Dirty Weekend by Deirdre Palmer

This book reminded me of one of those wonderful black and white films made in the sixties – the ones that show young working class people trying to make their way in a very different world to the one in which their parents grew up, dealing with relationships and new-found freedom, and trying to make sense of it all, while awash with hormones. It’s the story of four young people, Terry, Carol-Anne, Jeanette and Mark. They’re taking the huge step of having a dirty weekend away in Brighton, away from the watchful eyes of their families.
Terry is the typical Jack-the-lad with lots of experience and plenty of confidence. Or is he? Carol-Anne is nervous, but not for the reason Terry might suppose. Mark is supposed to be pairing off with Jeanette, but does his heart lie elsewhere? And Jeanette is carrying a secret that is about to shatter all their well-laid plans.
I loved this book. I don’t remember much about the sixties, but it really invoked the period for me. Little details, such as the backcombed hair, the job in the record shop, the unexpected problem caused by wearing tights with a mini skirt (!) really drew me in. Even the fact that the two young men had to book into a separate bed and breakfast from the girls showed the difference between that era and today. Going away for the weekend was a very big deal indeed.
The characters are beautifully drawn, and over the course of the story we discover that none of them are as we initially believe them to be. At first, I thought this was going to be a standard “four young people having illicit fun in Brighton” story. Far from it. As events unfold, we see that each of the four is keeping secrets from the others. One of the four is keeping a HUGE secret, and that pressure is about to explode. When it does, the entire tone of the book changes, and a creeping anxiety enters.
As the weekend comes to a close, life for the four young adults will never be the same again. There are repercussions all round, decisions to be made, and a great deal of courage to find. How they face up to the future together makes for a totally absorbing read.
I couldn’t put this book down and read it in one day. Human interest, light and darkness, humour, fear, and a big slice of nostalgia. Brilliant. Deirdre Palmer is a seriously classy writer! 5/5

You can buy Dirty Weekend here.

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One Wish in Manhattan by Mandy Baggot

You know that feeling you get when you close the book, or switch off the Kindle, and you lean back with a satisfied sigh, and a hint of a tear in your eye, and a smile on your face, because everything just suddenly feels completely right with the world? Yeah, that feeling. That’s what I just experienced after finishing this fantastic book, One Wish in Manhattan.

I honestly can’t think of anything I didn’t love about this book. My friend, Helen, has just come back from New York, and although I was pleased for her that she went because I knew how much it meant to her, I can’t say it filled me with envy. I’ve never really been that interested in New York and never had any hankering to visit the place for myself. Well, now I can see why she wanted to go, and why she loves it so much. Mandy Baggot’s descriptions of the city are amazing. The sights and sounds and smells of New York are right there in the pages, and I was transported there in my mind – crunching through snow, feeling the icy wind against my skin, laughing at the ice skaters, catching the scent of Italian food, tasting pizza and ice cream, gazing out from a penthouse balcony at the lights and the traffic and the people, travelling in an elevator with a…No, won’t even go there!

The heroine of the story, Hayley, is lovely. She would be my best friend. She can eat her body weight in pizza and she once ate a full bag of custard doughnuts, so she’s all right by me. I sympathised with her over her fraught relationship with her mother, the loss of her father, and the fact that she’d shelved her own dreams yet was desperate to make her daughter’s dream come true. I enjoyed her relationship with her brother, who was everything a caring big brother should be and more. Most of all, I adored her relationship with her daughter, Angel, who was a fantastic character. I loved reading the banter between them and felt the mother/daughter bond was beautifully depicted.

As for the hero. *Sigh*. Oliver Drummond, billionaire businessman with a bad reputation and a terrible secret. Who could love such a man? Well, Hayley, quite obviously. And me, as it goes. Oliver is one heck of a hunky hero, and there was something so vulnerable about him I just wanted to get into that elevator with him and – reassure him that all would be well. *Cough*.

Seriously, this is a fabulous book. All the main characters are likeable, some are definitely lovable, the plot is absorbing and well-developed, the setting is fantastic, and there’s lots of snow. And lots of food. And lots of…romance. An absolutely brilliant novel, perfect festive reading. Loved it! 5/5

You can buy One Wish in Manhattan here.

