Fur Coat & No Knickers by Adrienne Vaughan

Oh, I really adored this book! I have read Adrienne Vaughan’s full-length novels and loved them all – The Hollow Heart, A Change of Heart, and Secrets of the Heart, highly recommended! – so I was a bit worried, if I’m being really honest, about reading her collection of short stories. Could someone, so clearly gifted at writing novels, transfer that talent to the craft of short story writing? It’s not as straightforward as many people suppose. Full-length books and short stories are different beasts and take different skills. Could Adrienne do it?

Well, of course she could! And so she did. This collection is absolutely wonderful. It’s a series of snapshots – peeps into the lives of a varied assortment of characters. Each and every one of them is interesting, but for different reasons. Some are poignant, some hilariously funny. My favourite stories were: The Messenger, a longer short story, absolutely gripping, with some beautiful characterisation; Fur Coat and No Knickers, which is really witty and amusing; the gentle story of The Adventuress; and the heart-rending A Visit at Christmas.

But the book doesn’t just showcase Adrienne’s talent for short story writing. It also shows off her poetic skills. I loved the variety of poems, sprinkled between the short stories, signalling a change of mood, or heralding a forthcoming story theme, or simply providing a breathing space before plunging the reader headlong into the next tale. Among my favourites are A Pink Day, Friends in Graveyards, Marco – My Eldest (bliss!), Southsands September, and Middle Aged Crush.

When I started reading this, I really did think it would be the sort of book that I would be able to dip in and out of, reading a story here, a poem there…Little did I realise how addictive the contents of this book would be! I read it all in two sittings, and it would have been one sitting if it wasn’t for the annoying matter of the pesky day job!

In conclusion, all I can really say is, try this book for yourself. It really is a delight, and I hope Adrienne releases another volume of short stories and poems soon. Well, as soon as she’s published her next novel, please. ūüôā 5/5

You can buy Fur Coat and No Knickers here.

fur-coat

 

Never Coming Back by Deirdre Palmer

Whenever I read one of Deirdre Palmer’s books, I’m always struck by how beautifully she writes. With just a few deft sentences, she can evoke the essence of a character, a setting, a mood. Her writing is gentle and considered, yet she possesses the enviable ability to pull the reader into the story and keep them there, as she takes her time to allow the story to unfold at its natural pace.

Never Coming Back is, I think, a new high, even for Deirdre. ¬†It’s the story of coming to terms with loss, coping with guilt, and learning to live again. At the centre of the story is Danni, who died while at a party during her last term at university. Although we never meet her, she overshadows the entire book, as we follow her best friend, Layla, and her heartbroken parents, Melody and Reece, as they try to rebuild their lives and move on.

They are all dealing with feelings of guilt, grief and pain, and the author explores how, although they mourn the same person, that loss affects them in very different ways. Each one is nursing a secret, which impacts on their interactions with each other, and with their lives beyond their own, somewhat claustrophobic, relationship.

Melody clings to Layla, in a manner which both stifles and alarms her husband, and the object of her new devotion. Reece is feeling wounded, rejected, and bewildered. When a new emotion manages to touch his heart, it’s hardly the cause for rejoicing, but merely another problem to deal with. And for Layla, guilt is preventing her from breaking free of the ties that bind her, yet also stops her from moving on and reaching out to forge new bonds.

When Layla meets Morgan, he is dealing with his own loss, and the two of them connect immediately. But Layla is carrying too heavy a burden to deal with, and the time doesn’t feel right for her to build a new life with him. How can she look to enjoy a happy future with Morgan, when Danni has been so cruelly denied her own future, thanks, Layla believes, to her?

Never Come Back is an absolutely gorgeous book – an unhurried, gently unfolding story of how we cope with grief, learn to unpack our guilt, and move on to live a different sort of life after loss. There is a tender romance, some humorous moments, and an observant look at family life. In spite of the subject matter, it leaves you feeling warm, satisfied, and optimistic. It’s a real gem of a novel and I highly recommend it. 5/5

You can buy Never Coming Back here.

