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.

The Island Legacy by Ruth Saberton

island-legacyWhen Ness Penwellyn unexpectedly inherits a Cornish island it isn’t long before she encounters property developer, Max Reynard. Wealthy and wickedly handsome, Max is accustomed to getting his own way but Ness is unimpressed. His assumption she’ll sell her inheritance to him makes Ness determined to go it alone – even while bitter relatives plot revenge and circumstances begin to spiral out of control.

Max Reynard is a rich and powerful playboy. Used to winning, in matters of business and the heart, he’s shocked to meet a woman able to resist his money and good looks. And when he realises he wants Ness even more than he wants her property, Max knows he’s in big trouble.

Before long Ness and Max are locked in a battle of wills. And when love’s involved, the rules of engagement are soon broken …

I discovered Ruth Saberton some years ago, when she released Katy Carter Wants a Hero. Having holidayed several times in Polperro, I could picture the scenes she was describing in that book so clearly, and I loved the style of writing.  Some years later, having read Escape for the Summer, I decided that had replaced Katy as my new Ruth Saberton favourite. However, I’ve just finished The Island Legacy, and I can say, hand on heart, this isn’t just my favourite of Ruth’s books so far, but it’s also one of the best romantic books I’ve read in the last few years.

I was completely hooked from the start. A hint of mystery kicks off the story, and the scene is set…And talking of scenes, oh my word! The book is set in Cornwall, and it’s so obvious that the author lives in that glorious county, because she describes it so magnificently that I felt as if I was right there with the sun in my face, tasting the salt spray, hearing the lapping of waves and the cries of the seagulls, gazing across the causeway to the magical St Pirran’s Island and staring in awe at the ruins of Pirran Castle.

As a fan of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, I couldn’t help but think of Kirrin Island, but that only added to the magic for me. Clearly, St Michael’s Mount is the inspiration for St Pirran’s, and it’s made me want to head over there and visit for myself! There is something quite special about islands, after all, and there’s something very special about Cornwall, so a Cornish island was inevitably going to produce something extraordinary, and this story really is outstanding.

Every character was a joy to spend time with: the fragile Fern with her mysterious past; handsome and cheery Merryn, who transports the tourists to the island on his boat, when the causeway is covered by the sea; gifted, grieving Adam and his musically-talented little boy, Josh; Merryn’s unusual gran, Rose; the wonderfully kind and caring, but terribly put-upon Lucy; strong-willed, determined Ness; and equally stubborn Max, a man who dabbles in the shallow waters of flashy boats, trashy girlfriends, and showy buildings, yet dives the depths of kindness, charity and compassion.

Then there are the characters who are no longer alive, but whose story threads through the lives of the island family. Why did the famous, talented composer Armand stop making music? Why did the three brothers fall out? What really happened to Ness’s mother, the beautiful but tragic Beth? And, perhaps most puzzling of all, why did Armand leave St Pirran’s Island to Ness?

Ness wants answers to all these questions, and she is determined to find them, in spite of the best efforts of her cousin Jamie, whose fury at being denied what he considers his birthright knows no limits. In spite of Lucy’s attempts to defend her brother, Ness knows Jamie is not to be trusted, and the fact that he appears to be in league with Max Reynard only confirms her suspicions about both men. But Max is a complex man – certainly not the sort of person he initially appears to be. He certainly meets his match in Ness, who is far from impressed by money or reputation, but is frighteningly vulnerable to a pair of grey eyes…

Max is equally enthralled by long, red hair and sea-green eyes, so, as the two begin a relationship that is, outwardly at least, purely a tug of war for ownership of the island, below the surface passions flare and desire smoulders.  But Ness is determined to hang on to St Pirran’s Island one way or the other, and Max is used to getting what he wants, and what he wants most in the world is that island. Or is it?

As the summer unfolds, both Max and Ness have to think carefully about what really matters to them, and the answer may not be what they thought at all.

With three gorgeous romances unfolding, a villain that the reader will love to hate, a mystery to solve, an ancient castle, a beautiful island, a fabulous Cornish setting, and a hero and heroine who are absolutely compelling, this is a novel to treasure. I really can’t praise it enough, and, although I was turning the pages as fast as I could, to find out what would happen, I was so sorry to finally reach the end and leave St Pirran’s behind me. I suspect it will be a book I return to again. Like Cornwall itself, it’s something I just can’t bear to say goodbye to forever. 5/5

You can buy The Island Legacy here.

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.

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The Chocolatier’s Secret by Helen J Rolfe

“Andrew Bennett has an idyllic life in Magnolia Creek, Australia. He runs a chocolate business he adores, is married to Gemma, the love of his life, and has a close relationship with his father, Louis. But when Andrew receives a message from his high school sweetheart, it sends his world into a spiral, and the relationships he holds dear will never be the same again.

Molly Ramsey is looking for answers. After her last attempt, she believes the only way to get them this time is to face her past head-on. But to do this, she has to fly to the other side of the world – and she’s afraid of flying. Her search for answers lands her in an emotional tangle, not only with her past but also with a man very much in her present.

Family is everything to Gemma Bennett and she longs to have a house full of kids, but it just isn’t happening. And when Andrew’s past makes an explosive impact on the family, Gemma must decide whether she can accept the truth and open her heart in a way she never thought possible.

In this story of love, family ties and forgiveness, will past mistakes be the obstacle to a Happy Ever After?”

