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Book review: Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses by Carole Matthews

18 Apr

paper hearts cover

Christie Chapman is a single working mother who spends her days commuting to her secretarial job in London and looking after her teenage son, Finn.

It can be tough just getting through the day but Christie has always found comfort in her love of crafting and any spare time she has is spent in her parents’ summerhouse working on her beautiful creations. From intricately designed birthday cards to personalised gifts, Christie’s flair for the handmade knows no bounds and it’s not long before opportunity comes knocking. 

All of a sudden Christie sees a different future for her and Finn – one full of hope and possibility, and if the handsome Max Alexander is to be believed, one full of love too. It’s all there for the taking.
And then, all of sudden, Christie’s world is turned upside down.

Christie knows that something has to give, but what will she choose? Will she give up her dreams and the chance of real love? What price will she pay for doing the right thing? Can Christie find her happy ending in . . . Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I’ve read a number of Carole Matthews’ books over the years and they are always lovely, heartwarming reads but Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses is, for me, Carole’s best book yet. It has all the characteristics that I love in a good story; realistic characters that I could root for, a leading lady that I could identify with, lovely family relationships, emotional ups and downs and of course, a little romance. Not to mention the crafting – I loved learning about paper craft from Christie’s story and crafting fans will definitely enjoy this book.

Christie endeared herself to me straight away and I liked her more the more I read. She’s a single mum to fifteen year old Finn and the pair have a very close bond which was a joy to read. I loved that Christie is around the same age as me and as she did the dreaded commute into London each day, there was a lot that I could identify with. Christie has a great sense of humour as she tries to keep on top of holding down a full time job at a city law firm and caring for Finn who has been having some health problems and I admired her determination. Carole has based the character on her real life friend ‘Christine’ and her love and admiration for her and her son shines through on the pages.

Christie’s support network is wonderful and she has a brilliant relationship with her parents who live nearby. It was so lovely to read a story with such a positive emphasis on family – I wanted to move in with Christie’s Mum and Dad as I read! As Christie gets the opportunity to take her craft hobby to the next level by working with an American company, her family and friends rally round to support her – her law firm boss Robyn is another brilliantly written character who got a big thumbs up from me.

But just as things begin to look up, there’s more bad news on the way and this book certainly played with my emotions – it was only too easy to put myself in Christie’s shoes and to think how I’d feel if one of my sons was in Finn’s situation. I was on the edge of my seat rooting for both Finn and Christie to have the happy ending they deserved.

In addition to the family drama, Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses has a wonderful romantic thread to it too as Christie meets handsome American CEO Max and her fellow commuter Henry and they both show an interest in her. I loved Christie for staying true to herself as both men vied for her attention and Carole conjures up some seriously romantic ‘dates’ in very glamorous locations whilst keeping the reader guessing!

Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses is a fab and inspiring read about weathering the many ups and downs that life can throw at us – a lovely uplifting read that left me with a smile on my face.

5/5

Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses is out now in paperback, ebook and audio formats from Sphere.

Check out Carole’s fab website for more information on her books and the background to this story: http://www.carolematthews.com/

Please do check out the other stops on the blog tour and stop by here again later today for the chance to win a copy of this lovely book!

Guest post: The Challenge of Writing Sizzle (When you’re used to Sweet) by Inge Saunders

9 Apr

Today I’m welcoming Inge Saunders to One More Page to talk about the challenges that she faced when writing her latest novella, The Wolf’s Choice. Inge lives in the biggest small town in South Africa‒ Worcester. She fell in love with books when she started reading romance novels with her grandmother. Intrigued by the worlds books unlocked, it was inevitable she would take pen to paper. She holds an Honors degree in Community Development and Learning Support and loves to sink her teeth into the research part of a story.

When she’s not writing about that ‘inexplicable attraction’ she’s reading almost every sub-genre in romance out there, spending time with friends and family and taking hikes in her hometown’s National Karoo Park.

Inge SaundersAs with all things in life, trying something new does bring its own set of challenges. And going from writing sweet contemporary romance to more spicy paranormal romance wasn’t the exception.

I remember at one point I did a post on my Facebook Author Page on the research I’d done on ‘how to approach writing a love scene’. Don’t worry I won’t do a recount here *smile*

But what is the challenge of writing sizzling instead of sweet? Romance is romance after all. There can’t be much difference between the two. And right there, I would lose my reader. Because a sweet romance reader is looking for something different than a reader who prefers a more sizzling read. As an author with a deep respect for readers (because I’m a reader myself) I sat back and dug deep to understand the complexity of the challenges I’m going to face as I tell the story.

