As this most unsettling of years has gone on I’ve become more and more grateful for books – both writing and reading them.
When I’m writing I’m in my own (Covid free) imaginary world and I’m in control of what happens in that world.
And when I’m reading I can escape into someone else’s (Covid free) imagined world.
Now, I know there’s some debate in the writing and reading communities about whether authors of contemporary fiction ought to/want to/ don’t want to/ write fiction that includes ‘the virus’ in the story line and whether readers want/don’t want/ to read such books – but that is a discussion for another day.
Safe to say, for now, I want to steer clear of Covid in both my writing and my reading.
So here are my favourite 2 reads for the month of October and there was no need for sanitiser, social-distancing or masks while reading them 😊
Both are contemporary romances and both provided a wonderful escape
Books of the Month October 2020
First up is The Winter Garden by Heidi Swain
From the back cover:
Will love bloom this winter?
Freya Fuller is living her dream, working as a live-in gardener on a beautiful Suffolk estate. But when the owner dies, Freya finds herself forced out of her job and her home with nowhere to go. However, with luck on her side, she’s soon moving to Nightingale Square and helping to create a beautiful winter garden that will be open to the public in time for Christmas.
There’s a warm welcome from all in Nightingale Square, except from local artist Finn. No matter how hard the pair try, they just can’t get along, and working together to bring the winter garden to life quickly becomes a struggle for them both.
Will Freya and Finn be able to put their differences aside in time for Christmas? Or will the arrival of a face from Freya’s past send them all spiralling?
The Winter Garden is the perfect read this Christmas, promising snowfall, warm fires and breath-taking seasonal romance.
Regular reads of the blog will most likely recognise this book and its author from last week’s post HERE where author Heidi shared her Life in a Day of an Author with us. And in that post I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed this book. As I said then, it’s a perfect autumn/winter read and I thoroughly enjoyed this satisfying and so romantic story. The main characters Freya and Finn are perfectly flawed and so likeable and I loved all the garden details too.
And my other book of the month is A Granite Springs Christmas by Maggie Christensen
From the back cover:
A return to Granite Springs. A family Christmas. A time for love and joy…or is it?
A year after a devastating bushfire destroyed Magda Duncan’s home, she returns to Granite Springs determined to resume her life and organise a wonderful family Christmas. But the elation of her homecoming quickly turns to disappointment as she discovers not everyone is in tune with her plans.
George Turnbull was Magda’s late husband’s best friend. A bachelor, he has always carried a torch for Magda and remained close to her and her sons. When he finally musters the courage to reveal his true feelings, a life changing surprise from his past threatens to ruin any chance at happiness.
Emotions are high as Christmas Day approaches. Will this be the most wonderful Christmas ever? Or will the hopes and fears of the past come home to haunt them?
A poignant story of a Christmas friends of Granite Springs will never forget.
If you enjoy heartwarming second chance romance in a rural setting with a Christmas flavour, you’ll love this book.
Okay, I have to admit I’m cheating slightly here as this book doesn’t come out until 28th October but I was given an advance copy by the author and so I got to read it early.
This is book number 6 in the Australian set Granite Springs series – I’ve read and enjoyed all the others – and this time it’s the lovely story of Magda and George. The pair, who have appeared earlier in the series, and who are in their 70s, have been friends for years but as the story unfolds it becomes clear now might be the time for them to take their relationship further and to become romantically involved.
Yes, this magical, heart-warming and hopeful story would have been fine with younger protagonists, but it’s especially lovely that they are that bit older.
This book is another warm and engaging read from this author. I loved it. And I loved the message that it’s never too late to fall in love.
And while it was good to catch up with characters from earlier stories, this book could easily be read as a standalone.
I heartly recommend it.
Over to you:
What are your favourite reads for October 2020?
Would you read/not read fiction that has Covid as one of its themes/storylines?
How do you feel about romantic stories where the couple are middle-aged or older?
Two great reads to recommend in this post as well as a heads-up on part three of the blog tour for my own Skye series of novels, and news of my appearance at an upcoming book festival..
A mixed start to autumn
September has been a month of contrasts here in Scotland – some beautiful cool but sunny autumn days as well as some incredibly rainy and grey ones.
And as regards my social life it’s been a month of contrasts too.
I got to see friends I hadn’t seen since the start of the Covid lockdown, got out for a couple of lunches, had a couple of friends to the house, and had a lovely staycation week away in Argyll with family.
But then the Scottish government announced we’re back to partial lockdown and we can’t have friends or family to visit us at home or visit them in their homes.
However through all the ups and downs of the pandemic – one thing has remained constant. I continue to find much solace in reading.
And below I have my two of my favourite reads of the month to share with you.
September Books of the Month
First up is a beautiful non-fiction book of contemporary writing about the nature and landscape of Scotland. Antlers of Water is edited by Kathleen Jamie – a favourite writer of mine, and the contributing writers got me thinking even more than normal about our relationship as humans with the natural world.
From the backcover:
The first ever collection of contemporary Scottish writing on nature and landscape, Antlers of Water showcases the diversity and radicalism of new Scottish nature writing today.
Edited, curated and introduced by the award-winning Kathleen Jamie, and featuring prose, poetry and photography, this inspiring collection takes us from walking to wild swimming, from red deer to pigeons and wasps, from remote islands to back gardens.
With contributions from Amy Liptrot, Malachy Tallack, Chitra Ramaswamy, Jim Crumley, Amanda Thomson, Karine Polwart and many more, Antlers of Water urges us to renegotiate our relationship with the more-than-human world, in writing which is by turns celebratory, radical and political.
And second, is a contemporary romance – I know no surprises there – but what is surprising is I read this one in a day – something I’ve never done before. It was a wet Sunday, I wasn’t feeling energetic and the sofa beckoned. And wow! Just wow! The Saturday Morning Park Run by Jules Wake is a five out of five stars and is in line for my book of 2020.
From the back cover:
This is the story of two women.
