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Book review: The Summer of Serendipity by Ali McNamara

18 Jul

summer of serendipityOne summer, property seeker, Serendipity Parker finds herself on the beautiful west coast of Ireland, hunting for a home for a wealthy Irish client. But when she finds the perfect house in the small town of Ballykiltara, there’s a problem; nobody seems to know who owns it.

‘The Welcome House’ is a local legend. Its front door is always open for those in need of shelter, and there’s always a plentiful supply of food in the cupboards for the hungry or poor.

While Ren desperately tries to find the owner to see if she can negotiate a sale, she begins to delve deeper into the history and legends that surround the old house and the town. But for a woman who has always been focussed on her work, she’s remarkably distracted by Finn, the attractive manager of the local hotel.

But will she ever discover the real truth behind the mysterious ‘Welcome House’? Or will the house cast its magical spell over Ren and help her to find true happiness?

The escapist, magical stories that Ali McNamara creates are always lovely reads and I look forward to her next book each year. This year, Ali takes us back to Ireland (her previous novel, Breakfast at Darcy’s was also set there) and amidst the beautiful scenery of The Ring of Kerry, Ali conjures up mystery, magic and romance for an excellent summer read.

I love the word ‘serendipity’ but I’ve never come across a character named it until now. Serendipity Parker prefers to be known as Ren and is a successful business woman, having found her talent for seeking out and finding special houses for her clients. The Summer of Serendipity sees Ren and her assistant Kiki heading to Ireland to look for a dream home for one of Ren’s clients.

Ren and Kiki are a great pair and they made me laugh throughout the book. Ren is the more serious and considered of the pair with Kiki frequently getting her words mixed up and taking the wrong meaning with often hilarious results. Kiki is also the romantic of the pair and I felt like I knew her well straight away. Ren is more mysterious and I enjoyed how Ali fed in little thoughts and comments that made me wonder about Ren’s past.

The mystery doesn’t stop there though as Ren and Kiki explore they begin to learn about the legends and stories that tell of the land surrounding them. With beautiful lakes, historical places and larger than life locals, I loved reading about Ballykiltara and the surrounds and being swept up into the story as Ren tries to find the owner of the mysterious Welcome House. Ali’s love of Ireland is apparent throughout the book and the descriptions are lush!

Fans of Ali’s previous books will enjoy a little update on some of her previous characters. This books is a standalone story but if you like it I’d highly recommend checking out Breakfast at Darcy’s (and all of Ali’s other books of course!)

I love stories with magic in them and The Summer of Serendipity has plenty of that. Ali draws upon real legends and stories to create her own special blend of Celtic magic and I thoroughly enjoyed reading as both Ren and Kiki went on their adventures and were drawn into trying to unravel the secrets that surround them.

The Summer of Serendipity is another warm and funny love story from Ali and I highly recommend escaping with it this summer.

4/5

The Summer of Serendipity is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Ali and her writing at: http://www.alimcnamara.co.uk/

Book review: Catch Me If You Cannes by Lisa Dickenson

10 May

9780751565171Jess has decided it’s time to get out of her comfort zone and live a little. So when her best friend Bryony, a journalist on a gossip magazine, is sent to cover the Cannes Film Festival, Jess decides to seize the day and go along for the ride. Two weeks of sun, glamour and exclusive entry into celeb-filled parties is just the kind of adventure Jess needs.

Reality soon bites though when Jess and Bryony find they’re staying in a dingy hotel far away from all the action and Bryony’s expenses budget barely covers a glass of local wine. Undeterred, the two women are determined to live like the elite and enjoy one fancy night out to begin their holiday. So what if they have to tell a few white lies along the way? It’s just this once. No harm done . . . right?

Are you looking for a little escape? Well, I have the perfect escape right here for you – and you don’t even have to move to enjoy it! Lisa Dickenson’s sunny new novel, Catch Me If You Cannes has just been released in paperback format. The novel was originally released as a four part serial in ebook format and has now been packaged up with this fab summery cover, just in time for some holiday reading!

