Extract and competition: Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickman #WheresAlbert?

30 Jun

Today I’m delighted to be the fourth stop on the Carrying Albert Home blog tour. Carrying Albert Home is described as, “the somewhat true story of a woman, a husband and her alligator.” It’s a wonderfully quirky read that made me smile and melted my heart and you can win fantastic signed copies and other treats by following Albert’s journey this week and tweeting @W6BookCafe with the answer each day. Read on for more details and an extract of the book then get those tweets in #WheresAlbert?

109106-FCXIn 1930s America, the Great Depression made everyone’s horizons smaller, and Elsie Lavender found herself back where she began, in the coalfields of West Virginia. She had just one memento of her halcyon days – a baby alligator named Albert.

Then one day, her husband’s stoical patience snapped and Elsie had to choose between Homer and Albert. She decided that there was only one thing to do: they would carry Albert home to Florida.

And so began their odyssey – a journey like no other, where Elsie, Homer and Albert encountered everything from movie stars and revolutionaries to Ernest Hemingway and hurricanes in their struggle to find love, redemption, and a place to call home.

Book Extract: Chapter 36

Elsie  thought  the   sign   on   the   Georgia   border   was the biggest, gaudiest sign she had yet seen announcing a state. It had a gigantic peach-colored peach on it, a smiling blond woman holding a basket filled with what appeared to be more peach-colored peaches, and curving atop the sign the words:

WELCOME TO GEORGIA 

  OUR MOTTO: WISDOM, JUSTICE, AND MODERATION

Elsie read the motto, tried to make sense of it, failed, then closed her eyes and tried to sleep. But sleep didn’t come. Instead, she thought about what was going to happen next and concluded she just didn’t know. She’d threatened to kill a man and risked her own life on the sea to save Homer (and also Albert, of course) but she still didn’t know how she felt about her husband. She kept hunting through her heart to find a shim- mer of love, but it just wasn’t there. But maybe, she thought, that was because she didn’t know what love was. Homer was a good man, despite his overly logical inclinations and tendency to criticize her, and other women would probably be grateful to have him as a spouse. So why didn’t she? Maybe, she thought sadly, it was all because of Buddy.

Buddyhad spoiled her for Homer, perhaps for all other men. Buddy was so handsome and fun and, every time she’d been with him, he’d made her feel good about herself. But Buddy was gone, gone to New York and maybe Hollywood, gone to fame and fortune, and gone to women with big blue eyes and platinum hair. She allowed a long sigh. So sad, so sad. What is to come of me?

On the other side of the bench seat, Homer occasionally sneaked looks at his wife and smiled inwardly. She loved him, he knew that now for cer- tain, because why else would she have forced Captain Bob to look for him and then got aboard the Dorothy herself to make certain the job was done right? This thought caused his heart to soar and made him want to drive through Georgia as fast as the Buick would go, across the border into Florida, thence to Orlando. He had some money in his pocket—pay from Captain Bob—and there was food and drink from the boarding- house in the trunk. If he could just keep going, he figured they’d be across the Florida line in a day and a night, maybe less, and then only another day to Orlando to drop Albert off in a suitable swamp. After that he’d make as straight a shot as he possibly could to Coalwood, where he would beg the Captain for his job back. Because, after all, when a husband and wife were in love, what did it matter where they lived?

As the hours passed, the countryside became flatter and Homer saw cotton bushes in fields, row upon row. Wood frame houses, their tin roofs glittering in the hot sun, could be seen set far back from the road. No towns, big or small, appeared, nor did many traffic signs except occasional ones that identified the number of the road. Without a map, the numbers didn’t mean anything, so Homer kept driving by instinct, choosing the best road that appeared to be heading south.

When he got hungry, he turned off the paved road and took a narrow dirt road that led beneath some shade trees. On the other side of the trees, he was pleased to find a lovely expanse of green grass and, upon it, a fine-looking, well-proportioned horse grazing on the grass. He drove up under a tree and touched Elsie’s shoulder to wake her. “I’ve found us a fine spot for a picnic.”

Elsie looked around. “Where are we?” “Still in Georgia.”

“Oh, yes, the state that intends to provide us with wisdom, justice, and moderation.”

“A fine purpose,” Homer said, “and so far, it appears to be a lovely state. I think you also know that Georgia shares a border with Florida, so we only have to get across it and then, before you know it, we’ll be in Orlando, where we can let Albert go and drive back to Coalwood!”

Elsie reached over the seat and patted Albert’s snout, then presented a forced smile. “Well, isn’t that wonderful,” she said.

By her forced smile, Homer suspected his wife didn’t think his com- ment was wonderful at all. “What’s wrong?” he asked, instantly regret- ting the question.