One old, one young.
One looking for new adventures. One looking for a purpose.
Both needing a friend.
And this is how, along with two little girls in need of a family, a gorgeous stranger, and a scruffy dog, they bring the whole community together every Saturday morning for love, laughter and a little bit of running…(well, power walking).
Blog Tour for Fulfilment
As well as reading, I have of course spent much of the month writing. And after a couple of false starts I’m now underway with the first novel in my new series. However, that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about the novels I already have out there. And I’m delighted that Fulfilment – the third and final part of my Rachel & Jack: Skye series is off on its blog tour this week – and as before the tour will include reviews and extracts.
This follows on from the recent tour weeks for the first two novels in the series – Displacement and Settlement. These proved very successful and got lots of interaction and sharing and I’m hopeful the same will be true for Fulfilment‘s trip out.
And I must say a huge thanks to Kelly at Love Books Group who organised the tours and to all the book bloggers who have taken part.
You can see below all the stops Fulfilment will be making on its tour – and as always I would appreciate it so much if you could visit, like and share some or any of them. Thank you.
Oh, and before I go, just wanted to let you know that I’m delighted to be appearing at the Portobello Book Festival this Friday (2nd October) at 8pm. Portobello is a seaside area in the city of Edinburgh and has hosted its own live book festival for several years.
This year, of course, the festival is online and free to attend – so even if you can’t watch my session – where I will interviewed about my books – as it goes live on the 2nd – you can catch up any time online on YouTube later. You will be able to find my event by clicking on the link HERE any time after 8pm on the 2nd.
The festival runs from the 2nd to the 4th October 2020 and you see the full programme and timings HERE.
I can’t believe we’re at the end of August and that autumn, my favourite season, is approaching. And as it’s the end of the month, it’s time for a roundup of my most enjoyed reads over the last thirty days.
But first I’ve also got a bit of news about my own books to share with you.
Book Blog tour
My three books in the Rachel & Jack Skye series are going off on a tour of some fabulous book blogs during September.
Each book will get a week to itself and the tour has been organised by the amazing Kelly at lovebooksgroup.com Thank you to Kelly and all the wonderful book bloggers who are taking part.
I hope readers of the blog will have the time and the inclination to visit some of these book blogs and to read not only the posts about my books but to have a wee bit of an explore of the blogs – and who knows – maybe discover some great new reads.
I’d also really appreciate it if readers could share some of the tour posts on social media too and help spread the word. Thank you in advance 😊
Displacement Tour this week
The tour for book 1 in the series, Displacement, starts today with two reviews – one from Book Loving Science Teacher on instagram here, one from Fany Reads English on Facebook here (just click on Displacement book cover when you get there to see review) and a guest post from me over at portobellobookblog.com website here. The tour continues every day this week and I’ll post links here on the blog each day for any readers who fancy visiting any of the tour sites.
Settlement and Fulfilment Tours
The tours for the other two books in the series will be in the week beginning the 14 September and week beginning 28th September. So watch this space for updates nearer the time.
August Books of the Month
I have four favourite books for the month of August to share with you.
A Summer to Rememberin Herring Bay by Angela Britnell
Contemporary romance. Essy travels to England from her home in the USA – both for work and to dig into her family background – and she meets Ruan. A lovely story of romantic and family love.
From the back cover:
Essy Havers is good at finding things. Her company specialises in helping clients track down anything, from missing china pieces to rare vintage clothing. But now Essy has something more important to find: herself. Essy has always been curious about her mother’s secret past and her Cornish roots. So, when the opportunity arises, she hops on a plane in Tennessee and ends up in Herring Bay in Cornwall; the village where her mother grew up. But once there, she’s mystified by the reactions of the villagers when they realise who she is. Was Essy’s decision to visit Cornwall a mistake, or will it lead to a summer she’ll never forget?
Shadows on the Water by Jo Lambert
Contemporary romance. Alex and Ava have to overcome misunderstandings, betrayal and threats in this wonderful romantic tale.
From the back cover:
After the tragic death of her fiancé, Ava Warren is slowly rebuilding her life. She has a supportive family, great friends and a job she loves, managing holiday letting company Estuary Escapes in her home town of Kingswater. Another relationship is the last thing she wants or needs. Until one evening she meets Alex Penhaligon.
Alex has just returned home from California where he has been working for the past five years. A case of mistaken identity gets them off to a bad start. But discovering his error, Alex is anxious to make amends and soon persuades Ava that he’s not quite as arrogant as she thinks he is. As their friendship begins to turn into something much deeper, Ava wonders whether she can at last put the past behind her and make a new future with Alex.
But someone is watching. A man who not only thinks Ava should be his but also holds a long term grudge against Alex. And he’s determined to get his own way irrespective of the lengths he has to go to or who gets hurt in the process.
Set on the south coast of Cornwall, Shadows on the Water is a story of family ties, lost love and tangled loyalties.
The Life She Imagines by Maggie Christensen
Contemporary romance. This is book 5 in the Granite Springs series – you don’t have to have read the others to enjoy this book – but I recommend that you do. Marie and Drew get a second chance at love in this mid-life love story.
From the back cover:
Marie Cunningham’s life falls into disarray when she is suddenly thrust into caring for her teenage niece. After operating The Bean Sprout Café with her former partner, becoming a single parent is not a life she ever imagined.
Drew Hamilton has arrived in Granite Springs to take up the position of principal at the local high school. Recently divorced, he is struggling with the unfamiliar role of single father to his unsettled teenage daughter.
When an unexpected incident brings the two together, the chemistry between them is not immediately apparent. Forced to associate as their teenage charges become best friends, they gradually lower their defences to discover they have a lot in common.
But when a ghost from the past threatens to derail her new life, who should Marie turn to for support – the new man in her life, or the ex-partner who’s always been there for her?
Can Marie and Drew find their happy ending, or will the past threaten to pull them apart?
