Christmas at the Little Village School by Jane Lovering

A teacher’s life is never easy … especially at Christmas!
Working at a tiny village school in rural Yorkshire has its own unique set of challenges – but when teachers Lydia Knight and Jake Immingham are tasked with getting the children to put on a Christmas play for the local elderly people’s home, they know they’re in for a tricky term! 

But in between choreographing sugar plum dance routines, reindeer costume malfunctions and trying to contain Rory Scott’s wannabe rap star aspirations, Lydia realises that, even as a teacher, she isn’t past being taught a couple of things – and one of those things is a much-needed lesson in Christmas spirit. 

 

 

I always enjoy Jane Lovering’s books, and this was no exception. The setting is just gorgeous – a North Yorkshire rural village, deep in snow as Christmas approaches. Perfection.

The story centres around a little school – the clue’s in the title, I suppose! Lydia is a teacher at the school, and she’s charged with putting on a Christmas play to entertain the residents of the local nursing home. Luckily, she has fellow teacher, new arrival Jake, to help her. Or is that, unluckily? Because Lydia is quite smitten with Jake, and that’s bad news for her, since she doesn’t date men. Or make friends with them, come to that. Or even make civilised conversation, most of the time. Men are strictly out of bounds, because Lydia has a self-defence system that ensures they keep well away from her. Except, it doesn’t seem to be working on Jake. He just keeps coming back for more. He’s clearly determined that the two of them will work well together and will be friends. For confused Lydia, that’s what she wants more than anything, and also what she wants least of all.

I really enjoyed the way we only discovered the reason for Lydia’s behaviour halfway through the book. By that time, I’d already got to know her and care about her, and maybe (shamefully) I’d have had a different view of her if I’d realised at the beginning. As it was, by the time her reasons were revealed, I was totally with Jake, and felt pretty much as he did. I don’t want to say any more about that, because I don’t want to give away the twist.

As always with Jane’s books, there’s lots of humour, and I loved the classroom stuff, with the preparations for the play, and the “telling it like it is”, and the fun of the dodgy costumes and wangling for more lines – and that’s just Jake.

This is a fairly short book, easy to read, and a real treat that you can devour quicker than a box of Christmas chocolates – unless you’re like me, in which case you could probably eat the chocolates much faster. But at least there are no calories in this, and it will leave you feeling all happy and festive and contented, whereas the chocolates will just leave you feeling guilty and probably a little bit nauseous. So ditch the chocs and buy this fabulous little book instead. It’s another winner from Jane.  5/5

You can buy Christmas at the Little Village School here.

Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings (A Vintage Mystery) by Katharine Johnson

It’s 1931. 

Nothing much has gone right for Jack since he graduated last year. His career has failed to take off, his fiancée has ditched him for someone with better prospects and now he’s received an invitation to their wedding. He dreads going to the wedding alone, surrounded by his high-achieving friends, so when he meets a beautiful girl who offers to accompany him he jumps at the chance. 

But by accepting her invitation he finds himself drawn into a world of intrigue and murder.

 

I bought this book after hearing from a friend how much she was enjoying it. I duly downloaded (or is it uploaded?) it to my Kindle and decided I’d read the first couple of chapters before bed.

Fast forward to half past three in the morning, and I finally switched off the Kindle, having finished the entire book. I couldn’t put it down. No matter how tired I got, I had to keep reading, because this book had me intrigued from the start.

I have to say, I think the cover and title don’t really do the book justice. If I hadn’t trusted the word of my friend, I wouldn’t have been drawn to this novel at all, but I’m so glad I found it. I absolutely loved the style of writing. It was similar, in some ways, to a Daphne du Maurier novel. As I read it, I was never quite sure who was telling the truth, whose version of events was correct, who to believe …

The protagonist, Jack, meets Giselle on a train, and his entire life changes. But who is Giselle? What does she want? Where did she come from and where is she going? As his life becomes unexpectedly entangled with hers, an obsession begins that will endure through the years, affecting his other relationships,  leading him into danger, and driving him to despair and distraction.

The mystery of Giselle drives him on, possessing his mind as he tries to put the past behind him and make a new life for himself. Her shadow is constantly hanging over him, as he tries to discover the truth about her. But who can he believe? Does anyone really know who this woman truly is?

