your vacation than packing the clothes? (oh…just me?)

If you only have time to read ONE more book before summer’s end, what would you choose?

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This is the time of year when readers in my hemisphere are looking for “Beach Reads.” (If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, happy “winter reading!”) The term “Beach Read” is puzzling to me because I think any book you read at the beach or the pool is…

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#BloggerInTheSpotlight – Julie from A Little Book Problem – @book_problem

Today I am being grilled by Joanne over on Portobello Book Blog on all things reading and blogging. Why not come and join us?

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I’m so happy to be sharing this post today as it’s been a long time since I had anyone take part in my Blogger Spotlight. If you are a book blogger and would like to take part, do get in touch. I’m delighted to be joined by Julie who blogs as A Little Book Problem. Do pop over and have a read of her fabulous reviews if you don’t already follow her.

Thanks for agreeing to take part in my Blogger in the Spotlight feature Julie. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?

Hello! I’m Julie, 48 years old, mum of two, former lawyer, aspiring writer and blogger. Not sure what else there is to know about me really! Apart from I am a proud Yorkshire woman and notable short-arse.

What books/authors did you enjoy as a child?

I was of the generation where Enid…

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Book Review: Saving The World by Paola Diana #BookReview

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A passionate call for international gender equality by a leading entrepreneur; this smart, accessible and inspiring book makes the case for why all nations need more women at the top of politics and economics.

`The status of women is a global challenge; it touches every human being without exception. How is it possible that countries where women have achieved political, economic and social rights after exhausting struggles remain seemingly indifferent to the egregiousness of other nations where the status of women is still tragic? The time has come to help those left behind.’

My thanks to Bei Guo at Midas PR and the author for providing me with a copy of this book for the purposes of review. I have reviewed it honestly and impartially.

I have always been a feminist. The eldest of four girls, brought up by my parents to value education and believe that, if we worked hard, there was nothing we weren’t capable of achieving, I have always believed that women are capable of getting to wherever they want to go given unfettered opportunity. However, as soon as I became aware of the differences between boys and girls, it also became clear that unfettered opportunity was not on offer. As a child born in 1972, when I entered the world of work as a corporate lawyer there was still a huge imbalance in favour of men in this discipline. I was often the only female in a room full of clients and other lawyers, and sexism was rife on both sides of the table. And law was one of the better careers for sexual equality at the time.

Things have undoubtedly improved in the intervening thirty years for women in the workplace, and I am glad that the trajectory is in the right direction, because I am now the mother of two daughters and have three step-daughters. I, in turn, am now raising them to be feminists, to value and make the most of their education, to believe there is no opportunity that is not open to them if they strive for it, and to understand that their value lies not in how they look, or their relationship to any other person, but in their own characters and abilities. I want them to be self-sufficient in every respect, because self-sufficiency is what allows you to be free.

I have sadly heard from younger generations over the years that feminism is no longer necessary, that the battle has been won and equality has been achieved. In fact, feminism has become something of a dirty word in modern times. It saddens me because, whilst these women may believe it is true for them in their individual lives, it is far from true for all women worldwide. And feminism has never been an individual effort, it has always required women coming together and supporting and helping one another to achieve progress. We cannot stand on the shoulders of the women who carved the path for us with their blood, sweat and tears and declare the job done because we are satisfied with our particular circumstances, knowing that women the world over are still struggling and suffering. Even more importantly, it requires the understanding and support of the people who have the power, men.

These are the issues explored in this fascinating book by Paola Diana, who is setting out the case for why feminism is still relevant and necessary in modern society, why equality has not yet been achieved for women worldwide and why, most importantly, everyone should be striving for it, regardless of gender, because gender equality helps everyone. The countries that have the best track record for this across the globe are the most prosperous and happiest. The book gives details of all the ways in which women are still treated as second class around the world, from veiling and FGM to economic inequality and political under-representation in the western world. The way it is written is not dry and academic, it is easily accessible to all and I wish all would read it.

