Book News

Book Review: The Best Christmas Ever by Karen King

Lexi Forde adores Christmas. She’s especially looking forward to it this year as it’s the first Christmas with her boyfriend Ben and her older brother is visiting from Canada with his family.

They’ll all be spending Christmas at her parents’ house in Devon.

But when Lexi surprises Ben at work, she sees him kissing someone else and discovers he’s been having an affair. Devastated, she travels to Devon alone.

She’s determined not to let her break-up spoil her family Christmas. But when she arrives, Lexi discovers the council won’t allow the Christmas tree on the green to be decorated this year; it’s too dangerous and has to come down. Lexi is desperate to save their favourite family tradition and make this Christmas extra special.

Can she save the tree and mend her broken heart in time for Christmas?

*****

The first Christmas book I read this year is a…cracker! Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

This is a multi-generational story set in a charming village in Devon.

Lexi is back home for the holidays but not with whom she thought was a wonderful boyfriend in tow.

With a Christmas-mad family (including a Grandma who she’s worried will get arrested at any moment), a new hunky man on the block looking for a new start whilst trying to keep a nutty but sweet pooch on the leash (I’ll stop), this was a book I found very difficult to put down.

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Book Review: A Christmas Wish on a Carousel by Lottie Cardew

Snuggle up under your favourite blanket and escape to the beautiful village of Pebblestow this winter, for one of the most heartwarming stories of the season…

When Cara Mia Shaw makes a desperate wish one night, while riding on a carousel at a Christmas market, little does she know her small, but safe world is about to spin off its axis.

Befriending a fascinating returnee to the village, an elderly woman called Perdita with a jaunty pink beret and the wisdom of a life well lived, might set Cara on a different, albeit harder, course, if she’s brave enough to listen. Art was always her passion, after all, even if fate seemed to have other ideas.

And then there’s the new man in her life, who her friends think is perfect for her because they set her up with decent, reliable Greg in the first place. Cara’s been hurt enough times to know the difference between a good man and a feckless one. Until Wilfred comes along – moody, sarcastic, and scattered – just to complicate matters and meddle with Cara’s resolve, to the horror of almost everyone around her. But is either man ultimately meant for her, anyway? And will she self-sabotage as usual, or gamble everything this time, including her heart?

It might take the highs and lows of friendship, the risk of a forbidden romance, and a Pomeranian called Loki – not to mention some much-needed Christmas magic – before Cara finally realises the wish she made that night on the carousel might just be about to come true.

 

*****

Cara makes a wish on a carousel at a local Christmas market. Soon after, her quiet life turns upside down.

Her friends set her up with Greg, who is a decent, reliable man. She also meets Wilf, the not so dependable brother of her ex-employer. Is one of them the one?

She also meets Perdita, an elderly resident who has come back to the village. Could she send Cara on a different course?

As I have said many times on this blog, one of the things I love most about this time of year is the arrival of novels with Christmas/festive settings. This one was wonderful, drew me in and was magical.

Cara is a bit of a lost soul, at least, that’s my impression. She’s also stuck and scared. I also got the same impression about Wilf and of course, the two connect. There is a mystery surrounding Wilf and I found it interesting to see how they both developed through the novel. I really wanted them to find happiness, even if it wasn’t with each other.

Perdita was also intriguing. I couldn’t quite work out how she fitted into the story but I wanted to know more about her. She’s fabulous.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

Natsuki Books was a tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town.

Inside, towering shelves reached the ceiling, every one crammed full of wonderful books. Rintaro Natsuki loved this space that his grandfather had created. He spent many happy hours there, reading whatever he liked. It was the perfect refuge for a boy who tended to be something of a recluse.

After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. This odd couple will go on three magical adventures to save books from people who have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone . . .

*****

Cats and Books. This novel had me before I even got to the first page.

There is something whimsical about the front cover that immediately pulled me in.

This book is only about 224 pages so it isn’t a long read but it’s an interesting, sweet, compelling story.

Rintaro is a guarded character at the beginning as he is grieving the loss of his beloved Grandfather and is facing a complete life change as a result. He is due to move and has to put his Grandfather’s bookshop up for sale. I think he’s someone a lot of people will find relatable and easy to empathise with.

Instead of going to school, Rintaro decides to work in the bookshop. One of his classmates, Sayo refuses to give up on him and goes to the shop every day to try and persuade him to come to school.

Sayo is a complete contrast to the restrained Rintaro and I found their dynamic interesting – what they bought out in each other.

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Novel Kicks Book Club: The Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling

Hello October. 

October is not only my birthday month, it is also the build up to Halloween and, in my opinion, the real beginning of Autumn.

This month, I wanted to pick a set of books that have been so important to me. So, our book club is reading… Harry Potter.

I think these books are so perfect for the spooky month with it being about witches and wizards and magic and all.

I am going to be focusing on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as this is my favourite. You can read that with me or you can pick whatever Harry Potter book is your favourite. I’m so excited to find out which book is the most popular.

As usual, I have put a question in the comments below to kick off the conversation. Anyone can join our book club, whether you’ve read the books or are yet to read them.

I look forward to discussing this book series with you.

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: 

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!

 

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets: 

Harry Potter’s summer has included the worst birthday ever, doomy warnings from a house-elf called Dobby, and rescue from the Dursleys by his friend Ron Weasley in a magical flying car! Back at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his second year, Harry hears strange whispers echo through empty corridors – and then the attacks start. Students are found as though turned to stone… Dobby’s sinister predictions seem to be coming true.

 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: 

When the Knight Bus crashes through the darkness and screeches to a halt in front of him, it’s the start of another far from ordinary year at Hogwarts for Harry Potter. Sirius Black, escaped mass-murderer and follower of Lord Voldemort, is on the run – and they say he is coming after Harry. In his first ever Divination class, Professor Trelawney sees an omen of death in Harry’s tea leaves… But perhaps most terrifying of all are the Dementors patrolling the school grounds, with their soul-sucking kiss…

 

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire: 

The Triwizard Tournament is to be held at Hogwarts. Only wizards who are over seventeen are allowed to enter – but that doesn’t stop Harry dreaming that he will win the competition. Then at Hallowe’en, when the Goblet of Fire makes its selection, Harry is amazed to find his name is one of those that the magical cup picks out. He will face death-defying tasks, dragons and Dark wizards, but with the help of his best friends, Ron and Hermione, he might just make it through – alive!

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Book Review: The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain

When the manuscript of a debut crime novel arrives at a Parisian publishing house, everyone in the readers’ room is convinced it’s something special. And the committee for France’s highest literary honour, the Prix Goncourt, agrees.

But when the shortlist is announced, there’s a problem for editor Violaine Lepage: she has no idea of the author’s identity. As the police begin to investigate a series of murders strangely reminiscent of those recounted in the book, Violaine is not the only one looking for answers. And, suffering memory blanks following an aeroplane accident, she’s beginning to wonder what role she might play in the story …

*****

A manuscript for a debut crime novel arrives on Violaine Lepage’s desk and everyone agrees that it’s going to be huge. The only problem is, no-one knows who the author is.

This becomes a bigger issue when it’s shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary honour.

Also, people start to die in similar circumstances to the novel, the Police come calling and Violaine wonders what part she has to play in everything.

I have become such a fan of Antoine Laurain’s novels and so I was excited to read this one and I was immediately intrigued by the premise.

This book is a mystery. Who is this writer and who is the person murdering people? I got drawn in straightaway, wanting to know who, where and why.

Set at a Publishers in France,  I wanted to be a part of the Readers’ Room team. I could also see myself in the setting. How Antoine Laurain describes the city and Violaine’s workplace and home – it’s all so vivid and beautifully written. I could picture this world through the eyes of these interesting, complicated and relatable characters.

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Book Review: The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Ambition will fuel him.

Competition will drive him.

But power has its price.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuvre his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined – ; every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favour or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

*****

Snow Lands on Top!

Coriolanus Snow is 18 and a student in the Capitol, ten years after the end of the war. With the effects of the war still fresh in the mind of those both Capitol and Districts, the 10th Hunger Games is about to begin. Snow is one of 24 students chosen to be in the first batch of mentors for the incoming tributes.

When he is assigned the girl tribute from District 12, he sees this as the biggest humiliation. Once the games begin however, it becomes a battle for survival both in and out of the arena.

