Book Reviews

Book Review: Snowflakes Over Bay Tree Terrace by Fay Keenan

As the snowflakes fall, new love blossoms…

When teacher Florence Ashton receives a surprise inheritance, she decides to make the life-changing decision to up sticks to the charming town of Willowbury in Somerset. With a new house and a new job, she’s too busy putting down roots to think about love.

Air Ambulance pilot Sam Ellis is definitely not looking for romance either, especially not on his doorstep. When Florence, his new neighbour, complains about his noisy housemate, he feels more cross than star-crossed.

But as the nights draw in and both find themselves thrown together in Willowbury’s seasonal drama production, will they overcome their differences and allow a little bit of winter magic to fall along with the snow? And what secrets will be revealed by the box of memories Florence finds in the attic at Bay Tree Terrace?

 

This is definitely my kind of book – romance, wonderful characters and Christmas.

Florence is instantly likeable, as is Sam. I very quickly grew attached to both of them. I adored the relationship that promises to develop between them throughout the plot. Josie was also a lovely addition.

Even though Elsie has passed away prior to the beginning of the novel, the author has very much given her a presence even though she’s not physically there.

Aiden’s backstory is heartbreaking and I fear not as uncommon as we think. I felt the issues raised with this character were done with sensitivity. Overall, I wanted all the characters to be OK.

The setting for this novel couldn’t have been more perfect. Willowbury sounds like the type of place I want to be around at Christmas; the quintessential English town all dressed up for the festive period. Sigh, can I just leave, step into the book cover and go there now?

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NK Chats To… Nia Lucas

Hi Nia, thank you so much for joining me for a chat today. It’s great to welcome you back to Novel Kicks with the blog tour for your new novel. Can you tell me a little about Choices, Shape, Losses Break and what inspired the book? 

‘Choices Shape, Losses Break’ is a real shift in tone from my first novel ‘Love Punked’. I’ve described it as My So Called Life meets Top Boy meets Skins! It’s a Contemporary Fiction/Contemporary romance hybrid and it’s interwoven with some challenging themes and issues which aim to get the reader continually re-evaluating their assumptions about risk and threat.

It’s set firmly in the 90’s where, shunned and struggling at home and school, teenager Lorna Davies clatters into chaotic and charismatic Shay O’Driscoll and Leon Barrett at an illegal rave. As Lorna’s talent for dancing sees her unexpectedly employed in the strobe-lit heart of 90’s club culture, her world is turned on its head by her budding friendship with Shay and Leon. For the boys, their high-risk lives endanger all three of them in an association that blurs the lines between friendship and dependency.

As the risks escalate, Lorna’s best friend Hannah, her brother Dan, her bully-turned-protector Nico and her unexpected friend Rosa watch with concern as she is thrust ever closer to harm in an intoxicating new landscape. When life-threatening events threaten to separate them permanently, Lorna, Leon and Shay juggle love, loyalty, sacrifice and exploitation as their lives change beyond recognition. Will the losses they face break them all?

‘Choices’ was inspired by some of my own experiences of rave culture in the 90’s and the people and places that I knew back then. I actually sat down to write it back in 2016 when I realised that two people who were really important to me back in those days, would have turned 40 that year. Their impact on my life has been pretty significant but we lost touch. I guess in some ways, ‘Choices’ started off as a bit of a tribute to them but in typical ‘pantser’ style, it turned into something very much unexpected. ‘Choices;’ is written to be a standalone novel but there are 3 further books in the series. The next one is due for release later this year.

 

Which songs would feature on a playlist for this novel? 

Music is a massive part of ‘Choices Shape, Losses Break’. 90’s club culture was- and remains- an important part of my life. My friendships and experiences of that world were huge inspirations for the characters and events in the novel. This playlist could go on indefinitely and so I’ll pick my top 10:

Paul Van Dyk- For an Angel
Prodigy- No Good, Start the dance
DJ Taucher- Ayla
Dodgy- If you’re thinking of me
DJ Flavours- Your Caress
Dub Pistols- Cyclone
Faithless- Salva Mea
Marc and Claude- I need your loving
BT- Remember

 

What’s your writing process like and how has it changed from when you first started writing? 