51ctcugsirl-_uy250_

Air Guitar and Caviar by Jackie Ladbury

I was so delighted to get my hands on this book by my Write Romantic pal, Jackie Ladbury, as I’ve been dying to read it for ages. I knew Jackie’s writing style would appeal to me, having loved her short story in our charity anthology, Winter Tales, and being lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the first three chapters a few months ago. Finally, the book is available to buy, and it’s every bit as good as I thought it would be.

It’s the story of Dylan, a street busker with two huge ambitions – to make it as a musician, and to win the heart of the lovely Scarlett. It’s difficult to tell which of these ambitions matter the most to him. Both seem to be of equal importance, and as vital to him as breathing.

Scarlett is an air hostess with a past. Attracted though she is to Dylan, previous experience has taught her to be very wary, and she has enough to deal with, coping with a lecherous boss. Her heart is very definitely closed for business, and the last thing she wants is a would-be rock star knocking at its door, demanding to be let in.

In spite of herself, Scarlett is won over by Dylan, but shadows from Scarlett’s past hang over the present, jeopardising their future. Both of them will have to decide what’s most important to them, and battle mistrust and jealousy, if they’re to have any kind of future together.

Air Guitar and Caviar is a lovely romance, with well-drawn, fully-rounded characters, some rather passionate love scenes, and a lot of humour. I absolutely defy anyone not to fall in love with Dylan within the first page. He is a gorgeous hero in every sense of the word, and his laid-back, open, totally honest personality makes him the ideal partner for the wounded, scared, somewhat withdrawn Scarlett.

There are plenty of minor characters populating the pages, too, with some fabulous names like Beanie and Axel. The story takes in a wide variety of them, from a down-and-out sleeping in a shop doorway, a cute child, and a beautiful ex-girlfriend,  through to a brusque showbusiness agent and a vile airline pilot. The writing never lapses into over-sentimentality, but the author really gets to the heart of the matter with a deft assurance and a light touch.

Jackie writes beautifully, with such humour and some beautiful observations. The story flows effortlessly, and is a complete joy to read. It was definitely worth waiting for, and I am really excited to see what the next book will be! A sparkling debut.

You can buy Air Guitar and Caviar here.

agand-caviar

Every Woman for Herself by Trisha Ashley

Every Woman for Herself is another brilliant Trisha Ashley novel. Her heroine is one Charlotte (Charlie) Fry, nee Rymer, whose extremely selfish husband decides their marriage is over (a fait accompli, apparently) and basically clears off back to Saudi on his next business trip, leaving Charlie to pick up the pieces and start again. Charlie doesn’t sit around, weeping and wailing. She decides to get on with her life, and, after a rather unfortunate episode with a frying pan that is just a joy to read, in a rather guilty way, she heads home to her father’s house on the Yorkshire moors.

Charlie’s amorous father has had a long string of mistresses, and his current one, the glamorous Jessica, is currently living at the Parsonage (not a real Parsonage, just its name) along with her two children. It’s rather crowded, as, besides Charlie’s older sister Em, who is most definitely in charge of the place, their other sister, Anne, has returned home, as has brother Bran, an absolutely extraordinary character. ¬†It’s quite difficult to tell whether Bran is mad or just very, very clever. Either way, eccentric doesn’t even begin to cover it, but I loved reading about him. As you can probably tell, Charlie’s father had a real interest in the Brontes and was trying to recreate them, in some sort of strange experiment. He’s another eccentric!

In the family’s cottage, just down the road, ¬†the exotic-looking famous actor, Mace North, and his little girl are staying, while Mace works on his play.¬†When Charlie’s misadventures in her new job lead to her being sacked, Em arranges for her to work for Mace, taking care of his daughter, and before long they have built up quite a rapport. With the help of Em, who is now dabbling in the dark arts, Mace falls under Charlie’s spell – at least, that’s what Charlie believes. Funny, then, that Gloria’s potion to remove the spell doesn’t seem to work. ¬†The all-seeing Gloria isn’t keen on Mace, and doesn’t want him to get his hands on Charlie. She sees nothing but disaster in such a union. On the other hand, she could be getting mixed up.