From the time I first read The Hunger Games books and saw the films, I found myself wondering about President Snow and how his story began so when I found out that The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes was going to be from Snow’s perspective, I was excited. Surely he was not born with that much hatred and contempt for the districts?

When we meet Coriolanus, the Snow family are one tax bill away from losing their home. They are as far away from the President’s mansion and riches as they could possibly be. His Grandmother is frail, his Parents dead and his Cousin, Tigris does all she can. Their biggest fear is that someone finds out about their situation and the Snows become a laughing stock. No, they need to keep their secrets.

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Book Review: Jane’s Away by Clare Hawken

Roger Kurmudge is rather smug about his affluent life and happy marriage.

It’s just as well his wife, Jane, is totally in the dark about what he got up to in the past. But on his retirement day, Jane disappears. Roger’s about to panic. Will he have to sell some shares or – heaven forbid! – the house in Bordeaux to pay a ransom demand? Worse – has Jane discovered his guilty secret?

Then Jane’s emails start arriving. Take the dog to the vet. Look after grandson Alfie for the day. Do the washing, shopping and cooking. Host Christmas for the family. Roger doesn’t know why Jane’s gone but he’s sure he can manage her ‘women’s work’ without any trouble. Although it’s harder than it looks.

As the weeks go by and Jane stays away, Roger is forced to re-examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his life and himself. But even if Roger can change for the better, will Jane ever come back? Or has she, too, been keeping secrets of her own?

 

*****

Roger is quite pleased with his perfect life. He’s about to retire from a successful business, he has a nice home in Guildford and he has a beautiful and dutiful wife. He has good reason to be smug right? Especially as he’s managed to keep his secret all these years.

When Jane disappears on the day of his retirement and e-mails from her begin to appear, Roger must quickly learn to adapt but Jane’s job of running the house, walking the dog and looking after their grandson should be easy – or so he thinks.

Roger or ‘Woger’ at the start of this story is one of the most frustrating fictional characters I have ever met. He has this attitude that his family are happy purely based on the fact that he’s always provided for them financially and because of this, he feels that he is well liked and respected, both in his personal and professional life. I really wanted to give him a piece of my mind. Haha.

However, as the book progressed, I loved seeing how Roger adapted and began to realise what he had and what he’d taken for granted. There is a wonderful life lesson with this novel and it is tackled well.

The supporting characters are all well rounded and real. Alfie especially was adorable and I really liked Jamie.

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Book Review: The Matchmaker’s Lonely Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen

London, 1885

Amelie Hampton is a hopeless romantic, which makes her the perfect columnist to answer lonely heart letters in The Marriage Gazette. When Amelie plays matchmaker with two anonymous lonely hearts, she also decides to secretly observe the couple’s blind date. To her surprise, the man who appears for the rendezvous is Harold Radcliffe–a grieving widower and a member of Amelie’s book club.

Police detective Michael Baker has been struggling ever since his best friend and brother-in-law died in the line of fire. Because he knows the dangers of his job, he has vowed never to marry and subject a wife and family to the uncertainty of his profession. But when he meets Miss Hampton, he is captured by her innocence, beauty, and her quick mind.

When a woman’s body is pulled from the river, Michael suspects the woman’s husband–Harold Radcliffe–of foul play. Amelie refuses to believe that Harold is capable of such violence but agrees to help, imagining it will be like one of her favorite mystery novels. Her social connections and clever observations prove an asset to the case, and Amelie is determined to prove Mr. Radcliffe’s innocence. But the more time Amelie and Michael spend together, the more they trust each other, and the more they realize they are a good team, maybe the perfect match.

They also realize that Mr. Radcliffe is hiding more than one secret, and when his attention turns toward Amelie, Michael knows he must put an end to this case before the woman he loves comes to harm.

*****

London 1885.

Amelie is a hopeless romantic. Detective Michael Baker has vowed never to marry.

When the body of a woman is pulled from the Thames, Michael and Amelie’s paths cross but can romance bloom in the middle of a murder investigation?

Romance and mystery… perfect!

Amelie is a lovely character with the matchmaking interest of Emma Woodhouse, the sweetness of Jane Bennett and the sass of Lizzie Bennett and I loved her. She’s a strong character but at the same time, and like a lot of us, she wants to fall in love and this makes her a little naive when it comes to her own love life. Love can blind you.

Michael is a wonderfully flawed hero. He’s dealing with grief and loss and without realising it, it’s made him lonely and I believe this makes him very relatable. He certainly doesn’t count on meeting Amelie.

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NK Chats To… Anne Montgomery

Hello Anne, welcome to Novel Kicks. Can you tell me about your novel, The Castle and what inspired it? 

Why write a novel about rape? For me the reason was personal. While attending college, I was sexually assaulted. I became a statistic. Today, one out of every six women in the United States will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Like 80% of those victims, I never went to the police. Why? I believed they would have blamed me. I was on a date with a sweet-faced farm boy who played for my university’s football team. I’d had a few drinks. I willingly followed him into his dorm room. What did I expect would happen? So, I said nothing.

Years later, I became a teacher at South Mountain High School in Phoenix, a position I held for 20 years.  It was during this time I came to understand another sad statistic: Four out of five rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. I kept meeting young girls who’d been sexually assaulted, always by a family member or friend. Sadly, many of these teens were ostracized by their loved ones when they came forward, told they were lying, or that the assault was their fault.

This prompted me to investigate the behavior and psychology of rapists, the profile of a victim, and the ways sexual assault survivors can heal. The end result was the story of Maggie, a national park ranger who works at Montezuma Castle in Arizona’s Verde Valley. Maggie is recovering from the gang rape she suffered in the Coast Guard. We follow her through her depression, anger, and ultimate healing.

 

What’s your typical writing day like? 

Until I retired from teaching, I only wrote during school breaks, so most of my books were produced during the summer. Now, I generally get some work done every morning and sometimes in the late afternoon, depending on what else I have going on.

 

What are the challenges you found when writing your novel? 

I find the writing is the easy part. I like to tell stories, perhaps a hangover from my previous life as a reporter. The real challenges come when an author tries to convince others—agents, editors, publishers, reviewers, readers—to like their books.

 

Which fictional character would you like to meet and why? 

I find Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt rather appealing. Not only is he pretty hot, but he’s a scuba diver. I am as well. I would love to tag along on some of his underwater adventures.

 

What elements make up a good story? 

The setting is especially important. I consider locale as another character. Most of my stories, for example, take place in Arizona in and around the Sonoran Desert, a magical area filled with rugged, wild terrain and plants and animals that live nowhere else. The land is both magnificently beautiful and horribly treacherous, if one is not careful. Of course, a good story rides on its characters, who must be engaging, interesting, and relatable.

 

Which authors do you admire? 

I don’t have any favorite authors. I read stories that look interesting, whether the author is a well-known for best-sellers or a first-time Indie author.

 

What’s your favourite word and why? 

Favorite word? I don’t know. I like lots of words, but mostly ones that sound funny when you say them, like absorb and nudibranch. (The latter are strange Seussical-like creatures who live in the sea. As I mentioned, I’m a scuba diver.)

 

Any other advice for aspiring writers? 

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Book Review: Codename Firefly by C. J. Daugherty

Gray Langtry is on the run. As the only child of the British Prime Minister, Gray’s life has been in turmoil ever since her mother was chosen to lead the country.

Both she and her mother are targets of a Russian assassination plot. And what’s worse, members of her mother’s own cabinet are involved. A team of bodyguards never leaves her side. The press attention is relentless. And then there are the death threats.

Now, after an attempt on Gray’s life, she has been moved to an elite boarding school in the British countryside. Shielded by high walls and locked gates, Gray finally feels safe, but the plotters are still hunting, and soon they will find her.

Gray’s personal bodyguard, Julia, and the school’s young headmistress are determined to protect her. They both know how dangerous things are. The assassins searching for Gray are highly trained. And when they arrive they will aim to kill. Dylan, a mysterious American student, seems to know more than he should – but he’s always there when Gray needs him. Can she trust him? Can she trust anyone?

As winter closes in and darkness falls, Gray will have to think fast.

The hunters are coming.

 

*****

After an attempt on her life, the UK Prime Minister’s daughter, Gray has been sent to a special boarding school with elevated security. It’s somewhere she should be safe. However, her attackers are not finished with her and are back to finish what they started.