I work full time in an incredibly busy inner-London social work team. Writing is truly my escape from the madness and demands of my work life! I have terrible insomnia and only need 4/5 hours sleep a night so my writing process is that I write while everyone else sleeps- I love the coziness of sitting in the gloom tapping away and creating characters and places.

I’m absolutely a pantser, I never plan anything when it comes to my novels. I’ve written 4 books and both ‘Love Punked’ and ‘Choices Shape, Losses Break’ are available right now on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited, rated 5 stars, I have another two finished novels that are due for release later this year. I’m finishing one that’s nearly complete and I’m working on 3 other ‘new’ ones that are only 20 or so pages long each so far. I do like flitting between them all and I genuinely work out the plot as I go.

I guess one thing that’s changed is that I am far more conscious of streamlining my writing as I go- I had a real journey to edit down ‘Choices Shape, Losses Break’ and I’ve learnt lots of lessons from that heartbreaking process! I definitely challenge myself as I go now (“Does this actually progress the plot?”  “Is this scene truly necessary?” “Is this character essential?”) . I’m definitely more succinct in my style!

 

What’s a typical writing day like for you? Do you prefer silence? Coffee? 

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Book Review: The Heart of a Peach by Jess B. Moore

Olivia Hamilton can do no wrong. Or at least that’s what the community of Fox River, North Carolina thinks of the odd but sweet young lady. She’s hiding a past she’d rather forget, engaged to the town’s most eligible bachelor, and longing for someone to see past the mask she wears. Olivia wants to find herself, forgive herself, and fall in love with someone who sees and embraces her flaws.

Denver MacKenna grew up the fiddle-playing prodigy of not only his hometown of Fox River but of North Carolina and the surrounding states. He plays obsessively and tours as often as possible, escaping a life of loneliness at home. Until he meets a beautiful siren who calls to him and has him making plans to settle down. Denver knows it’s wrong to covet the elusive Olivia, but finds himself inexplicably drawn to the brief glimpses she gives him of her true self.

The Heart of a Peach is the latest book in the Fox River series. Although it features characters from previous novels, it can be read as a standalone story. I’d not read any books in this series before starting this one. This didn’t hinder my enjoyment at all.

This book is told from the point of view of both Olivia and Denver.

Olivia feels trapped in a relationship she feels obligated to stay in and I felt a lot of sympathy for her. Guilt and shame can be paralysing, especially if these feelings are reinforced by the people we should be able to trust and I really wanted, as a reader, to be able to pull her out of that situation. When she meets Denver MacKenna, it was great to see how her perspective on life changed and to see her develop as a character.

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Audible Book Review: The Black Madonna of Derby by Joanna Czechowska

I am pleased to be welcoming Joanna Czechowska to Novel Kicks today and the audible blog tour for her novel, The Black Madonna of Derby.

During and after the Second World War, 200,000 Poles were given leave to remain in the UK as thanks for their help during the conflict – this book is a fictional account of just one of those families. Set during the 1960s and 1970s, The Black Madonna of Derby traces the story of the Baran family living in a provincial town in England. Their seemingly ordinary existence hides secrets of past betrayal, madness, and tragedy.

The story focuses on three generations: the elderly grandmother whose proud Polish patriotism hides dark events from the past that affect the present, the mother whose tries to meld her past life in war-torn Poland and Germany with her new life in England and the granddaughter who lives a double life culturally and linguistically – Polish at home and English outside.

The swinging sixties in London is vividly recreated, as is the hardship of life under communism in the Poland of that time. This book is unique in that there are no other novels dealing with the story of second generation Poles in the UK. It is a story that deserves to be told, a story of a group of people who have had little attention in the literature. Listen to what they have to say.