One Wish in Manhattan by Mandy Baggot

One Wish in Manhattan by Mandy Baggot

 

The Art of Christmas by Jane Lovering

I think The Art of Christmas is, quite possibly, the perfect Christmas story. For a start, unlike a lot of “Christmas” books, it is actually set at Christmas. The story starts just ten days before the big day, and continues until the twenty-fifth of December. There is snow. There is a Christmas tree. There are mince pies (sort of!) and even a mention of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – not to mention a rather leaky dog, wearing antlers. I’m not making this up, honestly. This book shouts Christmas and really gets you into the spirit of the occasion.
As if all that wasn’t enough, there is romance, a bit of a mystery, and several mentions of Doctor Who. No wonder I think it’s perfect! Seriously, the minute I started reading this, I was pulled into the life of the heroine, Harriet – a young widow, whose husband, Jonno, died unexpectedly around eighteen months previously. Harriet has decided that, this year, she will acknowledge Christmas, so we find her, at the start of the story, venturing into the loft to rescue the Christmas tree. Luckily for Harriet, she finds more than a Christmas tree up there. Stumbling across a pile of comic books she didn’t know her husband possessed, she takes them downstairs and, despite her lack of interest in the books that Jonno was so passionate about, she finds herself flicking through the pages.
Having sold most of her husband’s collection to a dealer the previous year, she calls him again, asking if he can price up this latest discovery. Kell remembers the fragile young widow and offers to come round to her house to take a look at them. Having struggled through a loss of his own, the two of them have an instant connection, and an easy rapport. But Kell also remembers Jonno, and a chance remark throws doubt on everything Harriet thought she knew. If she’s to have any kind of future, she has to find out the truth about her past, so, like Corinthia, the comic book heroine who bears a remarkable resemblance to her, Harriet gathers her courage, strides out into an uncertain world, and confronts the unknown.
The Art of Christmas is just gorgeous. Harriet’s grief is so beautifully described that I had a lump in my throat as I read. Kell is a fantastic hero – laid back and casual, decent and honest. I loved his relationship with his crazy dog, Frodo, his passion for and knowledge of comic books and their artists, his easy manner, his rather unexpected socks. Most of all, I loved the understanding and patience he shows Harriet.
This is just the book to read to get you in the mood for Christmas. If you’re feeling a bit “bah, humbug”, pick up this little gem of a book, and I guarantee you’ll be craving mince pies and egg nog before you reach the end. And looking forward to the Doctor Who special even more, of course! Merry Christmas!

You can buy The Art of Christmas here

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Warm Hearts in Winter by Helen Pollard

Feeling sad at the events in Paris, I wanted to turn off the television, retreat from social media, and escape into a good book. Having heard about, and buying this short novel, just this morning, it seemed like the perfect distraction. In the event, it far exceeded my expectations.
Warm Hearts In Winter is a lovely, cosy romance. It’s mostly set in the wilds of Yorkshire, and the main action takes place inside the hero’s house, where he is snowed in along with his new PA. Now, if that’s not a perfect setting for a romance, I don’t know what is.
Jack is a writer. Famed for his pacy thrillers, recently his style has changed somewhat. The change in direction has been instigated by the death of his much-loved wife. Jack is still grieving, and has locked himself away in his Yorkshire home, determined to finish his latest book. To that end, he needs help. He needs someone to make sense of his scribblings, type up his notes, fuel him with cups of tea and coffee, and even feed him now and then. He has been expecting the elderly lady who helped him with his last book to return, but Mrs Macintosh has been called away to help her sister, and he finds himself with a temp sent by an agency.
Abby is not what he’s been expecting at all, but then, Jack is hardly what she had in mind, either. Getting off to a somewhat shaky start, the two of them have to accept that – given the weather conditions and the remote location of Jack’s house – Abby is going nowhere, and they may as well work together. It soon becomes clear that there is an attraction between them. But Abby has issues about relationships with her employer, and Jack is still grieving for his wife. Neither of them wants their attraction to develop into anything deeper.
But with the snow falling outside, the cosy fire burning inside, and their close proximity as they work together on Jack’s book, can they stop their feelings from growing? And when danger threatens, Jack and Abby find they are drawn even closer together. Who is watching them? Who is making the silent phone calls? Is the house that shelters them from the snow as safe as they imagine?
Warm Hearts in Winter is just delightful. It wraps itself around you like a blanket, leaving you with a warm heart of your own. A gorgeous romance, with two main characters that you can’t help but love. A hint of mystery. A beautiful and deeply romantic location. I absolutely loved this book, and it came to me at just the right moment. In a sad world, it’s good to reflect on the power of love, and remember it’s never too late for a second chance. 5/5

