Sunday, 10 December 2017

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes with a Great Christmas Story too!

I've always loved short stories from Roald Dahl to Maeve Binchy.
Paris for One is Jojo Moyes' first collection and I've really enjoyed it. The stories have appeared elsewhere and I have read some of them before, but you always see different things the second time round.
I actually saved the last story, The Christmas List, until December because it's a Christmas one. Hence the Santa in the photo! It's a great tale about a woman who takes a taxi whilst doing her Christmas shopping in London and changes her life.
The best story is Paris for One, a delightful romcom of a read about Nell who sets out for a weekend in Paris with her boyfriend, Pete, but interesting things develop when he doesn't turn up.
The stories have clever twists like those of Maeve Binchy and Roald Dahl, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I hope you do too!

This book also includes the first chapter of still methe third book which follows Lou Clarke, who appeared in best seller me before you and after you, as she starts her new life in New York.
still me is out in hardback on 25th January 2018, so it's a good opportunity to get reading now!  

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Daughters of Castle Deverill by Santa Montefiore - A Magnificent Sweep of a Novel

The Daughters of Castle Deverill by Santa Montefiore is the second part of a trilogy about Kitty Deverill, her cousin, Celia, from England, and Bridie, the cook's daughter: three girls who spent idyllic summers together at Castle Deverill on the west coast of Ireland in Songs of Love and War. (You can read my review here)
It is now 1925, and after a catastrophic fire which destroyed the castle, Celia has bought it and intends to rebuild it and make it grander than ever it was; Kitty has married her tutor, Robert, and is bringing up, Little Jack, her father's son with Bridie who has fled to New York and made a fortune marrying an elderly rich man.
So now, Celia has the castle at last; Kitty pines for Jack O'Leary (the man that she and Bridie both loved) who has also gone to America; and, although she's now very well off, Bridie yearns for her son, Little Jack.
Set against the Stock Market crash of 1929 which changes everyone's fortunes, this is another of Santa Montefiore's sweeping stories that she does so well, and I was totally immersed in its depth and breadth. It takes place from the west of Ireland to London, New York and the diamond mines of South Africa. It is romantic, atmospheric, yet also tragic and shocking.
This book also reveals more about the first Lord Barton* Deverill arriving in Ballinakelly to claim his lands (bestowed upon him by King Charles II, for his support to the Crown) and his relationship with Maggie O'Leary, who puts a curse on him and his heirs that their spirits will never rest from their wandering until an O'Leary owns Castle Deverill again.
It is through this curse that we see Kitty Deverill's ancestors, from the raging Barton, to her much missed grandmother, Adeline, a bit like a Greek chorus, observing the family's celebrations and, commiserations.
Told from many points of view, it's a magnificent sweep of a novel and the final part, The Last Secret of the Deverills is out now.

*In her introduction, Santa Montefiore tells how she chose Barton's name from the village sign along the A303 for Barton Stacey. I've often thought it would make a good name for a character, and she's beaten me to it! 

Saturday, 11 November 2017

I Found You by Lisa Jewell - A Fabulous Murder Mystery

I Found You by Lucy Dillon is a fabulous read, and I devoured it in record time - I really couldn't put it down.

Forty-something Alice, who has three children from three different failed relationships, finds a man on the beach at Ridinghouse Bay, Yorkshire, who has lost his memory.

Meanwhile, down in Surrey, newly-wed, Lily is distraught because her husband didn't come home on Tuesday night. She's told the police and they say (after investigating his passport details) that he, Carl Monrose, does not exist.

In 1993, Gray Ross is unhappy about the attention arrogant Mark Tate is paying to his fifteen-year-old sister, Kirsty, on their family holiday at Ridinghouse Bay.

However, whilst Lily goes through Carl's belongings and retraces his movements, Alice and her friend Derry do some research of their own and discover that back in August 1993, there was an incident on the beach where one man died and two others were missing, feared drowned. Another teenage youth was taken to hospital but discharged. The mystery deepens.
Could the man Alice is sheltering be a murderer?