The Wolf’s Choice is my first foray into romance that sizzles. It also forms part of a bigger world, The Black Hills Wolves, created by Heather Long and Rebecca Royce for Decadent Publishing. So I had to keep the requirements of the series in mind and stay true to what the creators had in mind of for it. And since the inspiration for the novella started off in my imagination with these two innocent teens meeting at the local Swimming Hole, I knew that I’m going to have a problem if I kept to my ‘old’ style of sweet romance writing (even though the scene when read on its own is sweet).

I think it’s good to note at this point that I don’t just read sweet romance. The romance books I buy range in heat levels, but I usually gravitate towards the stories that contain a happy medium. And that’s the crux for an author who’s going from a ‘clean’ read to a much hotter one. The first challenge you’ll face is to ask yourself, where’s my comfort level with the hotness-factor? Once you’ve established this, you’ll know whether you’ll be able to write a romance that sizzles or have to completely abandon that writing path.

The second challenge, I found, has to do with language, what words to use? Do you want to be graphic? What do your favorite authors use when they tackle a love scene? And most importantly, what type of language is used by the authors contracted for the series/line you want to write for? If the language is an issue for you, then don’t. To force is a crime *smile* and no one likes to be forced to do anything. I’ve read authors who use the words dick, pussy, etc. in such a jarring way that I stopped reading the story. To me, they are out of sync with their characters. If your heroine has never throughout the book even thought of sex or referred to her body parts in her mind or in the dialogue in erotic terms, then goodness why are you now suddenly having her using those terms? The language becomes jarring.

That’s something I had to study in The Wolf’s Choice. A woman with sexual experience wouldn’t necessarily be coy about sex. Though we all know it’s not that cut and dried, characters, like people are complex. (And this you’ll find out about my heroine Rebecca, when you read the story). But there are certain universal things we all accept and don’t about characters in novels.

So language is a definite challenge when writing a sizzling romance.

Don’t lose the plot. No seriously, don’t. Essentially you’re telling the story of two people falling in love and the obstacles that keep them from doing that. As a romance writer that’s your first priority. Don’t get bogged down by how hot your book’s supposed to be. Or by what page number your characters should have, at least, kissed. Or made love.  And don’t write love scenes as fillers. Some publishers might compromise story because sex is the subject of that imprint. But you have to keep in mind that at the heart of every romance is the emotional bond between the hero and heroine. The emotional bond adds layers to the sizzle and the sizzle in your story should advance the plot.

The important thing to acknowledge is that you’ll face challenges as you go along, but to not allow them to keep you from telling your story.

Thank you Inge.

The Wolf’s Choice is out now in ebook formats.

Find out more about Inge and her writing at:

Blog: https://ingesaunders.wordpress.com/

Books by Inge Saunders: http://bit.ly/1defI54

Twitter: @saunders_inge

The Wolf's Choice_1800x2700“I’ll pledge my loyalty to you through a blood oath, if you’ll support my choice of mate.”
Drew sank into his chair. “What does Rebecca have to say? The last time I spoke to her, she didn’t mention you.”
Blaine smiled. He hadn’t earned himself any favors. “She doesn’t know yet.”

Thirteen years ago Rebecca Ferguson died, at least to everyone in the Black Hills territory. With a human mother and unable to shift into a wolf, Magnum Tao, the deranged alpha of the Tao Pack would’ve had both her and her father killed for deceiving him. Magnum didn’t allow humans to mate with members of his pack.
Now Magnum is the one who’s dead, and Rebecca can return.
But coming back from the dead, building a new life after her divorce, and opening a library in town aren’t the only obstacles Rebecca faces. Elijah, her father, doesn’t approve of her being in Los Lobos to the point where he forbids her to get involved with the pack, especially the males.
Their relationship has suffered because of her absence and she hopes to bridge the divide, confident that she doesn’t want a romantic entanglement with anyone human or wolf, anyway.

In walks sexy private detective Blaine Walker.
Thirteen years ago Blaine stumbled on his mate at the local swimming hole. The next day, she was dead. Once he learns Rebecca is alive and living in Los Lobos, he decides it’s time to give up his career in Brooklyn and return to the Black Hills. But he knows it won’t be easy to claim her since Elijah’s unnaturally overprotective. The only way Elijah will back off is to challenge him.

A challenge that will end in one of their deaths.
The Tao Pack’s rebuilding itself and needs to guard against any threats outside or in. For Blaine to have any chance to claim Rebecca, Elijah needs to be dealt with and to deal with Elijah, Drew, the alpha of the Tao Pack, has to sanction the challenge according to pack law.