“Nothing,” she replied.

“Are you sure?” Homer asked, also regretting that question. “Well, actually, there’s something we need to talk about.”

At this declaration, Homer recalled some instruction from Captain Laird. “When a woman tells a man there’s something they need to talk about,” the great man had advised, “my advice is to avail yourself of the nearest door.”

The nearest door in this case was the car door and Homer fingered the handle, then let it drop. He would hear her out. “What would those things be?” he asked.

“When we get to Orlando, I’d like to stay awhile,” she said.

Homer relaxed and breathed out. “Well, sure. You’ll want to visit your Uncle Aubrey.”

“More than that,” she said, “I’d like to stay for . . . as I said, a while. A good while.”

“What do you mean a good while?” Homer asked, then felt some- thing nudge his elbow. Startled, he looked up to see the horse had come over and was nuzzling his arm with its big nose. “Shoo, horse,” he said.

Elsie opened the door and got out. “It’s got a saddle and a bridle. It must have escaped from somewhere.”

“It’s not our responsibility, Elsie,” Homer said. “What do you mean a good while?”

“I’ve always wanted to be a cowgirl,” Elsie said, and before Homer could say anything else, she swung up in the horse’s saddle with prac- ticed ease, although, as far as Homer knew, she’d never been in a saddle before. She clicked her tongue, and the horse walked ahead and then broke into a trot with Elsie looking like she knew exactly what she was doing.

She must have learned in Orlando, Homer said to himself and then al- lowed his imagination to go into overdrive as his wife urged the horse into a gallop and he imagined the glamorous bachelorette Elsie Lavender and the oh-so-smooth Buddy Ebsen as they rode together along some romantic and tropical path in deep and decadent Florida. He found him- self clenching his fists and was on the verge of chasing after Elsie, pulling her out of the saddle, and demanding how she knew how to ride, and whether “a good while” meant she had no intention of ever returning toCoalwood. Angry and sad at the same time, he told himself that now

was the time to finally get the truth out of his wife on why they were re- ally on this journey.

But he didn’t get the truth because there came from the sunlit sky a gigantic bird swooping low over the Buick, the rush of air from its wings knocking Homer to the ground, and then continuing on to dive at Elsie and the horse. The horse responded to this unexpected attack by bucking.

Homer, looking up from the grass, realized it wasn’t a bird at all but an airplane and actually a vintage biplane. He climbed to his feet and watched the double-winged aircraft as it pulled up in preparation for an- other run. Then he saw that Elsie had been bucked off and, afraid that she was hurt, ran to her. “Are you all right?” he anxiously asked, going down on one knee and taking up her hand.

Elsie pushed herself up on one elbow. “Of course I am,” she said, al- though she looked a bit dazed, her eyes slightly unfocused.

Homer ran his hands along her arms and down her legs. “What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Feeling for broken bones.”

“I don’t have any broken bones,” she said, and climbed to her feet to prove it just as the aircraft came whooshing over again, this time inclin- ing its path and slowing enough to land in the field.

The plane’s engine sputtered, coughed, and died. Then a man wear- ing a brown leather cap, black goggles, brown leather jacket, forest green jodhpurs, and brown boots climbed out of the aircraft and walked over to Homer and Elsie. He put his hands on his hips. “Were you stealing my horse?”

“No, sir, I was just riding her,” Elsie answered, taking the occasion to brush off her skirt. “We supposed she’d gotten loose from somewhere

and I thought if I rode her, she might take me to where that was.”

The man pushed up his goggles and, though his face was dusty and spattered with oil spots, Homer saw it was a brown face, about the same color as the man’s boots. He gave that a quick ponder, a Negro man fly- ing an aircraft, and then inwardly shrugged for he believed the same thing Captain Laird believed, that a man should be judged by his skills and productivity, not by the color of his skin or who his parents were, either.

“Well, I believe you,” the man said. “I call the mare Trixie. She’s full of tricks and one of them is untying her rope.” He stuck out his hand to Elsie and then Homer. “My name’s Robinson R. Robinson but most folks call me Robby.”

“Homer Hickam,” Homer said. “This is my wife, Elsie, who appar- ently is also something of a trickster because, until today, I didn’t know she knew how to ride a horse like an expert.”

“I learned in Florida,” Elsie said.

“This does not surprise me,” Homer answered with a jealous frown. Elsie changed the subject. “How did you become a pilot?”