Last summer Lisa took us to Italy with You Had Me At Merlot and this year we’re heading to the South of France with Jess and Bryony for a fun and funny adventure at the Cannes Film Festival. With two fabulously funny leading ladies, a potential love interest (or two) and is buckets of quick wit and spur of the moment adventure this book is so much fun!

Lisa is great at creating characters that will make you laugh but also have more than just fun banter going on underneath and as I read this book and learned a little of each girl’s history, I took them both to my heart.  Jess runs a cafe in Cornwall and is taking the opportunity to escape some of the worries that have been preoccupying her lately by escaping for a holiday with her best friend.

Bryony is more than happy to have her friend along for the ride as she sets out to report on the film festival for the gossip mag that she works for whilst dreaming of the day that she’ll be taken seriously as a journalist. From horrible bosses, feeling stuck in a rut, dealing with failed romances and wondering what the future holds, Lisa hits on issues all readers will identify with whilst keeping the story light and making us laugh.

As the girls seize the chance to live a glamerous life of cocktails, parties and beautiful places and people for just a night or two they are forced to throw in a few little white lies. As the fibs build, Jess and Bryony find themselves caught in a number of tricky situations that I had no idea how the were going to get out of and kept me turning the pages as fast as I could.

The descriptions of Cannes and the surrounding areas made me wish I could go there and a visit to the playground of the rich and famous, Monaco also features. As a reader who loves travel and discovering new places, I really enjoyed the descriptions of beautiful new places. As Jess gets to know hunky love interest Leo, the exotic locations couldn’t provide a better backdrop and combined with a little mystery the story really sparkles and has some excellent twists.

Lisa certainly knows how to write a killer one-liner and Catch Me If You Cannes is full of them – I defy anyone to not smile while reading this book. I loved enjoying sunshine, smiles, glamour and romance with Jess and Bryony at the Cannes Film Festival and the ending of the book was the icing on the cake!

5/5

Catch Me If You Cannes is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Sphere.

Find out more about Lisa and her books at: http://www.lisadickenson.com/

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

Author interview: Fiona Harper

7 May

I’m delighted to welcome Fiona Harper to One More Page today to talk about the inspiration for her latest novel, The Other Us. Fiona’s first book was published in 2006 and The Other Us is her twenty-fifth novel. She started her career writing heartfelt but humorous romances for Mills & Boon, but now writes romantic comedies and feel-good women’s fiction for Harper Collins, as part of their HQ imprint.

She is a previous winner of the Joan Hessayon New Writers’ Scheme Award, has had five books shortlisted for an RNA Award and won the ‘Best Short Romance’ at the Festival of Romance three years’ running. Fiona lives in London with her husband and two teenage daughters. Welcome Fiona!

Fiona HarperWhat was your inspiration for writing The Other Us?

I first had the idea for this book more than a decade ago – a seedling of an idea about following one woman through different possible futures to see if the grass really was greener on the other side of the fence. It rumbled around in my head for all that time until finally I just had to write it! It was so long ago, I can’t remember exactly what sparked it, but maybe a moment of personal reflection when I was wondering what my life would be like if I’d made different choices.

This is your 25th book, does it become easier or harder to think of plots?

Funnily enough, I think it’s easier now than it used to be. I think I’ve trained myself not only to have my story radar switched on, searching for little interesting nuggets to store away for later use. (That makes me sound a bit like a story ‘squirrel’ and I suppose I am!) Also, I have learned to write these snippets of ideas down. I always think I’ll remember them, but I discovered that they can easily flit away and be forgotten – a bit like a dream that was clear just after waking but fades throughout the day.

How did the idea for this book develop?

Initially, I had decided to just watch Maggie, my main character, in three different lives with three different men and see how each turned out, but I felt that maybe three realities would get confusing, so I whittled it down to two. As I was developing it to show my editor, I decided it might be interesting to send forty-something Maggie back in time, and then I thought it would be a funny opening scene if, when that happened, she thought she’d died and gone to heaven. Somehow, from that I arrived at the idea of letting her be fully conscious of her hopping between the two lives, rather than just seeing how the two realities would have played out.