Rebecca can’t deny the old attraction she felt for Blaine is still there and even stronger now that they are grown up. She’s caught between the man fate has brought back to her and her father, whose affection she’s craved her whole life.
But there’s a secret governing Elijah’s erratic behavior that can cost Rebecca everything she’s worked hard to build and everything she thought she could never have with a man or wolf.
Will Rebecca and Blaine beat the odds stacked against them?
Or will the choices they make ultimately lead them down a path both of them don’t want?

Guest post: My out-of-the-box son, Giliam Johan by Elsa Winckler

30 Mar

Today I’m very excited to be the first host of Elsa Winckler’s blog tour for her new novel, The Whisperer. Elsa has been reading love stories for as long as she can remember and when she ‘met’ the classic authors like Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Henry James and The Brontë sisters during her Honours studies, she was hooked for life.

Elsa married her college boyfriend and soul mate and after forty-one years, three interesting and wonderful children and three beautiful grandchildren, he still makes her weak in the knees. They are fortunate to live in the picturesque little seaside village of Betty’s Bay, South Africa, with the ocean a block away and a beautiful mountain right behind them. The Whisperer is Elsa’s debut novel for HarperImpulse – welcome Elsa!

11050805_958380304240339_6859404579255618787_o (1)I have dedicated this story to our second son, Giliam Johan. He was the one who taught me to think outside the box.

Our oldest son was a text book baby. At the time I had a baby book I consulted whenever I had a problem with him and whatever advice I got, worked. So I thought, hey, I can do this again, let’s have another baby. So two years later, Johan arrived. And nothing in any of the many, many baby books that I read, helped. What worked for number one, simply didn’t work for him.

Johan was a curious, busy, creative little boy. In grade one he was chosen to play Spick, a naughty kid who lives on the moon. And when he walked on to that primary school stage, something magical happened. That was what he was suppose to do for the rest of his life, I knew.

As a teenager, he caused me many a sleepless night. And that curiosity I mentioned? Well, he was curious about just about everything. He challenged our ideas of how things were supposed to be and we had many, many stand-up fights.

He has a heart for the marginalized, for anyone who differs from the rest. He doesn’t see colour, size or position, he treats everyone the same. We finally came to accept he does things differently, because in Thoreau’s words, he hears a different drummer. And it took me a long while ‘to let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.’

And when I finally stopped trying to get him to fit into a box, I was able to learn from him. And one of the things knowing him taught me was that we cannot explain everything, some things just are. And talking about doing things differently, at the moment he teaches English in China. I would have liked for him to be closer, to get that big role he dreamt about when he was little, but he’s doing his own thing in his own way. Outside the box.

Not everyone will believe in Cilla’s intuition, in her ability to communicate with animals. Cameron struggled with it but when he opened himself up, when he finally listened to his instinct, he was able to let go of his fears.

So I hope you can let go of your ideas of how things are supposed to work, and enjoy Cilla and Camerons’ story!

The Whisperer is out now in ebook formats from HarperImpulse

Winckler_Whisperer_EbookLoving him could destroy her…
High school teacher Cilla Stevens has always been different, especially in how she connects with animals. When she calms a stray dog during an incident at school, she’s asked to help a nearby farm with a difficult horse.Cameron Rahl has had a very different relationship with animals since his mother died in a horse riding accident. But now he’s inherited his family’s farm, he’s determined to never let anyone affect him that way again.Until he meets Cilla. He tries to stay away from the gorgeous horse whisperer with the potential to tame him, but something keeps pulling him close. And as much as Cilla tells herself she can keep it casual, she knows they’re too connected to be ‘just a fling.’Will Cilla’s heart win out? Or will it take history repeating itself for Cameron to realise just how much he needs her?

Find out more about Elsa and her writing at: http://elsawinckler.com/

Book review: This Love by Dani Atkins

29 Mar

this loveSophie stopped believing in happy endings a long time ago, but could this love change all of that?
 
Sophie Winter lives in a self-imposed cocoon – she’s a single, 31-year-old translator who works from home in her one-bedroom flat. This isn’t really the life she dreamed of, but then Sophie stopped believing in dreams when she was a teenager and tragedy struck her family.
 
So, to be safe, she keeps everyone at arm’s length. Sophie understands she has a problem, but recognising it and knowing how to fix it are two entirely different things.

One night a serious fire breaks out in the flat below hers. Sophie is trapped in the burning building until a passer-by, Ben, sees her and rescues her.
 
Suddenly her cocoon is shattered – what will be the consequences of this second life-changing event?

I thought when I read Our Song last year that Dani Atkins had written one of the most emotional and heartbreaking books that I’ve ever read … that was until I read This Love. Readers, Dani has done it again! She’s written a beautiful story that took me through every imaginable emotion and packaged it all up into a wonderful novel that left me sad, happy, hopeful and thankful at the end – tissues will be needed but I promise you it’s all worth it!