“The late great war, Miss Elsie,” Robby answered. “I was but a me- chanic at an aerodrome in France but we ran short of pilots one day and since I’d practiced a bit with one of the instructors, they gave me a plane just like this one and a couple of bombs and off I went. When I hit my targets, they kept sending me up until the war ended. When I got back, I bought old Betsy here and we barnstormed all over the country. When I settled down, I started a crop-dusting company. Been bombing bugs for about ten years.”

At this revelation, Elsie looked thoughtful. “You’re wondering what the locals think about a black fellow in an airplane?” Robby asked. These old boys around here are cotton farmers and if I take care of their crops,

I could be sky blue pink for all they care.”

Elsie walked to the airplane and ran her hands across the fabric of the

fuselage and along the wing. Robby and Homer walked up just as she said, “I’ve always wanted to be a pilot.”

“Elsie, no!” Homer blurted. “You can’t keep wanting to be everything there is!”

“Well, I guess I can want to be anything I want to be,” she answered, then asked, “How much for a lesson, Robby?”

Robby grinned. “For you, Miss Elsie? Well, I guess I’d do it for a smile and a quarter.”

Elsie smiled. “I have a quarter, too,” she said.

Homer said it again, although this time with a lower and quite de- feated tone. “Elsie, no.”

Elsie walked past Homer and he hurried to catch up with her. “I want to be more than you want me to be,” she said, taking big strides toward the Buick.

“That’s not true, “Homer replied when he caught up with her. “I just don’t believe you have any idea what you want. Are you going to tell me

what ‘a good while’ means?”

Have you found out where Albert is by reading the extract? Tweet @W6BookCafe your answer with the hashtag #WheresAlbert to win a signed copy of Carrying Albert Home and a beautiful passport holder and luggage tag, plus more Albert goodies! Good luck!

Film Review and DVD Giveaway! The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

28 Jun

The Choice_DVD_2DTravis Shaw (Benjamin Walker) is a young veterinarian committed only to meaningless flings that suit his carefree, solitary lifestyle. Convinced he doesn’t need a relationship, he prefers to flirt with exes and enjoy being a bit of a ladies man. Meanwhile Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer), a beautiful and ambitious medical student, is preparing to settle down with her committed long-term boyfriend (Tom Welling). When fate intervenes, and Gabby and Travisfind themselves living next door to one another, nothing could have prepared them for the powerful chemistry that will turn their lives upside down. As they are forced to acknowledge their developing bond, the seemingly mismatched couple must face up to the choices that will change everything…

Earlier in the year I reviewed The Choice by Nicholas Sparks. The book had been re-released to coincide with the film version being released in cinemas. I enjoyed the book and had been hoping to get to the cinema to see the film but didn’t manage it so when I was offered the chance to review the DVD which is out this week, I was very pleased!

Despite reading many of Nicholas’s books, I’ve never watched a movie version of one of them. I enjoyed this film and liked that it stays true to the original book. There are a couple of character tweaks which I actually preferred over the book  – a slight career change for Gabby and less emphasis on her relationships with her parents than in the novel.

I thought the casting was good – Benjamin Walker makes a great Travis and puts in an emotional performance. Teresa Palmer is feisty yet vulnerable as Gabby and I liked the chemistry between them. I spent the first ten minutes of the film trying to work out where I knew Gabby’s boyfriend from and then realised he’s Smallville star, Tom Welling all grown up!

The locations for this movie are just beautiful. Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of coastal, beachside settings so the beautiful Wilmington, North Carolina locations took my breath away and certainly added to the romance of the story.  The emotional ups and downs of Gabby and Travis’s relationship are beautifully done and I’d recommend grabbing a couple of tissues along with the wine and chocolate while you watch!

The Choice is out to download from 27th June and on DVD from 4th July

Giveaway!177A9143.CR2

If you like the sound of The Choice movie I’m delighted to be running a giveaway for three lucky readers to win a copy of the new DVD release.

To enter this giveaway just leave comment in the box below or re-Tweet one of my tweets with the link to this post or like one of my posts about this giveaway on my Instagram page. I’ll pick three winners using Random.org after the closing date.

This giveaway is open to UK residents only and will close at midnight on Sunday 3rd July.

Good Luck!

Giveaway winners! The Secret of Orchard Cottage by Alex Brown

27 Jun

orchard

 

The winners are …

Nikki, Crane Flowers, Laura, Rachel and Tiff

Congratulations! I have sent you a message. Thanks to everyone who entered – look out for more fab giveaways this week!

Book review: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

27 Jun

9780349008325Valley of the Dolls took the world by storm when it was first published, fifty years ago. Never had a book been so frank about sex, drugs and show business. It is often sited as the bestselling novel of all time.

