Tag Archives: New books

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 Last Act of Hattie Hoffman by Mindy Mejia

17 Mar

last act Hattie

No one keeps more secrets. No one is better at hiding them.

Eighteen-year-old Hattie Hoffman is a talented actress, loved by everyone in her Minnesotan hometown. When she’s found stabbed to death on the opening night of her school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of the community.

Sheriff Del Goodman, a close friend of Hattie’s dad, vows to find her killer, but the investigation yields more secrets than answers: it turns out Hattie played as many parts offstage as on. Told from three perspectives, Del’s, Hattie’s high school English teacher and Hattie herself, The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman tells the story of the Hattie behind the masks, and what happened in that final year of her life…

Wonderfully evocative of its Midwestern setting and with a cast of unforgettable characters, this is a book about manipulation of relationships and identity; about the line between innocence and culpability; about the hope love offers and the tragedies that occur when it spins out of control.

I don’t normally read and review crime books – it’s not a genre I have a huge love for,  but something about the cover of The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman drew me in and when I read the synopsis, I couldn’t resist. I do love an American High School story and the title and synopsis had echos of an old favourite of mine, Twin Peaks and The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. 

There are three very strong character voices in this story; Hattie, Sheriff Del Goodman and Peter, Hattie’s school English Teacher. The chapters move between the murder investigation in the present, set in 2008 and the months leading up to Hattie’s death starting back in August 2007. The moves between characters and backwards and forwards in time give the story good pace and set up many questions, intrigues and mysteries as the novel progresses – I was certainly hooked!

Hattie is a wonderfully complex and well-written character. She’s an amateur actress and has plans to move to New York as soon as she’s finished high school. But for Hattie, acting isn’t just something she does on stage; she sees her whole life as a series of different roles and ‘acts’ accordingly. It’s a clever premise and the psychology of Hattie is one of the most gripping parts of the story-line, throwing up many questions about how we see ourselves and how others see us (or want to see us).

Sheriff Del was my personal favourite character in the book. In many ways he comes across as the ‘typical’ Midwestern small town Sherrif but I liked his shrewdness and his dry humour and I liked that we get to see underneath the tough exterior as we move through the book, particularly through his relationship with Hattie’s parents. His interactions with his young deputy, Jake, are brilliant and their competitiveness made me smile.

Finally, Peter – a city boy transplanted to his wife’s farm as she cares for her dying mother. Peter was the character that I liked least – possibly because he came across to me as very selfish but also because he seemed to think himself above most things! The three different narrative voices make for great reading though as we get different perspectives on events and I enjoyed piecing the time line together and trying to work out who had killed Hattie.

As well as reading this book, I listened to parts of it via the Audible version and I have to say that it is one of the best narrations I’ve listened to this year. Each character has a separate narrator and whilst they jump off the page, hearing them tell their story really increased the impact of it. If you’re a fan of audiobooks I’d certainly recommend giving the audio version a try.

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman is a clever and compelling thriller that will keep you guessing to the final pages!

4/5

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman is out now in Hardback, ebook and audio formats from Quercus.

Find out more about Mindy Mejia and her writing at: http://mindymejia.com/

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

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.

Guest post: The Best Things I Discovered About Sardinia by Rosanna Ley

10 Mar

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Rosanna Ley’s new novel, The Little Theatre By The Sea, today. Rosanna is the bestselling author of novels including Return to Mandalay and The Villa and Last Dance in Havana. I love Rosanna’s books and the wonderful places she takes me to in them. In this new release, we visit Sardinia and Rosanna joins me today to talk about her favourite things about Sardinia. Welcome Rosanna!