I was completely gripped by this story, desperate to uncover the secret of Giselle and find out how Jack’s life would turn out. There were so many twists and turns that I was never quite sure where we were heading, and I had no idea what to expect, which was quite thrilling. There are layers galore to peel away, and some shocks and surprises lurking beneath, which send the story in a completely new direction and ensures you just can’t stop reading until the tale is told.

I really hope this book gets the audience it deserves, because I truly think it’s quite amazing. I look forward to reading more from this author. 5/5

You can buy Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings here.

Dying Breath by Helen Phifer

The woman’s face was pale and waxy. Her milky, partially open eyes stared into the distance. There were drag marks in the grass; she’d been placed here and posed. Who did this to you and why have they left you like this?

When a woman’s body is found on a lonely patch of scrubland, Detective Lucy Harwin is called to the scene. The victim’s clothes have been wrenched to expose her, and her feet are bare. 

Lucy and her team have only just started investigating who could have wanted local mother Melanie Benson dead, when a young woman is discovered strangled in a dark alley. As more bodies appear in the run-down seaside town, the small community is gripped by fear, and the pressure to solve the case becomes unbearable. But with each victim dying in a different way, Lucy struggles to find a link between the murders. Are these random killings, or part of the same plan? 

Just as she thinks she’s getting close, Lucy starts to suspect the killer is watching her. Can she find the murderer before they strike again, or will she be next?

Welcome to my first book review of 2018. I’m absolutely determined to try to fit in more reviews this year, and what better way to start, than with a writer who is always guaranteed to have me gripping the Kindle tightly, heart thumping, as I try to work out whodunnit, and if the dastardly fiend is going to get away with it. Truthfully, with Helen Phifer’s fabulous female detectives on the case, it’s guaranteed that the murderer will be caught, but things don’t always go according to plan …

Dying Breath is the second in the DI Lucy Harwin series. I read and loved the first, Dark House, back when it was named The Lost Children (you can read that review here) but I honestly think that Dying Breath is even better.

We’re thrown into the action immediately, with the brutal murder of a woman. Before long, it becomes very clear that the killer has no intention of stopping at one victim. What I love about Helen Phifer’s books is that we always get to see inside the murderer’s mind. It’s quite chilling to read how twisted his thoughts are, and the weird kind of logic he applies to the crimes he commits. It’s also very unnerving to realise how much he enjoys the chase, the plotting, the setting up of the murder. How he chooses his victims and why, what delight it gives him to stalk them, devise their manner of death, the excitement each body’s discovery brings him. It’s morbidly fascinating to follow his thought processes, even though it does make you feel sick with horror.

Lucy Harwin is a great character, with a strong work ethic and passion for her job that sometimes battles with her home life. She’s a devoted mother, but she’s also separated from her husband, the love of her life, and struggles with that failure. Her on-off relationship with a hospital doctor is currently more off than on. She has a great working relationship with her colleague, Mattie, and there’s clearly a great bond there, although that hasn’t (yet) tipped over into a romantic relationship. Lucy is highly respected at work, and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which sometimes causes her to clash with other members of the investigating team. But her determination and dedication have made her many friends, too, and she certainly has her admirers.

The setting of a slightly rundown seaside town is well-drawn, and there is a great sense of authenticity in the police procedural scenes. You really feel as if you’re watching a real police team; it becomes clear that police work isn’t at all glamorous and exciting. There’s an awful lot of hard work and painstaking tasks involved, and quite a lot of frustration at the red tape and box ticking that has to be done. But you also get to see the bond that forms between the colleagues who are working together to solve the case. Real friendships develop, and there’s a good sense of comradeship and looking out for each other.

Throughout the course of the book, I changed my mind several times about the killer’s identity. The author very cleverly leads the reader down several false trails and it was only towards the end that light began to dawn in my mind. When it did, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, as Lucy finally confronts the serial killer in a highly dramatic finale.

I won’t say any more about the story, because I’m desperately trying not to give anything away! I’ll just finish by saying that Dying Breath is a cracking crime novel, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. 5/5

You can buy Dying Breath here.