This book has been published with two different covers. I liked the brighter one the best, but new books with that cover were twice the price of the darker ones on Amazon. So, I bought a used one, and, looking inside, I found that it had been signed by the author. Brilliant! I was meant to buy it!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Summer on Firefly Lake - Interview with RNA Author, Jen Gilroy

Welcome to my blog, Jen, please make yourself at home. I've made a Victoria sponge cake with jam and cream which I hope you'll like, perhaps washed down with a good cup of English Breakfast tea?

You know, I've really enjoyed reading your latest book, Summer on Firefly Lake, and I'm so pleased you're here so I can ask you some questions about it! 

Thank you for inviting me to chat with you again, Jean. I’m happy to be here and talk about my Firefly Lake books with you and your readers. As you know, I lived in England for many years and am a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). Visiting your blog is a virtual trip to my second home! Victoria sponge cake is my favourite and not well known in Canada, and I'd love a cup of English Breakfast tea too. Thank you!

1.     Firefly Lake is a beautiful setting for a novel. Have you ever thought of living in such a place to get inspiration for your writing?

I’m glad you like the setting for my Firefly Lake books. I’d like to live in the fictional Firefly Lake, Vermont, myself!

In terms of the sense of community and inter-connectedness, though, I live in a small town much like Firefly Lake so don’t have to look far for writing inspiration. My town doesn’t have a lake, but there are many lakes and rivers nearby and in summer, I often go to such places to read and plot.

I’m rooted in the kind of small-town world I depict in my fiction so (with a large infusion of imagination), I’m in many ways ‘writing what I know.’

2.     What influenced you to write about Kylie, the troubled twelve-year-old? And what sort of research did you have to do?

As part of finding my writing voice (and long before I was published), I read and wrote young adult fiction. Within the context of romantic women’s fiction, I still enjoy writing about younger characters and the joys, as well as challenges, they bring to the lives of adult protagonists. Kylie’s character was born from that interest.

I have vivid memories of being Kylie’s age, and although I was blessed to grow up in a loving and supportive family, I had schoolmates who weren’t so fortunate. Kylie’s character is loosely based upon their experiences, but I also read widely about fostering from the perspective of both child and caregiver and learned from friends who have looked after troubled youth.  

3.     Was it easier to write Summer on Firefly Lake when the scene was already set in The Cottage at Firefly Lake? Did it help, or did you feel restricted by it?

In some ways, yes, it was easier to write Summer on Firefly Lake because I’d already got to know Firefly Lake and some of the people who lived there in my first book, The Cottage at Firefly Lake. 

Nick and Mia, the hero and heroine of Summer on Firefly Lake, were introduced in Cottage so I already had a good sense of their characters, motivations and challenges. When I started writing Summer, though, they still surprised me, as characters always do, and new characters came on the scene and wanted their stories told.

Although I wouldn’t say I felt restricted by writing a second book also set in Firefly Lake, it did mean I had to be extra careful in double-checking details at every stage. It’s easy to use different names for the same secondary character in different books, or be inconsistent when mentioning eye colour and other physical characteristics. I’m grateful to copy editors and proof readers everywhere (and mine in particular) for catching little glitches I missed.

Suffice to say that for the future, I’ve learned the importance of creating a series ‘bible’ from the start!

4.     I enjoyed reading about Gabrielle’s love affair. What inspired you to write about an older woman being in love?

Although much contemporary romantic fiction focuses on younger characters, I’m a fan of what in North America is called ‘seasoned romance’—stories with older heroes and heroines. The hero and heroine of Summer on Firefly Lake are both thirty-nine so are somewhat ‘seasoned.’ However, since I believe it’s never too late to find love, I wanted to give Gabrielle, the hero’s mother, her own happy ending as part of a secondary romance.

Since all my books take place amidst a network of families and communities, it made sense to include more mature characters and give them their own romantic storyline. Young people don’t have a monopoly on falling in love, and so far, Gabrielle was one of my favourite characters to write. It touches my heart that many readers have warmed to her.