This Love starts with Sophie and it’s a very dramatic opening to the novel as the house where Sophie lives in the top flat catches fire when the people living below have a house party. To say I was gripped by the opening is a bit of an understatement – I actually forgot to tell my son to turn his light off and go to sleep because I was so caught up in Sophie’s predicament and even though I knew she’d escape and survive, I still found myself holding my breath as I read.

Sophie is quite literally saved by Ben, a man who spots that she is trapped and puts his own life on the line to help her escape. Needless to say, the two form a connection that is unique and special but both have reasons for not wanting a relationship and learning what’s underneath their thoughts and actions is a key thread to the novel as they both try to deal with heartbreaking situations of their own.

I’m being very cautious what I say in this review as the magic of the story lies in the discoveries that the characters make about each other as the book unfolds. Suffice to say that Dani had me absolutely hooked again and yet again managed to surprise me as I read, even when I thought I’d got it all worked out!

This Love is a novel that tackles some of our darkest fears and emotions (loss, grief, death, loneliness) head on but does so in such a sensitive and positive way that I can only admire Dani’s talent as a writer and I loved the way that she brought so many sub stories into the main story through Ben and his friends. My personal favourite of all the characters was Alice – a sweet little old lady who does a very brave thing and had me cheering for her from my reading chair!

If you’re already a fan of Dani’s novels then you have another absolute treat in store with This Love. if you haven’t discovered Dani’s books yet, I can’t recommend them highly enough – start with this one and then read them all!

5/5

This Love is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Simon and Schuster.

Find out more about Dani and her writing at: https://www.facebook.com/DaniAtkinsAuthor/

Guest post: My Dream Writing Space by Bella Osborne

24 Mar

bella osbornePlease extend a very warm welcome to Bella Osborne today as she joins me to celebrate the release of Willow Cottage: A Spring Affair,  part three of her lovely Willow Cottage series.

Bella has been jotting down stories as far back as she can remember.  In 2016, her debut novel, It Started At Sunset Cottage, was shortlisted for the Contemporary Romantic Novel of the Year and RNA Joan Hessayon New Writers Award.

Bella’s stories are about friendship, love and coping with what life throws at you. Bella believes that writing your own story really is the best fun ever, closely followed by talking, eating chocolate, drinking fizz and planning holidays. She joins us today to tell us all about her dream writing space. Welcome Bella!

Hi One More Page,

Thank you for being the next stop on the blog tour, it’s great to be on your blog today.

Part 3 of Willow Cottage is set in springtime and this got me thinking about the outdoors (bear with me) which led to me to imaging my dream writing space – a shepherd’s hut.

image003 (1)

Photo credit: http://heritageshepherdhuts.co.uk/

Sadly my garden isn’t big enough to accommodate one but if I had a spare field I would definitely save up my pennies and buy one of these beauties (I may even give up custard creams to achieve this*).

So what is a shepherd’s hut? Originally it was exactly what it says on the tin – a simple hut that a shepherd took shelter in during the lambing season. The original huts contained the essentials to survive for a few hours like a stove for heat and to cook on as well as water and a bed. Made from wood with a curved corrugated iron roof and mounted on wheels so they could be easily moved from field to field, they were functional rather than pretty.

image004However, thanks to modern farming methods you are now more likely to see one converted into something akin to a summerhouse and many are built from scratch with modern materials but mimicking the classic design. I love to while away time looking at some of the creations on the Internet when I’m meant to be writing (I think it’s one up from watching videos of kittens). This converted hut, that belongs to watercolour artist Jean Batterbee, is the sort of thing I would love to have…

I could imagine myself sat there writing away although the reality would more likely be that I would be wasting time on the internet looking at something else I can’t afford!

What would be your dream space?

*No, not really! I’d like one but not that much!

Thanks Bella – I think a Shepherd’s Hut would make an ideal reading nook too!

willow cottage springWillow Cottage: part three – A Spring Affair is out now in ebook formats.

Beth is running away. With her young son Leo to protect, Willow Cottage is the lifeline she so desperately needs. Overlooking the village green in a beautiful Cotswolds idyll, Beth sees a warm, caring and safe place for little Leo.

When she finally uncovers the cottage from underneath the boughs of a weeping willow tree, Beth realises this is far more of a project than she bargained for and the locals are more than a little eccentric! A chance encounter with gruff Jack, who appears to be the only male in the village under thirty, leaves the two of them at odds but it’s not long before Beth realises that Jack has hidden talents that could help her repair more than just Willow Cottage

Over the course of four seasons, Beth realises that broken hearts can be mended, and sometimes love can be right under your nose…

Willow Cottage is part of a serialized novel told in four parts, following the journey of Beth and her new life in the Cotswolds. The full book will be out next this August, but for now, enjoy Willow Cottage seasonally.