rosanna leyThe Best Things I Discovered about Sardinia

  • Top of the list has got to be the stunning beaches. Some of them are ‘secret’ beaches as in little rocky coves which can be pretty isolated or maybe only accessible by sea. The clarity of the water here is second to none. My favourite beach – destined to be secret no longer – was at Cala Domestica on the West coast accessed by driving through the mountains past now-deserted mining villages. Take a turning down to the sea, park on the grass, cross a boardwalk, pick your way along a rocky trail a bit like a goat track and go through a tunnelled archway – to discover a keyhole cove invisible from both land and sea. It’s amazing…
  • Myrtle. Yes – I’m talking about the plant. In Sardinia, myrtle is part of the ‘maquis’ which cloaks the hills and valleys along with juniper and tamarisk. It has deep green leaves and fragrant white flowers and is sacred to Venus, goddess of love and so tends to make an appearance at Sardinian weddings. (Ideal for a writer of romantic fiction). Even more vital, it is used to make a delicious Sardinian liqueur known as mirto. (You can spot myrtle on the cover of Little Theatre by the Sea).
  • Delicious Food. I love Italian food but Sardinia goes one step further – and it’s in the right direction. Some of my favourites were:  burrida (a spicy fish soup), spaghetti con bottarga (with mullet roe) and malloreddus (a gnocchi style pasta cooked with saffron in tomato sauce). I also loved fregola – an unusual pasta similar to cous-cous, often served with clams. And as for the lobster… Take me back there – now!
  • Bosa. I’ve chosen Bosa as my favourite town in Sardinia because it’s historic and pretty and because I used it as the main inspiration for my fictional town of Deriu. The things I loved most about Bosa were the mediaeval cobbled streets, the gorgeous pastel-painted houses and the colourful markets. But there was so much more – the Castello dei Malaspino, the river Temo, the marina, the restaurants… Bosa was founded by the Phoenicians and its artisan traditions of gold-filigree jewellery and lace-making live on.
  • The frescoes. Italian frescoes are often still so vibrant that it’s hard to believe how old they really are. My favourites were in the fourteenth century Nostra Signora di Regnos Altos chapel in the ruins of the castle at the top of the hill in Bosa. Restoration in the 1970s has brought to light these most stunning cycle of Catalan school frescoes – unexpected, vivid and truly beautiful to behold.
  • The amphitheatre at Nora. Sardinia is one of the most ancient lands in Europe and for a flavour of its history, my favourite site would be the Roman city of Nora in the south west, built on a spit of land jutting out to sea. It’s the location which makes it magical, but you can still see the Roman baths decorated with white, black and ochre tesserae mosaics, a theatre dating from the second century AD, paved Roman roads and even the original sewage system. Guaranteed to take your breath away.
  • Flamingos! Who would expect to see flamingos in Sardinia..? I love these elegant birds and fortunately, they have taken to nesting in the wild in the marshes of the Sinis peninsula near Oristano and down on the south coast near Cagliari. An unexpected and delightful treat.
  • Costa del Sud. This 25 kilometre coastal drive from Chia to Teulada in Southern Sardinia is off the beaten track and a complete joy. What a road… It winds beside steep cliffs and snakes past hidden beaches and then the view opens out in glorious technicolour to display an entire stretch of the magnificent coastline. Which is what Sardinia is all about really…

Thank you Rosanna – I’m adding Sardinia to my list of ‘must visit’ places!

The Little Theatre by the Sea is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from Quercus.

little-theatre-front-coverFaye has just completed her degree in interior design when she finds herself jobless and boyfriend-less. While debating what to do next she receives a surprise phone call from her old college friend Charlotte who now lives in Sardinia and is married to Italian hotelier, Fabio.

When Charlotte suggests that Faye relocate for a month to house-sit, Faye wonders if a summer break in sunny Sardinia might be the perfect way to recharge her batteries and think about her future. But then Charlotte tells Faye that there’s something more behind the sudden invitation: her friends Marisa and Alessandro are looking for a designer to renovate a crumbling old theatre they own in the scenic village of Deriu. The idea certainly sounds appealing to Faye, but little does she know what she’s letting herself in for if she accepts this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity . . .

Find out more about Rosanna and her writing at: http://www.rosannaley.com

Guest post: The Shimmering Girl at the Palace by Laura Lam

9 Mar

Today I’m very excited to have Laura Lam joining me on the latest stop of her Masquerade blog tour. Laura was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine. 

Masquerade is the third and final novel in Laura Lam’s Micah Grey trilogy, following Pantomime and Shadowplay. Welcome Laura!

Once there was a girl with dragonfly wings, who soared above the world. She looked down and saw happiness, and sadness, and wide expanses with no one at all save the animals and trees and rocks and streams. She flew all the way around the world, writing down whatever she saw. When she came back, she did not show anyone her little journal. It was her version of the world, and she wanted to keep it for her alone.