Dolls – red or black; capsules or tablets; washed down with vodka or swallowed straight. For Anne, Neely and Jennifer, it doesn’t matter, as long as the pill bottle is within easy reach. These three beautiful women become best friends when they are young and in New York, struggling to make their names in the entertainment industry. Only when they reach the peak of their careers do they find there’s nowhere left to go but down – to the Valley of the Dolls.

I’d heard of Valley of the Dolls but until I was asked if I’d like to review it in celebration of its 50th anniversary, I didn’t know much about it. One look the beautifully packaged anniversary paperback with its glossy black cover and hot pink page edges and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy and as soon as I started reading I was hooked!

What struck me straight away about this book is how readable and relevant it still is today. It definitely earns its modern classic label. Remove the time references and parts of this book could well have been written today and I could see its influence on writers such as Candace Bushnell, Lauren Weisberger and Jackie Collins.

For those who haven’t read it, this is the story of three girls who all go to New York to make a new start and the ups and downs of the lives of Anne, Jennifer and Neely as they struggle to make it to the top, captivated me. It’s a gossip- filled, glamorous and sometimes shocking read (especially if you put it in its historical context) that feels like a behind the scenes look at the worlds of theatre, film and television.

Set between 1947 and 1965 the first half of the book covers the years 1945-47 and really focuses on setting up the characters and getting to know them. Anne is the lead and I liked her from the start. She’s bright and ambitious and her only wish is to escape the confines of her well-mannered upbringing and the expectations that she’ll follow the life path laid out for occupants of her small town. I loved the way that Anne stayed true to her ideals throughout the story, particularly in love.

Jennifer and Neely both meet Anne during her early days in New York. Both are looking for fame and fortune and I loved reading about the rises and falls in their fortunes. This is very much a story about the highs and the lows and again, many of the themes and issues in it are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago – one of the most surprising things about this book for me is that despite all of the advances that have been made in the last fifty years, many of the themes still ring true; the pressures on women to look and act a certain way, the pressure to be thin and young looking, addiction, the challenges posed by wanting a career and to be a parent and the age old challenge of finding and holding onto love.

As you can probably tell, I loved this book and if you haven’t read it, please do give it a try. For fans old and new, Virago has also released a special edition hardback, notebook and mug to celebrate Valley of the Dolls 50th anniversary all of which have now been added to my wish list!

5/5

Valley of the Dolls 50th Anniversary paperback is released on Thursday 30th June by Virago

Audio book review: High Tide by Veronica Henry

23 Jun

high tide audioReturning to Penfleet after years in New York, Kate can’t help but feel a pang of affection for the little town by the sea where she grew up. If only she were returning in happier circumstances. This last trip is full of farewells: to her childhood home, her once best friend and the life she left behind.

Kissing the widow of the richest man in town wasn’t one of Nathan’s best ideas. Now he can’t get Vanessa out his mind. Skippering his grandfather’s boat on picnic cruises up and down the river, Nathan wonders if it’s time to move on. Small towns can be dangerous places if you’re in the middle of a scandal.

Her husband’s death has left Vanessa unsure what her role should be. After years of playing the part of a trophy wife, she can finally think about what she wants for a change.

Sam moved to Penfleet to raise his boys following the death of his wife. His deli has become the place where locals pour out their troubles and swap gossip, but amidst all the banter and laughter, has anyone stopped to notice what’s troubling Sam recently?

In the narrow, cobbled streets that lead down to the harbour, the inhabitants of Penfleet live out their hopes and dreams.

I’m a big fan of Veronica Henry’s books but had never listened to one in audio format so when the audio of High Tide popped up on Audible’s deal of the day a few weeks ago, I downloaded it. I do enjoy sitting back and listening to a story as an audiobook and this story in particular lends itself to curling up somewhere cosy for a rainy afternoon.

The story is set in the fictional seaside town of Penfleet in Cornwall. Unusually for a seaside setting, the story starts at my favourite time of year – autumn. I really enjoyed Veronica’s descriptions of the town and coast after the summer rush and reading this book felt like taking a look behind the scenes into the real life of the town (not the one that the tourists see!) Leading lady Kate has a foot in both camps; she’s an super-efficient events planner now living in New York but she was born and grew up in Penfleet and has fond memories and close connections to the town but having been away for a number of years can also see it as outsiders do.

Kate returns to Penfleet following the death of her Mum, who was by all accounts a very much loved member of the community. The initial contrast between the life Kate is used to and the sleepiness of Penfleet is stark but Kate really needs an escape from the rat race and time to heal and Penfleet gives her that. As someone who grew up by the sea and now lives on the outskirts of the capital, I could very much see the appeal of Penfleet – listening to High Tide had me wishing I could pack my bags and move back to the coast!