When I was asked to take part in the audible blog blitz for this novel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The information about the book intrigued me. I am pleased that I got the chance to listen to this book.

The narrator, Claire Nicholls has a very soothing voice and conveys the story in a clear way which made it easy to follow.

Moving onto the book itself, it focuses on three generations of women from the same family. It is an insight as to what it was like for immigrants after the second world war and the things they had to endure on a daily basis.

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Book Review: Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

Hello to Beth Cartwright who joins me today with the blog tour for her debut novel, Feathertide. 

Born covered in the feathers of a bird, and kept hidden in a crumbling house full of secrets, Marea has always known she was different, but never known why. And so to find answers, she goes in search of the father she has never met.

The hunt leads her to the City of Murmurs, a place of mermaids and mystery, where jars of swirling mist are carried through the streets by the broken-hearted.

And Marea will never forget what she learns there.

You know that feeling when you see the cover and blurb for a book and you know immediately that you’re going to love it? That was Feathertide for me.

First of all, I would like to mention this beautiful cover. Good job designers.

I found this novel incredibly compelling from the moment I started reading. It’s very dreamlike and whimsical. The setting and imagery in this book is enriching and vivid. I really want to see this as a movie.

Told from the point of view of Marea, she is a character that has always known she is different and I felt that she is relatable to so many people. She is a young person trying to figure out her place in the world and ultimately, she wants to figure out where she belongs. I loved seeing how she developed through the book.

Beth Cartwright has created such a rich, unique alternative world that is full of magic and I couldn’t help but get completely immersed in it.

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Book Review: The Tuscan Contessa by Dinah Jefferies

In 1943, Contessa Sofia de’ Corsi’s peaceful Tuscan villa among the olive groves is upturned by the sudden arrival of German soldiers. Desperate to fight back, she agrees to shelter a wounded British radio engineer in her home, keeping him hidden from her husband Lorenzo – knowing that she is putting all of their lives at risk.

When Maxine, an Italian-American working for the resistance, arrives on Sofia’s doorstep, the pair forge an uneasy alliance. Feisty, independent Maxine promised herself never to fall in love. But when she meets a handsome partisan named Marco, she realizes it’s a promise she can’t keep…

Before long, the two women find themselves entangled in a dangerous game with the Nazis. Will they be discovered? And will they both be able to save the ones they love?

 

Oh, this novel. Wow.

Set in Tuscany in WWII, I knew that this wasn’t going to be an easy read as nothing set during that time is. There were certain aspects of this book that were hard to read as a result.

Told from the point of view of both Sophia and Maxine, there is a lot going on but it’s all woven together so well. Even though both women are in the same place, they both experience things slightly differently and this added additional layers to the story.

Maxine’s story especially intrigued me and I would have liked to have known more about what happened with her family but that is another story for another book. Not that I am hinting, Dinah. Haha.

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Book Review: Cynthia Smart’s Midwife Crisis by Liz Davis

Midlife crisis? What midlife crisis?

At forty-four, Cynthia Smart is exactly where she wants to be. Almost.

In a couple of years, she’ll be the CEO of the company she’s spent her most of her adult life working in. For now, though, she’s still busy shimmying up the greasy pole of corporate business. She’s single, carefree, and independent, and nothing can stop her getting what she wants and deserves.

Until she discovers she’s pregnant.

Determined to have her cake and eat it, she’s convinced that having a baby will make little difference to her life, and that she will be one of those women who can hold down an incredibly demanding job and also be a perfect mother.

But as her pregnancy progresses and her life slowly falls apart, she has the sneaking suspicion that Max Oakland, the new guy on the block, is out to steal her dream job. That she’s terribly attracted to him doesn’t help, nor does the fact that he’s devilishly handsome, appears to be a really nice fella, and is good in a crisis.

When she gradually comes to realise that something has got to give, what she doesn’t want it to be is her heart.

 

I am pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Cynthia Smart’s Midwife Crisis.

