As many secrets as the house itself

‘The Inheritance Games’ – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

5-star-rating

The Inheritance Games

She came from nothing.
Avery has a plan: keep her head down, work hard for a better future.
Then an eccentric billionaire dies, leaving her almost his entire fortune. And no one, least of all Avery, knows why.

They had everything.
Now she must move into the mansion she’s inherited.
It’s filled with secrets and codes, and the old man’s surviving relatives –
a family hell-bent on discovering why Avery got ‘their’ money.

Now there’s only one rule: winner takes all.
Soon she is caught in a deadly game that everyone in this strange family is playing.
But just how far will they go to keep their fortune?

This was such a twisty-turny story and I enjoyed every page of it. I loved the blurb and the book proved as good as I had hoped.

Despite this possibly being aimed at young adult readers, I think people of all ages would enjoy this. Avery, the protagonist, has yet to turn 18, so I think younger readers could imagine a part of themselves with her. On the other hand, older readers will relish trying to unravel the mystery that Avery finds herself in.

Imagine inheriting billions of dollars from a man whom you have never met, never heard of until you are summoned to the hearing of his will. This is the dilemma that Avery is forced into; it soon becomes apparent that the Hawthornes are, naturally, begrudging of this stranger displacing them all. Suddenly, Avery is a threat to the indulgent lifestyle they have always known. As for Avery, thrust into this new world, she tries to understand the reason why she has been left this fortune. Discovering more than just secret passages, Avery soon realises that there are more clues beyond the initial reading of the will.

I thought this was a really cleverly written story. I was surprised at how short the chapters were; some only a couple of pages, but nothing too long across the book. I think this would add appeal to young readers because it is easy to dip in and out of. However, this did not create a disjointed narrative; instead I felt the pace quicken incessantly as Avery got closer to solving the mystery and the threat towards her simultaneously increased.

The Hawthorne estate sounded absolutely amazing. Barnes vividly describes such a large estate that it left my mind boggled! I could not imagine a mansion of such proportions that would host a bowling alley, climbing wall, home cinema and countless wings. The hidden passages were a brilliant touch and these became embedded in the development of the narrative.

All of the Hawthorne brothers have unique qualities to offer to the story and I think all readers would find they have a favourite! Xander’s quirky personality was my favourite and I think there is more to come from him in the sequel (more on that soon). On the other hand, I really could not warm to Avery’s friend, Max. I despised her way of talking and found it completely irritating. Barnes has created a young girl with such strict parents, they have forbidden her from swearing in the slightest. This means that Max creates a new language, like a rhyming slang to link to known swear words. Personally, I thought it was just overkill and Max should have been been able to express herself without profanities. This would also have kept this book suitable to the younger reader demographic.

Knowing that there is a sequel coming out next autumn makes me want to squeal! An entire year to wait! I don’t think I can’t hold out that long! Barnes leaves the novel open at the end and there is even more of a mystery to solve. If the sequel is anything like this one, it will also be a massive rollercoaster.

I really enjoyed this story. The mystery and puzzles kept me intrigued and I felt as curious as Avery in the book. I could not help but compare her to Alice from Alice in Wonderland; when Avery hears of the will, she is like Alice going down the rabbit hole. Who knows what she will find?

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Save the theatre

‘Into the Spotlight’ – Carrie Hope Fletcher

5-star-rating

Into the Spotlight

Inspired by the much-loved classic Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, Into the Spotlight is a magical new story from bestselling author and acclaimed performer Carrie Hope Fletcher.

Great Aunt Maud visits seasides the world over and has become quite the pebble collector. Pebbles of all shapes, sizes and colours and even one that looked a bit like Elvis Presley if you held it up to the light and squinted a bit. Her favourite pebbles, however, are Marigold, Margot and Morris.

One by one, and by strange and unusual ways, each child arrives at the stage door of Great Aunt Maud’s theatre in the heart of London.

They spend their summer holidays backstage with an extraordinary cast of theatre acts – Dante the miraculous magician, Petunia the storyteller and seventy-year-old contortionists – the Fortune Sisters!

One day, as they are exploring the many nooks and crannies of the theatre, they stumble upon something they were never meant to find . . .