As a guy in his (cough) forties, I am not the target audience for this novel. However, that’s not to say that I didn’t find it enjoyable. This is the sequel to Number 10 (which I hadn’t read prior to starting Codename Firefly) but it’s not a problem, this can be read first or as a standalone. Enough is explained so that you can keep up with what has happened to Gray.

Gray herself was a little bit of a mystery to me but I can see her being relatable in many ways. Gray is a normal kid, trying to be as normal as she can despite her circumstances.

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Book Review: Lil’s Bus Trip by Judy Leigh

It’s always a good time for a road trip…

When 82-year-old Lil decides to book herself, her 65-year-old daughter, Cassie, and her friend Maggie on a bus trip across Europe, she hopes for a little adventure to counteract the monotony of life in sheltered accommodation.

Along with three members of the Salterley Tennis Club and the Jolly Weaver five-a side football team, whose ideas of a good time are rather different to Lil’s and strikingly at odds with each other’s, the merry band of travelers set out on their great adventure.

From moving moments on the beaches of Normandy, outrageous adventures in Amsterdam, to the beauty of Bruges and gastronomic delights of France, the holiday is just the tonic Lil, Maggie and Cassie needed. 

And as the time approaches for them to head home, Lil makes an unexpected discovery – even in her advancing years, men are like buses – there isn’t one for ages then two come along at once. Is Lil ready to share her golden years, and can the ladies embrace the fresh starts that the trip has given them. Or is it just too late to change… 

*****

When 82 year old Lil decides that she needs a holiday, she takes her daughter Cassie and her best friend Maggie along for the ride. Along with a variety of different people, they embark on a mini bus tour of Europe and soon discover that it’s never too late to live and love.

This book, to begin with, was a bit of a slow burner. As there are a few people going on the holiday, it meant that quite a few characters needed to be introduced early on. However, once they actually got going on the holiday, I couldn’t put the book down.

Told mainly from the point of view of Lil and Cassie, it covers their holiday across France, Belgium and Amsterdam with many hilarious, poignant and wonderful moments along the way.

It was interesting to see how all the different personalities interacted, especially as they were all travelling in quite close proximity and were a variety of ages.

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Book Review: The Ticklemore Tavern by Liz Davis

Violet makes her own gin.

Logan Cassidy sells it in his pub, The Ticklemore Tavern.

It should have been a match made in heaven, especially since the pair of them fancy the socks off each other, and they are both young, free and single.

Except…

Logan’s mum, Marie, doesn’t think Violet is good enough for her son. No woman is, or ever will be.

And when she becomes ill, Logan is torn between looking after his mum or following his heart.

However, neither Logan, nor Marie, has taken the sheer force of nature that is Violet into account.

What Violet wants, Violet gets.

Usually…

But maybe not this time, eh?

*****

Violet makes her own gin and, along with her brother, owns the OriGINal Gin Distillery.

Logan agrees to sell the gin in his pub, The Ticklemore Tavern. Both Violet and Logan have an instant attraction to each other, both are single so they decide to see where the relationship goes.

However, Logan’s mother, Marie, believes that Violet’s intentions toward Logan aren’t good.

When Marie falls ill, Logan is torn between his mother and the woman he is quickly falling in love with.

It was so lovely to be back in Ticklemore and reunited with many familiar characters, especially Hattie.

Although The Ticklemore Tavern is the fourth book in the Ticklemore series, you don’t need to have read the first three to love this latest instalment. It can stand alone.

This book focuses on two main characters, Violet and Logan.

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Book Review: Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

”What is wrong with you?”

Laura has spent most of her life being judged. She”s seen as hot-tempered, troubled, a loner. Some even call her dangerous.

Miriam knows that just because Laura is witnessed leaving the scene of a horrific murder with blood on her clothes, that doesn”t mean she”s a killer. Bitter experience has taught her how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Carla is reeling from the brutal murder of her nephew. She trusts no one: good people are capable of terrible deeds. But how far will she go to find peace?

Innocent or guilty, everyone is damaged. Some are damaged enough to kill.

Look what you started.

*****

Laura’s life has been troubled since she was in an accident as a teenager. She is seen as hot tempered, difficult, a loner and in some cases, dangerous.

Miriam witnesses Laura leaving the scene of a crime with blood on her clothes but experience has taught her that it’s easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Carla is trying to come to terms with the death of her nephew. She trusts no-one.

I was such a big fan of The Girl on The Train and so I was excited to read the latest novel from Paula Hawkins.

The blurb for this book caught my attention immediately and from page one, you’re placed straight into the action. Paula Hawkins has a great way of pulling you into the lives of her characters until you look up and realise that it’s the middle of the night and you’ve read the book in one sitting.

Told from the point of view of Laura, Miriam, Carla, Irene and Theo, the narrative pulls the reader to and fro and this very much added to the suspense and overall tension of the plot.

Each character brought something interesting to the story. Laura’s backstory is tragic and you can understand why she struggles to be steady.

Miriam is a bit of an enigma and her backstory is revealed gradually through the book (and I believe could have been a novel in itself.)

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Book Review: Snowflakes over The Starfish Café by Jessica Redland

Two broken hearts.

Since she inherited The Starfish Café, Hollie has poured her heart into the business, striving to keep her mother’s traditions and warm-hearted spirit alive. But behind closed doors Hollie is searching for true happiness as she grieves the tragic loss of her family who were once the beating heart of the café…

An unexpected meeting.

Jake lives by two rules: don’t let anyone get close and don’t talk about what happened. Little does he know that a chance meeting at The Starfish Café, facilitated by a fluffy lost dog, is about to turn his world upside down…

The chance to love again.

Can Hollie and Jake break down the barriers that have been holding them back from finding love and happiness, before Christmas comes around? After all, with courage, nothing is impossible…

*****

Hollie puts her all into the Starfish Café, trying to keep her mother’s spirit alive as she grieves for her family.

Jake has never let anyone get close to him, especially since his tragic childhood left him without his parents.

A chance encounter involving a lost dog brings these two together. Can they overcome their own grief and find a new life?

It was initially the cover of this book that drew me toward it. It conjures romance and so I couldn’t wait to get started on the novel.

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Book Review: One Lucky Summer by Jenny Oliver

I’m so pleased to welcome Jenny Oliver to Novel Kicks today and the blog tour for her new novel, One Lucky Summer. 

With an air of faded splendour, Willoughby Hall was an idyllic childhood home to Ruben de Lacy. Gazing at it now, decades later, the memories are flooding back, and not all of them are welcome…

In a tumbledown cottage in Willoughby’s grounds, Dolly and Olive King lived with their eccentric explorer father. One of the last things he did was to lay a treasure hunt before he died, but when events took an unexpected turn, Dolly and Olive left Willoughby for good, never to complete it.

But when Ruben uncovers a secret message, hidden for decades, he knows he needs Olive and Dolly’s help. Can the three of them solve the treasure hunt, and will piecing together the clues help them understand what happened to their families that summer, all those years ago?

*****

Olive and Dolly spent their childhood living in a cottage on the grounds of Willoughby Hall, the estate owned by the De Lacy family.

The girl’s father sets up a treasure hunt for them but tragedy means that the girls leave before completing it.

Years later, Ruben De Lacy is back at his family’s estate. By accident, he uncovers the first clue in that last treasure hunt.

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Book Extract & Review: Lips Like Strawberries by Michael Stephenson

I am pleased to be welcoming Michael Stephenson to Novel Kicks today and the blog tour for his novel, Lips Like Strawberries.

Here’s a little about the novel…

For some, it’s the eyes. For others, the heart. But for Ara Lake, the thing that first made her fall in love… was the taste of his lips.

Ara Lake has always thought of herself as living a normal life. She works a regular job, lives in the city and, like any single 30-year-old, fantasizes about finding someone to spend her life with that isn’t her best friend Latre Simms. There’s only one problem. She hasn’t left her apartment since the Covid-19 outbreak.

Three years later, her agoraphobia hasn’t fully kept her walled off from the outside world. She can thank her abnormal abilities for that! Ara’s superpower allows her to sense the world through someone else’s senses for 12 hours. Everything changes when her powers introduce her to a man whose lips taste succulent, juicy, and sweet, like her favorite fruit.

Now, she must embark on a journey of love, strength, and self-discovery that she never expected and isn’t fully sure will end well. But she has to learn to trust her own senses and, in a post-coronavirus world, give herself over to love at first kiss as she ventures to find the one with Lips Like Strawberries!