Moving on after bereavement is a big theme in the novel but despite being very poignant, High Tide isn’t a sad novel – in fact it’s all about new beginnings. Sam moved to Penfleet with his teenage son and daughter for a new start following the death of this wife. Veronica writes beautifully of Sam’s relationship with his wide and also of his relationship with his children. Dad’s often get short shrift in novels but in Sam, Veronica has created such a lovely caring Dad- I was really hoping he’d find a happy ending.

Finally we meet Vanessa whose wealthy business man husband has also recently passed away. Vanessa is now unsure what to do with her life and I enjoyed the turns her story took. As with Veronica’s novels like The Beach Hut, I enjoyed the snapshots into the different characters and families lives and as I listened I found myself trying to guess who would end up with who and how the stories would come together. With past loves, new romances, firendships and business ventures, Veronica skilfully weaves a seaside soap opera that had me hooked. I didn’t want to leave Penfleet and I very much hope Veronica allows us to visit again soon!

4/5

High Tide is out now in paperback, ebook and audio formats. Veronica’s new novel, How To Find Love in a Book Shop has just been released in Hardback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Veronica and her writing at: http://www.veronicahenry.co.uk/

Author interview: Lisa Dickenson

21 Jun

The sun is shining (at last!) and I’m delighted to welcome Lisa Dickenson to One More Page today to talk about her fabulous summer read You Had Me At Merlot which has just been released in paperback. Lisa was born in the wrong body. She was definitely meant to be Beyoncé. Despite this hardship, she grew up in Devon attempting to write her own, completely copyright-infringing versions of Sweet Valley High, before giving Wales a go for university, and then London a go for the celeb-spotting potential. She’s now back in Devon, living beside the seaside with her husband and forcing cream teas down the mouths of anyone who’ll visit. She is sadly still not Beyoncé.

Lisa’s first novel, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, won the Novelicious Debut of the Year award and was an instant hit with readers who were won over by her wit, charm and naughty sense of humour – she’s got her fingers crossed that everyone feels the same about You Had Me at Merlot. Welcome Lisa!

lisa dickensonI loved reading You Had Me At Merlot when it was released as a serial (read my reviews here!), but for those who haven’t discovered its fabulousness yet, please could you tell us a little about it and your inspiration for it?

Thanks for being there from the start, Amanda!  You’re such a champion :-)

Okay, in a nutshell, You Had Me at Merlot follows two friends who go on a singles holiday to a Tuscan vineyard.  One is excited, one is reluctant, but both are looking forward to some Italian sunshine and some wine.  And as they get to know the other guests, they get to know themselves a little better also.

The novel is set in a vineyard in beautiful Tuscany; how did you go about your research and what was the most interesting fact you found!?

I researched the book before it even existed, by visiting a few vineyards over the past ten years.  So when I started writing a book about wine, the memories all came flooding back.  I also drank a lot of wine, and gazed at Italian holiday brochures, all in the name of research.  The most interesting facts I found out while researching were a) that chili in wine is flippin’ AMAZING, and b) that one of the Assassin’s Creed games is set in a beautiful little medieval village in the Tuscan countryside.

 Laurie persuades Ellie to go on holiday to Italy with her; what are your top 3 tips for holidaying with friends? 

  1. Have lots of nibbles and drinks to consume during frantic chatter (now is not the time to diet).
  2. Pick a place a little out of all of your comfort zones, so one person doesn’t end up feeling like they have to be the holiday-mum/dad.
  3. Laugh and laugh and be kind and complimentary to each other at every opportunity.  Enjoy the sunshine or the snow or the storms and take time to remember why you LOVE these friends.

There are some mouthwatering descriptions of food (and wine!) in You Had Me At Merlot – what would the menu for your merlot 3dideal Italian meal look like?

And I can’t have a pizza starter, pizza main and pizza desert?  FINE.  Mmmm, I love Italian food.  I think the starter would have to be some Parma ham, some hard Italian cheese, some olive oil and garlic breads and chili jam… that kind of thing!  ALL OF IT.  Then pizza would be the main course, because pizza is heaven.  Then affogato – ice cream with espresso poured over the top.  And then a cheeky limoncello to finish up with :-)

Laurie and Ellie made me laugh and I loved their stories; by way of introduction, what would their Twitter Bio’s say?

Wow – good question!

Elle’s would be something like ‘Single and really not bothered about mingling, please stop pity-eyeing me.  Views are my own.’  And Laurie’s would say ‘Cracking photographer.  Always looking for hunky male models.  Master of disguise.’

But whether their profiles would change by the end of the book remains to be seen…

Who was your favourite character to write and did they throw any surprises your way as the story developed?