Meant to Be by Edie Claire
Contemporary romance. This came as a recommended read for me in one of the daily emails from the Bookbub reading website. It was published a few years ago and it was absolutely wonderful. The story of Fletcher and Meara is enchanting and heart-warming and is a frontrunner to be included in my books of the year.
From the back cover:
When nothing is as it seems, all you can do is trust your heart…
On the eve of her thirtieth birthday, Meara O’Rourke can’t help but feel alone. With her last remaining relative newly buried and her potentially disastrous engagement freshly broken, she makes a resolution to begin her life anew — only to have an unexpected phone call turn her whole world upside down. Her biological mother Sheila, whom she met only once six years before, lies in critical condition in a nearby hospital. And though the woman once refused to see her daughter ever again — her last wish is just the opposite.
A few whispered words, and Sheila is gone. But the questions she has put into her daughter’s head, and the historic stone inn she has unknowingly bequeathed, sweep Meara up into the whirlwind of another life — and a legacy of deception. When Meara begins to have memories of a place she’s never been, she realizes that while finding out the truth about her birth and adoption could answer all her questions, it could also tear her apart.
I’m excited to let you know that my novel Change of Life – the first book that I published – and the one that changed my life by setting me off on my writing career – is going on a bit of a blog tour in two days’ time – on Wednesday 5th August. The tour has been organised by the lovely Kelly who runs Love Books Tours And you can see a list of where it’s going to pop up on the chart below. I’ve also posted an extract from the beginning of the book at the end of this post.
Reading Through the Lookinglass
Vicky Book and Family
The Book Reader
Ruthies Next Chapter
Karen and her Books
Jazzy Book Reviews
Tangents and Tissues
B for Book Review
Portobello Book Blog
Chicks Rogues and Scandals
Love Books Group
Donna’s Book Blog
Fabulous Book Fiend
I’d love it if you have a moment on Wednesday to pop in at any of the blogs and if you could share the posts – even better.
Change of Life is a standalone story and as with all my novels it’s contemporary romantic fiction.
And here’s what it’s about:
Be careful what you wish for…
Wife to heart surgeon and control freak, Tom, and mother to four adolescent children, Rosie feels taken for granted as she juggles family life and her work as a teacher. She longs for a change of life. When she almost hits a teenage boy with her car, her life explodes into uncharted territory. The boy is Robbie – and Rosie discovers he is part of a terrible secret that Tom has kept for seventeen years. Then when Rosie is diagnosed with breast cancer, she leaves home and begins the fight for her life. Meanwhile Tom, is forced to learn what it means to be a husband and father as he struggles to keep his family together and strives to get his wife back.
Change of Life is available for only 99p as an ebook and is free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member. You can buy it here. It’s also available as a paperback.
Thank you to Kelly at Love Books Tours and to all the wonderful book bloggers above.
Extract from Change of Life
I didn’t see the boy until the moment of impact. He slammed into the side of the car as I reversed out of the driveway. I got a fright, thought I’d hurt someone, but I couldn’t have guessed that this was merely a foreshock to a much greater upheaval. Ten past one, lunch time, Tuesday 17th May. It was the moment when the past caught up and collided with the present.
I got out to check he wasn’t hurt. He glanced at me and turned to run. He was about Adam’s age, seventeen or so. There was something familiar about him. But I didn’t think I knew him. Ours was a small community and with four children of my own, I thought I knew most of the local young people, at least by sight.
“Wait, are you all right?” I caught his arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
He didn’t appear to be injured. He was taller than me, with untidy, dark hair and very deep brown eyes. In one ear he wore a little silver skull. I recognised his tee shirt. Adam had one just like it. It had the words ‘Subliminal Messages’ written across it – the name of a Slipknot album. As the boy pulled his arm back he seemed to hesitate.
“Do I know you?” I said. “Are you a friend of Adam’s?”
He looked me in the eyes for a moment. I stared back. Something passed between us; was it recognition? Then he bolted – obviously uninjured.
I didn’t have time to speculate about the boy. I’d only nipped home for lunch and a catch up with Ruby. I needed to get back.
I got the last space in the school car park. I was hurrying towards the main entrance when my mobile rang. I answered it as I went inside. It was the hospital. My stomach tightened.
“Hello, Mrs McAllister. This is Mr Campbell’s secretary. He’s asked me to set up an appointment for you to come and discuss your test results.” The voice was warm, friendly even. But I still had an awful feeling of dread.
“He could see you on Thursday at three.”
“Oh, yes, right, Thursday…” My mind whirred through Thursday’s schedule. I’d need to get off early. Kirsty, my head teacher and one of my closest friends, would have to cover my class. What would I tell her? I wondered if the doctor needed to see you if it was good news. He could tell you over the phone, surely. It must mean bad news…
“So is that all right then, Thursday at three, with Mr Campbell?”
“Sorry, yes. Is it bad news do you know? I mean, why else would he be bothering?”
“You mustn’t jump to conclusions, Mrs McAllister. He’d want to see you either way. Try not to worry and we’ll see you in a couple of days.”
As the call ended, the bell rang for the start of afternoon lessons. My life went on, even as its bedrock heaved and shifted beneath me.
It’s Sunday morning. Rosie only met him on Tuesday. Is it really only a few days ago? In less than a week my life has fallen apart – no that’s wrong – it fell apart in a moment – in the time it took a boy to speak a sentence. And now my wife is leaving and my heart is broken.
It’s the 22nd of May, but it feels more like November. I’m standing at the living-room window. It’s raining and the sea and sky are slate grey, the horizon obliterated. I feel leaden, unable to move or speak; it’s the paralysis of a nightmare. I want to beg her to stay, to admit she’s being silly and overreacting.
Rosie and our nineteen year old daughter, Sam, load bags and boxes into Rosie’s car. Toby is watching them, barking occasionally. I know I should go out to her and fight to make her change her mind but I’m exhausted, I’m drowning. I’m engulfed in the aftermath of more anger than I’ve ever felt towards her.