Cynthia Smart’s career is riding high. In her forties, she is on the verge of a promotion despite the appearance of a mysterious new work colleague, Max.

Then she finds out she is pregnant. Having pretty much written off ever being a mother, a baby wasn’t something Cynthia had factored into her life plan.

This was one of those books that had me hooked from page one.

Told from Cynthia’s point of view, the writing style is lighthearted and easy to get into and I pretty much read it across a couple of sittings as I didn’t want to stop reading.

Cynthia is one of those frustrating but loveable characters. She has no idea what is about to hit her especially when she decides that two weeks is enough time to go back to work after the birth.

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Book Review: Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock

It’s springtime at The Vineyard in Alsace, a new season and a new beginning

After being abandoned by her partner when she falls pregnant, Lottie Schell goes home to live on The Vineyard in Alsace, where she has started a new relationship with the estate’s winemaker, Thierry. Now about to give birth, Lottie’s determined to raise her child and to provide for them both on her own without having to depend on anyone else.

Thierry Bernard is still dealing with his grief and guilt following the death of his wife two years earlier, for which he blames himself. When he meets Lottie, the instant attraction he feels towards her gives him hope that he can move on from the tragedy of his past, as long as he can tell Lottie the truth of what happened.

When circumstances force Lottie and Thierry closer together, they both find it hard to compromise – she’s proudly independent and he’s fiercely protective – and they’re both wary about trusting someone new with their heart.

Can Lottie and Thierry take a chance on each other, move on from their pasts and start over?

Escape to The Vineyard in Alsace once again with this romantic read set in the heart of Alsace’s wine country.

I was very pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace by Julie Stock.

I have not read the first book, The Vineyard in Alsace so I was a little concerned I wouldn’t know what was going on. Although this is book two in the series, it didn’t take me long to catch up so, in my opinion, this can be read as a standalone novel. Book one followed Fran. This book focuses on Fran’s sister, Lottie as she prepares to have a baby on her own.

I liked the fact that this book was told from the point of view of Lottie and her boyfriend, Thierry. Each are developed well and have a good chance to reveal their stories. All of the elements are put together well through the book.

Both of these characters have many layers to them. Lottie has a broken heart and trouble trusting those around her. I found Thierry’s story interesting and very sad as he grieves the loss of his wife and the guilt surrounding their last conversation. They both go through quite an emotional journey as they learn to hopefully trust each other. I feel that many can relate to them.

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Book Review: Idle Hands by Cassondra Windwalker

You can call me Ella. You generally assign me a whole host of other preposterous monikers. I think the least imaginative name I’ve heard is “the devil”, but I’ll answer to it if I must.

After making the courageous decision to leave her abusive husband, Perdie and her three young children start over and finally find the safety and love they deserve. But years later, when tragedy strikes, Perdie is left wondering if the choice she made to leave has led them to this moment.

If she were given the opportunity to take it all back and stay, would she?

In a frantic bid to protect her family, Perdie makes a deal to do just that. But in a world where the devil pulls the strings, can Perdie really change the past?

Brimming with enlightened observations and brilliant voice, Idle Hands is a haunting examination of grief, resilience, and what we’d give to spend another moment with the ones we love.

 

Perdie decides to leave her abusive husband. To begin with, it’s hard on her and her three children, Hannah, Rachel and Tad but eventually, the family finds some of the happiness that they have previously missed out on.

That is, until ten years later, tragedy strikes.

This book fascinated me from the first page to the last word. So much so that I read it across one day.

I found Perdie such a frustrating but compelling character. I wanted her to be OK but at the same time, I wanted to scream through the pages at her. She is broken and at times, I struggled to have sympathy with her. However, I could not relate to her on the physical abuse and it’s hard to know how I would react in that situation. Whatever she chose, she was potentially in a no win situation and that’s a horrible circumstance to be in. She was certainly a character of many layers who wanted to do the best for her children.