Away for Christmas by Jan Ruth

Jonathan Jones has written a novel. Losing his job a few days before Christmas means the pressure is on for his book to become a bestseller, but when his partner drops her own bombshell, the festive holiday looks set to be a disaster.
When he’s bequeathed a failing bookshop in their seaside town, it seems that some of his prayers have been answered, but his publishing company turn out to be not what they seem, and when his ex-wife suddenly declares her romantic intent, another Christmas looks set to be complicated.
Is everything lost, or can the true meaning of words, a dog called Frodo, and the sheer magic of Christmas be enough to save Jonathan’s book, and his skin?

This book was an impulse buy, bought after reading a glowing review on Anne Williams’ fabulous blog, Being Anne. It sounded just my cup of tea, and so I rushed over to Amazon and downloaded it. The very next day, full of cold and feeling a bit sorry for myself, I settled down on the sofa, switched on my Kindle and began reading.

Oh, how I loved this book! It was exactly what I needed to take me out of myself for a few hours. It’s definitely festive, without being overloaded with sugary sweet seasonal gushings.

Jonathan Jones is hardly usual hero material. In fact, at first, it was hard to like him, as much as I could sympathise with him. That, however, added to the pleasure of the story. Jonathan is flawed. He’s quite self-obsessed and selfish, and seems oblivious to the needs of the people around him who love him, and deserve his attention.

Jonathan is a writer. I can just imagine my husband rolling his eyes and saying ’nuff said. I confess, there was a part of me that prickled with unease, as I read about Jonathan’s total preoccupation with his imaginary world, and his habit of opening his laptop or checking Facebook on his mobile phone when he really should be paying attention to the people around him. Sorry, family!

The thing about Jonathan is, he’s just secured a three-book publishing deal with Tangerine Press, and he’s convinced that fame and acclaim are just around the corner. His books are going to fly, and he will be hailed as a literary genius, thanks to the wonderful crime fiction that he spends every waking moment either working on or thinking about.

He’s so absorbed in his own little world that he doesn’t notice that his relationship with his live-in partner, Catherine, is being badly affected, and he doesn’t dwell too long on the dismal state of his long-distance relationship with daughter, Lizzie, who lives with his ex-wife and her rich and successful second husband in London.

Everything not connected with writing is a chore to Jonathan, and even losing his job as an accountant doesn’t bother him too much, although he decides it’s probably best to keep that news from Catherine until after Christmas. Then Catherine drops her own little bombshell, and Jonathan’s life starts to unravel …

Told over three Christmases, this novel explores the harsh realities of the writing life and the publishing world, with such compassion and humour that, slowly, I started to feel sorry for Jonathan, whose idealism is soon crushed as he awakens to the fact that maybe Tangerine Press aren’t going to help him fulfil his literary dreams after all.

Against a backdrop of the slightly sad, faded Welsh seaside town of Rhos-on-Sea, we follow Jonathan as he comes to terms, not just with his failing writing career, but with his realisation that other things in life matter just as much, if not far more, and that it’s time he stopped neglecting them and began to focus on what really matters.

I loved everything about this story. The touching plot about Catherine’s grandparents, with Gwilym’s dementia and how that impacts on Jonathan’s future, is lovely. The setting of Beachside Books is inspired. I could picture the failing bookshop so clearly in my mind, and I loved the way the shop reflected Jonathan’s life as a whole, beginning as an empty building that no one cared about, and ending with a packed room, full of people who care, promising a hopeful future. I really enjoyed the image of the cosy Christmas window display, complete with fairy lights and a rocking horse, that the author painted. The arrival of little dog, Frodo, is a bonus. He’s quite a character, and gives added warmth to Jonathan’s story, showing another side to the man. I especially loved the relationship between Jonathan and his daughter, Lizzie. Lizzie wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and I found her to be a charming character.

Mostly, I think I enjoyed the fact that, although this story has love and romance running through its pages, it’s far from conventional.  Throughout the book, I was never certain how the story was going to end, and who Jonathan would end up with. The finale was thoroughly satisfying, and left me feeling really contented and thrilled for everyone concerned. It proved that Jonathan had been on a huge journey, and had finally realised what mattered most of all. He deserved his happy ending!