A romantic comedy for the modern era, Lips Like Strawberries will make you laugh, cry and acknowledge the strength it takes just to fall in love. A perfect beach read to cure our collective lockdown blues, get a taste for love today!

 

I have reviewed the novel below but first, Michael has shared an extract with us. Enjoy. 

 

*****beginning of extract*****

 

“Oh, sorry about that,” Ara said, apologizing for the over-touch.

The woman smiled, then let her face droop back into its resting mug. There it was again: a sullen, sad, almost depressing look, as if she knew profound sorrow. Very distracting. Not only did Ara have these powers, she was also an empath. The pain of others magnetized her to try to do something good for them. But because she didn’t know what to do, she simply stopped and stared at the woman walking down the hall.

The elevator arrived and the woman got on, only then breaking Ara’s trance. “Wait,” Ara called. “You didn’t tell me your…” The doors closed. “… name.” Ara looked down at the metal barrier between her apartment and the hallway. Her affliction was so bad that she couldn’t even enter the hall, let alone go outside. If she wanted to know that woman’s name, chasing after her was out of the question. “Eh! Maybe I don’t need to know your name.” It was always nice to know whose senses she shared, but not necessary. She closed her door and went to the kitchen for dinnerware.

She counter-ed the food and said, “Alright, let’s see what I get tonight. What sense are you gonna share with me… delivery girl.” She closed her eyes and focused on her abilities. This was the only way she knew how to activate and deactivate her powers. Holding her eyes shut tight, she raised her hands and crossed her fingers for something good and…

She suddenly tasted the distinctive flavor of cinnamon. Smacking her jaws up and down, she worked her tongue from cheek to cheek, then lamented, “Taste? What? Oh, come on!” She started unpacking the food, turned to get herself a plate, shuffled across the kitchen to the utensils drawer and even grabbed a bottle of water off the top of the fridge, all while complaining. “Taste. That’s great. That’s lovely. I get the sense of taste from a girl that works in a Chinese restaurant, the very Chinese restaurant that I just ordered from. Gosh! I wonder if I’m going to be tasting any Chinese food at any point in the night? So stupid!”

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Book Review: The Perfect Life by Nuala Ellwood

HAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO BE SOMEONE ELSE?

Vanessa has always found it easy to pretend to be somebody different, somebody better. When things get tough in her real life, all she has to do is throw on some nicer clothes, adopt a new accent and she can escape.

That’s how it started: looking round houses she couldn’t possibly afford. Harmless fun really. Until it wasn’t.

Because a man who lived in one of those houses is dead.

And everyone thinks Vanessa killed him…

*****

Vanessa likes pretending to be other people, even if it’s only to be able to view houses for sale that she could never afford.

Harmless fun, she reasons.

That is until the owner of one of these houses is dead and people thinks she killed him.

From page one, I knew that I was going to like this novel. There was something about the plot and the writing style that is very moreish. It just pulled me in until I was finished and realised I’d read it in one sitting.

Told from the point of view of the main character, Vanessa, it goes between ‘now’ where Vanessa is staying with her sister, is without a job and lacks confidence, to ‘then,’ where we see Vanessa as a successful person with the world at her feet. Through the book, we find out what happens between these two states and begin to understand Vanessa as a character.

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Book Review: Rabbit Hole by Mark Billingham

My name is Alice. I’m a police officer.

I’m trying to solve a murder on a psychiatric ward.

But I’m also a patient…

They were meant to be safe on Fleet Ward: psychiatric patients monitored, treated, cared for. But now one of their number is found murdered, and the accusations begin to fly.

Was it one of his fellow patients? A member of staff? Or did someone come in from the outside?

DC Alice Armitage is methodical, tireless, and she’s quickly on the trail of the killer.

The only problem is, Alice is a patient too.

*****

Alice is a police officer.

She’s trying to solve a murder that’s occurred on Fleet Ward; a psychiatric ward where the patients are monitored.

None of them are being very forthcoming when it comes to giving Alice the information she’s after… probably because Alice is also a patient and was there the night the murder took place.

I am a fan of Mark Billingham’s books. I was immediately drawn into this novel. The premise intrigued me a lot. Yes, it is a slightly different direction to Mark Billingham’s other novels but I feel it’s a great one.

I did struggle with the mental health theme at times as there were certain elements I could relate to (I won’t bore you with the details.) I also found it a fascinating insight into the mind of a person who is sectioned in a mental health ward. I could picture the ward and the people, like I was there, seeing it all happen.

I think mental health can be quite a hard subject to get right in fiction but I feel Mark tackled it well with tact, respect and humour.

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Book Review: The Promise of Summer by Bella Osborne

Ruby’s life is about to change for ever…

After years of dating losers, cheats and one guy who did something unrepeatable to her kettle, Ruby has all but given up on romance. But then a stranger sits next to her on a train to London and explains his plan to propose to the woman of his dreams. Maybe true love does exist after all?

When the man accidentally leaves the engagement ring behind, Ruby is determined to save the day. But she hasn’t counted on fellow passenger Curtis stepping in and insisting he should be the one to track the stranger down.   
 
As summer closes in, the unlikely pair make a promise to reunite the ring with its owner. But can they find their own happy ever after along the way?

Ruby has a plan and she can’t wait to put it into action.

On her train journey down to London to realise her dream, she meets Curtis who immediately rubs her up the wrong way.

She also meets Lewis. He is going down to London to propose to his girlfriend. The problem is, he ends up getting off the train with Ruby’s phone and without the ring.

Ruby and Curtis set out together to try and reunite the engagement ring with its owner, getting to know one another along the way.

Oh, I get so excited whenever Bella Osborne releases a new novel and it really is a pleasure to be part of the blog tour for her new book.

Being such a fan, the expectations for The Promise of Summer were high but it did not disappoint. I couldn’t put it down and read it in pretty much one sitting.

You are pulled straight into the action. I immediately wanted to know what was going on. Was Lewis going to get his ring back? Was Curtis as pompous as he seemed? Was Ruby going to see her dream happen and what was this dream?

I liked how this book was set up going between Ruby and Kim’s point of views. Both these women are different and yet they are dealing with similar things. The fear of being alone.

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Book Review: Cyprus Kiss by Murray Bailey

Cyprus Kiss is part of the Ash Carter Near East Crime Thriller series.

Those were the words on the back of a woman’s photograph. And she vanished six months ago.

It’s 1948 and military investigator Ash Carter has arrived in Cyprus.

A gang has been operating for two years, leaving a mark known to police as the kiss of death. Is this something to do with them? And why ask him for help?

After a murder, Carter begins to realise this is personal. In a race against time, Carter must work out the connection between the gang, the missing woman and the murder before it’s too late.

It’s 1948.

Ash Carter has been redeployed to Cyprus from Mandatory Palestine. He’s there as a member of Military Intelligence.

Days after his arrival, he receives a photograph with ‘help me’ written on the back.

Can Ash work out what’s going on before it’s too late?

This is definitely my kind of book and the way it’s written, I felt immersed in it very quickly, like I was there watching it unfold.

Ash is a strong main character who is, in part, motivated by his past. He’s a very believable character and he wants to respect and learn from the local people around him. He’s a lot more progressive than most of his colleagues and superiors and I liked this about him.

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Book Review: Houses of Deception by Cynthia Hamilton

Three missing persons.
Two private investigators.
One chance to get it right.

The MDPI team agrees to join forces with former nemesis Russell Barnett to find Dylan Latham, the son of the man who lost his life while working to save Madeline’s.

The investigation turns into a hunt for two twenty-somethings who’ve disappeared without a trace, starting at the home of land rich Cat Kingman, an eccentric woman in her late-70s. Madeline and Mike soon find themselves wading through a shameful past for clues as they scramble to save two young lives.

A frantic early-morning phone call propels the detectives down a rabbit hole as a missing person case turns into a kidnapping for ransom.

Now juggling two cases, Madeline and Mike can’t afford to waste any time. But as they dive deeper into both investigations, red flags and gut feelings cause them to question whether the people they’re searching for are really innocent victims—or guilty parties responsible for orchestrating sinister plots.

As they navigate ransom drops, stolen art, and extortion schemes, the two cases prove to be more complicated than either investigator can imagine.

The secrets and lies they uncover will have you turning each page until the very end.