5.     The third novel in the Firefly Lake trilogy, Back Home at Firefly Lakeis out in the UK on 28th December 2017, can you say which characters from the first two books are in it, as it was great seeing Sean and Charlie from Book 1 in Book 2?

Many characters from the first two books reappear in Back Home at Firefly Lake including Charlie and Sean and their baby; Mia, Nick and their new blended family; Gabrielle and Ward; and more. The hero and heroine of Back Home at Firefly Lake are historian Cat McGuire and retired NHL ice hockey player, Luc Simard, who were also introduced in previous books.

As a reader, one of the reasons I enjoy reading a series is because I get to know familiar characters, as well as their community. As an author, that’s the feeling I want to create in my books, and I love giving glimpses of previous characters experiencing their “happy-ever-after.”

Back Home at Firefly Lake takes place in the winter, and I hope readers will enjoy curling up with this story to experience the small town blanketed with snow, ice skating on the frozen lake, New Year celebrations and more.

6.    In your blog, you talk about a new series of novels set in a family bakery. It sounds delicious! What made you choose this new setting?

Thank you for reading my blog, Jean. I’m glad the new series I mentioned sparked your interest. I enjoy baking and, when I travel, I seek out local bakeries. They’re often family-run and have a long history in their community. 

When I started writing this new series, and as often happens for me, the bakery setting almost chose itself. Alongside a central romance, though, I wanted to explore multi-generational family relationships and a family bakery lent itself to that kind of story.

The small town where I live has a bakery that has been in operation since 1885. I can do ‘research’ on my doorstep and writing a bakery-set story is the perfect reason to sample sweet treats to ensure my fictional world is realistic!

Thank you so much, Jen, for spending time with me on my blog today. I can't wait for the Christmas Holidays to be 'Back Home at Firefly Lake'! 

If you've enjoyed this interview with Jen as much as I have, and you would like to find out more about her books and her new life in Canada, please visit:

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Honey Farm on the Hill by Jo Thomas - Magical, Romantic, Thrilling and Funny

This isn't a photo of Crete because I haven't been there yet - it's Italy - but after reading Jo Thomas' new book, The Honey Farm on the Hill, I can't wait to visit the Greek island!

Things are not going well for Nell. She's working in a Christmas decoration factory when it burns down; her eighteen-year-old daughter, Demi, has left home to be an au pair in London; and her rotten boyfriend is in bed with someone else, so with no job, no boyfriend, and no daughter to look after, she decides to return to Crete, the one place where she felt truly happy, but where she left Stelios, Demi's father.
She's tried to forget him over the years, but it's been hard, so now that she has no responsibilities, she decides to return to Crete and find him and tell him they have a daughter.
She gets a job as a WWOOFer*, unpaid work on an organic honey farm, owned by Maria and Kostas, to help prepare their honey factory for when the bees return. The problem is that the bees live on a herb called dittany which is only found high up the mountain, but which is dying out because it keeps getting picked by tourists for its healing properties.
A grumpy man called Georgios, not much older than her, warns her off the mountain because of the drug dealers who hide away up there, but small bunches of the herb arrive mysteriously on the door steps of people who need it to heal their arthritis or gout.
With no bees, and having done all she can on the honey farm, Nell gets a part-time job at the restaurant owned by Stelios' family, not saying who she is, but wanting to find out whether he's got married and had children of his own.
But when entrepreneur, Harry Henderson, comes along and befriends Nell, the whole mountain community is in jeopardy because of his plans to build an exclusive resort.
Will the bees and (as Kostas' mother, Mitera, believes) love return to the mountain, so everyone, including Nell, can live happily ever after?

I've read every one of Jo Thomas' novels and this one is the best yet. It's magical, romantic, thrilling and funny: everything you need in one beautiful, gripping story. I hope that you enjoy it too!

