Among a Thousand Stars by Jo Bartlett

Having loved Jo Bartlett’s novella, The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come, I was pretty sure I would love this book. In fact, it far exceeded my expectations. The plot kept my interest throughout, and the characters were so well-drawn that I wanted to know more about them. The combination of romance, humour and poignancy ensured that I kept turning the pages, desperate to know what happened next.

Ashleigh is a freelance photographer, who is assigned by Glitz Magazine to take photographs of PR supremo, Tom Rushworth, and his dreadful, pregnant fiancee Susie-Ann. It’s hardly the usual first meeting for a romantic couple, and it’s certainly not ideal, but from that first moment, sparks fly between Tom and Ashleigh. Of course, things are not going to run smoothly. Even without Susie-Ann in the equation, there is another huge obstacle in their way. Tom does not believe that love exists. Having seen the catastrophe that was his parents’ marriage, he is certain that love is an illusion, and Ashleigh, wounded by a previous relationship, is happy to go along with his suggestion of a no-strings relationship, at first. But when her feelings start to change, how can she possibly find happiness with a man who is adamant that they will never be anything more than friends with benefits?

I loved Ashleigh, who felt like a friend from the start. I also grew to love Tom. At first, I was a bit uncertain about him, as he appeared to be one of those alpha male heroes who is totally in charge of his life and everyone else’s life come to that. But as the story progressed and I saw the off-duty version of Tom, I really warmed to him.

Both Ashleigh’s and Tom’s mothers feature quite heavily in the book and I really liked both of them. They couldn’t be more different, but both played an important part in defining their children’s characters and in deciding their destiny. Two characters who deserve a special mention are Stevie and Zac. Neither grabbed me at first, but boy, did they grow on me! They added a wonderful dimension to the story and played a pivotal role in the events that unfolded. Not forgetting Bertie – the gorgeous, loyal and very sensible dog who understood far more than anyone else and made his feelings on the matter very clear.

From the glamorous celebrity photo shoots and the nightclubs populated by the rich and famous, to the windswept beaches of Kent at Christmas, and on to the crazy whirlwind that is Las Vegas, the novel leads you behind the scenes of Ashleigh’s life as a celebrity photographer, demonstrating the contrast between her professional and personal lives. In the author’s capable hands, you find yourself laughing out loud one minute and in tears the next. She writes humour magnificently, but she can also pack a powerful emotional punch.

With beautifully described settings, fabulous characterization, and a storyline full of twists, turns, laughter, warmth, and real depth, Among a Thousand Stars is a gem of a novel. I look forward to reading the next offering from this talented author. 5/5

You can buy Among a Thousand Stars here.

You can buy The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come here and read my review here

 

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Her Forget-Me-Not Ex by Sophie Claire

Luc and Natasha were married too young. It was a relationship driven by passion, but when Natasha became pregnant, Luc felt duty bound to propose, and Natasha, wanting a secure family life for her child, accepted. When she lost the baby, Natasha walked away, leaving behind a luxury apartment that was the loneliest place in the world, and a husband who didn’t seem to care, and whom, she was sure, was relieved that the whole episode was over. Three years later, Natasha has built a life for herself in the country village in which she spent the happiest years of her life – the time she spent living in Poppy Cottage with her mother and father, parents she lost at the tender age of seven. She owns a flower shop, and has dreams of buying Poppy Cottage, as she promised her mother she would. But it seems her plans aren’t as straightforward as she had hoped. Then Luc arrives on her doorstep, offering a solution to her problems. But he wants a favour in return. She must go with him to his family’s home in France and pretend that they are still married. His father is gravely ill, and his wish is to finally meet his son’s wife. It seems Luc hasn’t informed his family of their divorce, and he is determined that his father will get his wish. Against all her instincts, Natasha agrees to his terms. And so they head to France, to the family vineyard, to begin two weeks of deception.

This is a lovely novel – pure, unashamed romance. Luc is a gorgeous hero. The strong, silent type, successful in his work and focused on what he wants. Yet he nurses wounds that make him not only vulnerable to Natasha’s charms, but irresistible to the reader. My heart ached for the two of them, trapped in their unspoken pain – each of them believing the other didn’t care about what happened, each grieving for their lost child and their lost love.

Natasha is confused by Luc. He is too rich, too sophisticated for her simple ways. Throughout their marriage he seemed distracted, too intent on his work. He appeared uncaring, cold, and seemed resentful that he had been trapped into marriage by a gold-digger. Luc is baffled by a woman, seemingly unmoved by the loss off their baby, who walked away from their marriage and agreed to this charade for the sake of a piece of land. He thought he knew what she was, yet she seems to care about his family, about his father’s health, and to worry endlessly about deceiving them.

The one thing neither can deny is the intense sexual chemistry between the two of them. Passion sizzles off the page! Because the reader can see what both characters are feeling, and knows the motives for their behaviour, I wanted to shout at them to sort their relationship out, and stop seeing the downside to everything. Natasha, particularly, seems to feel inadequate, and unable to believe that Luc could have real feelings for her. But then, Luc is confused himself. He doesn’t know what he’s feeling. He’s still terrified of commitment, and can’t make a promise to Natasha that he’ll be able to stay with her long term, so who can blame her, really? If he doesn’t know himself that he loves her, how can she recognise it?

Neither can believe the other cares, but when you’ve been hurt so deeply in the past, do you dare to allow yourself to trust again? Luc has been told he’s a disappointment by his father for most of his life. He’s driven by a need to prove himself, to go it alone. He’s also been hurt and humiliated by another woman.He didn’t trust Natasha’s motives when they were together first time round, and now he’s afraid to take a chance on her again, as he doesn’t believe he’s capable of settling down. He doesn’t want to feel tied down – to the vineyard, or a woman. Natasha felt rejected by her great aunt and her biggest fear is living with someone who doesn’t really want her. From that perspective, Luc was the worst possible man she could have married.