This is quite a short book, but it’s certainly not rushed, and the story plays out at just the right pace. It brightened my morning, and I definitely want to read more books by Jan Ruth. 5/5

You can buy Away for Christmas here 

The Christmas Shop at Central Park by Jo Bartlett

Libby Cooper hasn’t celebrated Christmas for four years. How can she when the most important people in her life are no longer around to enjoy the festivities – because of her? 

Hiding out in her grandparents’ failing micro-pub, she wants to forget that the season of goodwill even exists; but her grandmother has other ideas. It’s time for Libby to face her fears – and Christmas – head on. And what better way to immerse herself in the celebrations, than working in her great aunt’s Christmas shop, just a few blocks from Central Park?

Making new friends is the easy bit, but leaving the past behind proves much more difficult. The only way Libby can cope is by taking long walks in Central Park and joining an art therapy group to help her express her emotions.

Harry Stanwick is a Central Park Ranger, who’s as beautiful on the inside as he is on the outside. He seems to know instinctively when Libby wants to talk and when she just needs to be left alone.

Working with Harry and the rest of her new friends to save an old off-Broadway theatre and community centre from closure, Libby finally starts to remember the magic of Christmas. But she can’t stop questioning her right to be happy when her parents are gone.

Can Harry convince Libby that she deserves her own Christmas miracle, or will she leave her heart -and her chance of happiness – in the Christmas shop at Central Park?

Every time I read one of Jo Bartlett’s books, I decide it’s my new favourite of her novels. The Christmas Shop at Central Park was no exception. When I finished this book, I felt as if I’d been well and truly hugged by someone I loved very much, and all was well with the world again.

Libby is struggling. She’s almost broken by grief, heartbreak, and a persistent gnawing guilt that just won’t leave her alone, meaning she’s unable to fully live in the present and enjoy her life. The two people Libby loved most in the world are gone, and, as far as she’s concerned, that’s all her fault. Despite the love, support and reassurances of her grandparents, Libby can’t shake off the negativity that is ruining her life.

Hiding away, working in her grandparents’ micro-brewery, Libby lives a half-life. Until, one Christmas, her grandmother decides that enough is enough, and sends Libby off to help her great aunt, who runs a Christmas shop. Not just any old Christmas shop, though. This is the Christmas shop at Central Park, and in New York, Libby just might find exactly what she needs to heal her wounds, and learn to live – and love – again.

This is a truly gorgeous story, full of hope and love and friendship, and all things Christmassy. There’s a fabulous cast of supporting characters, such as her lovely Great Aunt Dottie, with her penchant for crazy hair. Then there’s the rather gorgeous ranger Harry, who is possibly the kindest and most intuitive man in New York – if not the world! Not forgetting my own personal favourite, the fantastic Paula, who, in spite of her own challenges, is the beating heart of the community – bringing healing light to the emotionally wounded through her art therapy classes, and rallying the troops when action is needed to save a much-loved and much-needed theatre from demolition. Paula never gives up, and her fighting spirit is an inspiration to all around her, not least Libby, who begins to believe that, just maybe, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, after all.

There’s a bit of a mystery, a whole lot of inspiration, some laughs, and a touching romance to savour in this book. And, of course, there’s Central Park itself, where the little plaques on the benches, dedicated to lost loved ones, demonstrate its own history and romance – a true fact which gives added depth and flavour to The Christmas Shop at Central Park, making it  pull even tighter on the heartstrings, as every good festive tale should.

Jo Bartlett really knows how to tell a good story, and with this book, she’s surpassed herself. With Christmas just around the corner, let this lovely novel take you by the hand and show you the wonders of real friendship, extraordinary determination, true love, and the magic of this wonderful season, all set against the gloriously festive setting of New York’s Central Park. What more could you possibly want for Christmas? 5/5

You can buy The Christmas Shop at Central Park here.

Warwick’s Mermaid by Ellie Gray

Having escaped an abusive relationship, Chloe MacGregor is determined to put the past behind her. The little cottage high up on the cliffs overlooking the beautiful North Yorkshire town of Whitby is her safe haven, somewhere she is free to be herself.