I hear the dull thud of the boot closing. It’s done. She’s ready to go. Our younger daughter, Jenny, sprints down the driveway, jacket held above her head, and says something to Rosie. Then Max dashes from the house and hands his mother a piece of paper. She looks at it and smiles and they hug each other. She puts the paper down on the driver’s seat and closes the door. They all come back in and head for the kitchen.
Jenny calls out, “Dad, Adam, coffee.”
A few moments later I hear Adam coming downstairs and going along to the kitchen. I know he’s not happy about his mother leaving, but at least he’s able to join the others for a coffee before she goes.
I make it to the sofa. I find that I want to cry. This terrifies me. I struggle not to lose my grip, not to howl and kick and scream. I’m Tom McAllister, consultant heart surgeon, professional, practical, in control. Or so I thought. I didn’t intend any of this to happen. I’m helpless, lost. I haven’t felt this vulnerable or alone since I was a child. I find I’m rocking, curled up, my head wrapped in my arms. I force myself to sit up, to keep breathing.
When I fail to appear in the kitchen, Jenny comes to get me.
“Come on Dad, come and have a coffee. I’ve made a carrot cake and it looks scrummy, even if I say so myself. Come and say cheerio to Mum.”
“I can’t. How can you be so cheerful?”
Jenny puts her hand on my arm, “Och, Dad, she just needs a bit of a break.” She hesitates and gives my arm a squeeze. “And she needs to get over how cross she is with you.”
“So she says, Jenny. So she says. But I can’t come and say goodbye as if she was simply going away for a few days holiday. I don’t understand how she can go.”
“If we all understand, why can’t you? Even Adam’s there to say goodbye. Come and wish her well, Dad, and tell her you’ll be here waiting for her. She needs you to say that.”
I stand up and hug Jenny. Seventeen and so grown up. The children are behaving better than me. I feel even more ashamed and desperate. “I can’t do it. I can’t give any of this my blessing.”
Jenny walks away. With her long blonde hair and slight frame, she looks and moves like her mother. At the door she turns and says, “It’s not your blessing she wants.”
It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Yet it feels like the right thing. This is about my survival and I know I can’t stay. It’s a wet Sunday morning in May. The weather gives the day a heavy, washed-out feeling and it mirrors my mood perfectly. I’m sitting at the kitchen table. My children are with me.
“So, I can come and see you in two weeks?” Max asks.
“Yes, like I said, I’ll have had a good rest by then and Grandma will bring you to Edinburgh for a visit.”
“I’ll miss you, Mum.” Max puts down his glass of milk and comes to hug me. I cling to him, glad that, at twelve years old, he doesn’t yet feel too old for such displays.
“I’ll miss you too. But two weeks will pass quickly and then, in the summer holidays, you can come and stay as much as you want.”
“That’s a great picture you did for Mum, Maxy.” Jenny rubs her wee brother’s back. “You could do more for her while she’s away – like a sort of picture diary of what you’re up to – use the sketch book Uncle Dan gave you for your birthday.”
“Mm yeah, I suppose.”
“You could start now – draw us all here at the table.”
Max considers then nods. “I’ll go and get my stuff.”
I smile my gratitude at Jenny.
Sam gets up from the table. “I need to go. My shift starts at twelve.”
I get up too. “Sam,” I say, holding my arms out towards her.
She shakes her head. “I still don’t get it, Mum. I’m trying to, but I don’t. I think if you just talked to Dad, you could sort it.”
I drop my arms. I can’t look at her. Then she’s over and holding me in a tight embrace. “Go if you have to, but come back soon,” she whispers. Then she’s gone.
I know I should go too. There’s no point prolonging this. I glance at Adam. He’s staring into his coffee mug. Max comes back with his sketch book and pencils.
“How can I do my picture if Sam’s gone?”
“I better get on my way.” I smile apologetically at him.
“You can still put Mum and Sam in the picture, Max,” says Jenny. “Even if they’re not here – you’re a good enough artist.”
Max nods and lays his things on the table.
I hug Jenny. “Thanks for the making the cake, it was a lovely thought.”
She smiles. “Come on, Adam, let’s see Mum off.” Jenny places a hand on her twin brother’s shoulder. He shrugs it off.
Max takes my hand. At first Adam doesn’t move. Then he gets up and stands, hands deep in the pockets of his jeans, shoulders hunched. He’s facing me, eyes downcast.
“Bye then, Adam. I meant what I said. I’m really sorry.” I will him to look at me. He shrugs and walks past me, head down. I hear him stomping up the stairs.
As I walk down the hall with Jenny and Max, I glance at the closed living room door. I wonder if Tom will say goodbye. I wonder if I should go in. I can’t face it. The shock and anger that I’ve felt for the last few days have hardly abated. Tom has betrayed me. His secret’s out.
As I get into the car I glance back at the house. The Victorian villa’s sandstone walls are darkened by the rain. It’s been my home for nearly twenty years. I love everything about it, its seaside situation in Gullane, one of East Lothian’s prettiest villages, its large, light rooms, its period quirks and the memories we’ve made there. I shall miss it almost as much as the people inside it. I see Tom at the living room window, watching. I think he’s about to wave or beckon me back. He turns away.
The appearance of Robbie in our lives has changed everything. And on top of that I now have a dreadful secret of my own.
I’ve not read quite as many books as I did during the first months of lockdown. This is partly to do with being busy once again with my writing and with attempting to keep the garden under control, but also because my social life has made tiny steps back into existence – however, I do have three good reads to share with you.
All of them are contemporary romances – all quite different from each other – and all of them are ideal relaxing summer reads.
And in no particular order they are:
A Day That Changed Everything by Beth Moran
Amy Piper is in need of a bit of luck. She’s lost her confidence, her mojo and her way.
But one thing she has never lost is her total love for her thirteen-year-old son Joey, and for his sake she knows it’s time for a change. But first she has to be brave enough to leave the house…
What she needs are friends and an adventure. And when she joins a running group of women who call themselves The Larks, she finds both. Not to mention their inspiring (and rather handsome) coach, Nathan.
