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.

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 

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.

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.

A Song for St Nicholas by Jo Bartlett

At the time of writing this, Jo Bartlett’s latest novel, A Song for St Nicholas, is proudly displaying a bestseller flag. I can only say, after devouring this book in a few hours this morning, that it totally deserves that status.

I’m a huge fan of this author’s work, but I really think A Song for St Nicholas is her best yet. Set in the lovely Kent coastal village of St Nicholas Bay – a place, it’s rumoured, where Charles Dickens wrote part of A Christmas Carol – the book has a festive feel from the off, and Christmas runs through its centre like words through a stick of seaside rock.

Anna has returned to the bay after several years working in a high-powered, and extremely well-paid, job in London. A chance encounter with a homeless man, combined with the realisation that her boss is a selfish moron, plus the acknowledgment that her boyfriend definitely isn’t the man for her, have sent her to her home town, where she must face the disappointment of her parents – particularly her mum, who couldn’t be more proud of high-flying Anna if she’d married Prince Harry.

Anna’s own dream man, however, wasn’t a prince. He was the son of a lord, and he broke her heart by moving away from the village, without warning, when they were teenagers. The last person she expects to find on her return to the Bay is Jamie Harrington, so it’s a shock when she hears he’s back, and even more shocking to discover that he’s now a vicar, and the Bay is his new parish.

As Anna and Jamie both settle back into their old village, their attraction to each other still burns as brightly as ever. But there is a tragic secret in St Nicholas Bay. An old mystery remains unsolved, and someone has a guilty conscience. Events that occurred a decade before could scupper any chances Jamie and Anna have of rekindling their relationship, and with people around them getting hurt, is there really any chance of a merry Christmas and a happy-ever-after for either of them?

Told with the author’s characteristic warmth and good humour, A Song for St Nicholas is everything a Christmas novel should be. It’s got the most delightful setting, a fantastic cast of supporting characters, and a leading couple, who are so obviously perfect for each other, that you can’t help praying that things will work out for them.

Anna has integrity, courage and a kind heart, and Jamie is – well, Jamie is just divine. Although, as a vicar, he’d probably be very uncomfortable with that description! He’s honourable and compassionate and – well, you can probably tell he’s my new fictional crush. The good thing about him is that he’s not too perfect. He does make mistakes, thank goodness!

With a Christmas fayre, Christmas trees, and fairy lights galore, a choir and lots of beautiful carols, this is a real festive treat – a story of forgiveness, redemption, compassion, charity, hope and, above all, love. At this time of year, what more can you ask for? 5/5

You can buy A Song for St Nicholas here.

Moonshine by Deirdre Palmer

When I reviewed the prequel to Moonshine, Dirty Weekend, I said that it reminded me of one of those old black-and-white films that dealt with young, working-class people as they tried to make their way in a very different world to the one their parents had known. Moonshine is similar in that respect – although the film may now be in colour, as we have reached 1969, the year of the first moon landing.

Terry and Carol-Anne are now married and living in a flat above a greengrocer’s with their daughter, Donna. Carol-Anne works a few hours a week at a shop, and Terry is working hard to learn “The Knowledge” so that he can achieve his dream of becoming a cab driver, just like his dad and brothers.

When the young couple decide to go away for a two-week break in a caravan on the Devon coast, the idea is that they will have a second honeymoon. But Carol-Anne won’t leave Donna behind, even with her devoted gran, and then Beverly, Carol-Anne’s younger sister, pleads to be allowed to join them. Carol-Anne can’t refuse, which doesn’t exactly thrill Terry. He’s even more put out to discover that his best mate, Mark, and Mark’s girlfriend Vicki, have booked a caravan on the same park for the same fortnight. Some second honeymoon this is going to be! However, Terry soon cheers up. Being away with another couple might be fun, and at least there are babysitters on hand.

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, as they say, and the much-longed-for holiday doesn’t quite go according to plan.

For Mark, the whole point of the holiday is to give him and his gorgeous girlfriend the chance to finally “do the deed”. With Vicki about to start teacher-training in Birmingham, the two of them face separation for many months. They need to make a commitment to each other before she leaves, because what if she decides that long-distance relationships don’t work? When a twist of fate means Vicki is unable to join them on the holiday, Mark considers dropping out, too, but is persuaded to go with his friends, while Vicki recuperates at home with her mum and dad. He can’t help worrying, though. He loves Vicki, but do they really have a chance of keeping their relationship alive when they will be living so far apart?