What have you learnt from writing 25 books?

I’ve learnt loads, but these are the top three important things:

  1. That I need to write even when I don’t feel like it, and that the first ten minutes of making myself sit in the chair and type will be like wading through porridge, but if I keep going suddenly the creative urge will kick in and the words will start to flow.
  2. That about 25% of the way through I will get stuck and that when I reach the halfway point I will think it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written and that I should flush it down the toilet. However, I know now I hit these stumbling blocks in every single book and that I should ignore those thoughts and just keep writing.
  3. That each book is different and that I learn something new about writing with each one – wish I’d kept a note of exactly what, though, because sometimes that would come in really handy!

Thank you Fiona!

The Other Us is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

The Other UsIf you could turn back time, would you choose a different life?

Forty-something Maggie is struggling to come to terms with her only child flying the nest. Without her daughter in the house, she’s beginning to realise that her life, and her marriage to her husband Dan is more than a little stale.

When she sees a post on Facebook about a university reunion, her mind wanders back to Jude Hanson – a brief university fling. The same night that Dan proposed, Jude asked Maggie to run away with him. How different might her life have been if she had broken Dan’s heart and taken Jude up on his offer?

One morning, the fantasy turns into a reality and Maggie wakes up in 1992, aged twenty-one and given the chance to make all those decisions again. 

Is Maggie brave enough to choose the future she really wants, and if she is, will the grass be any greener on the other side of the fence?

Two men and two very different possible futures. But does Maggie only have one chance at happiness?

Find out more about Fiona and her writing at: http://www.fionaharper.com/home

Follow Fiona on Twitter @FiHarper_Author

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: Ten reasons why I love my choir by Annie Lyons

4 Apr

Please welcome Annie Lyons to One More Page today on the latest stop of her blog tour for The Choir on Hope Street. Annie worked as a book seller and in publishing  before taking the jump to author. Her debut, Not Quite Perfect, went on to become a number one bestseller. Her second book The Secrets Between Sisters was nominated in the best eBook category at the 2014 Festival of Romance and Life or Something Like It was a top ten bestseller.

Annie enjoys channeling her inner Adele as part of her own beloved community choir and joins me today to tell us why she loves her choir so much. Welcome Annie!

annie lyonsNearly two years ago my sister-in-law came to me with a proposal, which she said would be ‘fun’. Alarm bells began to ring at this point. During our child-free years our definitions of ‘fun’ led to some pretty evil hangovers and one particularly lengthy wait in A&E.

Still, we are older and wiser now or maybe just perpetually tired, so these days the proposals tend to be a bit more low-key.

‘My friend’s starting a community choir. She’s lovely. It will be fun. Do you fancy it?’

And actually I realised that I did. I’m not sure if it’s my age or possibly the age of my children, but I was suddenly aware that I no longer had any hobbies aside from ‘reading whilst my eyes slowly close at bedtime’ and ‘going to the cinema to see films provided they are rated 12A or below’.

I had officially become middle-aged and boring. It was time to get a hobby and have another go at this thing called fun.

So off to choir I went. From the first second I stepped into the room and we belted out ‘California Dreamin’’ I have loved it.

Here are the reasons why.

1. Singing is good for you

Due a combination of a wonky spine, two children and writing, I have a bad back but I never notice it while I’m singing. After a session of belting out everything from Stevie Wonder to Snow Patrol, my back often feels less tense too. It might be the posture, the breathing or my pretty awesome moves but there’s something about it that is positively healing.

2. Life has a soundtrack

In the film of my life, I make an entrance every morning to ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone. Sadly, a combination of factors including my inability to make coherent conversation before the first coffee of the day and the withering response I would receive from my children, makes this impractical. However, I always have a song buzzing in my head. Sometimes it’s an ear-worm, often it’s something fantastic. Being part of a choir means I can now belt these out in the car, shower and supermarket with the legitimate excuse that I’m rehearsing. It’s brilliant.