— ‘The Dragonfly Girl’, Hestia’s Fables 

Laura LamEvery chapter in the Micah Grey series has a short found document at the start, ranging from a variety of sources: history books, diaries, songs, poetry, and more. It’s basically a sneaky way to add in more worldbuilding and detail about Ellada & the Archipelago.

I seem to write a lot about girls in Hestia’s fables in this book, which I didn’t quite clock until I started writing about these excerpts. Hestia’s fable are sort of like Aesop’s fables—short apocryphal tales that people in Ellada would have grown up reading. Dragonflies and damselflies are also a reoccurring motif throughout the trilogy. People in Ellada often whisper that dragonflies can weigh the lightness or darkness of the soul, which I might have picked up from research somewhere. This excerpt came across a little wistful, which I like. What did the dragonfly girl see on her travels?

If you buy Pantomime or Masquerade & send your receipt to Laura, you can claim a free 10k short story, “The Mechanical Minotaur,” set in the same world. If you buy all three, you can claim 60k of free fiction as well. More details here.

Masquerade is released today in paperback by Pan.

The gifted hide their talents, but dare they step into the light? 9781509807789

Micah’s Chimaera powers are growing, until his dark visions overwhelm him. Drystan is forced to take him to Dr Pozzi, to save his life. But can they really trust the doctor, especially when a close friend is revealed to be his spy?

Meanwhile, violent unrest is sweeping the country, as anti-royalist factions fight to be heard. Then three chimaera are attacked, after revealing their existence with the monarchy’s blessing – and the struggle becomes personal. A small sect decimated the chimaera in ancient times and nearly destroyed the world. Now they’ve re-emerged to spread terror once more.  Micah will discover a royal secret, which draws him into the heart of the conflict. And he and his friends must risk everything to finally bring peace to their land.

Please do visit the other stops on the Masquerade tour!

Find out more about Laura and her writing at: http://www.lauralam.co.uk/

Book review: Giant by Kate Scott

7 Mar

giant coverAnzo is 11 years old and very, very short. Mum, Dad and his two uncles are extremely tall but they’re also high achievers, obsessed with fulfilling their lifelong ambition of opening a restaurant together. Everyone has a role – chef, DIY, marketing, accounts – but where does Anzo fit in? If only he could grow a few inches in height, then no one would be able to overlook him. Josh would stop teasing Anzo in school, he wouldn’t have to play all seven dwarfs in the school play, and at home he could tell his parents about his drawing and the comic convention he’s been invited to.

Then, overnight, Anzo starts to grow. Is life as a giant going to solve all his problems, or should he stop worrying and learn to just be himself?

Today’s review is a combined effort between me and my son, Max. We read Kate Scott’s Giant together and both of us absolutely loved it.At February half term Max was asked to write a book review for his homework and he wrote about Giant. With Max’s permission I’ve included some parts of his work sheet in this review as illustrations.

Here, in Max’s words is his review.

“Anzo is an 11 year old boy. He really likes comics and wants to be a professional comic artist. At school his teachers call him ‘Peanut’ because FullSizeRender (4)he is so short. He wishes he was taller. He has a best friend called Elise – she is funny and she made me laugh. This is a very funny book.

Anzo is sometimes sad and annoyed because his family don’t notice him. Elise and Anzo have an adventure. I was excited because I’ve never been somewhere on my own like Anzo. This book is really funny and exciting. Apart from Harry Potter it’s my favourite book that I’ve read.”

I probably don’t need to say much after that :-) I’m always on the look out for great books to share with my boys and Giant is one of my all time favorites too. Max and I had such a lovely time reading it together and he kept pointing the funny bits out to me.

FullSizeRender (2)Kate Scott has got the voice of Anzo spot on and he is a very relatable character – Max certainly identified with him, especially around some of the teasing that Anzo experiences at school and as a Mum I was pleased that the book helped us to talk about topics that are sometimes difficult like feeling like you don’t fit in. I also loved Anzo’s best friend Elise with her many wise words and post-it notes. It was also lovely to see a well written and developed boy/girl friendship.

With fab illustrations and a great comic book related story line, I’d highly recommended this book for the 8-11 year age group and we’re already looking forward to reading more of Kate Scott’s stories.

5/5

Giant is out now in paperback from Piccadilly Press.

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

FullSizeRender (3)

 

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!

 

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.