The plot very cleverly explores the question of ‘what if’ as well as family, love and friendship. It’s all woven into a strong, heartbreaking story that I knew was going to have an effect on me from the moment I began to read. The majority of us have probably, at some point said ‘I would give anything to spend some more time with..,’ or ‘I wish I had more time.’ This book has a unique perspective on that.

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Book Review: The Village Shop For Lonely Hearts by Alison Sherlock

After losing her job in New York, Amber Green isn’t looking forward to visiting her godmother in the sleepy village of Cranbridge. With its empty lanes and rundown shops, it’s hardly a place to mend her lonely heart.

But when Amber discovers that Cranbridge Stores, owned by her godmother Cathy and son Josh, is under threat of financial ruin, she realises that her skills as a window dresser might just be able to help save the struggling shop.

When disaster strikes, Amber and Josh must unite to save both the shop and the village from flooding.

Can Cranbridge Stores become the heart of the village once more?

And as the village begins to come back to life, perhaps Amber will discover a reason to stay…

 

I have become a fan of Alison Sherlock’s novels and was so pleased to be able to take part in the blog tour.

Amber has just returned from New York, having lost her job. Her plan is to join her parents in New Zealand but first, she visits her godmother, Cathy who runs the village shop in Cranbridge.

When Amber arrives, she finds Cathy on the eve of finding out results following cancer treatment and the shop is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Then there is Cathy’s son, Josh. When Cathy leaves him and Amber in charge of the shop for a while, feelings emerge. Does Amber’s future belong in New Zealand or Cranbridge?

 

Cranbridge sounds so idyllic. I got a bit of a Beaulieu feel from it actually. I know I want to go visit, especially if it’s Christmas.

Amber is a fantastic character. She’s warm and relatable. At the beginning of the book, she’s at rock bottom and she doesn’t know what to do next. It was great to see how she and her feeling of self worth changed through the book.

Josh, Oh Josh. If there are any Gilmore Girls fans out there, he gave me a bit of a Luke vibe. He’s a little grumpy but beneath that, he’s a loveable, dependable, honourable man.

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Book Review: Under A Starry Sky by Laura Kemp

One summer to change her life…

Wanda Williams has always dreamed of leaving her wellies behind her and travelling the world! Yet every time she comes close to following her heart, life always seems to get in the way.

So, when her mother ends up in hospital and her sister finds out she’s pregnant with twins, Wanda knows that only she can save the crumbling campsite at the family farm.

Together with her friends in the village, she sets about sprucing up the site, mowing the fields, replanting the allotment and baking homemade goodies for the campers.

But when a long-lost face from her past turns up, Wanda’s world is turned upside-down. And under a starry sky, anything can happen…

 

I have to be honest, this is not the kind of book I usually read. I am normally more of a crime/mystery/scfi kind of person.

All that said, I loved this book and read it from start to finish in one 7 hour stint!

The story follows Wanda Williams, a girl who has always dreamed of travelling but has never managed to leave due to family constraints.

I found the characters exceedingly well developed and I formed very clear images of them in my mind.

On several occasions, I found myself getting choked up or laughing out loud.

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Book Review: The Never Have I Ever Club by Mary Jayne Baker

Robyn Bloom thought Ash Barnes was the love of her life – until one day he announced he was leaving her to fly halfway across the world.

Months later, Robyn is struggling to move on – but then she has a brainwave: The Never Have I Ever Club. Her handsome next-door neighbour Will helps her bring their fellow Yorkshire villagers together for some carpe-diem-inspired fun.

From burlesque dancing to Swedish massages, everyone has plenty of bucket-list activities to try, but it doesn’t take long for Robyn to realise what – or who – her heart truly desires: Will.

There’s just one problem: he’s Ash’s twin brother.

Make that two problems: Ash is moving home… and he wants Robyn back.

Mary Jayne Baker is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.

Once I started reading, I fell in love with the endearing town of Kettlewick and its wonderful inhabitants. I couldn’t even really dislike Ash. He certainly has the charm everyone alludes to.