The back story for these two characters meant that, although it was frustrating when they kept misunderstanding the other’s motives, I still felt compassion for them, and could quite see why they were behaving in the ways they did. I loved Natasha’s independent streak, the fact that she had a thriving career of her own, that she’d picked herself up and built a new life for herself. I loved her brightly coloured clothes and the quirky way she did her nails each day. Luc was smouldering, and I fell completely in love with him. The Provence countryside was described beautifully and I could almost feel the sunshine on my back. Luc’s family was delightful, and even the resolution of the father/son dilemma between Luc and the intimidating patriarch was handled realistically and satisfactorily.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and flew through the pages with increasing delight. I’m looking forward to the next Sophie Claire book! 5/5

You can buy Her Forget-Me-Not Ex here

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Four Sides to Every Story by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young girl called Lily Rose. Lily Rose was so beautiful that some people thought her touched by magic, but, as is the way with the world, other people thought she was far too pretty and perfect, and didn’t look behind the facade to the real beauty within.

Lily Rose lived with her grandmother, until one day her grandmother died, and then Lily Rose was heartbroken. But she knew that she couldn’t spend the rest of her life grieving, that she had a job to do, and it was time to get back to it. So Lily Rose went out into the world to perform her next task, and found herself in the Cheshire village of Fools Castle.

Now, in most fairytales, the castle that gave the village its name would be beautiful, and inside there would live a handsome prince. But this is not your average fairytale and, sadly, the castle was ugly and out of place, and the man who lived there – Sawyer Ellis – was distracted, unkempt and withdrawn. A hermit-like writer, he was trying his best to care for his late wife’s children, but feared he was failing spectacularly, even with the help of his mother-in-law, Veronique.

Fortunately, Lily Rose could see past the thick, fair hair that needed a good trim, the stubble that needed shaving, and the tatty old shorts and t-shirts. She saw the heart that needed mending. She could also see past the brittle, vain, thoroughly independent veneer that another new arrival in the village – Sophie – showed to the world, and recognised that, like the man in the castle, there was a vulnerability behind the hard exterior. Lily Rose knew that Sophie and Sawyer would make the perfect couple, if only they had a little help. Luckily for Sophie and Sawyer, Lily Rose just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and she knew exactly what to do to give them both a happy ending. So Lily Rose worked her magic and they all lived happily ever after. Except…

What happens when a fairytale refuses to unfold the way it should? What happens when a fairy godmother goes rogue? What happens when two people destined for each other refuse to behave in the way they’re supposed to? As Alexa – Sawyer’s young stepdaughter – watches with increasing wonder, this fairytale starts to meander away from its smooth path to the castle, and twists and turns through increasingly unfamiliar territory, to take the characters on a journey to a destination they could never have imagined in their wildest dreams. In this new land, is a happy ending even possible?

I have loved every one of Valerie-Anne Baglietto’s previous modern-day fairytales but, I have to admit, this has become my new favourite. It’s very difficult to review this properly without giving anything away, and it’s very important that nothing is revealed! Suffice it to say that, by the end of this novel, I was literally in tears, and realised I had invested so much in the outcome of the story that I had been holding my breath, desperate to believe that there could be a happy ending when all seemed lost.

Lily is a fabulous character and I loved her immediately. Sophie intrigued me from the start. Despite her prickly exterior I wanted to know more about her. Sawyer was a hero I fell in love with quite quickly. Despite his failings, he deserved something good to happen to him, and I was rooting for him throughout the book. The children are just delightful. Antony is a typical teenager, and Alexa is an absolute darling. I could see what they’d suffered, and I so wanted them to have a happy ending. I wanted everyone in the book to have a happy ending!

Valerie-Anne writes so beautifully, and I absolutely adore her books. I’m in awe of her talent, and I honestly think that the only criticism I have of this book is that I’ve finished it now and will have a long wait for the next one!

If you haven’t read The Little Book of Lost Hearts, I suggest you also try that. It’s a stand alone prequel to Four Sides to Every Story, and it’s a delightful novella. You can read my review here and buy it here.

As you will come to realise when reading this enchanting tale, anything is possible, and magic really does exist. That being so, I give Four Sides to Every Story 6/5!  🙂

Buy Four Sides to Every Story here.51j4FxTrR-L._AA160_

Searching for Steven by Jessica Redland

This is a fabulous debut novel from Jessica Redland. Sarah, the protagonist, is truly delightful, and feels like someone you’d want to hang out with in real life. The book has a very original premise – Sarah finds an old tape recording of a clairvoyant she once visited. It turns out that the clairvoyant was accurate about a lot of things, but her final prediction sends Sarah’s world into a spin. She is about to meet the man of her dreams – and his name is Steven. So begins Sarah’s search for her very own Steven, but where can he be? As she embarks on a series of dates with various Stevens, is Sarah blind to the possibility of finding love with the ideal man, who just happens to have the wrong name? Was the clairvoyant wrong after all? Or does fate have one last twist in store for her? Searching for Steven is a lovely novel, full of warm and realistic characters and a beautiful setting – Whitsborough Bay, based on the real life town of Scarborough. I also loved the prequel to this novel, Raving about Rhys, and am eagerly awaiting the second book in the Whitsborough Bay trilogy, published by So Vain Books. Well written and thoroughly enjoyable. 5/5 Buy Searching for Steven here51x2DOeWfVL._AA160_