3. You are never alone in a choir

I can carry a tune and I learn a harmony but I am not a soloist. Despite my best efforts in front of the mirror giving a heartfelt rendition of choir logo‘Someone Like You’, I am not Adele. I’m not even Adele’s backing singer but I would give it a go if the call came. I can sing fine on my own but I sing better with my choir buddies. There’s something about catching someone’s eye mid-song and sharing a smile because you’ve got this. You are nailing ‘Uptown Girl’. Billy Joel would be proud.

4. You are learning new stuff and it’s challenging

In week three we started to learn ‘Africa’ by Toto. If you don’t know this song, add it to your playlist immediately. There’s a reason why NME ranked it 32 on a list of 50 ‘most explosive choruses’ – it’s choral catnip. It also has a three-part harmony (four if you’re ambitious). I was in group three. We ran through each part and then tried them all together. It didn’t go well for me. I kept getting distracted by the tune, groups one and two and Jeff Porcaro’s impeccable drumming. It was frustrating and difficult.  Our MD directed us to an enthusiastic and charming Italian musician’s You Tube channel. He had helpfully recorded each harmony part. I pored over this video and decided that I loved this man. I made my husband (a talented musician himself) practice with me. I played it over and over in the car. And then it went in. Just like that. Like all those lyrics to 80s pop songs that are actually turning out to be quite handy now, the ‘Africa’ chorus harmony, part 3 is indelibly printed on my brain. And it feels good (cue Nina Simone moment).

5. Performing in public is a blast

When I was a kid, I used to get nervous to the point of nausea about doing anything in public. Now, I get excited. Again, it wouldn’t be great for anyone if it was me singing on my own but in the spirit of ‘we’re all in this together’, it’s pure fun. Even when it goes wrong. And of course, when it goes right and people clap (an unexpected and welcome pleasure) or indeed cheer, it’s nothing short of intoxicating.

6. We get to do some amazing stuff

tate modernLast year, we took part in an event to mark the opening of the new Tate Modern building in London. Our choir formed part of a 500-voice London community choir performing a specially composed piece called ‘The Bridge’ by installation artist Peter Liversidge. We rehearsed and performed in the Tate’s awe-inspiring turbine hall with the brilliant conductor, Esmeralda Conde-Ruiz. The piece was weird, wonderful and completely original. It felt incredible to be part of this and even my nine-year-old son (habitually underwhelmed by anything that isn’t linked to football or wrestling) declared it to be, ‘really cool, Mum.’ And it was.

7. There’s always cake

As everyone knows (ask Gareth Malone if you don’t believe me), the secret to a really good choir is excellent cake. We have a brilliant resident baker called Lucy (you can check out her rather super cake, book and film blog here – https://keeps-me-busy.com/ ). If Lucy ever left the choir, I think we would be in trouble. It’s simply not possible to channel your inner Dolly or indeed Kenny during ‘Islands in the Stream’ unless you have either eaten or are about to eat cake. The raspberry and Prosecco cupcakes were a particular high-point.

8. Every community needs a choir

Yes, we kick up our heels at the Tate Modern and of course, when Kirstie Allsop invited us to her Handmade Fair, we said ‘will there be cake?’ and then agreed when we found out there would. But actually, our wonderful MD, Kari set up the choir for our local community. So we sing in our pub, at fundraising events, local fairs and basically anywhere we can if we’re asked. And when something awful happens as it did last year when a local boy and his aunt were killed when a car came off the road during a police pursuit, we come together to try to offer support by singing to raise money for the people who need it. It won’t take away the sadness but music has a way of offering comfort when you need it most.

9. Every choir needs a brilliant Musical Director

Our MD, Kari is a passionate, enthusiastic fizzing ball of energy. She inspires, cheers and boots us up the backside when we’re off key. She’s a great dancer and does her best to stop the mum-dancing and get us grooving. She teaches us new stuff, she encourages others to lead songs and she challenges us. Most of all, she makes it fun.