Husband and wife team, Madeline and Mike run a PI agency. They find themselves investigating two missing person cases on the same day and it’s a race against time.

On one case, they have to work with former nemesis, Russell, to help find his nephew, Dylan and his girlfriend, Paige. The other case goes from a missing person to a kidnapping for ransom.

Can Madeline, Mike and their team find these three people before it’s too late and find out what’s really going on?

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Book Review: The Lily Garden by Barbara Josselsohn

When Caroline left Lake Summers thirty years ago, she thought she’d never go back to the place where she lost her parents.

But when she finds out that the town’s lily garden lovingly built by her mother is going to be destroyed, she knows fate is calling. Dropping everything at her office in Chicago, she knows she is the only person who can save the garden.

Caroline and her daughter Lee are welcomed home by the warm smile of her mother’s best friend Maxine, and piles of pancakes at her cozy little restaurant in town. And Caroline soon learns that she isn’t the only person invested in saving her mother’s legacy, when she meets handsome historian Aaron. As she gets to know him, strolling along the sparkling lakeshore, she can’t imagine anywhere else she’d rather be.

But then Caroline learns a terrible secret about the day her mother died. And soon the real reason Aaron is in Lake Summers comes to light. Will the truth about the people she loves force her to give up a future with Aaron, and the beautiful town that has always been in her heart?

Caroline left Lake Summers thirty years ago after she lost both of her parents and has not been back.

When she gets a note informing her that her Mother’s beloved garden is due to be destroyed, she knows she finally has to return. She has to try and save the Lily Garden.

This was my introduction to Barbara Josselsohn’s novels. The premise intrigued me and I couldn’t wait to start reading.

It was pretty easy for me to feel warmth for Caroline. It was obvious to me from the beginning that she was in an environment to which she didn’t belong. There seemed to be a whimsical feel to her that didn’t fit with the corporate atmosphere. I knew there was more to her story than meets the eye.

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Book Review: A Case of Royal Blackmail by Sherlock Holmes

In A Case of Royal Blackmail, the 24-year-old Sherlock Holmes recounts how he untangled the web of blackmail and deceit surrounding the ‘complex romantic endeavours’ of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, those of Lillie Langtry and her various suitors and the morass of scandal surrounding the Prince’s court of 1879.

In between times he also reveals how he solved the cases of Vamberry the Wine Merchant, Ricoletti of the Club-foot and His Abominable Wife and Oscar Wilde’s Amethyst Tie-pin.

Eighteen months before Sherlock Holmes meets Dr Watson and the duo of Baker Street is formed, Holmes is a 24 year old finding his feet as a consulting detective.

He soon becomes engrossed in not only recovering a stolen family heirloom for Oscar Wilde but is also looking to a case involving Royalty. Someone is attempting to blackmail the Prince of Wales.

Many people could be involved including Lillie Langtry and her various suitors. It’s real scandal that could rock Queen Victoria’s court in 1879.

Can Sherlock bring his growing number of cases to a satisfying conclusion or has he taken on more than he bargained for?

I love a good detective story and so this immediately appealed to the puzzle solver in me and Sherlock Holmes is one of the greats.

I love that it was written by him – like a case summary. I also liked reference to all the other historical figures – Lillie Langtry and Oscar Wilde especially as both these people fascinate me. I have always loved it when fiction gets mixed with history. Oh to be a fly on the wall of the real events.

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NK Chats To… Kasi Blake

Hi Kasi, thank you for joining me today. Can you tell me about your novel, The Business Engagement and what inspired it?

I started off writing for Harlequin years ago. Then I moved on to YA Urban Fantasy/Paranormal books. I love writing YA, but it was nice to write about adults for a change. The Business Engagement is Contemporary Romance, a story of two lawyers that can’t stand each other. When the story begins, they are both experiencing huge problems at work. Skylar decides a fake engagement would solve everything. I have always loved Marriage of Convenience stories. That’s what inspired me to do this book.

 

What’s your typical writing day like?

Well, sometimes I get up before dawn to start writing. But when I get up late, I catch up on emails first. I do some marketing and whatever else that needs doing. I usually don’t really start to write until evening, and then I am usually up until midnight working on a book.

 

What are the challenges you found when writing your novel?

It’s always difficult to get to know the characters well enough that you know how they’ll react in any given situation. There are just so many moving parts when it comes to writing and endless challenges.

 

Which fictional character would you like to meet and why?

From this book, it would be Grandma Dot. She’s a pistol. From any of my books, it would be Nick Gallos/Tyler Beck from Bait: Van Helsing Academy because he is a gorgeous rock star with a bigger than life persona. He tours the world killing vampires.

 

From idea to finished book, what’s your writing process like?

After I get the idea, I make a list of possible scenes. I have to check to make sure all the romance elements are there. Then I dive in. When the book is finished, I put it aside for a while and work on something else. After I’ve forgotten how the story goes, I read it as a reader would, but I pay special attention to what’s wrong. I rewrite. Then I send it out to my wonderful beta readers. They let me know all the problems they spy out, and I rewrite again. Eventually, it gets looked at by an editor. The book goes through several rounds of revisions and editing before it’s ready to go.

 

Which authors do you admire?

S.E. Hinton got me started writing back when I was in the 7th grade. Her books inspired me. I also love to read Cassandra Clare, JK Rowling, Stephen King, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Nora Roberts.

 

What’s your favourite word and why?

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NK Chats To… Simon Whaley

It’s my pleasure to help kick off the blog tour for Blooming Murder. Hello Simon, thank you for joining me today. 

Hi Laura. Many thanks for inviting me onto Novel Kicks to discuss my first novel. It’s lovely to be here.

Can you tell me about your novel, Blooming Murder and what inspired it?

Blooming Murder is set in the fictitious market town of Mortiforde, somewhere on the Welsh Borders, and tells the story of two towns fighting it out in the annual Borders in Blossom competition, to become the Borders Most Blossoming Market Town. For the fifteenth successive year, Mortiforde is up against their arch rivals Portley Ridge in this flower competition final.

My main character, Lord Mortiforde, (Aldermaston to friends and family), who is still finding his feet as the new 8th Marquess of Mortiforde, is tasked with helping Mortiforde win this year. Unfortunately for Aldermaston, Portley Ridge is determined to secure their fifteenth successive win, and have a few deadly tricks up their sleeve.

The inspiration came from an old news item I discovered on the BBC News website once, although I won’t say too much, because it might spoil the plot!

But I’m also inspired by my home county of Shropshire. When I moved here from the outskirts of London over 20 years ago, I was struck by the strong sense of community here. There’s a determination in the people who live here. When something needs doing, the community gets up and does it!

 

What’s your typical writing day like?

It doesn’t always happen, but I try to spend most of my mornings working on my bigger writing projects, such as the Marquess of Mortiforde Mystery series. Then, before lunch, I’ll go for a walk. Being hunched up over a keyboard all day isn’t good, and I’m fortunate to live amongst the beautiful scenery of the Welsh Borders.

My walking time is often some of my best creative time because walking is great for thinking. Charles Dickens sometimes walked twenty miles a day when he was writing. (I’m not sure how he found the time to write – I’d be too exhausted to write after walking that far!)

In the afternoons, I work on commissioned article features for magazines like The People’s Friend, BBC Countryfile, and Writing Magazine.

 

What are the challenges you found when writing your novel?

I’m a discovery writer, rather than a detailed planner, so although I have a rough idea of how things will develop, it’s not until I sit down and start writing that I discover where the characters are going to take me. They don’t always take me where I expect them to, so there were times when I found myself getting stuck. And while walking is great for creatively resolving problems, I don’t always resolve my current dilemma on the first walk!

 

What songs would make up a playlist for your book?

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Book Review: The Darlings by Angela Jackson

When Mark Darling is fifteen years old, he is the golden boy, captain of the school football team, admired by all who know him. Until he kills his best friend in a freak accident.

He spends the next decade drifting between the therapy couch and dead-end pursuits. Then along comes Sadie. A mender by nature, she tries her best to fix him, and has enough energy to carry them both through the next few years.

One evening, Mark bumps into an old schoolfriend, Ruby. She saw the accident first hand. He is pulled towards her by a force stronger than logic: the universal need to reconcile one’s childhood wounds. This is his chance to, once again, feel the enveloping warmth of unconditional love. But can he leave behind the woman who rescued him from the pit of despair, the wife he loves? His unborn child?