When the arrival of her new neighbour and boss, Luke Warwick, threatens her peaceful, sheltered life, Chloe is forced to confront her past and to re-evaluate who she really is. Falling in love with Luke is not part of her plan but, to her surprise, Luke is falling for her too. The only thing preventing their happy ever after is Chloe herself. Will she ever truly learn to leave the past where it belongs?

I’ve loved both of Ellie’s previous two novels, Beauty and the Recluse and Love on the Nile, and I had high hopes for this one. After all, it’s set in one of my favourite places, Whitby in North Yorkshire, a place I’ve visited on many occasions.

Luckily, Warwick’s Mermaid lived up to my expectations. Like Ellie’s other books, it’s unashamedly romantic, sweeping the reader along on a tide of passion, drama and sexual tension.

Chloe, the heroine, is undoubtedly damaged. She’s had a terrible time with her ex-boyfriend, putting up with dreadful abuse – both mental and physical. Breaking free from him, she is still a prisoner of her own low self-esteem – held there, in part, by the drip drip of negative comments she has endured from her own mother all her life. Chloe’s mum has suffered at the hands of a man, and she’s determined that Chloe won’t have the same fate. Unfortunately, all her efforts to convince her daughter to stay away from men have ensured that Chloe is a mass of insecurities and doubts.

When she meets Luke, Chloe experiences an overwhelming attraction that astounds and scares her. But with her heart telling her one thing, and her head another, she is paralysed to move forward with her life and take a chance on this handsome man who has come to her rescue.

For Luke, his feelings for Chloe are a bolt from the blue, and she’s not the only one who’s scared. Falling in love was not part of his plans, and he tries his best to stay away from this intriguing creature, who seems very prone to getting herself into bother.

But when the two of them are thrown together, sparks fly and there is no denying their feelings for each other. With troubled pasts and a mutual suspicion of relationships, can they ever put aside their fears and make a fresh start together?

Warwick’s Mermaid is a passionate love story that will carry you along on waves of emotion as you follow Chloe’s and Luke’s journey back to happiness. Ellie has written another winner here, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next. 5/5

You can buy Warwick’s Mermaid here.

Charlee and the Chocolate Shop by Jessica Redland

It’s impossible not to be drawn to this book, just by the title and the gorgeous cover. It’s Christmas, and it’s chocolate! Win-win.

When we first meet Charlee, the heroine of this story, she’s at a low ebb, having recently lost her beloved nanna – the woman who raised her after her mother left her. Charlee has inherited Nanna’s house, but she feels uncomfortable living there, especially with amorous boyfriend Darren. Darren’s got a new job, and is heading off to Whitsborough Bay, and he wants Charlee to sell up and come with him. But Charlee has her best friend, Jodie, to think about, and her job working with master chocolatier Pierre.

As events take an unexpected turn, Charlee finds herself heading to Whitsborough Bay after all, and is soon on the hunt for premises. Because Charlee has decided to open her own chocolate shop, and she soon finds the perfect location – Castle Street, home of many of the little businesses readers of Jessica Redland’s previous books will already have become acquainted with, such as Flowers and Gifts, Bear with Me and Carly’s Cupcakes.

As Charlee settles in to her new life, she throws herself into preparing her chocolate shop, ready for business, and tries not to dwell on the fact that Darren is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. When a catastrophe occurs, it’s lucky for Charlee that Matt the plumber is on hand to rescue her. Not that Charlee’s interested in him. Of course not. She’s happy with Darren. Isn’t she?

Suffice it to say, Christmas for Charlee that year is hardly something to celebrate, despite her new home and new business. Charlee can hardly imagine being happy again.

As Christmas comes around again, the following year, can Charlee make it the time when all her dreams finally come true, or will it be another lonely Christmas?

This is a lovely story of two Christmases, and what can happen in one year. It’s a tale of friendship, love, and hope. With a subplot involving Charlee’s errant mother, and the truth about her birth and childhood, it’s also more than just a frothy seasonal story.

Sometimes, we don’t realise who really matters to us, even when the truth is sitting right in front of our eyes, and this story reminds us that families come in all different shapes and sizes, but it’s the love at the core of them that makes them real, not blood or birth certificates.