Find out more about Bella and her writing at: http://www.bellaosborne.com/

Book review: The Little Teashop of Lost and Found by Trisha Ashley

15 Mar

litte teashopAlice Rose is a foundling, discovered on the Yorkshire moors above Haworth as a baby. Adopted but then later rejected again by a horrid step-mother, Alice struggles to find a place where she belongs. Only baking – the scent of cinnamon and citrus and the feel of butter and flour between her fingers – brings a comforting sense of home.

So it seems natural that when she finally decides to return to Haworth, Alice turns to baking again, taking over a run-down little teashop and working to set up an afternoon tea emporium.

Luckily she soon makes friends, including a Grecian god-like neighbour, who help her both set up home and try to solve the mystery of who she is. There are one or two last twists in the dark fairytale of Alice’s life to come . . . but can she find her happily ever after?

I’ve been a fan of Trisha Ashley’s books for a long time and I love the stories that she creates, but with this new book I think she’s created my favourite yet! The Little Teashop of Lost and Found had so many elements that I love that it’s hard to know where to start with this review. Set mainly in my favourite county of Yorkshire, not only did Trisha win me over with a fab location but then she threw in a teashop, some dark fairy tales and a leading man who looks like a Greek god – what’s not to love?

The Little Teashop of Lost and Found is the story of Alice Rose. Alice is in her mid-thirties and has had a pretty raw deal in life to this point. The first chapters of the book tell Alice’s story to the point where she decides to make a new start following the death of her fiance, Dan. Alice is a fab character and I liked her straight away; not least for her ability to pick herself up and keep going despite the ups and downs that life has thrown at her.

Baking and writing keep Alice sane when things get tough and I loved how Trisha included both throughout the story. I’m a big fan of dark fairy-tales and fairy-tale retellings so as soon as I saw that Alice is an author of dark fairytales with a twist, I was very happy. Alice’s latest novel is woven into the book and I was just as hooked on it as I was by the main storyline (Trisha – please write a dark fairytale novella in future!)

I love the idea of stories within stories and The Little Teashop of Lost and Found has not one but two stories within it as each chapter is preceded with parts of an account of events that have a major impact on Alice. The mystery of who Alice’s parents are, combined with the fairy-tale metaphors that Alice is fond of, create a gripping edge to the book and I had to keep reading to find out exactly what happened on the night that Alice was abandoned.

As Alice moves to Haworth, famed for it’s Bronte connections,  to see if she can solve the mystery of her birth by being close to the moors that she was abandoned on, she gets a lot more than she bargained for! The teashop that she’s bought needs a huge amount of work and the accompanying flat is uninhabitable. Thankfully, Alice is ‘rescued’ by her handsome neighbour Nile who’s Mum has guest rooms that she rents out.

As Alice meets Niles’s family, we’re introduced to a wonderful cast of characters who help her in more ways than she could ever have imagined. Nile’s sister Bel and sister in law, Geeta were favourites of mine and I won’t forget the wonderful Yorkshire women that Alice hires as her waitresses; the delightfully blunt Tilda and Nell. There’s even an update on Eleri from the short story Finding Mr Rochester. 

The Little Teashop of Lost and Found  is a charming tale with heaps of Trisha magic and more than a few surprises in it and I loved it so much that I’ve just ordered another copy for my Mum for Mother’s Day!

5/5

The Little Teashop of Lost and Found is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from Bantam Press.

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

Find out more about Trisha and her writing at: www.trishaashley.com

 

Book review: The Song of the Stork by Stephan Collishaw

14 Mar

song of the storkFifteen-year-old Yael is on the run. The Jewish girl seeks shelter from the Germans on the farm of the village outcast. Aleksei is mute and solitary, but as the brutal winter advances, he reluctantly takes her in and a delicate relationship develops.

As her feelings towards Aleksei change, the war intrudes and Yael is forced to join a Jewish partisan group fighting in the woods.

Torn apart and fighting for her life, The Song of the Stork is Yael’s story of love, hope and survival. It is the story of one woman finding a voice as the voices around her are extinguished.

Having read The Song of the Stork, I can easily see why Stephan Collishaw was selected by the British Council in 2004 as one of the best young British novelists. I found Stephan’s writing beautiful to read even though the events that he describes are horrifying.  At just over two hundred and sixty pages, The Song of the Stork is a short novel but one that had a huge impact on me as I read and a book that I won’t forget easily.

Yael is a fifteen year old Jewish girl on the run from the Nazi soldiers who destroyed her village, separated her from her family and continue to present a very real threat to her life. As war rages around her, Yael does all she can to survive, clinging to the hope that one day she will reunite with her family. Collishaw writes with a readable and honest style that shows all that Yael has to endure.