This is a story about how childhood experience can profoundly impact how we behave as adults. It’s a story about betrayal, infidelity and how we often blinker ourselves to see a version of the truth that is more palatable to us.

Mark is haunted by the tragedy of killing his best friend when they were still at school. Even though he now has a wife who saved him from rock bottom and a baby on the way, the events of his schooldays still haunt him.

Enter Ruby. A girl from those days who was there. Who saw everything.

Mark is drawn to Ruby but can he stop himself before he crosses that line and loses everything in his life?

I’ve not read ‘The Emergence of Judy Taylor’ so I’m new to Angela Jackson’s novels.
The Darlings intrigued me from page one. Mark is a character you have both empathy and dislike for all at the same time. He struggles mentally with the fact that he accidentally killed his friend. He behaves in a way that isn’t great. As a reader, this really conflicted me and it was really interesting to see how much of the past can influence the future. I think everyone can relate to that aspect in some way.

As with Mark, I also struggled with Ruby. She goes into a relationship with Mark knowing his situation but she falls in love. I think she becomes a victim of that.
As I progressed through the book, I wondered whether these two could be redeemed.
Yes, what they do isn’t very nice but when you’re connected by something so tragic, it does create a bond especially if you’re still needing to get past these events. I found the way both the story and the characters split my opinion really interesting.

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Book Review: Insider by Owen Mullen

Someone’s playing both sides and now they have a score to settle…

When the family business is crime, you can never be sure who to trust. And when three of their businesses are hit in one night, the notorious Glass family close ranks. Either someone is sending them a message or a war is coming… 

With trouble coming from all sides, the heads of the Glass family have more than enough to deal with, but all bets are off when a stranger from the past enters the game, causing division and mistrust.

Crooked cops, rival gangs and old enemies are bad enough, but when the trouble comes from the inside, loyalties are tested, with deadly consequences.

Page-turning, gripping, gritty, Insider is perfect for fans of Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers and Mandasue Heller.

The Glass family is a crime family based in South London. They have been the undisputed kings of their patch for a long time but now someone is after them.

This book pulled me in quickly. From the start, the action begins and this made it hard to put it down.
Written both in third and first person, it really gave me an idea of how these characters were feeling and their motivations behind their decisions.

Without giving too much away, two of the main characters, Luke and Nina, find out they have a long lost relative and they are looking for their share of the empire.
This aspect only adds to the turbulent relationships already existing within this family and it does a good job of depicting how family loyalties can be tested.

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Book Review: The Orange Grove by Rosanna Ley

An unforgettable story of past love and family secrets, set in sunny Seville

Holly loves making marmalade. Now she has a chance to leave her stressful city job and pursue her dream – of returning to the Dorset landscape of her childhood to open Bitter Orange, a shop celebrating the fruit that first inspired her.

Holly’s mother Ella has always loved Seville. So why is she reluctant to go back there with Holly to source products for the shop? What is she frightened of – and does it have anything to do with the old Spanish recipe for Seville orange and almond cake that Ella keeps hidden from her family?

In Seville, where she was once forced to make the hardest decision of her life, Ella must finally face up to the past, while Holly meets someone who poses a threat to all her plans. Seville is a city full of sunshine and oranges. But it can also be bittersweet. Will love survive the secrets of the orange grove?

Holly has made a decision. She is leaving her stressful job in Brighton and is moving back home to Dorset to pursue her dream of opening her own shop, Bitter Orange.

Knowing her mother has always loved Seville and has not visited since the 1980’s, Holly is a little confused when Ella doesn’t seem enthusiastic about the trip and she starts to ask questions when they go to source stock for the new shop. What awaits Holly in Seville? What is her mother hiding?

The Orange Grove was my introduction to Rosanna Ley and so, when I began The Orange Grove, I didn’t know what to expect but the cover alone was a good sign. It’s so pretty. I always love when books are set in Dorset. Growing up there, it holds a special place for me.

It didn’t take long for this story to draw me in. Rosanna’s descriptions of Seville felt so dreamy and vivid. I could imagine myself in that setting, surrounded by beautiful oranges trees. I could smell the orange blossoms. I could see myself in the hustle and bustle. I have never visited Seville but now I want to. It sounds stunning.

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Book Review: Two Metres From You by Heidi Stephens

Love might be closer than you think . . .

Gemma isn’t sure what upsets her more. The fact she just caught her boyfriend cheating, or that he did it on her brand-new Heal’s cushions.

All she knows is she needs to put as many miles between her and Fraser as humanly possible. So, when her best friend suggests a restorative few days in the West Country, it seems like the perfect solution.

That is, until the country enters a national lockdown that leaves her stranded. All she has for company is her dog, Mabel. And the mysterious (and handsome!) stranger living at the bottom of her garden . . .

When Gemma finds her boyfriend with another woman, she bolts to her friend’s cottage in the West Country. It’s only for a few days. It’s an opportunity to hide and figure out what she’s going to do next.

What Gemma isn’t counting on is the next door neighbour, Matthew and the announcement of a national lockdown due to COVID 19.

Heidi Stephen’s debut novel deals with life in lockdown perfectly. There are so many situations that we can all relate to in some way or another and this is done with such charm and humour.

Gemma is a delight (if not a slightly frustrating character at times.) However, she has a vulnerability to her that’s incredibly endearing. Due to how the story begins, you immediately feel empathy and solidarity with her and this helped draw me into the story, wanting to know what came next and whether she’d be OK.

Being in Crowthorpe, away from her life gives her a different perspective about what she wants and needs.

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Book Review: Not In My Name by Michael Coolwood

Private Eye meets Agatha Christie

What if the British people had been given a vote about invading Iraq in 2003. And the referendum split the nation with a 52% to 48% yes vote.

A young activist is beaten to death after an anti-war demonstration.

The police say her murder was random. It wasn’t. More activists will be murdered. The activists only trust each other.

Maybe that trust has already been betrayed. Witty, political and provocative, this New Adult mystery is based on real events, and keeps the reader guessing to the very end.

Not in My Name is set in an alternative 2003. A referendum on whether to intervene in Iraq has just got a 52% Yes, 48% no result.

Phoebe Green is part of a group that opposes the referendum result. They are seen as traitors and the enemy.
When one of their group is killed, Phoebe is determined to get to the bottom of it but it’s not long before the situation goes from bad to worse.

Immediately, this book caught my attention. It’s a very interesting look at how divided a country can be and how quickly we can turn on each other. It scared me and yet the characters fascinated me all at the same time.

It’s both a political and murder mystery which had me invested in the plot very early on.

All of the characters are hiding something and this did add to the intrigue. I really had trouble figuring out what was going to happen or how it was going to end. I didn’t see the end coming actually. I found that, at some point, I suspected everyone of having a hand in Cassie’s murder.

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Book Review: The House Guest by Charlotte Northedge

Kate trusts Della, and Della trusts Kate.
Their downfall is each other.

When Kate moves to London after the disappearance of her sister, she’s in need of a friend. A chance meeting leads Kate to Della, a life coach who runs support groups for young women, dubbed by Kate as ‘the Janes.’

Della takes a special interest in Kate, and Kate soon finds herself entangled in Della’s life – her house, her family, and her husband. It’s only when she realises that she’s in too deep that Della’s veneer begins to crumble, and the warnings from ‘the Janes’ begin to come true.

Why is Della so keen to keep Kate by her side? What does Kate have that Della might want? And what really lies beneath the surface of their friendship?

Kate has long lived in the shadow of her elder sister’s disappearance. Even when she leaves the family home in Cambridge for a new life in London, finding her sister is still priority.

Then she meets Della and is invited to take part in life coaching sessions. Della seems to have it all and Kate is soon under the spell. Are things as they seem though?

When I first started reading, I wanted to reach into the page and give Kate a big hug. She’s so lost.

I really don’t want to give much away when it comes to the plot of this novel as I am hoping it’s one you’ll discover for yourself.

This was a thriller that immediately drew me in. How it starts and then proceeds had me intrigued and desperate to know what was happening and how it fitted together.

It was obvious to me that certain characters and situations were not as they seemed and, like Kate, I didn’t know who to trust. I also questioned whether things were too good to be true.

Unexpected twists and turns throughout had me reading well past my bedtime.

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Book Review: Under The Italian Sun by Sue Moorcroft

A warm, sun-baked terrace.

The rustle of verdant green vines.