It’s sometimes difficult to review books without resorting to cliches. It’s a bit like a TV talent show. You know, “You made that song your own” – *rolls eyes*. How many times can you hear the same thing coming from the judges’ mouths without getting bored? Similarly, how many times can you write, “I absolutely loved this book” without feeling that you really need to say something different? Something exciting. Something that can convey the joy you’ve felt, immersing yourself in someone else’s writing, getting lost in their fabulous fictional world. Something that would entice other people to pick up the book or open their Kindle, and discover for themselves exactly what you’re trying to express.
In The Chocolatier’s Secret, Helen J Rolfe has written a novel that had me completely hooked from the start. Her characters are so richly drawn, her settings so beautifully described, and her story so appealing that I have to admit it. I absolutely loved this book. Sorry!
The storyline very much evolves from the characters themselves. Helen excels in this. Each of the main characters is fully-rounded, with flaws and failings as well as admirable qualities, so you feel you can really relate to them. She’s also exceptionally talented at description. She paints a vivid picture of a small Australian town, making it so easy to see it in your imagination. Sadly for me, she also brought the world of the chocolatier to life – a little too vividly. I was craving chocolate by the end of the book. Bang goes the diet. Again.
Seriously, this is such a beautiful story that engages all the emotions. It’s one of those books that just leaves you feeling completely happy and fully satisfied. A bit like chocolate. There are surprises, tears and laughter within its pages, and it all unfolds at just the right pace, never sagging, holding your interest right up to the heartwarming end.
I’ve loved all of Helen’s books, but this is my favourite so far. A new Helen J Rolfe novel is a must-have as far as I’m concerned. She’s just getting better and better! Definitely 5/5 from me.

You can buy The Chocolatier’s Secret here.

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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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Scotch on the Rocks by Lizzie Lamb

What I loved about this book was how easy it was to see it unfolding in my mind, and how much it reminded me of those old black and white films, where the hero and heroine exchange snappy dialogue and circle round each other, but you just know that they are made for each other – however much she makes sarcastic comments, and however much he tries to play his cards close to his chest. This would make a great film, although preferably in colour! It has all the ingredients, after all:
Setting? The story takes place on the Scottish island of Eilean na Sgairbh, which is cut off from the mainland twice a day, and is reached by a causeway called The Narrows, so there is a fantastic setting.
Heroine? A sassy, independent, intelligent young woman called Ishabel Stuart, who has returned to the island after the death of her father – a man, it has to be said, who was not exactly easy to like. Issy returns to her Aunt Esme’s home, hoping to find peace and quiet, and some sort of refuge, with the woman who has been like a mother to her, since her own mother, Isabella Tartaruga – a famous opera singer – more or less abandoned Issy in pursuit of her career. What Issy finds is that Esme is about to leave the island for one of her “missions” and she is leaving behind a paying guest. Issy isn’t happy about having unexpected company. Not only does she have to organise the service for her father, but she has secretly broken off her engagement to her boss’s son, Jack, and also quit her job. She intends to start afresh on the island, and having to care for a house guest isn’t part of her plan.
Hero? The unwelcome house guest turns out to be Brodie, a tall, auburn-haired hunk of gorgeousness, all the way from America. Brodie is charming and friendly, and soon has the islanders eating out of his hand, not least the impressionable young Lindy, who helps Esme out at her guesthouse.
Secondary characters? Lots of them. Lindy channels various guises, refusing to accept that her future lays on the island. She is determined that one day, she will lead a more glamorous life. When Issy arrives home, Lindy is being Lola, who intends to head back to the USA with Brodie. There are plenty of other characters who add colour and cause amusement, too. Irene runs The Pickled Herring pub, and plenty of fun is to be had within those walls. Then there’s Mary Tennant who is Lindy’s long-suffering mother, running the post office with very little help from her flighty daughter. Best of all, there’s Pershing the parrot, whose vocabulary is colourful, to say the least. Pershing seems to have a pretty good grasp of what’s going on, and provides useful commentary and unvarnished opinions at every opportunity. He also causes some damage to Brodie, which leads to quite a revelation for Issy! Issy’s parents are larger-than-life characters. Isabella, who was actually born in Scotland, has adopted the persona of the grand Italian opera singer, and is desperate to be the centre of attention wherever she goes. Then there’s Issy’s father, a successful businessman who became a lay preacher, strict and unforgiving, leaving his daughter not a single penny in his will – his shadow looms large over her life, long after he’s gone.
Plot? Ah, full of twists and turns. Secrets and lies, heartache and loss, a mission and a hidden history. A mysterious tattoo. A ruined distillery, owned by the Stuarts, which once made the fabulous Twa Burns Whisky. A cruel deception and a big surprise. It’s all there, and it unfolds beautifully through the narrative.
Romance? The best kind. It starts off with mistrust and doubt, sparks fly, passion ignites and then…Well, some romances are forever. There’s nothing so romantic as a hero who vows never to hurt the heroine, never to leave her, and to love her forever. Especially when you just know he’s speaking the truth. And I do love a hero in a kilt, not to mention that auburn hair. Sigh.
So you see, this would be a great film. For now, though, read the book and watch it all unfold in your mind’s eye. Sometimes the imagination is even better than celluloid, after all, and Lizzie Lamb’s assured writing is all you really need. Another winner. Can’t wait for book four. 5/5

You can buy Scotch on the Rocks herescotch on the rocks

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.

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

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