Em, who is keeping a tight rein on the house, is fighting a determined battle to prevent Jessica from taking over her home and changing the way things are done. Nothing is going to distract her from that purpose. Or is it?

Anne, a war correspondent, is fighting a different sort of battle, and she’s taking it all in her stride, including moving on from the boyfriend who badly let her down, just when she needed him most.

It’s a chaotic household, but it’s very much held together with love and laughter, and the Parsonage has always been the place that the family can return to and find things carrying on, pretty much as what passes for normal in the Rymer family. So, when Jessica announces that she is marrying their father, and then decides they are going to sell the Parsonage and move into a more modern, comfortable house, it’s a real blow to them all. Can the Rymers pull together and stay together? Especially after a particularly disturbing piece of information about Charlie and Bran comes to light.

With a lovestruck, leather-clad vicar, a group of friendly, neighbourhood witches, and a vengeful widow who is determined to wreck Charlie’s life, this is an extremely entertaining novel. Then there’s Skint Old Northern Woman, a real stroke of genius on Charlie’s (and the author’s!) part. Throw in the unsentimental warmth of the family relationships, the smouldering sex appeal of Mace North, dogs, children, and laugh-out-loud scenes, and you have a really wonderful story that’s an absolute joy to read.

Definitely five stars from me!

You can buy Every Woman for Herself here.

every

 

Every Woman for Herself was the first book I’ve read for the Jera’s Jamboree Reading Challenge. It ticks the box for the category, “A book you own but haven’t read”. If you’d like to take part in the challenge, click here.

Deck the Halls by Emily Harvale

I absolutely loved this book! I admit, when I first started reading it I was a little jolted by the use of present tense. It’s not something I’ve come across often, but I quickly adjusted to it. In fact, because of the use of present tense and first person, it really felt as if I was right there with Harriet, and I actually really enjoyed reading a book written in this fashion for a change.
I liked every character in the story (except for Art’s family, who were all completely hideous!). It was a pleasure – especially at this time of year – to read about a family that is so loving and affectionate. Even more so when the family is a blended family. Harriet gets on equally well with her half-siblings and step-siblings and is genuinely fond of her step-mother, which is so refreshing.
The Hall itself is another character, and I loved the description of the Tudor house, and the way it clearly means so much to the family, even if it is falling down around their ears.
Enter Lance, friend of the family and hero of the holidays. He’s definitely the sort of man you’d want close by when your stately home is crumbling to bits, you have your prospective in-laws coming to visit, and you may have misled them – just a teensy bit – about how grand your house is. Lance is kind, capable, and distinctly gorgeous. And there’s an instant spark between him and Harriet that almost the entire family recognises, even before Harriet herself is ready to acknowledge it.
There’s a lot of humour in this book. At times I actually laughed out loud. I loved Harriet. She’s a girl after my own heart. I especially loved the way her heartbreak wasn’t helped by copious helpings of Christmas comfort food. I mean, she really tried to cheer herself up! The twins and their fabulous aim when throwing snowballs really amused me, as did her stepbrother’s penchant for blowing things up while conducting scientific experiments. Aunt Vicki is also a great character, and I could just picture her in my mind – all-seeing and all-knowing.
This is a real festive treat, with a beautiful old house, Christmas lights, a wonderful family, and a lovely romance to enjoy. I so loved meeting the Halls, and I really hope there’s more to come from them. Wonderful. 5/5

You can buy Deck the Halls here.

deck-the-halls

A Christmas Romance by Amy Perfect (Lynda Renham)