The sun slowly dipping behind the Umbrian mountains.

And the chink of wine glasses as the first cork of the evening is popped…

Welcome to Italy. A place that holds the answer to Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers’ many questions. Not least, how she ended up with such a mouthful of a name.

When Zia discovers that her mother wasn’t who she thought she was, she realises the time has come to search out the Italian family she’s never known.

However, as she delves into the secrets of her past, she doesn’t bargain on having to think about her future too. But with local vineyard owner, Piero, living next door, Zia knows she has a serious distraction who may prove difficult to ignore…

This summer, join Zia as she sets out to uncover her past. But can she find the future she’s always dreamed of along the way?

Want to know what love feels like? Read a Sue Moorcroft novel!

‘Under the Italian Sun’ is the forthcoming novel by this Amazon and Sunday Time best-selling author. When I get my hands upon the new novel, I’m all a quiver as I know I’m in for an exciting, but above all else, romantic ride. This novel didn’t disappoint in any way.

A little about the book, as I hate giving out too much if anything at all about the plot, if I can help it. This is the story of Zia and her journey to find her family; it’s not an easy one. Dumping her cheating boyfriend – a rotter of the highest order, I may add – she goes off to Italy with her best friend (also going through man problems) to see if she can find out more, especially about the father she never knew.

Zia isn’t prefect, making as much trouble for herself as she finds herself in, and that’s the beauty of her character. It’s not easy to write someone who you love, yet at the same time, feel like shouting at the screen, “Wake up woman!” Ms. Moorcroft is the master of this. I also loved her love interest, Piero and the fire between them burns as hot and cold as you could wish for.

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Book Extract: Blood Loss by Kerena Swan

A big hello to Kerena Swan. She’s here with the blog tour for her novel, Blood Loss. 

Sarah

With one eye on the rear view mirror and the other on the road ahead, Sarah is desperate to get as far away from the remote Scottish cabin as she can without attracting attention. But being inconspicuous isn’t easy with a black eye and clothes soaked in blood…

… and now the fuel tank is empty.

DI Paton

When a body is discovered in a remote cabin in Scotland, DI Paton feels a pang of guilt as he wonders if this is the career break he has been waiting for. But the victim is unidentifiable and the killer has left few clues.

Jenna

With the death of her father and her mother’s failing health, Jenna accepts her future plans must change but nothing can prepare her for the trauma yet to come.

Fleeing south to rebuild her life Sarah uncovers long-hidden family secrets. Determined to get back what she believes is rightfully hers, Sarah thinks her future looks brighter. But Paton is still pursuing her…

… and he’s getting closer.

Kerena Swan’s brilliant novel explores how honest mistakes and human frailty can have terrifying and long-reaching consequences. It’s a tale of family ties and loyalty, revenge and redemption that you won’t want to put down.

 

Kerena has shared an extract today. Enjoy.

(CW: May be unsuitable for young children/scenes relating to a body.)

 

*****beginning of extract*****

 

I was inspired to write this novel after reading a news article about people who undertook DNA tests to find out more about their heritage with shocking results.

Blood Loss is book one in a series featuring DI Paton and his son Tommy, a boy with Down’ Syndrome. After writing Who’s There? I was asked many times to write a sequel with the main character, Arnold. Tommy is a reincarnation of Arnold with a few subtle differences. You can discover the characters in a free novella available on my website. www.kerenaswan.com

 

DI Paton

Blue police tape fluttered across a rutted road to the right and three people, hunched in thick coats, stamped their feet nearby. ‘Bloody press,’ Paton muttered. ‘Come to feast while the body’s still warm. Who tipped them off?’

They rushed forward as Paton and Cheryl walked towards the police officer guarding the outer cordon.

‘Can you tell us what happened?’ a man asked, a watery drip wobbling under his red nose.  He grabbed a tissue from his pocket and rubbed it away.

‘Do we know who the victim is?’ A woman in a fur-trimmed hood stood in front of Paton, notebook at the ready, her fingers blue with cold.

‘You probably know more than me at this stage. Excuse me,’ Paton said. Stepping around her, he strode away with Cheryl following.

They gave their names to the officer who wrote them in the crime scene log. Behind him a man in a white suit was taking photographs of the mud and stones, swearing as the snow obliterated his evidence.

‘You need to get suited and booted, and take a spare pair of shoe covers for indoors,’ the officer said, running a finger around his collar and hunching his shoulders as large snowflakes melted against his neck. ‘Are you both on the fingerprint and DNA databases?’

They nodded.

‘When you’re ready, follow the path marked out by the tape.’

Paton was puffing by the time they reached the cabin at the top of the hill.

‘Maybe you should join my gym,’ Cheryl said.

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Book Review: After The Storm by Isabella Muir

When a violent storm blasts England’s south coast, it’s up to retired Italian detective Giuseppe Bianchi to sift through the devastation and piece together the tragic events left behind in the storm’s wake.

Giuseppe Bianchi’s brief visit to Bexhill-on-Sea has become an extended stay. He is loath to return to his home in Rome because of the haunting images that made him leave in the first place.

During his morning walks along the seafront with Beagle, Max, he meets Edward Swain, who becomes Giuseppe’s walking companion. They form a friendship of sorts and find they have a similar outlook on life.

But the devastating events of a single night lead Giuseppe to question the truth about Edward Swain. Teaming up with young journalist, Christina Rossi – his cousin’s daughter – Giuseppe learns about the brutal reality lurking behind the day-to-day life of families in the local community. And as the story unravels Giuseppe is reminded how anger and revenge can lead to the most dreadful of crimes.

After the Storm is the second novel in the Giuseppe Bianchi mystery series – the much awaited sequel to Crossing the Line.

I was very excited to be included in the blog tour for After the Storm which is the second novel in the Giuseppe Bianchi mystery series.

Ex Italian Detective Giuseppe Bianchi is staying with his cousin’s family in Bexhill. When the town gets hit by a terrible storm, he soon finds himself investigating the death of a friend.

From page one this book had me intrigued. I was a little concerned about whether I would be able to keep up with the story as I have not read the first book in the series, Crossing the Line. I had nothing to worry about. After the Storm can easily be read as part of the series or as a standalone.

There is such a calm at the beginning of the book that I really did feel, like a storm, that the narrative was building up to something and this added tension and suspense. Add in the mystery that Giuseppe is trying to solve and this made this book hard to put down.

I also loved the fact that it was based in the 1960’s. I am a big Beatles fan so I have always wondered what it would be like to live in the 60s. It was the decade of change and you can really feel that in the plot; like everyone and everything is on the verge of something bigger. I could realty imagine myself there, at Mario and Anne’s café, sipping tea as I look out over the sea.

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Book Extract: Girl With Secrets by Carol Rivers

I’m happy to be welcoming Carol Rivers to Novel Kicks today and the blog tour for her book, Girl With Secrets. 

1938, East London. Nine year old Daisy Purbright is a country girl at heart and together with beloved brother Bobby, they’ve enjoyed the endless freedoms of rural England.

But when her father gambles the family’s fortunes on a speculative investment in London’s docklands, Daisy and her family are swept up into the intrigue, danger and excitement.Desperately the Purbrights attempt to settle to a new life in the East End, but the whisperings of war grow louder.

Then, one late afternoon in September 1940, Adolf Hitler conducts a paralysing bombardment on London and war tightens its grip. Life changes dramatically and closely guarded secrets threaten the Purbrights’ happiness.

Can Daisy and her family survive one of the most fateful events of the 20th century?

Perfect for fans of Nadine Dorries, Pam Howes, Rosie Clarke and Dilly Court.

 

Carol has shared an extract from Girl With Secrets so grab that drink, the comfy chair and enjoy. 

 

 

*****beginning of extract*****

 

Cheer up, ducks, you look as though you’ve lost a pound and found a penny.’ Mrs Hayes steered the rattling trolley towards the canteen at a rate of knots.

‘No, I haven’t found anything. Well, not really.’ Daisy trotted beside the tea lady trying to keep up, listening to the tea-stained mugs clink violently against each other. A quick manoeuvre to the left swerved them down another walkway in the opposite direction to the offices.

‘Either you have – or you haven’t,’ the tea lady objected. ‘Speak now or forever hold your peace.’

Daisy was not certain how – or even if – she should reveal what she had seen. If she was to tell anyone at all, it would be Mrs Hayes or even Bobby, but was there really something to tell?