The trick to changing your life, is to take it one day at a time. Now, with every ounce of strength she has left, Amy is determined to make just one day special – for herself and for Joey. And who knows, today might be the day that changes everything…(This book was previously published as How Not to be a Loser).
Escape to the Art Café by Sue McDonagh
Heartbreak and cake at the Art Café … It was meant to be the perfect romantic holiday. But then Flora Bexton’s boyfriend does the unthinkable, and she responds in the only logical way: she steals his motorbike and escapes for a holiday by herself on the Welsh coast. Far from the lonely trip she imagined, Flora soon finds comfort at the friendly local Art Café where the legendary hot chocolate and cake help to ease her troubled mind. And when Aussie-Welsh lifeguard Jake Foley steps in just when Flora needs help the most, she realises that her ‘holiday’ feels more like home with every passing day …
Coming Home to Merriment Bay by Emily Harvale
This novel was originally a four-part, serial. This is all four parts and forms Book 1 in the Merriment Bay series. If you have read the four-part serial, you have read this book.
Cat Devon left Merriment Bay eighteen years ago with her baby daughter, Kyra. Now a letter from Cat’s estranged mum has brought them back.
Cat has tried to forget her heartbreaking past and forgive her mum, Mary and her gran, Viola. But nothing seems to have changed and Mary still insists on keeping secrets.
Sitting beside Viola’s hospital bed, isn’t exactly fun, so when Cat and Kyra stumble on a faded photo of an RAF pilot and a pile of unopened letters in a trunk in Viola’s room, they decide to find out who he is and what he meant to Viola.
Amias Wells, who owns Bay Water Sports but also flies a vintage Spitfire for the Merriment Bay WWII Museum, is the perfect man to ask. Except Cat and Amias haven’t spoken since the accident that killed his friend and left Cat scarred, eighteen years ago. Sparks fly when they meet again.
But Amias traces Bailey Mitchell, who lives thousands of miles away and is almost ninety-eight. Exchanging Christmas cards leads to revelations Cat had not expected. Then a surprise visitor means Cat’s Christmas takes a delightful turn. Now she’s facing choices she never thought she’d have to make.
When distressing events end more than one person’s dream, Cat realises what – and who – she wants. As Merriment Bay prepares to toast in the New Year, can Cat finally put the past where it belongs and find the love she deserves?
So, what’s everyone else been reading in July? Any recommendations? Please do share below.
I read and enjoyed Buried Treasure by Gilli Allan just over a year ago and you can read the review I posted at the time below. Today the book is back on the blog as it has just been republished with a brand new cover – which I hope you’ll agree is a most attractive and intriguing one. And I do hope that if you haven’t read this novel already, you’ll feel inspired to do so after reading this post – and seeing that great new cover.
And to whet your appetite, here’s what it says on the back of that cover:
“I found Buried Treasure a compelling read. It was so many things: a love story, a hunt for clues to lost secrets, and a fascinating look at how our past experiences shape us, and how we can heal even after damage. The characters were wonderfully well drawn. ”
Jane thinks he sees her as shallow and ill-educated. Theo thinks she sees him as a snob, stuffy and out of touch. Within the ancient precincts of the university the first encounter between the conference planner and the academic is accidental and unpromising. Just as well there’s no reason for them ever to meet again. But behind the armour they’ve each constructed from old scars, they’ve more in common than divides them. Both have an archaeological puzzle they are driven to solve. As their stories intertwine, their quest to uncover the past unearths more than expected.
And here’s what I thought of it:
Buried Treasure is a slow-burning and thought-provoking romance with credible, flawed, and affecting main characters. I came to care very much about socially-awkward Theo and prickly perfectionist Jane. Their respective loneliness, sadness and difficult back stories made this seemingly mismatched couple very appealing. I liked that neither Theo nor Jane were conventionally physically attractive, that they were flawed, and that they lived in a very real sounding world in less than ideal circumstances. I also loved the unconventional way their relationship developed.
The supporting cast work well – including Jane and Theo’s truly ghastly former partners. And although the main setting is a university it is not portrayed as an ivory tower but rather as a modern-day institution that must pay its way.
This all makes for a realistic, contemporary romantic novel and a heart-warming and rewarding read.
Today it’s my pleasure to welcome fellow author Jane Davis back to the blog. I’ve read and enjoyed all Jane’s novels and you can read my reviews of two of her earlier novels An Unknown Womanhere and Smash all the Windows here. Jane also took part in my Virtual Book Festival this time last year and you can read her contribution here. Her books are all quite different from each other, but what they have in common is that they are all intelligent, totally engaging and thought-provoking – and they are shot through with insight into humanity.
And it looks as if her newest one is going to be no exception. So, without further ado it’s over to Jane.
Welcome Jane, it’s lovely to have you back again. Can we begin with you telling us what your new book is all about?
Jane: At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock is about three very different women – a working class seventeen-year-old who is expected to do whatever she needs to do to contribute to the family income, a British actress who has scandalised the world of filmdom by leaving her husband and daughter for Hollywood film director, and a duchess, whose husband’s lack of business acumen has brought her close to financial and social ruin.
The novel is set in the post-war era when class divides and dual standards were very much at play. Sex outside marriage, divorce, and children born outside wedlock were huge taboos but, behind closed doors, all these things were happening, and more. Property and titles were inherited by men. Work-wise, there were few options for women. Having stepped up to the challenge of the running industry and keeping the economy afloat once again during the Second World War, they were once again expected to hand their jobs back to the men and get back in their kitchens.
Each of my characters has dared step outside the restricted confines that society dictated for them. They think that they’ve already been punished for doing so, but they are about to take the next potentially ruinous steps. Each has a past or a secret which mirrors something that happened to Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Great Britain. On hearing about her conviction for murder, each has a personal reason of think, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’
How did you come up with the idea?