As the year comes to a close, Charlee discovers that she’s not so alone, after all, and she never has been …

This is a really gorgeous festive novel, full of Christmas spirit and lots of chocolate. You will get hungry though. The chocolate is so well described and the images the author creates are enough to make your mouth water. If you’re on a diet, you may need to save some extra calories for when you read this!  5/5

You can buy Charlee and the Chocolate Shop here

 

Girl in the Castle by Lizzie Lamb

Her academic career in tatters, Dr Henriette Bruar needs somewhere to lay low, plan her comeback and restore her tarnished reputation. Fate takes her to a remote Scottish castle to auction the contents of an ancient library to pay the laird’s mounting debts. The family are in deep mourning over a tragedy which happened years before, resulting in a toxic relationship between the laird and his son, Keir MacKenzie. Cue a phantom piper, a lost Jacobite treasure, and a cast of characters who – with Henri’s help, encourage the MacKenzies to confront the past and move on. However – will the Girl in the Castle be able to return to university once her task is completed, and leave gorgeous, sexy Keir MacKenzie behind?

It was the first paragraph that did it. Honestly. A ghostly lament, images of an ancient Scottish castle above a loch, swirling mists and – yes, I admit it – the word Sassenachs. Hey, I’m a huge fan of Outlander. How could I resist?

Seriously, the beginning of this book is beautifully written and the pace is perfect. The reader is drawn in immediately. From page one, I wanted to know, who was this woman travelling alone on a train? Where was she heading? Why was she on her own, journeying through the Highlands of Scotland on that misty autumn evening?

So, the stage is set, and the story tantalisingly unfolds, taking the reader on a journey of thrills, mystery and passionate delight. A castle on an island in the middle of a loch is some setting, and its interior is so well described you feel as if you’re actually exploring it with Henri. The characters are fantastic: the irascible, irresponsible laird, Malcolm MacKenzie; the dour and grim Lachlan; the wonderful and kind-hearted Alice. All beautifully drawn and intriguing. What are these three people doing in this castle? What has happened to change the family’s fortune and leave them practically penniless? What is the great sorrow that hangs over them all?

As if all that wasn’t enough, we are then introduced to the laird’s heir: Keir MacKenzie. Oh. My. Word. Look, I’ve loved all of Lizzie Lamb’s books, and I’ve loved every one of her heroes, but Keir … Och, he’s one on his own! I feel terribly disloyal to Ruairi Urquhart, hero of Tall, Dark and Kilted, but I think I have to admit that Keir is my new favourite of Lizzie’s leading men.

Burdened with guilt, and grief that hasn’t been allowed expression for so many years, Keir battles with his father’s lack of love, not to mention the laird’s penchant for living the good life, all paid for by selling off Keir’s inheritance, and leaving the castle bare and forlorn. Things are so bad with the estate, that it’s expected that Keir will do his duty and marry Ciorstaidh – a cousin of sorts – who belongs to the rich side of the family. The fact that a similar expectation had once fallen upon the laird himself, but had been ignored when he met and fell in love with Mary, Keir’s mother, is neither here nor there in the laird’s eyes. Keir must save the castle, and Ciorstaidh is very vocal about making sure Henri knows that the laird’s heir is hers, and Henri had better not get any ideas.

Henri has no interest in Keir MacKenzie – not after their introduction, which is off-putting to say the least. Although, given the reason for her arrival at the castle, and the laird’s track record with young women, it’s not surprising that Keir has gained the wrong impression about her and formed an unfavourable opinion. Even lovely Alice takes some persuading that she’s not interested in seducing the laird, and has no plans to sell off even more of Keir’s inheritance.

As the weeks pass, Alice and Henri form a bond, and Henri discovers more about Keir, the history of the castle, and the sad events that have broken the family into these fragments. As Keir himself begins to trust Henri and opens himself up to her, their relationship deepens, threatening Ciorstaidh’s and the laird’s plans, and jeopardising the future of the castle. Henri, meanwhile, has her own battles to face – her own life to shape. She has to figure out exactly where her future lies, and what sort of future it will be.

With the bank running out of patience and pressure closing on all sides, Keir and Henri find sanctuary within the castle walls, shutting out the world. But real life keeps intruding, leaving them wondering exactly how they can resolve their respected problems.  Can an ancient legend be the answer? And can the lament of the ghostly piper be the key to saving them all?