Perhaps she had imagined Aunt Betty standing close to Mr Calder? Had peering through one eye with the other closed distorted their figures? The more she thought, the more she was uncertain. Yet still the imprint of what she had witnessed remained in her mind. Just like Matt and Amelia’s almost-kiss.

Mrs Hayes launched the trolley into the doors of the canteen, where the scarred and dented flaps flew open. Once safely into the deserted room filled with stout wooden tables and chairs, smelling strongly of the cleaning agent that was used to kill the roaches and mice, the trolley was abandoned.

‘There now, all done,’ sighed Mrs Hayes, planting her hands on her hips as she studied Daisy. ‘Did you find your aunt?’

Daisy hesitated. ’Yes, but I didn’t actually speak to her.’

‘Why not?’

‘She was with – she had – a visitor.’

Mrs Hayes screwed up her eyes. ‘Who was that?’

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Book Extract: Dating The It Guy by Krysten Lindsay Hager

I’d like to welcome Krysten Lindsay Hager to Novel Kicks and the birthday blog tour for her  novel, Dating the It Guy. Happy book birthday. 

Emme starts dating a popular high school student who happens to be from a famous political family. It seems like everyone at school either wants to be Brendon Agretti or date him.

Emme feels out of her comfort zone in Brendon’s world and it doesn’t help that his picture-perfect ex seems determined to get back into his life, along with every other girl who wants to be the future Mrs. Agretti.

Emme is already conflicted due to the fact her last boyfriend dumped her and her whole world is off kilter with her grandparents’ health issues. Life suddenly seems easier pushing Brendon away and relying on her crystals and horoscopes to guide her.

Emme soon starts to realize she needs to focus less on the stars and more on her senses.

Can Emme get over her insecurities and make her relationship work?

Life sure is complicated when you’re dating the It guy.

 

To celebrate the birthday for her novel, Dating the It Guy, Krysten Lindsay Hager has shared an extract with us today. Over to her to introduce it. 

 

***** beginning of extract*****

 

I love this scene because we see the pressures Brendon has on him from growing up in a political dynasty family and it’s also the scene where he and Emme have their very sweet first kiss!

 

Everyone thought Brendon and his last girlfriend would get married in the future because they were both high achievers with perfect looks and backgrounds. It was like the daughter of the peanut butter dynasty being promised to the jelly tsar’s son.

“People always try to map out my life for me,” he said. “They assume I’m going to follow in my father’s footsteps: get married young, run for office, work my way up the ladder, have the perfect family—only unlike my dad, they assume I’ll eventually run for President. Although I think my old man’s still got designs on the Oval Office.”

“So is any of that what you want?” I asked.

He blinked. “I don’t even know what I want. It’s hard to explain, but when you grow up in a family where your dad and your grandpa were known for something, it’s like everyone assumes you’ll pick up the baton and finish the race. I know it sounds like, ‘oh, poor little rich kid crying because his family has connections,’ but it’s overwhelming.”

“Wow, I never thought about it that way. I guess I just assumed you had all these doors open to you, and your life was, well, planned. But also like you had it made—you were set.”

“That’s what most people think, and in some ways it’s true, but is it what I want? I honestly don’t know.”

“What would you do if you didn’t have any family pressure on you?” I asked.

“You’ll laugh at me.”

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Book Review: Space Taxies by A & H Frosh

He’s abducted by aliens to the planet Vost.

He’s saving up for his fare home.

But he’s got the small matter of a planetary apocalypse to deal with first…

In 1977 a New York Cab driver Mike Redolfo is abducted by aliens after being mistaken for a renegade scientist. Meanwhile, back in 1944 a mysterious man and his Jewish fiancée are fleeing across Nazi-occupied Europe.

Redolfo tries to keep a low profile on his new world whilst earning his fare home, but unwittingly gets involved with a shady gang of alien criminals, inadvertently bringing the planet to the brink of catastrophe.

As the link between the timelines becomes clear, Redolfo must discover secrets from the past that may hold the key to saving the planet.

If you like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, and Frank Herbert’s Dune, you’ll love this gripping and entertaining sci-fi mystery thriller.

“A perfect blend of science fiction and alternate history”

At first glance, I was intrigued by this novel and so was delighted to be part of the blog tour for Space Taxies.

The plot follows two threads in separate eras. The first setting is Czechoslovakia during the Second World War under Nazi occupation, with the second setting a short time later and hundreds of lightyears away on the planet Vost.

At first, it wasn’t obvious how these two stories connect, which only served to pull me into the book as I wanted to discover how everything fit together.

I was particularly impressed in how the authors interwove actual historical events into the earth bound storyline, at times providing an alternative explanation to things which remain unclear even to this day. The SciFi element is light enough to keep you reading, but involved enough that everything doesn’t just appear to be magic; a hard line to tread. It is easy for a SciFi story to get lost in the details of the technology and loose the readability but I am glad to report that this doesn’t happen here.

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Book Extract: One Night in Beartown by Nick Jones

I am very pleased to be welcoming Nick Jones to Novel Kicks today. He is here with his new picture book, One Night in Beartown (illustrated by Si Clark.)

From the award-winning duo that brought you Sarah’s Shadow comes another magical adventure…

When bear-mad schoolgirl Sandy Lane has her beloved teddy bear Berisford confiscated at school, she dreads the thought of going a whole night without his cuddles.

Little does she know that a bear-rilliant night awaits her, involving Berisford, a bear statue and many other wonderful friends!

 

Nick has shared an extract with us today. This book looks so adorable and is for ages 4-8.

 

***** beginning of extract*****

 

 

 

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Book Review: The Night We Met by Zoë Folbigg

As a man holds his wife’s frail hand, he recounts a journey like no other…

Daniel and Olivia are destined to be together. At least, Daniel thinks this the night he sees Olivia across a sea of people. As he backpacks through Australia, Daniel and Liv continue to cross paths, yet never speak. Until one night, Liv joins Daniel for a drink. And that night everything changes.

Back in London, stuck in a monotonous routine, Daniel finds himself daydreaming of the woman with green eyes and fiery hair. Armed with only a name he vows to find her, yet with every passing moment, Daniel’s hopes begin to disappear. What if it wasn’t meant to be?

But then fate steps in, and Daniel and Olivia’s story can truly begin…

This is a tale of serendipity, missed chances and the power of love.

I had really enjoyed Zoë’s previous novel, The Note so I was looking forward to reading her latest book, The Night We Met and being a part of the blog tour.

A special mention needs to be given to the cover. It’s so dreamy and pretty.

Daniel and Olivia are two people who are very easy to become invested in and attached to.

From the first page, I found their story compelling. It was an emotional rollercoaster. You will need tissues.

It is told from the point of view of both Daniel and Olivia as the former looks back on their lives and love story. It does time jump but it’s easy to keep up with.

Zoë has such a great talent for telling beautiful but realistic stories. This is the kind of novel I’d love to write. She is able to create relatable, likeable characters whilst still including conflict and the twists that life can throw at you.

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Book Review: Smoke by Joe Ide

Happy publication day to Joe Ide. His latest novel, Smoke, has been published by W&N. 

Isaiah is no longer IQ, the genius of East Long Beach. A man on the road and on the run, he is hiding in a small Northern California town when his room is broken into by a desperate young man on the trail of the state’s most prolific serial killer.

Isaiah’s former sidekick Dodson has also had to change life, in an attempt to keep his wife and child. His devil’s bargain is an internship at an LA advertising agency, where it turns out the rules of the street have simply been dressed in business casual. The ageing company’s fortunes may well rest on their ability to attract a younger demographic and Dodson – ‘the hustler’s hustler’ – just may be the right man for the job.

Both Isaiah and Dodson are at a crossroads, but can they leave their former lives behind for good?

Having not read anything by this author, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Smoke. I was a bit concerned, with it being book five in the IQ series, that I would struggle to keep up with the evolved backstory and established characters.

Previous events are touched upon lightly in this book but it can stand on its own. I felt it didn’t hold me back too much in terms of enjoyment.

The plot overall was classic crime thriller but what made this stand out was how it dealt with themes of racial tension, equality and stereotypes. I felt it opened my eyes to situations that I’ve not been exposed to and its handling of these subjects was done well.

It was well written and the story, pace and tension good. I didn’t at any point feel that it dragged its feet. It would be a perfect holiday read (if we were allowed to do that of course.)

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