As a student of history, I studied Nazi Germany in quite a lot of detail and I’m well aware of the horrors of the Holocaust. The Song of the Stork brings those horrors starkly to life yet shows just how strong the human spirit can be. Collishaw has clearly done his research but more than just knowing the historical details of the period, he gets under the skin of his characters and brings them fully to life on the page.

Yael seeks shelter at the farmstead of a local mute boy, Aleksei. I was absolutely captivated as Yael very slowly won Aleksei over and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way Stephan has written a love story without words between the two main characters showing that even in the darkest of times and most difficult of circumstances, love can grow and hope can flourish.

What struck me particularly whilst reading was how despite the acknowledged horrors of persecution and war, that both still continue. The tension of the story is continually high and the bleakness of Yael’s future broke my heart but despite all of this, I finished the book hopeful. There are many beautiful moments in the story, acts of kindness and small mercies that show human nature at its best.

The Song of the Stork is a surprising and moving historical love story and I’ll definitely be adding Stephan’s previous book to my reading pile. I look forward to reading more from him in future.

5/5

The Song of the Stork is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Legend Press.

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

 

 

Book review: Secrets of A Happy Marriage by Cathy Kelly

12 Mar

secrets of a happyBess is hoping to show everyone just how happy her recent marriage is, but behind all the party-planning the cracks are beginning to show. Why is joining a family so difficult?

Jojo, Bess’s stepdaughter, has a point to make. Bess is not her mother, and she won’t replace the one she’s been missing every day for the last two years. And will she ever get the chance to become a mum herself?

Cousin Cari is a fierce career-woman who isn’t unnerved by anything – apart from facing the man who left her at the altar, and he’s on the guestlist. Her job has been a safe place to hide ever since – but is it time to let love into her life again?

Thanks to laughter, tears and one surprise appearance, the Brannigans might just discover the secrets of a happy marriage . . . But will they find out before it’s too late?

In Secrets of a Happy Marriage, Cathy Kelly has created the wonderfully complicated Brannigan clan and charts the ups and downs of their lives as they prepare for patriarch Edward Brannigan’s 70th Birthday. I loved the huge variety of characters and storylines in this book. It’s like a wonderful Irish soap opera with just about every family and relationship scenario covered from infertility to career issues, affairs, new love and difficult parents! 

As the title would hint, marriage is also a key focus, from a tricky second marriage to being jilted at the alter and how marriages cope when they are put under pressure. Each chapter of the book starts with a quote or a tip on the secrets of a happy marriage and there are many wise words both in the quotes and the book itself.

My overwhelming feeling whilst reading the book was what a wonderfully strong set of women Cathy has created in this story. I was immediately drawn into the story by Faenia, who opens the novel  with a prologue set in San Francisco. Faenia ended up being one of my favourite characters and I was intrigued from beginning to end by her story and I didn’t want to stop reading until I found out what had happened to her. She’s in her sixties and is a highly regarded stylist at a big department store and very glamorous but also very wise and I loved her attitude – I think I could have read a whole book just about Faenia and her life!

My other favourite character was Cari. Cari works for a publishing house and is a top editor with a high profile writer who is very unfairly taken away from her. How these women deal with life when it deals them a bad hand makes for great reading and I admired their strength. As an avid fan of all things bookish I loved the insights into the publishing world that I got from the parts that involved Cari. I especially liked the bit about how important bloggers are ;-)

As well as strong independent women there are some lovely men in the story too and my heart went out to Jo-Jo’s husband Hugh, Edward and Conal who have some difficult situations to deal with the women in their lives. This story shows well that none of us can do everything alone. With plenty of sharp wit and humour as well as an abundance of emotion and advice from Nora, the unofficial family therapist and wise woman this is a great book to curl up and get lost in this Spring.

4/5

Secrets of a Happy Marriage is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from Orion.

Find out more about Cathy and her writing at: http://www.cathykelly.com/

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

Book review: If Not For You by Debbie Macomber

8 Mar

if not for youSometimes, just one person can change your whole world…

If not for her loving but controlling parents, Beth might never have taken charge of her life.

If not for her friend Nichole, Beth would never have met Sam Carney – a tattooed mechanic who is her conservative parents’ worst nightmare.

And if not for Sam – who witnessed a terrible accident and rushed to her aid – Beth might have never survived and fallen in love.

Yet there are skeletons in Sam’s closet that prevent him from ever trusting a woman again. Will he be able to overcome his past and fight for love?

I’m a big fan of Debbie Macomber’s books and always look forward to her new releases. If Not For You  is her latest stand alone novel and it certainly didn’t disappoint – it’s part of the New Beginnings series but don’t worry if you haven’t read the first two books in the collection as they do stand alone and can be read in any order but are united by the theme of new beginnings.