A lot of what Paola is saying here I agree with, but there are also some new points and a lot of things to think about. It made me reassess some of the decisions I have taken in the past and some of my current behaviours and given me ideas of what more I can do, for myself and on a larger scale, to try and further the cause. However, I do think parts of it need updating again because things are in constant flux. In particular, she seems to see the UK as a beacon of hope in this area, which maybe it is in relation to her native Italy but, as a woman growing up and living here, there is still so much to be done. The part where she discusses the effect that electing a misogynistic male to a position of power has on the discourse of feminism, as happened in the US with Trump, has sadly now happened here two, with a serial philanderer sitting as our PM and no women in positions of power in the UK cabinet obviously promoting feminism as a cause celebre. The UK is no female utopia, as has been shown as women have been disproportionately effected by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

I enjoyed this book very much, and found it very thought-provoking. I read it in a single day, it is fascinating and very easy to digest. I wish there were more solutions available, but I agree that education is key. Education for women the world over to empower them, and education for men as to how equality between the sexes will help them too. Because, most of the male problems that I hear discussed in conversations about gender equality arise from that same inequality, from the unreasonable demands put on men, from toxic masculinity, from rigid and unnatural roles imposed on our genders for no reason other than outdated traditions. I think we need to change the narrative around this issue as a starting point. It has always been framed as a fight – battle of the sexes, gender war, fight for emancipation – the implication being that there are winners and losers and that giving power and equality to women takes something from men. This is not and should not be the case. We are human beings, all with something to offer, and we should all be working together for the happiness and benefit of all. Society would work so much better for everyone, on both a macro and micro scale, if we had this approach. We have to share this world, so let us share it and work together to improve it as a single, human race. This is the big takeaway from this book, and education of the next generations is key to achieving it. This book makes me want to do my bit, and I hope other people, male and female, will read it and feel the same.

Saving The World is out now and you can buy it in paperback here.

About the Author

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A native of Italy, Paola achieved a BA in Political Science and an MA in Institutional Relations from the University of Bologna before probing into the world of Italian politics. Since the day that she embarked on a career directing the Think Tank in support of former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s political campaign, Paola has never been one to adhere to gender stereotypes – challenging the ideologies of male supremacists at every opportunity.

Connect with Paola:

Website: https://www.paoladiana.com/

Twitter: @paoladiana_

Instagram: @paoladiana_

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Desert Island Children’s Books: Little Women by Louise May Alcott

CHILDREN'SSo, here we go with the first entry in the countdown of the twelve childhood favourites that I would take with me if I were stranded on a desert island indefinitely and, for this first month, I have picked one of my favourite books of all time and the perfect novel to warm my heart in these grey, chilly days of January. It it Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

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Meg – the sweet-tempered one. Jo – the smart one. Beth – the shy one. Amy – the sassy one.

Together they’re the March sisters. Their father is away at war and times are difficult, but the bond between the sisters is strong.

Through sisterly squabbles, happy times and sad, their four lives follow different paths, and that discover the growing up is sometimes very hard to do. . .

Why do I love Little Women so much? I think it was the first book I ever read where I identified really strongly with one of the characters, combined with the historical aspect of learning how people lived in a different time and place (my love of historical novels endures to this day.)

Jo March was my first literary heroine and, to be honest, she still is one of them today. She is one of four sisters, as I am, tomboyish and obsessed with books, just as I was as a child. She was the first person I really saw reflected back at myself from the pages of a book, which made me fall in love with it, because being able to relate to characters is always key to making us love a book. We have to be able to sympathise and understand a character to really put ourselves in their place and live their life through the pages.

Aside from relating to Jo March, she actually inspired me in real life. She planted the idea in my head that writing a book and getting published was a possibility, no matter who you are, an idea that has endured to this day (although it still remains a dream at the moment.) There were parts of the book that I loved that actually spilled over into actuality. One of my favourite scenes is early on, when they put on a play on Christmas Day. After reading this, I decided we would do the same, and I press-ganged my sisters into my performance, with full costumes and scenery and a script I wrote from scratch, which we forced my parents to watch. Our first play was an adaptation of Rumpelstiltskin, but many more followed each year, getting more and more ambitious. We started performing annually at my parents’ Boxing Day party, and the performances expanded to include my cousins (of which I have a surfeit), rehearsals for a week before, music, complex plots, costuming and makeup, pantomime dames and male relatives co-opted as scenery handlers. We did A Christmas Carol, Cinderella and many others, with full scripts written by me, and these plays are still the stuff of family legend today.