As signalled by the fact that Lynda Renham is writing as Amy Perfect, rather than under her own name, this book is a little different to her usual romcoms. It’s still funny, but it’s set at a gentler pace, and is cosier, somehow. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really loved it.
Little Perran is the sort of place many people would love to live in. A picturesque Cotswolds village where everyone knows everyone, and everybody cares what’s going on in their neighbours’ lives.
Frankie has been badly betrayed by her boyfriend Paul, so there’s a lot of sympathy for her. Everyone wants to see her happy. Frankie just wants to get on with her life and think about something else, and it seems she’ll get her wish, when news hits the village that famous film star Roux Lockhart is coming to stay in Little Perran. Everyone is buzzing with excitement, even though they’ve been sworn to secrecy.
Because Roux is staying at her Aunt Rose’s house, Frankie has reason to cross paths with him, and there’s an undeniable attraction between them. Roux has recently broken up with his actress girlfriend and he certainly isn’t looking for love. Frankie is still reeling from Paul’s betrayal and romance is the last thing she wants or needs. Or is it?
When the two of them go missing in a terrible snowstorm, the villagers fear the worst. What could possibly have happened to Frankie and Roux? And with the disappearance of a major film star in the news, it seems Little Perran won’t be having such a quiet Christmas, after all.
With a dodgy Christmas cake competition, a village flirt, and two publicity-seeking exes on the scene, as well as a lovely subplot involving Frankie’s mum and a nursing home, this book is a really fun and uplifting Christmas book, which is just the thing to help get you in the festive mood. I look forward to returning to Little Perran to see what happens there next. ¬†5/5

You can buy A Christmas Romance here.

51c9txxzcgl

A Holly Bay Christmas by Jo Bartlett

Jo Bartlett certainly knows how to tell a good Christmas story. A year or two ago, I read and reviewed her lovely novella, The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come (which, by the way, is being reissued by Accent Press with an absolutely gorgeous new cover) and I thought then that she really knew how to fill her readers with Christmas spirit. A Holly Bay Christmas, is, I’m delighted to report, just as enjoyable, and just as festive.
Holly Bay is an absolutely charming little village nestling on the Cornish coast. It’s full of those delightful little shops and businesses that you find in Cornwall, and it’s populated by a community of people who really pull together and care for each other.
Maddie’s entire world revolves around her bookshop/teashop, Basil’s Adventures, which is named after her beloved grandfather. He was the biggest influence upon her life, teaching her the wonders and delights of reading, and how to escape into the magic of a book. Although he rarely travelled outside the town, he had a whole lifetime of adventures in his imagination, and so, when he died and left Maddie an inheritance, she used it to fulfil her dream of opening her own business, naming it after him. She is devoted to her work, has a cosy flat in Holly Bay, and plenty of friends. She can’t help wondering, though, if it’s time she gave some thought to finding romance. Not that there seems much chance of that, when she’s so busy, particularly now that it’s almost Christmas and Holly Bay is a hive of activity.
So when the attractive and friendly Ben Cartwright arrives in town, it seems like fate. Ben seems very interested in her, in her business, and in her friends. Could he be the man of her dreams?
When he helps out with raising funds for a charity that is close to her heart, and even dons an elf costume to help out, she begins to think that, just maybe, he actually might be just that. But dreams don’t always come true, and secrets have a habit of being discovered, often at the most inconvenient times. What is Ben really doing in Holly Bay?
As a storm sweeps in, bringing destruction in its path, the residents of this little town must work together to help each other, and to make one little boy’s Christmas dreams come true. The key to it all is Ben, but can he be trusted? Is Maddie about to lose everything she holds dear, or is it going to be a happy Holly Bay Christmas, after all?
A heartwarming, cosy festive story that will really put you in the mood for the festive season. Merry Christmas! 5/5

You can buy A Holly Bay Christmas here.

51sp5-ca30l

Daughter of Pendle by Rowan Scot-Ryder

I should imagine that many people have heard of the Pendle Witches. The witchcraft trials of the early seventeenth century have become the stuff of legend, and a whole industry has sprung up around the unfortunate people who were accused of bewitching their neighbours, and even of murder, and were sent to Lancaster to answer to their “crimes”. What Rowan Scot-Ryder has done, in this captivating book, is give those people a humanity. They no longer seem like names of almost mythological beings, but real people, caught up in the most horrific events.

A great deal of the book is taken up with the story of Jennet Device, the youngest daughter of one of the families accused. It is Jennet’s sister, Alizon, who in effect starts the whole terrifying business, when she encounters a pedlar, John Law. In the witchcraft trial, it was stated that Alizon demanded pins and Law refused to give them to her, firstly because of the expense, and secondly because he feared what she would do with them. (It was well known that pins were used in witchcraft.) It was stated by Law’s son Abraham, that Alizon had no intention of paying for the pins, and when Law wouldn’t comply with her request, she cursed him, causing him to fall ill.