Lothario George was a fun guy to write because he was so vom-inducing until he showed me his true colours and then I started to kind of love him.  I didn’t know his back story when he first appeared at the vineyard, but he opened the door to me a few glasses of wine in.

And finally … what can we expect next from Lisa Dickenson?

Next up is Mistletoe on 34th Street, which comes out in ebook in September and paperback in October of this year.  And I’m just putting the final touches to it now!

Yay! A new Christmassy book to look forward to! Thanks Lisa!

 

Follow Lisa on Twitter for all her book news and Beyoncé -related chatter: @LisaWritesStuff.

And don’t forget to check out Lisa’s site at: http://www.lisadickenson.com/

9780751561937Elle and Laurie are the last ones standing: they’re single, they’re not having babies any time soon and their weekends aren’t filled with joyful meetings about mortgages. For Elle, this is fine. She likes her independent life, but Laurie wants love and she wants it now.

So when Laurie begs Elle to come with her on a singles holiday to a beautiful vineyard in Tuscany, Elle is reluctant. She has no intention of swapping her perfectly lovely life for someone else’s idea of her Mr Perfect, but ten days under the Italian sun with her best friend and lashings of wine? How bad could that be?

Full of sultry summer nights, hilarious moments and plenty of adventure, You Had Me at Merlotwill warm even the most cynical of hearts and have you believing in the magic of romance (and the power of a decent glass of wine).

You Had Me At Merlot is out now in paperback and ebook fomats.

Guest Book review: The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts by Annie Darling

18 Jun

Today I’m delighted to welcome my lovely friend Liz to One More Page with her review of The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts by Annie Darling. Liz was one of the first bloggers I met at a book event and we soon discovered that not only do we live in the same town but also love many of the same books so I’m very chuffed that she’s written this review for me today. Welcome Liz!

LBLH hi res coverOnce upon a time in a crumbling London bookshop, Posy Morland spent her life lost in the pages of her favourite romantic novels.

So when Bookend’s eccentric owner, Lavinia, dies and leaves the shop to Posy, she must put down her books and join the real world. Because Posy hasn’t just inherited an ailing business, but also the unwelcome attentions of Lavinia’s grandson, Sebastian, AKA The Rudest Man In London™.

Posy has a cunning plan and six months to transform Bookends into the bookshop of her dreams – if only Sebastian would leave her alone to get on with it. As Posy and her friends fight to save their beloved bookshop, Posy’s drawn into a battle of wills with Sebastian, about whom she’s started to have some rather feverish fantasies…

Like her favourite romantic heroines, will she get her happy ever after too?

Now, I’ve not reviewed a book for the longest time, so apologies if this is a little rusty, but hopefully my enthusiasm will ring through.

I was sent a proof of Annie Darling’s The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts with a note from her editor saying that she knows contemporary romance isn’t something I usually read but that she thinks I’d love this because of the Georgette Heyer / Regency twist.

Well, this intrigued me loads!

A contemp with a Regency strand? Well, by Jove, that seemed right up my street, and you know what. Reader? The editor was right.

I devoured the book in giant gulps and adored it utterly.  Set in London, Posy inherits the rather sad Bookends shop when the owner passes away. Posy and her brother Sam live above the shop and have done so for many years. Their parents ran the bookshop for the owner, a rather larger than life character called Lavinia, who’s story I would love to know more of.

The problem here is that Bookends hardly makes any money. It’s tucked away in a rather dilapidated mews and the mews itself is also under new ownership by one Sebastian Thorndyke, the grandson of the lady who also owned Bookends.  

Posy, our main character, has a love/hate relationship with Sebastian. She adored him as a child as he is rather handsome but her infatuation came to an end when he shoved her in the coal cellar.  Now they are friendly rivals and really, Sebastian is immediately set up as completely out of Posy’s league. He’s wealthy, he has an unpleasant reputation, he is arrogant and he tends to not listen when people talk to him about important things.  And yet, he and Posy have this great rapport which is hard to fake when writing characters like this. There’s definite banter with a hint of something more…which I ate up with a spoon!

Posy decides that Bookends needs a new name and a new leaf, as such. She loves books and reading and bookshops and what she’s good at and where her true love lies is romance. She is a bosslevel romance bookseller. And so she decides to turn Bookends into the most niche of bookshops: exclusively selling romance novels to her clientele.  Along with things like stationery, notepads, mugs and oh, tote bags. Gloriously beautiful tote bags.

Right from the start we realise how much the author and therefore Posy loves books and romance. We get a lovely sweet call-out to other favourite authors, both new and far more classic during an early scene.  We also get a swift picture of other bookshops in and around London that Posy knows well.  Here’s a character I could identify with thoroughly. Someone who can navigate herself around London by bookshop.  I feel you, Posy-girl, I really do.  I felt like she had been written FOR me.