If Not For You is a beautifully romantic story about love against the odds, being true to ourselves and having the courage to move on from difficult situations and not close ourselves off. I always find Debbie’s books therapeutic to read and ultimately uplifting and this story is filled with Debbie’s trademark warmth, empathy and understanding.

I very much enjoyed meeting Sam and Beth and reading as their relationship developed. Beth is twenty five and has recently moved to Portland from Chicago to escape the clutches of her overbearing mother and find her own new beginning by setting out on her own for the first time. I was shocked how much Beth’s mother had tried to control her life, particularly her love life and I immediately had a lot of sympathy for Beth as she grasped at her first taste of freedom.

Beth’s new teaching colleague Nicole invites Beth to dinner and tries to set her up with Sam, best friend to Nicole’s husband Rocco. Sam and Beth couldn’t be more different and the initial meeting is certainly not a case of opposite’s attracting! As Beth and Sam leave the dinner, Beth is involved in a bad car accident and Sam is the witness and the person first to help Beth at the scene. Debbie cleverly uses the accident as a catalyst to develop a relationship between Sam and Beth where it has seemed very unlikely that one would flourish and I loved the way that Debbie moved the story along but kept me guessing as both Sam and Beth and their pasts throw up obstacles.

I thought the characters in If Not For You were very well drawn and believable. Sam is rough around the edges but charming. Rocco and Nicole have a great relationship and I loved Beth’s aunt Sunshine – isn’t that just a brilliant name?! Sunshine’s sub story had me gripped as she also has to revisit her past to be able to move forward.

If Not For You is a positive. heartwarming read just perfect for Spring!

4/5

If Not For You is released on 9th March in paperback and ebook formats from Arrow.

Find out more about Debbie Macomber and her novels at: https://debbiemacomber.com/

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

Extract and giveaway! The Wedding Girls by Kate Thompson

3 Mar

Today I’m delighted to be first stop on the blog tour for Kate Thompson’s new novel, The Wedding Girls which is published on 9th March by Pan Macmillan. Kate is a journalist with twenty years’ experience as a writer for the broadsheets and women’s weekly magazines. She is now freelance and, as well as writing for newspapers, she’s a seasoned ghostwriter. The Wedding Girls is her third novel, following the Sunday Times bestseller Secrets of the Singer Girls and The Secrets of the Sewing Bee. You can find out more about Kate and her books at: http://www.katethompsonmedia.co.uk/

Read on for an extract from the book and the chance to win one of five copies!

The wedding girlsIf a wedding marks the first day of the rest of your life, then the story starts with the dress.

It’s 1936 and the streets of London’s East End are grimy and brutal, but in one corner of Bethnal Green it is forever Hollywood . . .

Herbie Taylor’s photography studio is nestled in the heart of bustling Green Street. Tomboy Stella and troubled Winnie work in Herbie’s studio; their best friend and hopeless romantic Kitty works next door as an apprentice dressmaker. All life passes through the studio, wishing to capture that perfect moment in time.

Kitty works tirelessly to create magical bridal gowns, but with each stitch she wonders if she’ll ever get a chance to wear a white dress. Stella and Winnie sprinkle a dusting of Hollywood glamour over happy newly-weds, but secretly dream of escaping the East End . . .

Community is strong on Green Street, but can it stand the ultimate test? As clouds of war brew on the horizon, danger looms over the East End. Will the Wedding Girls find their happy ever afters, before it’s too late?

Extract

Prologue

18 january 1933

St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, London

A fine frost covered the churchyard in a glittering blanket of silver as the first flecks of snow began to drift from an ivory sky.

To some, January might have been a queer month in which to tie the knot, but to Kitty Moloney it was perfect.

Married when the year is new, he’ll be loving, kind and true, or so went the old rhyme. The bride, Miss Nancy Beaton, would enter the church, but she would emerge, quite transformed, as Lady Smiley, wife of Sir Hugh Smiley, a Grenadier Guards officer and baronet. There was something irresistibly romantic about starting the New Year with a new name, especially one as grand as that, Kitty thought.

Stamping her frozen feet on the flagstones to keep out the cold, she tried her hardest to nudge her way to the front of the crowd for a better view, but it was impossible. Everyone loved a wedding, and no one could resist the sight of a bride, especially a well-known society one such as Nancy.

Kitty was hemmed in on all sides by stout matrons in damp wool coats, all clamouring for the best spot from which to view the bride enter the church.

A whiskered constable was holding back the crowds, a disapproving figure in black, his cloak spread wide like a bat, with the Palace of Westminster arching up into the skies over his helmet.