The author takes this event and gives it a new slant, looking at it from Alizon’s point of view. What she shows is the terrifying speed with which events start to snowball from that point, leading to the arrest of Alizon, her brother Jem, mother Elizabeth, and grandmother, known as Demdike. Not only the Device family are named, but neighbours, too. Friends of the family, and bitter enemies, the Whittles – including Demdike’s nemesis, Chattox.

Jennet Device is on record as being nine years old when she was called to give evidence against her family. In this book, the author states that her mother told the authorities she was nine to protect her, but in actual fact she was eleven, and had turned twelve by the time the trial started. Either way, there’s no doubt that she was still a little child, vulnerable and afraid, yet she was made to stand on a table in front of a room full of angry people, and tell them all of the things she had “seen” and “heard” her family and neighbours do.

It’s not entirely certain what happened to Jennet after the trial which saw her family hang, but it is known that a woman by the same name was jailed for witchcraft offences some twenty or so years later. Rowan Scot-Ryder uses this to continue her story, and in this fictionalised account of the events, we learn that it is indeed the same Jennet. What brings her back to Lancaster and leads her to being accused of the same crimes as her family is a fascinating tale and, again, the author weaves in facts to give it a very authentic ring.

I have to admit, I read this story with growing anger. Anger because the way the poor were dismissed and ignored is just appalling. Anger because women were used as scapegoats, and any woman who refused to stay in her place, or give a man what he wanted, risked being accused of heinous crimes that those in authority were all too keen to believe. And anger because those with money and power used their position to levy a justice that was no justice at all. Those with no money had no voice, and there was no such thing as a fair trial.

I also felt desperately sad and helpless. They were caught in a situation there was simply no escape from. Anyone different was viewed with suspicion, and even the elderly – sick and blind at that – were not given any reprieve. It was frightening to see how things were developing, and how quickly more and more people were caught in the web of accusations and lies. Whichever way they turned, whatever they said, they were condemned, and it was clear that they had no way out of the situation they were in.

My heart broke for Jennet, who carried the guilt for the result of her “evidence” for the rest of her life. What she suffered was just awful, and although it’s said that her mother screamed and cursed at her in the courtroom, I much prefer to believe this version, and actually find it easier to believe. It must have devastated Elizabeth Device to see what they had done to her child. No doubt she had spent months worrying about her, and about what they were doing to her. To hear Jennet saying the things she said, must have confirmed her worst fears and broken her heart, too.

Interestingly, the author chooses to weave in the mythology of the area. She includes events that can only be viewed as magical, and, rather than dismissing the talk of “witchcraft” as nonsense, she leads us to conclude that there was indeed something different about the Device family, at least, although it becomes clear that there was nothing evil about it. It’s quite telling that she has some of her characters speaking Latin occasionally, a language that the “old queen” Elizabeth the First has banished, because of its Catholic connotations. In that sense, it becomes obvious that anything not complying with the official protestant religion is unacceptable. It’s the narrow mindedness of the puritanical movement that deems anything outside its own parameters as evil. I thought this was handled well in the book. It opens the reader’s mind in a way that simply letting us believe that events were black or white would never do.

As the book continues on to the next generation, and history repeats itself, we get at last the hope of a happy ending. Jennet’s daughter Beth finds happiness, and it seems there will be a new start for the family.

The author leaves us with one last twist, and what a twist it is. Shocking, and yet, somehow, inevitable. I won’t say any more as I don’t want to spoil it for other readers. I will simply end this review by saying that this is a book that will stay with me, and will make me look at the historical facts with new eyes, and a huge amount of compassion. A really compelling read. 5/5

You can buy Daughter of Pendle here.

13103496_1001011239989145_5536681582283311590_n

 

Love On the Nile by Ellie Gray

Having read Ellie Gray’s previous novel, Beauty and the Recluse, I was confident that I would enjoy this second offering, and I’m happy to say it more than lived up to my expectations.