Naturally Sebastian interferes. He thinks the bookshop ought to be rebranded as a crime bookshop.  And he refuses to listen to Posy and well, shenanigans happen.  Cue lots of drama, wine and fights and a bit of a crisis of faith.  But the people Ms. Darling surrounded Posy with back her up all the way and it made my eyes water because booksish friends are the best friends a girl can have.

As for the Regency twist, well, let’s just say Posy, in a fit of pure frustration turns to her laptop and starts writing an angry story featuring herself and Sebastian but set in the era most readers would have come to know from reading Georgette Heyer.  I laughed so much and it was done so well and so tongue in cheek, I would be inclined to read the completed faux-Regency for sure.

The book is adorable as hell.  The characters are super fun. Posy has a great character arc where she goes from timid and a bit of a push-over to someone who stands her ground but she never loses her vulnerability which I liked. Sebastian initially comes across as a pure asshat, I won’t lie.  But a loveable one at that and soon you start to figure out his story and why he does what he does and why he goes about it in such a high handed and possibly destructive way.

The secondary characters are very relateable too and so likeable. I loved the relationship between Posy and her younger brother Sam. He is such a boy and rings perfectly true with my experience of boys and brothers in general.  They had lost everything when their parents died and they are the most important person in each other’s lives.  The author gives us a few select scenes and never over-eggs to drama, which is a clever thing as too much schmaltz is never a good thing!

Overall, I would give a big fat two thumbs up for The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts – it’s the kind of book that lifts your heart and makes you smile and laugh out loud in quite a few places. It’s the warm hug we all need every now and again.

This is the first book in a series by Ms. Darling and I’ve been told the second book deals with one of Posy’s shop assistants, the lovely if grumpy Verity. I cannot wait to read it.  More speed to your writing pen, Annie!

Thanks Liz – this sounds wonderful and I’ve now added it to my ‘to read’ pile too.

The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts is out now as an ebook and will be released in paperback format on 25th August from Harper.

Book review: Summer At The Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

17 Jun

image001 (8)The Comfort Food Cafe is perched on a windswept clifftop at what feels like the edge of the world, serving up the most delicious cream teas; beautifully baked breads, and carefully crafted cupcakes. For tourists and locals alike, the ramshackle cafe overlooking the beach is a beacon of laughter, companionship, and security – a place like no other; a place that offers friendship as a daily special, and where a hearty welcome is always on the menu.

For widowed mum-of-two Laura Walker, the decision to uproot her teenaged children and make the trek from Manchester to Dorset for the summer isn’t one she takes lightly, and it’s certainly not winning her any awards from her kids, Nate and Lizzie. Even her own parents think she’s gone mad.

Her new job at the cafe, and the hilarious people she meets there, give Laura the chance she needs to make new friends; to learn to be herself again, and – just possibly – to learn to love again as well.

For her, the Comfort Food Cafe doesn’t just serve food – it serves a second chance to live her life to the full…

Debbie Johnson’s books just keep getting better and better and Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe is my favourite of Debbie’s books to date. It has everything that I look for in a great summer read; a beautiful seaside location, a heartwarming romance, colourful characters that feel like friends and delicious descriptions of yummy food – I only wish it was real so I could visit!

Set on the gorgeous Dorset coast, Summer At The Comfort Food Cafe follows Laura Walker and her children Nate and Lizzie as they leave their Manchester home for a summer by the coast. On impulse Laura responds to a rather quirky advert for help at the brilliantly named Comfort Food Cafe. Her heartfelt application (which made me shed a tear on the train) wins her the job and her summer adventure is set.

Laura’s husband David died two years ago and ever since, the family have been trying to come to terms with life without him. The opening chapters of the book where Laura describes the impact of David’s loss on her and their teenage children Nate and Lizzie are sure to tug on even the sturdiest of heart strings but what I loved most about Debbie’s writing was the warmth and humour (even in the darkest moments) that shone through. I felt like I knew Laura immediately and made an instant connection to the book that meant I had to find out what would happen to the family next.

Debbie’s descriptions of the Dorset coast and countryside are beautiful and as the family arrived in Budbury and discover their holiday home of Hyacinth House, I couldn’t wait for them to start exploring. Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe is a very funny book and Laura’s arrival encounter with handsome neighbour Matt had me giggling. Debbie has a wicked sense of comedy and I could easily picture the scenes she wrote.