*World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Muse by Jessie Burton - A Gripping Story about Art, the Sixties and the Spanish Civil War

I bought The Muse by Jessie Burton last year, and on seeing it in Waterstones recently, nearly bought it again. It was high  time, I thought, to read it at last!
Not sure what to expect because I hadn't read Jessie Burton's bestselling first book, The Miniaturist, I was attracted by the idea that this one was set in 1967 and 1936, and intrigued that the central character who linked the two stories together, was Odelle Bastien, a girl from Trinidad, which made it interesting to read about the Sixties in London from an outsider's point of view.
In 1967, Odelle and her friend, Cynthia, work in a Dolcis shoe shop, a far cry from the golden image of London they had dreamt of back in the Caribbean. She knows she deserves better than this because she was well educated in the British way at home, so she applies for a job at the Skelton Gallery, and to her surprise, is taken on as a typist by the enigmatic, Marjorie Quick.
One day, Lawrie Scott comes in with a painting of a woman carrying another woman's head which he wants valued with a view to selling it as it is all he's got now his mother has died and his stepfather is selling the family house.

Back in 1936, Olive and her mother, Sarah, move to Arazuelo, near Malaga in Spain, as her Austrian father, Harold Schloss, is finding it hard to live in Vienna because of the growth of antisemitism there. Olive loves painting and gets offered a place at The Slade School of Art, but she knows her father is against women as artists and will not let her go.
On their arrival at Arazuelo, Isaac and Teresa Robles, a brother and sister, come to help them in their finca (a Spanish house in the country). Isaac is also a teacher of Lithography, and teaches the people of the workers' union to read and write.
Later in the story, Teresa swaps a painting that Olive has done (unbeknownst to her parents) for the one that Isaac has painted of Sarah and Olive. Harold is delighted with 'Isaac's' work and wants to take it to Paris to be sold with far-reaching repercussions for the family, Teresa, and her brother.
Of course, this is the painting that Lawrie takes to the Skelton, and the story unfolds as Odelle searches for the real artist who painted it.
Jessie Burton has set the scene convincingly for 1960s London when every traditional value was being challenged, and 1930s Spain on the brink of civil war, and has drawn believable characters from all these different backgrounds.
The story is gripping. I could not leave the book alone, and I enjoyed it very much discovering the secrets of the painting which had been hidden for over thirty years.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

My Map of You by Isabelle Broom - Coming to terms with the past and looking forward to the future on the magical Greek Island of Zakynthos

Who can resist reading about summer holidays now autumn's  here? Dreaming of revisiting those magical days spent in the sun?

Here, in My Map of You, Isabelle Broom transports you to the Greek holiday island of Zakynthos with Holly Wright who has just inherited a house there from an aunt she's never heard of. And you can explore the island with Holly as she discovers the secrets of her family's past.
Holly has a good job at Flash magazine (even if she doesn't get on with her boss, Fiona) and a wonderful boyfriend called Rupert, but when she receives the solicitor's letter about the house in Zakynthos, her whole life changes.
She's still trying to come to terms with the death of her mother, Jenny, from alcoholism, and now she's shocked to find that Jenny had a twin sister, Sandra, who has left her the house. Why had she never heard about her before?
Isabelle Broom cleverly reveals the relationship between these two to the reader in tantalising letters added to the end of some of the chapters which Holly eventually finds. Also she discovers a map of the island, drawn by the sisters of all their happy places, so their life on the island can't have been all that bad. What happened to change their relationship?
Of course, she has a gorgeous neighbour in Zakynthos, Aidan, an Irish vet, who takes her to some of these places. She is attracted to him, but wants to solve the mystery of her mother and aunt more than anything else, so goes off on a moped that one of the islanders, Nikos, lends her.
All the characters are beautifully drawn from Kostos at the local store, to Phelan, Aidan's dog.
It's a wonderful story of Holly's exploration of the island and her own life, where she comes to terms with the past and can look forward to the future, but will it be with Rupert or Aidan? In London, or the magical Greek island of Zakynthos?
It's very popular at the moment to write about girls returning to, or inheriting, a house and uncovering family secrets, but this is one of the best I've read.