Ellie writes such romantic stories, with really sexy and passionate heroes. In this novel, we have the added bonus of the beautiful backdrop of Egypt. I’ve never been to Egypt myself, but reading this book, I really felt as if I was there. I could feel the sun beating down on me, taste the dust in the back of my throat…I was highly relieved when the heroine reached for her bottle of water and glugged down the liquid. I was quite parched myself by that time!

So, what’s the story? Well, basically it’s girl hopes for holiday of a lifetime, visiting the breathtaking sites of ancient Egypt, girl gets unexpected guide on her dream vacation, guide turns out to be gorgeous but annoying, their attraction sizzles hotter than the Egyptian sun, guide has issues and reluctantly pushes girl away, and then…

Well, you’ll have to read it for yourself to discover what happens next. Let me just say, though, that there’s a lot more to this story than that paragraph could adequately explain. The almost mythical setting of the novel, the wonderful characters, the likeable and gutsy heroine, and the oh-so-sexy, dark and brooding hero, makes this a sheer delight to read. Natasha and Kyle’s romance is believable, sweet, tender, and smoking, all at the same time!

I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in this gorgeous book, and I was rooting for Kyle to battle his demons and take a chance on Natasha. I loved both main characters, but I also grew very fond of Natasha’s younger brother, Nicky, who is very sympathetically and realistically drawn, and on Aunt Lucy, too. Ellie has, in short, done it again, and now I’m very much looking forward to her third novel. Excellent read. 5/5

You can buy Love On the Nile here.

51vv-lyffcl-_uy250_

 

Somebody Else’s Boy by Jo Bartlett

This book really took a hold of me from page one, and didn’t let go, even after I’d read The End and closed down my Kindle.
Some books take a little getting into, but Somebody Else’s Boy gripped me from the start. It’s a really beautiful story, well-written, and so packed full of emotional twists and turns that I couldn’t bear to put it down for long, and had finished it within a day.
The setting of St Nicholas Bay is described really well. I love the town’s Dickens connection, and can imagine this place so well in my mind. The characters are fantastically drawn, giving this book real depth and warmth and heart. It has lots of laughs – the author certainly has a sparkling sense of humour, and a sharp wit – but it also has dark moments. The description of Jack’s grief is so raw, so painful, that I had to put down my Kindle for a moment, look across to my husband, and – much to his astonishment (and mine!) – announce there and then that I loved him. It seemed important to put it into words while I could because, as Jack discovers, you never know when that chance will be taken away.
It’s not only Jack who has suffered a loss. Nancy’s grief is different but no less agonising, and I loved the depiction of her father’s situation and how it affects not only her, but her mother and brother, too.
Somebody Else’s Boy deals with love, loss, grief, betrayal and guilt. In fact, guilt is a major theme of this book. So many of the characters in here struggle on, trying to do what they believe is the “right thing”, putting their own needs aside out of guilt. It certainly made me think about how much we do this in real life. How guilt can weigh us down and ruin our own lives, and how misplaced this guilt is. Would the people who have loved us, really want us to lose our own chance of happiness, out of loyalty to their memory? Yet, even knowing that intellectually, doesn’t always help us to accept it emotionally. This novel beautifully and deftly deals with this very issue, and it really does tug at the heartstrings.
The burgeoning love between Nancy and Toby is lovely, and the developing relationships between other characters keep adding new layers to the story, taking you sometimes by surprise, but never feeling forced or unlikely.
It’s a deep and thought-provoking book, but it’s also cosy and romantic and funny, too. There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments, and moments that make you feel all warm and fuzzy and contented. Sometimes, happy endings can only come about when you learn to accept what is, and make the best of that, rather than wishing for what could have been. For some of the characters in this book, that’s exactly the lesson they have to learn, and I admire that the author was willing to write that truth. So, this is a book to make you think, a book to make you smile, a book to make you appreciate what you’ve got, and the people you have in your life. I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it, and I’m really looking forward to my next visit to St Nicholas Bay. 5/5

You can buy Somebody Else’s Boy here.

51lazuqiifl-_ss300_