You can buy Warm Hearts in Winter here.51SL6luGZ0L._AA160_

What Rosie Found Next by Helen J Rolfe

This is another lovely story from Helen J Rolfe. I loved Magnolia Creek and could picture it very clearly in my mind, thanks to her beautiful descriptions of the town. I’m delighted to see that there will be further books set in this lovely location.
Rosie is a great character. She arrives in Magnolia Creek for work reasons – she is looking after a house while its owners are away, and will have the place all to herself. Except, the owners’ son has different ideas. He has arrived back home, knowing his parents are out of the way, and he is on a mission. Owen knows there is a secret that his parents are keeping from him, and he wants to know what it is. While he has the house to himself, he is determined to find it. When he finds Rosie installed in the family home, it’s a huge inconvenience to him.
Rosie’s not that keen on sharing the house, either, particularly with this stranger who doesn’t seem particularly welcoming. Things between the two of them start off quite awkwardly, understandably, but as time goes on they begin to develop a rapport. The arrival of Rosie’s boyfriend, Adam, throws up some interesting questions that she has been trying not to dwell on. Is Adam the right man for her, after all?
With Owen still intent on discovering what his parents are keeping from him and Rosie trying to sort out her feelings for Adam, both are on a hunt for the truth, and their search ensures they become ever more entangled with each other. Then a bush fire breaks out close by and the action cranks up a further gear. Danger is coming closer. Will there be a happy ending for Rosie and Owen?
I have never read books set in Australia (apart from The Thorn Birds) until I started reading Helen J Rolfe’s books, but I’ve really enjoyed both this one and Handle Me With Care. The setting is so well described, and the terror of the ever present threat of bush fires is really brought home in What Rosie Found Next. The actual fire scenes were gripping. I could feel the heat on my skin and the smoke choking my throat as I read. I would definitely recommend this novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in Magnolia Creek. 5/5

Buy What Rosie Found Next here12096481_1638621659719346_6916021426667884177_n.

The Girl Who Lived By The River (Part One) by Mark Daydy

And now for something a little different…

This book isn’t strictly speaking a romantic novel, although there is romance in it, in an Adrian Mole loves Pandora Braithwaite sort of way. It’s about a teenage boy, his friends, his family, and growing up in the seventies. And I loved it.

It’s 1975, and Tom Alder is fast approaching his sixteenth birthday. Like most boys of his age, Tom is obsessed with music and girls. He is a huge fan of Genesis, and progressive rock, and has a massive crush on the rather posh sounding Megan, who has practised hard to achieve her plummy accent. But what if he could use his love of music to help him get the girl?
And so Tom comes up with a bright idea. He will form a band, and Megan will be so impressed, she’ll fall for him and help him achieve his current ambition – to lose his virginity before he turns sixteen. There’s just one small problem. He can’t play an instrument, doesn’t sing, and has more or less informed Megan that his band already exists. When his so-called school mates get hold of the tape he’s made of his “band”‘s first efforts, it becomes painfully clear to Tom that his grand plan isn’t going to be so easy to carry out after all.
This is a fabulously funny story, which really gets into the mindset of a teenage boy in 1975. Tom’s hormones are all over the place, and his confusion over Megan, musically gifted Claire, and physically appealing Cheryl, is clear to see. The setting is unfamiliar to me, but is so vividly described that it’s easy to picture.
As a child of the seventies, I found the period details familiar and heartwarming. The descriptions of the clothes, the food and drink, and, especially, the music, evoked fabulous memories.
There was also an intriguing thread running through the story concerning Tom’s family. There is obviously some secret there that has yet to be revealed, which I’m looking forward to. I found the whole plotline about Tom’s “lost brother” quite poignant, and think there is more to come from that quarter.
This book is being published in several parts, so it’s quite short and very easy to read. It made me laugh out loud, and I will definitely buy the next part to find out how Tom’s life progresses. A great little read. 5/5