What struck me most about this novel was the theme of family throughout. Laura, Nate and Lizzie are the prime example, but Laura’s relationship with her sister and parents is also wonderful and many of the other characters in the book have wonderful families too, even if they might be a long way away. It was nice to read a book that celebrated family relationships so well.

Missing family members is also a theme and this is where Cherie and the Comfort Food Cafe comes in. There’s something almost magical about the cafe and the comfort it provides as Cherie makes a special effort to bring some cheer into the lives of her regular customers. The variety of characters that Debbie has created is wonderful and I loved them all with their different quirks but my personal favourites were Edie (her story is very poignant) and Surfer Sam (I do love a surfer!).

As you’ve probably guessed, the Comfort Food cafe provides so much more than food and I loved the sense of community in the story. With characters young and old and from so many different situations, there’s something for everyone in Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe. I was planning to end my review with a plea to Debbie to visit the characters again as I really didn’t want to leave them at the end of the book BUT I’ve just spotted that Debbie will be releasing a new novel later in the year called … Christmas At The Comfort Food Cafe. To say I’m excited is an understatement – yippee!

5/5

Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Debbie Johnson and her writing at: http://www.debbiejohnsonauthor.com/

Book review: The House At The End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag

17 Jun

hope streetDistraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included George Eliot and Beatrix Potter, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers-literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds-and maybe even save her life.

As regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of books with an element of magic or magical realism in them. It’s quite rare though to find books set in the UK that fall into the genre so when I saw Menna van Praag’s books with their beautiful covers on a Tweet from Cambridge Waterstone’s, I was very excited. And when publisher, Allison and Busby contacted me to see if I’d like to review them, I jumped at the chance. Over the next few weeks I’ll be reviewing all three of Menna’s books. I start today with The House at the End of Hope Street, a story of love, family, hope and magic set mainly in Cambridge.

Menna’s writing is beautiful and she immediately drew me in with rich descriptions and more than a hint of magic and mystery right from the first sentence. I’m a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen and Menna’s writing has a similar warmth and turn of phrase that captures the magic of everyday things and unveils a hidden world within our own world. This is a story where the line between ‘real’ and magic blur and I love the idea that those who wish or need to see magic, can.

The house of the title appears to those in need and what a wonderful home it is. I loved the premise of a place of refuge that allows those who stay there time to contemplate, recover (if necessary) and gently pushes them towards a brighter and more hopeful future. Despite its hopeful premise, there is a lot of sadness in the story which touches on themes of loss, mental health and abusive relationships. There is also heartache and Menna skilfully balances the darker sides of the story with the themes of moving forward, love and hope to create a story that will stay with me.

The little descriptive details like teacups with fairy tale characters that have interesting relationships and notes that appear from nowhere with slightly cryptic guidance written on them, had me captivated and reading The House At The End of Hope Street felt modern yet timeless and I enjoyed the fairy tale qualities of the book. Like all good fairy tales, the story examines light and dark and isn’t afraid to address the harsher aspects of living in the world that we live in by examining love and the opposite feelings in depth and the story struck me by showing the cruelties and deceptions that humans are capable of as well as the kindnesses and care.

All of the characters in the story are flawed and I liked that the house didn’t just solve their problems for them; it actively tried to help and guide them but they had to do the hard work themselves. The book is populated by a host of wonderful characters; authors, musicians, actresses, book lovers and many famous names through history. My absolute favourite character in the book was Peggy;  the ‘mother’ of the house in the story. The house has passed through generations of her family. I loved her sense of duty and sense of humour.

Alba, Greer and Carmen are all lost in their own way and all very different individuals. Alba is young academic, extremely clever but prone to hiding behind the history books she loves and she’s just had her heart broken and her promising academic future put under threat. Greer wants to be an actress but parts are drying up and she also longs for a family. Carmen is hiding a dark secret and running from a painful past. Her secret love is music but she’s buried her talent in fear.

I loved how Menna made The House At The End of Hope Street a love story to the arts, beautifully capturing the joys that books, music and theatre can bring.  A thoughtful, magical, beautiful book – add it to your shelves now!

5/5

The House At The End of Hope Street is out now in Paperback and Ebook formats from Allison & Busby.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Menna and her writing at: http://www.mennavanpraag.com/

Giveaway! 5 copies of The Secret of Orchard Cottage by Alex Brown to be won!

14 Jun

orchard

Earlier today I shared my review of this lovely book with you (I loved it!) and thanks to Alex’s fab publisher I have five copies to give away to lucky readers.

To enter this giveaway just leave comment in the box below or re-Tweet one of my tweets with the link to this post and I’ll pick five winners using Random.org after the closing date.

This giveaway is open to UK residents only and will close at midnight on Sunday 19th June.

Good Luck!