The Little Book of Lost Hearts by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

At this time of year, there is nothing better than settling down on the sofa and losing yourself in a story full of love, hope and a hint of mystery and magic. The Little Book Of Lost Hearts is exactly that. A festive treat and a proper fairytale for grown-ups.
Set in the enchantingly named village of Fools Castle in the days leading up to Christmas, this story has the feel-good factor and will leave you feeling all warm and cosy inside, as well as remembering the days when Christmas was truly magical and you really believed in Santa.
Antoinette Ellis has lost her heart. It happened quite unexpectedly when her beloved sister and brother-in-law died and she took over the care of her niece, Tabitha, the only survivor of the horrendous fire which killed her parents. Antoinette, or Nettie, grieving and in shock, determined to do the right thing by the little girl, puts all her own dreams and hopes aside. In spite of his protests that he wants to be with her and help her take care of Tabitha, Nettie says goodbye to the man she loves, knowing that his career plans did not include the guardianship of a child.
Leaving London and her old life behind, she returns to her childhood home of Fools Castle, where her brother Sawyer is in a similar situation, taking care of his two stepchildren after the death of his wife. Life for them both revolves around caring for the children and earning a living.
Then one day, a stranger arrives in Fools Castle. Rufus is an unusual man, obviously not used to socialising, the “black sheep” of his “famous” family. In spite of all Antoinette’s efforts, Rufus will not reveal anything more about them or himself, but before long he is part of her life and proves popular with the children, too.
But someone else is heading to Fools Castle, and before long Nettie will have to face up to her past and the decisions she once made, as well as accepting what her future may hold if she doesn’t change course. Can she reclaim her heart and find her way back to love? Or is she destined for a life of sacrifice and ultimately loneliness? And what, if anything, does Rufus have to do with all this?

This is a short story which can be read in a couple of hours. In the hectic run-up to Christmas, take the time to curl up by the fire, beside the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, and lose yourself in this delightful festive treat. Look back to the time you believed in magic, and remember, you’re never too old for fairytales.  5/5

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The Little Book of Lost Hearts

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Boot Camp Bride by Lizzie Lamb

Sometimes I think Lizzie Lamb writes just for me. All the elements that make up an enjoyable reading experience are there in her novels. Likeable heroine? Tick. Gorgeous hero? Tick. Strong plotline? Tick. Inspiring setting? Tick. Yes, I know that many writers of romantic novels can tick all these boxes, but there’s something extra special in Lizzie’s books. It was there in Tall, Dark and Kilted, her previous novel, and it’s definitely present and correct in Boot Camp Bride.

I found myself wondering what it is about Lizzie’s books that works so beautifully and I realised there are several elements.

Firstly, there is the heroine. I sometimes read romantic novels and feel as if I want to shake the leading lady. Some of them are so blind and stupid, so simpering or aggressive that I often wonder what on earth any hero in his right mind would see in them. Lizzie writes great heroines. Fliss in Tall, Dark and Kilted was fun, feisty and realistic. In Boot Camp Bride, the heroine is Charlee (short for Charlotte) Montague, and, like Fliss, she’s the sort of heroine you’d happily hang out with.

Charlee is the only daughter in a house full of high-achieving sons. Her parents are also clever and successful people. Charlee was a surprise baby, a girl in a family where boys seem to be valued much more, and has always felt she has a lot to prove. Disappointing her mother and father who wanted an academic career for her, Charlee – who is not exactly stupid, having achieved a double first in Languages and Politics – has decided upon a career in journalism.

She has been given a chance working on the magazine What’cha!  but, as it is owned by a family friend, Sam Walker, she knows that people think she has been given an unfair advantage, and so has plenty to prove there, too.  So when Rafael Fonseca-Ffinch (great name, huh?) offers her the chance to work undercover on an assignment that could make her name, she jumps at the chance. Even if it does mean that she has to pretend – even to her own family – that she and Ffinch are engaged.

What I love about Charlee is how believable she is. She really could be someone you know. Sometimes she is infuriatingly stubborn, but then knowing her background and her hang-ups you really understand why she behaves as she does. Charlee is refreshingly honest. She doesn’t simper and deny any attraction to Ffinch. She really, really fancies him and makes damn sure he knows it! When her obstinacy, pride and anger cause her to walk away she quickly regrets it, and finds a way to wriggle out of the situation she has found herself in without losing too much face.

The truth is, you can have a fantastic story and a hero to die for, but if the heroine isn’t someone you care about the novel is going to fall flat on its face. The whole thing starts with her, and Lizzie has the knack of creating great female protagonists who quickly get the reader onside, cheering them on.

 

Now, the hero. Well, I adored the sexy Laird of Kinloch Mara, Ruairi Urquhart,  in Tall, Dark and Kilted, and wasn’t sure anyone could live up to him. At first I was very wary of Ffinch. He seemed a bit arrogant and I wasn’t convinced he was good enough for our Charlee. Bit by bit I warmed to him, and as his story was revealed, layer by layer, I found myself falling for him just like his leading lady. Brave, compassionate, noble and – of course – jaw-droppingly sexy, Ffinch is the alpha male with a chink in his armour so beloved by romance readers.  No pushover, nevertheless there is a  wound there that leaves him vulnerable, and makes your heart go out to him, longing for him to be healed and find happiness. Yes, Ffinch won me over. (Don’t worry, Ruairi, I will never forget you!)

We have the characters. What about the story and setting? No fears there, either. This is a tale of kidnapping, drugs, gangsters, undercover assignments, danger and mystery.  Columbian and Russian threads entangle and lead to, of all places, the Norfolk marshes, where a seemingly-innocent bootcamp for brides-to-be to get fit and beautiful for their big day is a cover for – what exactly? A beautiful Russian model is staying at the camp, and Charlee needs to get photos of her in a place where all cameras and phones are confiscated.  As if that wasn’t difficult enough, Charlee appears to be working on a different case to Ffinch. He is keeping secrets from her, and the rumours about him keep niggling away at her as he deflects her questions and keeps the barrier between them firmly in place. Is Ffinch all he seems? And can Charlee really walk away at the end of her assignment, dissolving their partnership without a backward glance?  The mission is on and an intriguing tale it is, too. The atmospheric marshlands are described beautifully, invoking a real sense of place, just as Lizzie managed with the Highland setting of Tall, Dark and Kilted.

Great characters, a well-paced plotline, well-drawn setting, sparkling dialogue, lots of intrigue and humour – yes, I’m pretty sure Lizzie is writing just for me. I can’t wait to read her next novel!  5/5

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Boot Camp Bride