You can buy The Girl Who Lived By The River (Part One) here .

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Handle Me With Care by Helen J Rolfe

What a lovely story this is! I started reading it on holiday, intending to spread it out over several days. Instead, I read the whole book in one day, finishing it in the early hours of the morning, as I just couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen next.

Maddie lost Riley, her true love, in New York, on the eleventh of September 2001. Her hopes of a happy future were buried in the ruins of the World Trade Center, and ever since that horrific day she has shunned relationships, afraid that she’ll only get hurt again. When she meets Evan – thanks to a rather amusing mix-up involving a naughty cake and a birthday party for an old lady’s one hundredth birthday – Maddie quickly realises that he could be the one to heal her wounds and help her to love again. But Evan has something to tell her, and his news leaves Maddie terrified of losing yet another important person in her life. Dare she risk having her heart broken all over again?
Evan, meanwhile, is dealing with the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to him. With his life turned upside down, he realises that he wants marriage, a family…but has he left it too late? Can these two frightened people take a chance on the future, or has fate played the cruellest trick of all on them both?

This is a really moving story, which tugs at the heartstrings and grips you from the start. Evan and Maddie are great characters and you can’t help but root for them throughout the entire novel. Secondary characters are interesting, too. I really liked Jem, Evan’s mischievous gran, and also his lovely sister and brother-in-law. There is a lot of medical information but this is relayed in a realistic and sympathetic manner and you never feel as if you’re being lectured. The settings are beautifully described and the book is well-written.

I confess I had a tear in my eye more than once while I was reading it, because the emotions that the characters go through are so sensitively and realistically portrayed. There’s no doubt that the issues covered in Handle Me With Care are huge, but, at heart, this is a story of two people learning to overcome their fears and make a giant leap of faith. It’s a story about love, and it’s wonderful. Highly recommended.

Buy Handle Me With Care here:51Idgl8ti5L._AC_UL160_SR100,160_

Remarkable Things by Deirdre Palmer

Gus – much to his astonishment – inherits his aunt’s house. Having been adopted into the family, he is puzzled as to why she would leave it to him, and not to the family of his late brother who was a blood relative of hers. As he searches for answers, he meets Millie.
Millie is also searching for answers. Her daughter, Karen, left home some years ago, and hasn’t been in touch since. She clearly doesn’t want to be found, but Millie has news for her daughter and needs to see her.
Gus and Millie form a deep friendship, but with Gus battling his guilt over his brother’s family, dealing with the fall-out from his clumsy treatment of an ex-girlfriend, and his grief over the fate of his birth mother hanging over him, he’s not sure he’s ready for anything more. Millie, too, has her own emotions to wrestle with. It seems the bitter ending of her marriage, and her own lies – however well-meant – have cost her her daughter.
Millie and Gus need to make sense of the past in order to move on with their lives. Can they heal old hurts and make a brighter future for themselves?
Remarkable Things is a beautifully written novel. Although the story hangs on two major events – the illegitimate birth of Gus and the disappearance of Karen – it’s first and foremost a novel about small things. The everyday details of the characters’ lives are described so vividly, and emotions captured so perfectly, that the reader is drawn in and thoroughly absorbed into their world. In spite of the trauma suffered by both Gus and Millie, this feels like a gentle novel. It’s really quite lovely to read and I am so impressed with the author’s writing style. Superb. 5/5

Buy Remarkable Things here

remarkable things

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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