Will sounds perfect. Even though I couldn’t figure out which twin brother was going to get the happy ending, I was very much Team Will. I am saying no more about that.

Robyn is a great lead character. She shows a loving, caring side to her that makes her incredibly likeable.

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Book Review: Monstrous Souls by Rebecca Kelly

Over a decade ago, Heidi was the victim of a brutal attack that left her hospitalised, her younger sister missing, and her best friend dead.

But Heidi doesn’t remember any of that. She’s lived her life since then with little memory of her friends and family and no recollection of the crime.

Now, it’s all starting to come back.

As Heidi begins retracing the events that lead to the assault, she is forced to confront the pain and guilt she’s long kept buried. But Heidi isn’t the only one digging up the past, and the closer she gets to remembering the truth, the more danger she’s in.

When the truth is worse than fiction, is the past worth reliving?

 

(Trigger warning – Monstrous Souls dives into the troubling world of child abuse and coverups.)

Monstrous Souls is the debut novel from Rebecca Kelly and is a throughly good read. It follows the aftermath of a traumatic event which left its one known survivor with a fractured life and fractured memory.

Fifteen years after the event, fragments of memory start to align and the lid is slowly lifted on a system of organised abuse of children, covered up and hidden at the highest levels.

At times the book can be hard to read, as the subject matter is disturbing, but the author does a wonderful job of drawing you though the story.

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Book Review: How To Save A Life by S.D. Robertson

You can’t have a rainbow, without a little rain…

When a stranger saves Luke’s life, he knows he’s been given a second chance. He’s going to make it count – and, determined to live each day to its fullest, he starts by saying yes to everything life has to offer.

Slowly but surely, Luke learns that a little bit of blue-sky thinking can go a long way, and things start to look up.

But when Luke’s new resolve is tested, will he return to his old ways? Or can one fateful moment truly save a life?

 

If any of S.D. Robertson’s previous novels are anything to go by, I knew that How To Save a Life was going to be an emotional rollercoaster before I even began. And yes, it was.

Oh Luke. He’s such a complex and compelling character. On the first few pages, he’s not the most likeable of characters. He reminded me a little of Scrooge in that he is cynical, a loner and has no interest in the world around him.

The author throws the reader straight into Luke’s life and the more I got into the story, the more empathy I felt for him. As you start to get to know his history, you begin to understand his choices and his demeanour. Also, as a character, he really does develop and evolve over the course of the novel.

The supporting characters are also strong, Meg and Nora especially. I felt so sorry for Rita. Grief presents itself in so many different ways and I had nothing but sympathy for her.  There were moments I could empathise with and parts I could relate to.

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Book Review: Agony Auntics by Julie Butterfield

As an agony aunt, Fliss Carmichael should have all the answers but when her own marriage begins unravelling at the seams, she hasn’t a clue where to start.

After a simple mistake causes an unintended role swap, she becomes the one seeking advice from an unlikely source!

When reading the blurb, I was immediately drawn to the premise of this novel and indeed, from the first page, I was drawn into the plot.

This book, told as narrative and a series of e-mails, focuses on Fliss and Ellie. I like how it’s told from the point of view of both and it goes between the two effortlessly.

Fliss is an agony aunt. It is not what she dreamed of being. It’s more a profession she fell into but, having been married for eighteen years, she has always believed that the sacrifices she made in her own career was worth it in exchange for her happy marriage.

However, when she gets an e-mail from Ellie, a woman who asks for advice in talking to the man she loves but has never spoken to, it forces Fliss to take a look at her own relationship with her husband, Jasper. She realises things are not so perfect.

I felt an enormous wave of love and empathy for both characters but especially Fliss. I’ve never really considered that this stranger offering advice is also a human being with their own complexities. Their lives can be as messy and beautiful. I had never considered that side of the coin before.

These women are at different stages in life and I liked the juxtaposition of the two. Most of all, I loved the relationship that developed between these two women and that it begins through the written word.

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