Bear With Me by Jessica Redland

Sometimes love finds us when we least expect it. But sometimes love leaves us, just as unexpectedly.

Everything changes for Jemma on the weekend of her 28th birthday. An unexpected proposal from boyfriend, Scott, is overshadowed by her mum’s diagnosis with a life-changing condition. After the weekend, she needs Scott’s support more than ever. So why isn’t he returning her calls?

Everything was meant to be changing for Sam that same weekend. He should have been walking down the aisle with Nikki. But she’s not around anymore and Sam’s struggling to face the future. Did he do the right thing by moving to London to escape the memories of their life together?

When they’ve loved and lost, can they bear to let love in again?

Bear With Me, and all will be revealed …

Bear With Me takes us back to the familiar setting of Whitsborough Bay – the location of Jessica Redland’s previous books. However, this time, we meet a whole host of new characters.

Jemma thinks she’s found her happy-ever-after with Scott, but just days after receiving a proposal of marriage from him, something changes. Why isn’t he answering her calls?

Julie has been a wonderful single mother to Jemma and Sean, but lately she’s been behaving strangely, and her happy home, Bear’s Pad, is becoming a place of tension. What’s happening to her?

Sam’s future looked bright. He had a promising career and he’d found the woman of his dreams. Now he’s in a strange city, far from everyone he loves, and his life is in tatters. What went wrong?

This is a gorgeous story of love, faith, and new beginnings. Told with the author’s characteristic warmth and humour, it drew me in from the first few pages, as I got to know the main characters at crucial points in their lives. As the novel progressed, I found myself enthralled by the twists and turns in their stories – and boy, there were plenty of them! The author really puts her poor protagonists through the mill.

After suffering so badly, it’s not surprising that Sam and Jemma find they have lots in common, and can understand what the other has been through, and before long a warm friendship blossoms, but Jessica Redland shows how emotional wounds can make moving on a real challenge, and explores the courage it takes to let go of the past and start again.

There is a lovely supporting cast in this novel, including some walk-on parts by characters from the author’s Whitsborough Bay trilogy, which will delight fans of those books. The writer’s gift for creating appealing and relatable characters will, I’m certain, win her a whole host of new fans.

Bear With Me is a real page-turner that made me desperate to find out what would happen next, yet reluctant to reach the end and leave Sam and Jemma behind. Funny, intriguing and thought-provoking, Bear With Me is a genuine five-star book, and I’m eager to find out what’s next from Jessica Redland. 5/5

You can buy Bear With Me here.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dreaming About Daran by Jessica Redland

I’ll be honest and say that I tend to take longer and longer to read books these days. I used to fly through them, but there are so many distractions in life, and calls on my time, not to mention the annoyance of eyes that get tired much quicker than they used to, that I find it can take a week or two to work my way through a novel – even a novel that I’m really enjoying. I read this book, Dreaming About Daran, in one day, which, to me, says it all.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Redland’s Whitsborough Bay series. Searching for Steven was good, and had an interesting premise, a lovely setting, and warm, believable characters. I was delighted when its sequel, Getting Over Gary, proved to be an even better read. For me, though, the series hits its pinnacle with Dreaming About Daran.

Clare was always the odd one out in the trio of friends. Not as warm or “cosy” as Sarah and Elise, not as romantic, nor as family-oriented, she always seemed on the outside, somehow. In Getting Over Gary, we saw her soften a little in her attitude to Elise, and without wishing to give anything away, she emerged as more likeable. I always felt, though, that there was something buried deep within Clare that, one day, would make an explosive story. I was right.

Dreaming About Daran is much deeper than its predecessors. I think each book in this series has grown progressively darker, tackling more serious issues, but in this final instalment, Jessica Redland has created a really gripping and quite gut-wrenching story.

I can’t go into any details, as I don’t want to risk spoiling it for new readers, but suffice it to say, Clare has to make a journey away from the life she has built for herself, into the world she left behind – a world so painful that she has managed to bury it. Or so she thinks.

There is humour, of course, and warmth, and friendship, and all the usual Jessica Redland trademarks that ensure a joyous read, but there is so much more to it than that. Secrets and lies, shock and fear, pain and grief, all combine to lead the reader through a most unexpected path into the darkness of Clare’s past. There is a great deal to be uncovered before we can walk safely out into the sunshine again.

For me, personally, this is by far my favourite of the three books, and I felt quite sorry to reach the end of the trilogy. The good news is that, with a writer this talented, I’m sure I’ll have new stories to read by Jessica Redland before long. I can’t wait to see where she takes us next! 5/5

You can buy Dreaming About Daran here

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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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Rumour Has It by Jill Mansell

I have no idea why, but this is the first Jill Mansell novel I’ve read, in spite of owning five or six of her books. I’ve meant to get round to it for ages, but recently, I decided to finally read one, and I selected Rumour Has It at random.

Well, I was completely hooked! From the first page the characterisation was outstanding and the writing strong. Jill Mansell makes it look completely effortless. The narrative flows onto the page, as bubbly and sparkling as fine Champagne, and I was carried along, utterly enthralled to the very last page.

I found all the characters really enjoyable – even Stella, who I actually ended up feeling really sorry for. Can’t say more than that. Spoilers! Tilly was lovely, and I was rooting for her all the way through the story. I totally adored Jack, and could quite see why the ladies of Roxborough were so smitten with him. Max and Lou were lovely – witty and interesting in their own right. And how refreshing to see an ex-wife portrayed in a good light, with a marriage that ended in friendship instead of all-out war.

The writing is so warm and funny and easy to read, which is the sign of a gifted writer. It’s lovely to read the last line, hug the book (or Kindle!) to you, and heave a deep sigh of satisfaction, and that’s what I did last night, having stayed up late to finish Rumour Has It, as I desperately wanted to know how it ended. I now have four or five other Jill Mansell books to read, and the prospect of many more available to buy, which is a lovely position to be in. Definitely five star fiction! 5/5

You can buy Rumour Has It here.5142KS91MRL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

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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