Jane: Perhaps it was the time in which Ruth Ellis lived, or the circles she moved in, but what happened was this: the subjects of three biographies I read on the trot each included an anecdote about her. I turned to my bookshelves for a yellowed paperback that has been in my possession for over thirty years. Ruth Ellis: A Case of Diminished Responsibility? I’d forgotten that the book begins with a foreword by co-authors Laurence Marks and Tony Van Den Bergh in which they reveal how, during their research, they both discovered that they had various links to players in Ruth Ellis’s story, if not Ellis herself. One of David Blakely’s other lovers. The partner of a psychiatrist who had treated Ruth Ellis. The brother of the manageress of the Steering Wheel club who had thrown Blakely and Ellis out for having a drunken fight on the premises just days before the shooting. The Catholic priest who, while serving as a prison chaplain sat on the Home Office committee tasked with deciding if Ellis was fit to hang. The list went on.
But even those who had never met Ellis had an opinion about her, and all were affected by her demise, because it brought about a change in the law in the United Kingdom.
How did you come up with the three main characters?
Jane: Much of the inspiration came from the same biographies that inspired the book.
From Ingrid Bergman’s biography, I borrowed the moment when Bergman discovered that the man she left her husband had left her. In fact, when this happened to Bergman, it seemed to come as a relief. Rossellini was quite an obsessive character, threatening to kill himself if she left him.
I needed a character from the upper classes to show how differently a duchess is treated from, say, the hostess of a drinking club. Patrice is able to walk into a police station with a lie and be believed, simply because no one would dare challenge her. From the Duchess of Argyll’s biography, I borrowed information about coming out parties, meeting the queen and how estates were run.
And my working class character, Caroline is not Ruth Ellis, although her story follows Ellis’s the most closely.
What it is about Ruth Ellis’s case that fascinates you so much?
Jane: Part of Ellis’s fascination is that she’s so complex. Ruth was a mass of contradictions. She wasn’t simply the jealous, neurotic woman portrayed in the film Dance With a Stranger. What’s rarely spoken about is her resilience and a resourcefulness. At a time when her father was frequently unemployed, the teenage Ruth often held down two jobs and contributed to the family’s income. It was she who pulled her father from the debris after he’d been felled by falling timber while on fire-fighting duty during the Blitz. And she picked herself up time and time again. After the discovery that the serviceman whose child she’d given birth to and who’d promised to marry her already had a wife and family in Canada. After a short-lived marriage to a violent alcoholic. Between these disastrous relationships, she showed herself to be ambitious, and displayed considerable aptitude. Ruth was the youngest manager to be appointed by West End club owner Maurice Conley. He gave her free rein to change not only the club’s name but to make any other changes she saw fit. Conley may have been a crook but he was also an astute businessman. What he saw in Ruth was potential, and she repaid him by turning the club’s finances around.
The majority of the British Public first read the name Ruth Ellis the day the newspaper strike of 1955 ended. With four million pounds to recoup, the industry needed a big come-back story and Ruth Ellis was newspaper gold. ‘Six revolver shots shattered the Easter Sunday calm of Hampstead and a beautiful platinum blonde stood with her back to the wall. In her hand was a revolver…’ Bam! The public was hooked by the story of the blonde hostess (a divorcee), who shot her racing-boy lover in cold blood. Cliff Davis, another racing driver, was a regular at the club she managed. He described her not only as clued-up and sharp, but “Someone who was never known to ‘blow her top.’” In other words, the last person you’d expect to take a gun and fire it at an unarmed man at close range. So what changed?
To me, part of the tragedy of the case is that, because Ruth admitted her guilt, the lawyers presiding over the trial weren’t interested in why she did it. And that unanswered question is something any writer would find fascinating.
Yes, fascinating indeed. And the book sounds equally fascinating. Thank you so much, Jane, for being a guest on the blog today and telling us about what inspired you to write At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock.
You can read more about the book and about Jane below:
From the back cover
London 1949. The lives of three very different women are about to collide.
Like most working-class daughters, Caroline Wilby is expected to help support her family. Alone in a strange city, she must grab any opportunity that comes her way. Even if that means putting herself in danger.
Star of the silver screen, Ursula Delancy, has just been abandoned by the man she left her husband for. Already hounded by the press, it won’t be long before she’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Patrice Hawtree was once the most photographed debutante of her generation. Now childless and trapped in a loveless marriage, her plans to secure the future of her ancient family home are about to be jeopardised by her husband’s gambling addiction.
Each believes she has already lost in life, not knowing how far she still has to fall.
Six years later, one cause will unite them: when a young woman commits a crime of passion and is condemned to hang, remaining silent isn’t an option.
“Why do I feel an affinity with Ruth Ellis? I know how certain facts can be presented in such a way that there is no way to defend yourself. Not without hurting those you love.”
Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of nine novels.
Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.
Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and was shortlisted for two further awards. In 2019, her novel Smash all the Windows won the Selfies (best independently-published work of fiction) award at London Book Fair.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.
Books of the Month: June – Top Three #reading #books #memoir #romanticfiction
Despite a slight easing of the Covid-19 lockdown here in Scotland, I’m continuing to read more than usual. Books can be comforting, informative, joyful and, yes, a much needed escape. And my top three reads in June have, between them, provided all these things.
First up is Becoming by Michelle Obama. I listened to this autobiography as an audio book and it is awesome. What a life she has had and what a wonderful person she is. And all of the issues she has had to face – not least as a black woman – are, sadly, as pertinent as they ever were. But her sheer grace shines through.
An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.
In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America – the first African-American to serve in that role – she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it – in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations – and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Summer at the Little Cottage on the Hill by Emma Davies is a contemporary romance and is the second book in the Little Cottage series. Having enjoyed the first book in this series I went straight on to this one and it was even better. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Tom and Isobel – it had everything – a perfect sigh-making romantic read.