10. Choir people are good people

I have met some lovely people since joining the choir. We sing, we chat, we sing some more, we eat cake, chat some more, possibly have another slice of cake and do a bit more singing. It’s the perfect evening really. Add in the occasional Prosecco-fuelled gig and I’m a happy camper. I have found my people and singing with them is the best.

Thank you Annie – you’ve made me wish I could sing! Your choir sounds wonderful!

lcohs-final-coverThe Choir on Hope Street is released in paperback and ebook formats on 6th April from HarperCollins.

The best things in life happen when you least expect them.
Nat’s husband has just said the six words no one wants to hear I don’t love you any more’.Caroline’s estranged mother has to move into her house turning her perfectly ordered world upside down.Living on the same street these two women couldn’t be more different. Until the beloved local community centre is threatened with closure. And when the only way to save it is to form a community choir none of the Hope Street residents, least of all Nat and Caroline, expect the resultsThis spring, hope is coming!

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/

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: 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: A Secret Garden by Katie Fforde

2 Mar

a secret gardenLorna is a talented gardener and Philly is a plantswoman. Together they work in the grounds of a beautiful manor house in the Cotswolds

They enjoy their jobs and are surrounded by family and friends.

But for them both the door to true love remains resolutely closed.

So when Lorna is introduced to Jack at a dinner party and Lucien catches Philly’s eye at the local farmers market, it seems that dreams really can come true and happy endings lie just around the corner.

But do they?

Troublesome parents, the unexpected arrival of someone from Lorna’s past, and the discovery of an old and secret garden mean their lives are about to become a lot more complicated…

Katie Fforde has long been a favourite author of mine and I have nothing but admiration for the way that she keeps coming up with new stories and lovely new novels that are a joy to escape with. In A Secret Garden we find ourselves in a Cotswold village.  In this idyllic setting we meet a lovely and quirky cast of characters who I really didn’t want to leave as I finished the book.

Lorna is a gardener tasked with bringing the gardens of her long-time friend Peter’s stately home back to life. Lorna lives in a lovely little cottage on the estate and as we meet her she’s harbouring a secret love for her old friend. I liked Lorna immediately, particularly for the way she dealt with Peter and his new girlfriend Kirsty. As Peter drops the bombshell that he’s’ met ‘the one’ and invites Lorna to meet her at a dinner party, he starts a chain of events that result in many changes for his unsuspecting guests. A Secret Garden is a gentle romantic comedy that kept me guessing right to the end; if Jane Austen was writing now, I imagine her novels would be something like this.

Two of my favourite characters in the book were Philly and her Grandfather (known as Grand) who have run away from their Irish home to grasp their freedom and launch their own business. I absolutely loved the idea of grandfather and granddaughter running away together and starting a new life and I loved the relationship that the two have throughout the book. Philly has up to now had a very strict Irish upbringing so I enjoyed watching her take her first independent steps and admired her work ethic as she nurtures her plant nursery. The romantic element of Philly’s story is absolutely charming as she meets chef Lucien.

This is a book about finding love at any age and how wonderful but also how daunting that can be. It was refreshing to read a story that had romance for the majority of characters and I think Katie makes a lovely point with this story that love really does know no boundaries (but we often put our own up just to give it a challenge!)

Gardeners and garden fans will of course love this novel and Katie has clearly done her research. I’m not really a gardener but the descriptions in the book even made me want to have a go! Katie also sheds a fascinating light on sculpture and stone masonry through the character of Jack and as a fan of big old houses I really enjoyed the settings that Katie has created. I felt like I’d had a lovely escape to the country as I read this book and I think this would make an ideal Mother’s Day Gift if you’re looking for ideas!

4/5

A Secret Garden is out now in hardback and ebook formats.

Find out more about Katie and her writing at:  http://www.katiefforde.com/

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