Tickled Pink by Christina Jones

Steeple Fritton is a quaint country village in the doldrums. The village pub, The Crooked Sixpence, is run by the less-than-charming landlord, Hogarth, who is hardly welcoming. There are empty shops and a bed and breakfast that is barely managing to break even.
Posy is in the doldrums, too. When the novel starts she has been dumped by her childhood sweetheart and, as their wedding day arrives, she decides to run away and make a new life for herself in Swindon. As you do. Luckily for Posy, a problem with her beloved motorbike and a chance encounter with a dog called Persephone sees her heading back to Steeple Fritton, determined to hold her head high and show everyone she’s not defeated.

Lola arrives in Steeple Fritton by pure chance. She’s had the worst run of bad luck and feels life can’t get much worse. To make things even more difficult, she ends up at the bed and breakfast place run by Posy’s parents, and it turns out that she and Posy are both nursing broken hearts but are from different sides of the fence, which initially leads to a great deal of tension and hostility.

Gradually, Posy and Lola decide to take matters into their own hands and turn not only their own lives around, but the fate of Steeple Fritton itself. When two gorgeous men arrive in the village hearts begin to heal and hopes begin to surface, but Flynn and Ellis have their own baggage, and there are tough decisions, sizzling passion, laughter and heartbreak ahead for all four of them.

I loved the warmth of this book. It had a real, cosy village feel to it, and there was a wonderful assortment of secondary characters with marvellous names like Tatty and Glad and The Pinks. I liked the fact that good things didn’t just start to happen for Posy and Lola – they made them happen. They took charge of their lives and, despite the blows that life had dealt them, they stopped moping pretty quickly and set about changing things. In the process of improving their own lot, they managed to improve the lot of the villagers and put Steeple Fritton well and truly on the map. Both Lola and Posy are very likeable characters – women you would want to be friends with – and Ellis and Flynn are, well, phwoar!

With a carnival, an old-fashioned fair and the Orient Express all thrown in for good measure, this really is one steamy romance in the nicest possible way. And it’s made me quite nostalgic for Adam Ant. Read it and bask in the eccentric warmth of Steeple Fritton and its delightful characters. 5/5

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Hocus Pocus ’14 by Various Authors

Hallowe’en’s coming and it’s the time of year when we all love to be scared. This collection of short stories is just the ticket if you fancy snuggling up by the fire, all alone in the house, feeling the hairs on the back of your neck stand up on end. A collection of creepy tales by some truly fabulous authors, this anthology is quite gripping. I read it in one night, flicking through the stories which all proved to be highly entertaining and easy to read.
Every story is a good one – no weak links in here. Some are quite short, some are more like novellas. Some have flashes of humour. Others are out and out spooky. I have read novels by Lynda Renham, Adrienne Vaughan and Lizzie Lamb before, but these shorts are nothing like their full-length books. All three demonstrated their ability to switch to short stories with apparent ease, and I was also introduced to some fabulous authors whose work I haven’t read before, and I will be much more eager to seek out their novels in the future.
A great showcase of talent, I am loathe to single out any one story for individual praise. The two novellas stick in the mind, possibly due to their length, but both were excellent. For sheer gross-out value you can’t beat The Last Leg by S A Edward – although avoid it if you’re about to have your supper.
Interspersed with the fictional tales are creepy real-life anecdotes which will make you wonder and maybe reach out to flick on the light switch…
Seriously, I enjoyed every one of these stories and at such a bargain price you simply can’t go wrong. Grab a copy and prepare to be spooked. Happy Hallowe’en!

Seed of Doubt by Adrienne Vaughan
Letter for Ray by Carolyn Mahony
Heaven Must be Missing an Angel by Jules Wake
The Last Leg by S A Edward
Lovespelled by Jane O’Reilly
Clarissa by Lynda Renham
Orange Blossom by Mary Jane Hallowell (short novella)
Jumping the Queue by Lizzie Lamb
Haunted House by Alison May
The Soul Stealer by Tina K. Burton
Green Man Rising by Litty Williams
Insubstantial Evidence by Tracy Burton
When Dreams Return by Debbie Flint (short novella)
Bonus Material -– true life spooky tales & poem

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The School Gate Survival Guide by Kerry Fisher

Maia Etxeleku is living on a run-down estate with her lazy partner, Colin, and her two children, Bronte and Harley. Maia supports her family by holding down several cleaning jobs, and as the story starts she is mourning the death of one of her clients, not just because she has lost one of her jobs, but because the old lady urged her to get an education and was interested in her as a person, taking the time to meet her children, teaching them and encouraging them to read. With a partner like Colin, who has no interest in finding a job, Maia can’t afford to apply for the Open University course that she desperately wants to take, and sees little chance of a better future for her children. When she discovers the old lady has left a sum of money for her in her will, to be used exclusively for school fees for Harley and Bronte, Maia wonders if she can afford to take the offer. After all, school fees are one thing, but what about the unifoms, the music lessons, the expensive school trips? But realising that this will be the best and possibly only chance the children get of a decent future, Maia takes the risk and enrols them at posh Stirling Hall School, a decision that will bring profound changes for her entire family, and for Maia most of all.
I absolutely loved this book. The characters were fantastically drawn. Maia is lovely, trying so hard to do the right thing for everyone and putting herself last at every turn, but somehow finding the strength to go against the wishes and advice of those around her who want her to stay in her box, be the person she’s always been. It takes courage to stand up to Colin, who is appalled at idea of sending his kids to private school, convinced it will give them delusions of grandeur. It would be easy to view Colin almost as a caricature as he’s so awful, but then the author cleverly gives him some redeeming qualities that just prevent this. He’s never going to be likeable, but the fact that he’s so devastated and afraid when something truly scary occurs makes the reader see that he’s not all bad. Just ninety-nine per cent!
Sandy, the neighbour, is truly appalling. I sussed her from the start and hated the way she kept undermining Maia, being unsupportive and sarcastic and turning against her because she wanted a better life for her children.
I loved Bronte and Harley. They were masterfully written. Bronte, all buttoned-up and angry, insecure and embarrassed, and Harley, who is just adorable. His determination to make the best of things and his loyalty to his mum was enough to reduce this reader to tears. I really, really wanted those children to have a better life and was praying things would turn out for them.
Mr Peters is a real hero. I could quite see the attraction there and found his determination to support Maia, and to help Bronte and Harley reach their capabilties wonderful, so it didn’t surprise me when he revealed his own secret.
Clover is another marvellous character. She’s the one who proves that having money doesn’t have to make you a bad person. Her total, unconditional acceptance of Maia and the way she champions and includes Bronte and Harley won me over immediately. I wanted Clover to be happy and I like the way her storyline unfolded.
Even the haughty Jen1 (great name!) is an interesting character, because she’s snobbish, vain and cruel, but the writer cleverly give us an insight into the reasons for this, the insecurities that lie behind the obnoxious behaviour. It doen’t make her any more likeable but it does make it easier to understand why she behaves the way she does.
Kerry is very good at creating characters that aren’t all black or white, which makes them much more realistic and interesting to read about.

This book is really easy to read and so funny, it’s difficult to put down. I zipped through it in a day and I really can’t wait to read what the author has in store for us next. Excellent! 5/5

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The School Gate Survival Guide

The School Gate