Take an endless stroll through wild meadows and breathe in the sweet aroma of flowers in full bloom. The first ever guest at the little cottage on the hill is looking for an escape, but her past is not far behind her… Thirty-two-year-old ‘ice queen’ Isobel slams the cottage door and pulls the curtains shut. She has just six weeks to practise for a secret project that could save her career and no one must know she is here. When Tom, the local thatcher with eyes as blue and deep as the ocean, hears the sound of her violin on the breeze he feels a tug at his heart-strings that reminds him of happier times. Who is this mysterious new lodger, and why does she look so familiar? Desperate to find out more, Tom is devastated when Isobel refuses to enjoy everything the farm has to offer. He won’t give in, but just when it looks like Isobel is coming out of her shell, someone recognises her and the troubles from her past threaten to take away everything she has been working towards.
Up Close and Personal by Kathryn Freeman is a contemporary romance with a strong thriller element to it. It’s a witty, original and clever take on the protector/protected set up as in the The Bodyguard. Only this time it’s a female bodyguard protecting a male film star – a most refreshing twist – and the story of their forbidden but mutual attraction.
Sizzling chemistry, a page-turning will they/won’t they romance and the hottest twist on one of your favourite movies…
British actor Zac Edwards is the latest heartthrob to hit the red carpets. Hot, talented and rich, he sends women wild…all except one.
Close protection officer Kat Parker hasn’t got time to play celebrity games. She has one job: to protect Zac from the stalker that seems to be dogging his every move.
Zac might get her hot under her very starched collar, but Kat’s a professional – and sleeping with Zac is no way part of her remit…
And that’s it for June. Any recommended reads you’d like to share from the past month? Then please do so in the comments below.
Today it’s my great pleasure to welcome fellow author Lorraine Mace as a guest on the blog. Like me Lorraine writes mainly for adults but she has written for children as well. She’s best known for her series of crime novels – the latest of which is Rage and Retribution which you can find out more about below.
So, welcome, Lorraine, it’s lovely to have you here.
Can we start with why and how you became a writer?
I left the UK in 1979 to live in South Africa. At that time the only way to stay in contact with the family and friends I’d left behind was via letter – the old-fashioned hand written and snail-mail posted kind. I discovered that I had a knack for descriptive pieces, being able to put the recipients into my day to day life.
Twenty years later, when I moved to France, I decided I would turn to fiction and wrote some terrible short stories which were, quite rightly, rejected by every magazine I’d targeted. However, it was at this point that I realised how much I wanted to write, so knuckled down to learn the basics. Fortunately, this worked out well for me.
What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?
My fiction falls into two genres and they couldn’t be more different. I write for children aged 8 to 12, but I am also the author of a hard-boiled crime series.
How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about your latest.
I have had two children’s novels published, but I now concentrate mainly on crime. I have four published by Headline featuring D.I. Paolo Sterling: Retriever of Souls, Children in Chains, Injections of Insanity and the latest, Rage and Retribution. Each of the books has a dual narrative. D.I. Sterling is the main character, but I have some chapters from the perspective of the villain. In Rage and Retribution I have used diary-type blog entries where the antagonist glories in dealing out punishment to those in need of correction. For a change, all the victims are male.
Tell us about a typical writing day?
I write for two hours in the morning and then have to move on to my day job, which is working with other authors on their manuscripts.
Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?
Not fully. I always know the crime, the perpetrator, the reason behind the crimes, and how the novel will end. I have a rough idea about the middle section but am always amazed at the characters who arrive unbidden, but turn out to be essential to the plot.
What comes first for you, characters or plot?
I suppose it’s a mixture of both. I tend to get the idea for the plot at the same time as the antagonist comes to my mind. I can’t ever remember getting one without the other.
Where do you get your ideas?
I think I just have a twisted and slightly evil mind!
Have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created? Tell us about them if you have – or is it too hard to pick just one?
It has to be Paolo Sterling. He’s a good man with lots of flaws simply trying to do his best in a very sick world. I have put him in some awful situations with regard to his family and romantic life. It seems the more I throw at him, the stronger he becomes.
Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?
I have had some fabulous reviews about the series. I’ll put a few comments below. I hope it doesn’t come across as too boastful.
The Northern Witch’s Book Blog – great British crime drama: I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I can’t wait to start the next book in the series!
Books and Emma – excellent police procedural: This book kept me hooked and at one point I was convinced up to 4 different people could be the killer!
Feed the Crime – could not put my kindle down while reading this! It isn’t very often that I just know I’m gonna fall in love with a series halfway through the first book!
K T Robson Reviews – kept me guessing right until the end: Every time I thought I had it figured out, another spanner was thrown in the works and all my amateur detective work was thrown out the window!
Wow! What great comments – and not boastful at all to share them – you should be loud and proud 🙂
Thank you so much for dropping in today, Lorraine, and for telling us about yourself and your books.
And here’s more about Lorraine’s latest book:
The latest in the series is Rage and Retribution. This is the fourth instalment in Lorraine Mace’s dark, gritty and shocking series featuring D.I. Paolo Sterling – perfect for fans of Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen and Mo Hayder.
Can two wrongs ever make a right?
A man is found by the side of a canal, comatose and brutally attacked.
It quickly becomes clear that someone is abducting men and subjecting them to horrific acts of torture. After three days they’re released, fighting for their lives and refusing to speak.
A councillor is accused of fraud.
Montague Mason is an upstanding member of the community. That is until he’s publicly accused of stealing the youth centre’s funds – an accusation that threatens to rip through the very heart of the community and expose his best-kept secret. But how far would he go to protect himself?
Two cases. One deadly answer.
As the two cases collide, D.I. Paolo Sterling finds he has more questions than answers. And, when torture escalates to murder, he suddenly finds himself in a race against time to find the killer and put an end to the depravity – once and for all.