‘Mind yourself, girlie,’ tutted the woman in front; a dressmaker, judging by the sketchbook and pencil in her hand. ‘Us hoi polloi gotta keep a respectable distance.’

Kitty felt foolish. Her gaze slid down and a flush of pink washed over her pale cheeks. What was she even doing here? She was just a girl from the wrong side of town, a shabby fourteen-year-old in cardboard-patched boots and her big sister’s hand-me-downs. And then she remembered. She was somebody. In five days’ time, she was to start an apprenticeship under the tutelage of wedding dressmaker Gladys Tingle at her Bethnal Green workshop.

Gladys’s voice when she had hired Kitty while she was still at school, not two and twenty days previous, rang through her mind as clear as a bell in the chilly churchyard.

‘If a wedding marks the first day of the rest of your life, then the story starts with the dress. Immerse yourself in wedding gowns, my girl, leave no stitch unturned, ’cause it’s the society sorts from up West that the girls from the East End wanna look like. It’s pictures of their wedding gowns in the Daily Sketch they’ll be bringing in for us to copy!’

After a brusque examination of Kitty’s hands and nails, Gladys had dismissed her with orders to start at 9 a.m. prompt the first Monday morning after the new school term began.

A sudden burst of handclapping and the distant thud of horses’ hooves brought Kitty back from her wonderings.

‘I say! There she is,’ called out an excited voice. ‘God bless you, Nancy!’

Applause and cheers rang out and the crowd stirred into life. The dressmaker gasped and dropped her pencil. A small space opened up in the crowd as she bent to retrieve it. Seizing her chance, Kitty wriggled through the sea of stockinged legs and found herself at the very front.

She opened her eyes wide, then wider still and just like that, her grumbling tummy and frozen feet were forgotten. For gliding down the flagstones on the arm of her father was the bride, and what a marvellous bride was she!

Nancy emerged dreamlike from the snow, a tiny ethereal vision in a long sweep of buttery silk, its diaphanous overskirt shimmering with silver embroidery and hundreds of tiny pearls. In her pale fingers she clutched a spray of chalk-white flowers.

Kitty gazed in wonderment, for Nancy looked like no other woman she had ever seen: a perfect china shepherdess, her brown eyes large and liquid, her lips full and rosy. Atop her gleaming curls, tiny white flowers and a dusting of snow. In her wake, two pageboys in white satin breeches and tails, holding the train as if it were made of glass. In the swirling snow, looking like they had stepped straight from the pages of a children’s fairy tale, they drew a collective sigh from the crowd of admiring matrons.

And then came the bridesmaids: tall, slender and serene in white tulle and taffeta. Kitty counted seven – no, wait, eight of them – and oh, how dreamy, how utterly dreamy. As they slid past like a bevy of swans, she realized they were all connected by a long continuous garland, smothered in snowdrops, which looped from one maid to the next like a maypole. Everywhere Kitty looked there was light, snow-white blossom: encircling slender waists and trailing over shoulders.

Kitty felt her heart turn over. It was a performance, a thrilling, spectacular show with a Snow Queen its star. She sighed deeply. If the walk to the church door could be this glamorous, Kitty could only guess how heavenly the interior of the church must look. How dashing the groom, how regal the guests, to what impossible height the ceiling must soar.

The bride was drawing closer now, so close Kitty could almost reach out and touch the hem of her ermine-trimmed gown. Instead, she gazed up at her with shining eyes and realized she was holding her breath.

Please look at me, Kitty from Bethnal Green. Notice me.

But the Snow Queen bride passed on by, poised and unreadable, leaving in her wake a scented trail of allure.

Kitty sagged and scuffed the toe of her boot on the ground. Who was she fooling? Girls like Nancy were born to glide on marble floors bedecked with roses. Girls like her were consigned to watch them from the damp darkness of the crowd, anonymous and unseen.

But as the bride reached the church porch, something magical happened. She turned. Flickered those large dark eyes over the crowd and settled on Kitty. A whisper of a smile, the flash of a diamond as she raised her hand. And then she was gone, stepping into the church, off to meet her glittering future, leaving Kitty as pale and faint as the January sky. Nothing could ever come close to the lavish, romantic dream Kitty had witnessed.

As the crowd dispersed and she reluctantly began the long walk back to the narrow streets of the East End, Kitty made a vow in her secret heart. She wouldn’t just be the wedding seamstress. One day, she would be the bride.

Giveaway!

Kate’s lovely publisher has given me five paperback copies of The Wedding Girls to give away to lucky readers.

To enter  just leave comment in the box below or re-Tweet one of my tweets about this giveaway or like one of my posts about this giveaway on my Instagram page.

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 Wednesday 8th March. Good Luck!