Carol-Anne is disappointed not to have Vicki’s company, but at least she has Beverly. Her little sister, though, has been behaving oddly lately. She’s developed a crush on some lad, and it seems to be having a weird effect on her. Maybe two weeks away from the object of her affections will help her to put it all in perspective. She may even have a nice holiday romance, which will help her forget all about this crush. At least, that’s what Carol-Anne hopes for.

Terry is hoping for some passionate encounters with his beloved wife. He wants this to be a holiday to remember. If only his own guilty secret wasn’t there in the back of his mind, nagging away at him and demanding resolution.

In glorious Devon, it seems there is nothing ahead of them except two weeks of  sunshine, lazy days on the beach, sightseeing, and nights out at the clubhouse.  But on the night of the Apollo landing, as the world watches in awe the momentous events happening in the skies, back on earth, in a little caravan park in Devon, events are unfurling that will have a greater impact on the friends than the moon landing ever could.

One bad decision will tear couples apart, threaten friendships, and force the four adults to take sides. With tensions high, the only way forward is for someone to tell the truth. But will that person have the courage? And will the pressure they’re under force Terry and Carol-Anne and Mark and Vicki apart, or do they have what it takes to weather the storm?

Full of gorgeous detail, and with a real sixties vibe, this novel is a treat. I love all Deirdre Palmer’s books, but Dirty Weekend and Moonshine are probably my favourites of hers. It’s a pleasure to hang out with her characters and wallow in nostalgia. She recreates the era so beautifully, it really is as if you’re watching an old film and can see it all playing out in front of your eyes. Great characterisation, wonderful writing, and a free trip back to the sixties. What more could anyone ask for? 5/5

You can buy Moonshine here.

A Highland Practice by Jo Bartlett

In my “real life” I work in a busy medical practice, and I spend five days a week surrounded by doctors, nurses, receptionists and patients. It can be a very stressful world, and it would be a heck of a lot more enjoyable if a) the surgery was in the beautiful Highland town of Balloch Pass instead of in a city, and b) if we had a fabulous doctor like Alasdair James (no offence to any of our GPs)!

Balloch Pass and Dr James can, instead, be found within the pages of this gorgeous novel by Jo Bartlett, and it’s the fictional Dr Evie Daniels who finds herself working at the Highland practice alongside the delightful Alasdair, when she arrives to work as a locum for a short time, before setting off on her travels around the world.

Evie has had a traumatic time recently. The loss of her beloved mother and the end of an engagement have left her reeling, and all she wants now is to make her mum proud of her by living out the dreams that her mother never got to fulfil. Evie’s mum wanted to travel, and Evie has sworn that she will visit all the places her mother wanted to visit, and see them for her. Her first stop is the Highlands of Scotland – a place, Evie feels, where she will be able to draw breath after the grief and upheaval, and make plans for the next leg of her journey.

What Evie hasn’t banked on is meeting someone like Alasdair, who is clearly a local hero. Beloved by his patients, he is kind, patient, professional and compassionate. They meet in unusual circumstances, when they are both caught in an unexpected emergency, and their rapport is immediately obvious. Evie and Alasdair work well together, and before long, their professional relationship evolves into something deeper – much to the delight of receptionist Susie, nurse Julia, and a whole assortment of locals who can’t wait to see that nice Dr James settle down with someone who truly deserves him.

Unfortunately for the two of them, their timing couldn’t be worse. Evie has made a promise to go off and see the world, whereas Alasdair has made his own promise to stay in Balloch Pass, and there is no way he can or will break that promise – even if it means losing the woman he loves. There seems no room for compromise, and with more than just Evie’s and Alasdair’s hearts at risk, it appears that this fledgling love will never fly.

This is a lovely story, evoking a real sense of place, and made me long to head up to the Highlands of Scotland to discover its beauty for myself. Dr James is a wonderful hero, and I really felt for him as he tried valiantly to be unselfish and to do the right thing for the people he loves. Evie had my sympathy, too, as I totally understood her reasons for wanting to travel. I could feel her desperation as she battled with loyalty to her mother’s memory, and her overwhelming feelings for Alasdair.

With a whole host of well-drawn and enjoyable secondary characters, a fabulous setting, and a love story that burns brightly at its heart – not to mention a catalogue of medical dramas that grip the attention and have you turning the pages rapidly – this is a book that I would recommend to anyone.  Like all Jo Bartlett’s books, it’s a real joy to read. 5/5

You can buy A Highland Practice here.

 

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.