‘A dark, cleverly plotted tale . . . I was gripped from the opening scene and raced through the book to its final, shocking ending. Crime writing at its very best‘ Sheila Bugler
‘Gritty, topical, sometimes lacerating, but always enthralling. A truly compulsive read‘ Abbie Frost
When not working on her best-selling D.I. Sterling series, Lorraine Mace is engaged in many writing-related activities. She is a columnist for both Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum and is head judge for Writers’ Forum monthly fiction competitions. A tutor for Writers Bureau, she also runs her own private critique and author mentoring service.
After the flurry of book launch activity over the last ten days – and thank you to everyone who supported Fulfilment‘s launch – it’s now back to some sort of normal at the writing desk and here on the blog too. I hope everyone is keeping safe and well and that you’re coping with whatever stage of Covid-19 lockdown you’re experiencing in your locality.
I have to say reading has certainly helped me to cope with the stresses the lockdown has produced here in Scotland. I know that some people have found they’ve been reading less during this time, finding their concentration compromised and /or not wanting to read in the way they did before. But for me reading has been a real blessing.
And as for what I’ve been reading during lockdown – well I’ve been looking for sheer escapism to a non-threatening, non-Covid world. I’ve avoided thrillers and crime novels and gone instead for – yes, you guessed it – romances, and for books that make me smile and sigh happily – books that have provoked positive reflection, that have not only entertained, but have also uplifted.
So which novels have delivered some – or all – of the above to my reading door during May? There have been several and I’d like to share my top four.
First up is The Life She Finds, the latest in Maggie Christensen’s Granite Springs series of mature romances set in Australia. I was lucky enough to receive a pre-publication review copy of this novel which is out on the 9th of June and is available for pre-order here. It was great to be back in Granite Springs and not only to read about the main characters, Lyn and Ken, but also to catch up with characters from the previous novels in this lovely series. Lyn and Ken’s story – as they met again after more than forty years apart – was a poignant one of loss, of difficult family relationships and of missed opportunities. But, ultimately, it was a reassuring, hopeful and heartwarming tale.
When Lyn Hudson takes early retirement, her plan is to fulfil a lifelong dream to travel the world. But news of her father’s death forces her back to Granite Springs; the town she fled when she was eighteen. While she has fond memories of roaming the paddocks with her childhood friend, Ken, life on the land was definitely not for her.
Ken Thompson, cheated out of his inheritance in the family property after an argument with his father, has built up a successful business in Granite Springs as a realter and stock and station agent. When the son he intended to inherit his business returns to work on the family property, his plans for the future are shattered and family relations further strained.
Thrown together by circumstances, the pair discover the spark which they denied forty-five years earlier is still smouldering. But time has passed. They are different people.
Is it possible they’ll find common ground and start afresh, or will Lyn once again follow her dreams and abandon Granite Springs and their chance at happiness?
Let me Burnby Carrie Elks is a small town American romance and tells the story of Lucas and Ember. Lucas is a firefighter and Ember is an elementary school teacher and theirs is a captivating, much sigh-inducing, and intense story. I should point out there are some fairly steamy sex scenes but it’s not yucky or overdone – but just be aware the lovemaking scenes don’t stop at the bedroom door. The couple are young but both have emotional baggage and interesting, sometimes poignant backstories. You can buy it here.
Lucas Russell lives for his job. Forced to take extended leave following an accident, he returns to his small home town to stay at the beach cottage his grandparents left him.
After a broken engagement, Ember isn’t ready for love right now. But she didn’t count on meeting a handsome firefighter with a dimpled smile. After Lucas saves her from one awkward situation too many, she finds him impossible to resist.
What starts as a fling develops into something much deeper. Until the day Ember’s ex-fiancé returns to town and threatens to destroy the connection that’s building between them.
One thing’s for sure. Somebody is going to get burned.
The third of my May favourites is The Switch by Beth O’Leary. This has some romance but there’s a whole lot more going on besides. It’s an original and clever story that’s told from the points of view of a grandmother, Eileen, and her (adult) granddaughter, Leena. The two of them switch places in order to give their lives a bit of a reboot. Eileen is looking for new experiences and some adventure and Leena needs some peace and quiet to get over recent trauma. So the grandmother goes to live in her granddaughter’s London flat and the younger woman moves into her grandmother’s country cottage – and the swap proves life-changing for them both. You can buy the book here.
Leena is too young to feel stuck. Eileen is too old to start over. Maybe it’s time for The Switch...
Ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, Leena escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Newly single and about to turn eighty, Eileen would like a second chance at love. But her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen… So Leena proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love, and L Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire.
But with a rabble of unruly OAPs to contend with, as well as the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – local schoolteacher, Leena learns that switching lives isn’t straightforward. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, and with the online dating scene. But is her perfect match nearer to home than she first thought?
And finally book number four is One Winter Morningby Isabelle Broom. Again, as in The Switch, there is more going on her than the slow burning central romance. Main character Genie has a lot of issues – and yes, sometimes I wanted to shake her – but that was the point – she ‘s stuck in an emotional quagmire and she needs help to get out. And so along comes a wonderful, beguiling cast of characters who all play their part in freeing her from the burdens of her past and liberate her to move on. The setting of New Zealand was another plus for me – it was almost a character in its own right – and having read the book I’d so love to visit this amazing-sounding country. And the walk that Genie and the lovely, Kit, take at the end up Queenstown Hill to the Basket of Dreams sculpture with that inspirational quote – oh my – wow just wow! You can buy the book here.
Genie isn’t feeling very festive this December.
The frosty mornings and twinkling fairy lights only remind her it’s been a whole year since she lost her adoptive mother, who took her in as a baby and raised her as her own.
She’s never felt more alone – until she discovers her birth mother’s identity.
And where to find her – New Zealand, half the world away.
Travelling there could be her one chance to meet the woman who gave her up . . .
But will she find the answers she has been looking for? Or something she could never have expected?
How about you? Are you finding you’re able to read during lockdown? If so what books have you particularly enjoyed? have you read ones that are new to you or have you been re-reading old favourites perhaps?