Another favourite part, featuring The Pickwick Club, inspired me to start producing a weekly newspaper which I wrote myself from beginning to end, fully illustrated and pinned up on the kitchen wall for all the family to enjoy. I can’t think of another book I have read that has actually inspired me to take action in my real life the way that Little Women did, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that it partly shaped what I loved and who I became. There are few books that are that powerful.

Reading back over the book now, at the age of 48, it seems a lot more preachy than I remember from my childhood. I think this is largely because I am a lot more cynical than I was when I fell in love with this book as a child, whereas a lot of the deeper morals would have washed over me at that young age. But it also taught me a lot about some weighty issues, that were alien to me at that time. Illness, death, romance, anger, jealously, vanity, pride – all of these things are discussed and dissected in the book, and we learn from how they are dealt with between its pages. This is what great children’s literature does without the child even realising it.

My daughters have no interest in this book, to my dismay, it is too old-fashioned for their tastes now, although they may come to it as they get a little older, and I’m hoping to persuade them to watch the latest movie version of the story with me soon. When I read it now, I still want to be Jo March, scribbling away in her garret, wrapped in an old comforter, eating ‘russets,’ watched over by her pet rat, Scrabbles (maybe without the rat.) I don’t know if I will ever get my writing garret (Julie Cohen’s office is the closest thing I’ve seen to how I imagined it would be, and I am very jealous) but I will get my publishing dream one day, I’m determined. When I do, I’ll be tipping my hat to that fictional heroine who first inspired me so many years ago.

The cover shown is of the V&A Collector’s Edition of Little Women and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888) was an American novelist, short story writer and poet best known as the author of the novel Little Women (1868) and its sequels Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886). Raised in New England by her transcendentalist parents, Abigail May and Amos Bronson Alcott, she grew up among many of the well-known intellectuals of the day, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Alcott’s family suffered from financial difficulties, and while she worked to help support the family from an early age, she also sought an outlet in writing. She began to receive critical success for her writing in the 1860s. Early in her career, she sometimes used pen names such as A. M. Barnard, under which she wrote lurid short stories and sensation novels for adults that focused on passion and revenge.

Published in 1868, Little Women is set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts, and is loosely based on Alcott’s childhood experiences with her three sisters, Abigail May Alcott Nieriker, Elizabeth Sewall Alcott, and Anna Alcott Pratt. The novel was well-received at the time and is still popular today among both children and adults. It has been adapted many times to the stage, film, and television.

Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist and remained unmarried throughout her life. All her life she was active in such reform movements as temperance and women’s suffrage. She died from a stroke, two days after her father died, in Boston on March 6, 1888.

Kindle Offer: Beneath Cornish Skies by Kate Ryder #KindleDeal

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To an outsider, Cassandra Shaw‘s life looks perfect. She lives in a beautiful, luxurious house in the English countryside, with a handsome, wealthy boyfriend who insists she needn’t do a day’s work in her life. But Cassie knows that something is not right. Her boyfriend has grown colder, treating her more like a housekeeper than a future wife. And her time feels empty and purposeless.

Cassandra has always been riddled with insecurities and self-doubt, but, just for once, she decides to take a chance on a new beginning. She answers an advert for a live-in nanny, dogwalker, cook and all-round ‘Superhuman’ for a family living in a rambling manor house on the rugged North Cornish coast. The work is hard and tiring, but Cassie has never felt so fulfilled.

As Cassie learns to connect with the natural beauty unfolding around her, Cornwall starts to offer up its secrets. Soon, Cassie starts wondering if she was drawn to this isolated part of the coast for a reason. Why was she guided to Foxcombe Manor? What are the flashes of light she sees in the valley? Is it her imagination or does someone brush past her? And who is the mysterious man living deep in the woods?

A beautiful romance with a hint of ghostliness, Beneath Cornish Skies is for anyone who has ever longed to start their lives again.

Kate Ryder is my guest on Friday Night Drinks this week but I thought I would give you all the heads up that her most recent book, Beneath Cornish Skies is currently on offer for 99p on Kindle until 28th February, so why not snap up a copy quickly before this bargain price disappears?

And make sure you come back on Friday to join Kate and I for our chat.

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Book Review: Silent Night by Nell Pattison

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What happened while they were sleeping?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

Connect with Nell:

Facebook: Nell Pattison Author

Twitter: @Writer_Nell

Instagram: @writernell

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