I loved this book. I loved everything about it. I loved the atmospheric setting, the sprinkling of gaelic, the fabulous insults hurled by Alice, as she berates Lachlan, and the fascinating insight into the world of academia. I loved the magnificent Castle Tearmannair – a character in itself. I loved the glimpses of Highland traditions, the tales of Highland history, the descriptions of the clothes and celebrations, and even the fact that I learned what a clootie dumpling is and how it’s made!

Most of all, I loved the relationship between Keir and Henri. It’s quite beautiful. Passionate, tender, all-consuming. When Keir tells her, “Is tu an solas na mo bheatha” (You are the light of my life) I nearly stopped breathing. Gaelic endearments sound soooo much more romantic than anything murmured in English! And the description of him in his Highland dress – kilt and all – at the Samhain gathering, well …

You’ll have to read it for yourself to know what I mean, and you definitely want to do that. I guarantee you a thoroughly enjoyable, gripping, highly romantic few hours. Lizzie Lamb has surpassed herself with this book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. 5/5

You can buy Girl in the Castle here.

Daffodil Days: Stories from the Broome Park Pre-fab Village by Pat Posner

I really enjoyed this delightful collection of short stories by Pat Posner. Set in one of the prefab villages that were hurriedly erected after the war, to provide “temporary” housing for families, they are a slice of pure nostalgia. The characters that populate this book, and the village of Broome Park, are familiar and appealing, and the stories are entertaining and gentle. They would make great Sunday night television viewing!

My own particular favourites are the heartwarming The Lucky Sixpence, and a handful of mystery stories that reminded me of grown-up versions of Enid Blyton’s Five Find-Outers series: All’s Well that Ends Well, An Exciting Blackberry Week, Penny for the Guy, Gloria’s Errand, and Something Mysterious at Broome Hall.

This is a collection of deliciously cosy and comforting stories, depicting working class life in the nineteen-fifties, featuring characters across the generations: parents and grandparents, teenagers and young children, landowners, crooks, and the sort of genial local policeman, known to everyone in the area, that we all wish still walked the beat near us.

The stories cover all seasons, and plenty of special occasions are celebrated by the residents of Broome Park. I found myself quite drawn in and celebrating alongside the characters, occasionally getting tearful as they struggled with loss, or laughing at their antics.

Daffodil Days really is a gentle, comfortable read, perfect for cosying up with, when you want to shut out the world and be taken back to a time that, on reflection, seems so lovely and so innocent. I loved every page, and highly recommend it. 5/5

You can buy Daffodil Days here.

Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes by Jessica Redland

Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes is a lovely, heartwarming story, centred around a cake shop in Castle Street, Whitsborough Bay. Carly is a kind-hearted and patient woman, who loves her younger sister Bethany so much that she is prepared to overlook Bethany’s disastrous inability to produce a decent cupcake. This is problematic, since Bethany works at Carly’s Cupcakes – having been employed by Carly after a string of previous jobs failed to work out.
Bethany’s confidence is at a low ebb, in spite of the love and devotion of her fiance, and she’s feeling so low that even the excitement of their imminent wedding can’t seem to lift her mood. Carly keeps giving her sister further chances, in spite of warnings from various friends that she should sack her, as Bethany is costing the business money. When Bethany realises what a liability she is to her sister, it’s the final straw. This revelation, combined with the obvious disapproval of her soon-to-be mother-in-law and the stress of organising a wedding, proves too much for her.
Carly must somehow find a way to restore Bethany’s faith in herself, without bankrupting her own business. But how?
And Carly has enough of her own problems to deal with. On top of trying to rectify Bethany’s mistakes, she is trying to pluck up the courage to tell her best friend Liam how she really feels about him. Liam was her staunch ally against the dreaded Biscuit Bunch, back in the days when the two of them were at the mercy of the school bullies. Both Carly and Liam have blossomed, and have good careers, but the insecurities are still there. Carly is too afraid of rejection to tell Liam the truth.
With Christmas fast approaching, Carly has to face up to her own past, in order to build the future she really craves. Is she strong enough to do it?
Cupcakes, love, a romantic wedding, and the beauty of a white Christmas. The perfect recipe for a delicious festive treat. 5/5

You can buy Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes here.