What a delightful story full of inspiring morals. I read this aloud to my five year-old daughter and, whilst she did not grasp all of the elements to this plot, I think this is an ambitious story that will inspire her over the years.

Despite the cover and background to this novel, this is not a book just about ballet. Indeed, the premise of saving the theatre is what drives this plot and it is down to the three adopted Pebble children – Mable, Marigold and Morris – to try and prevent their Brilliant Aunt Maud (Bam) from giving up and selling it. The concept of not giving up on your dreams and ambitions is so important and I am grateful that this was emphasised throughout the story.

Significantly, this book addresses a range of issues that are likely to be present in children as they grow up. Firstly, the Pebble children, like Pebbles, have been literally washed ashore and it is down to Bam to adopt them, bringing into the the fold of the Pebble theatre. Each of the children are completely different and with unique backgrounds; in this way, the writer is promoting how it is ok to be different compared to others, and to also embrace your circumstances. The Pebble children work together as a team and are a close as any biological family.

Throughout the story, Fletcher reinforces the theme that you can achieve whatever you want to. Each of the Pebbles have a dream that they aspire to, but feel held back by social expectations and self-esteem. The eldest, Marigold, is an aspiring writer, but lacks the confidence to be able to put pen to paper, fearing creating a failure. Mable, hiding behind her long hair, has aspirations of a career in science and engineering. She is presented as shy and lacking confidence; it is as if she doesn’t want to prove her intelligence because she does not want to be teased. Finally, Morris discovers a passion for dance, specifically ballet and, after some encouragement, chooses to follow his dreams. The message here is therefore extremely important: to believe in yourself, not give up and not accept that you cannot do what you choose to. I find it so important that each of the children represent different paths in life, particularly Mabel and being a female in a male-dominated career path. I found it inspirational to read about and I hope my daughter will recognise this in years to come.

The plot itself is not too heavy with looking back at the past and the Fossil sisters. It certainly is not a dual-narrative! There are some excerpts from the Fossil’s journal, but this is marginal. Instead, this is what the performance from Marigold is based upon. Personally, I would have preferred to read more about the Fossils; this would have created a completely different narrative that would probably be far too long for a young audience!

I loved reading this story to my daughter. There aren’t any pictures, apart from the chapter pages, but this did not deter her enthusiasm. It wasn’t too tricky to read aloud; the chapters average about 10 pages so this makes it achievable in the evenings. The language itself is not too complicated, so I think young, independent readers should manage this mostly on their own. Furthermore, I don’t think this is gender specific either as both boys and girls will understand the message being conveyed in the story.

With so many positive messages in this book, I am really pleased to add this to my children’s bookshelf! There are references to the Fossil sister which I think I will explore in the other book when my daughters are a little older. In the meantime, this is a lovely edition with a definite feel-good factor throughout the pages.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Osborne gives us the escapism that we all need

‘One Family Christmas’ – Bella Osborne

5-star-rating

One Family Christmas

A big family. A whole lot of secrets. A Christmas to remember…

This year, Lottie is hosting one last big family Christmas at the home she grew up in – just like her Nana would have wanted.

But when her relatives descend on the old manor house, Lottie gets more than she bargained for. Every family has its secrets, but in this family, everybody has one!

So, between cooking a Christmas dinner, keeping tensions at bay and a stray dog out of mischief, she has plenty on her plate (and not just misshapen sausage rolls and a frozen turkey). And then her first love shows up – nine years after he walked out of her life.

Can Lottie make their last family Christmas one to remember… for the right reasons?

It occurred to me, whilst reading this book, that there’s a significant chance we won’t be able to experience the traditional family Christmas we are all used to. In other words, the Christmas that Lottie is trying to share with her family. Consequently, whilst this was a lovely, festive read, I also found it quite poignant and encouraged me to reflect on what I wanted from Christmas 2020.

I was pleased to be able to read Osborne’s festive treat and this book certainly did not disappoint. The writer has encapsulated everything we have come to associate with this festive time of year, from family and family bickering, to the stresses of The Big Dinner, and even unexpected guests. I guess what I am trying to say is that all readers will recognise elements of their own past Christmases in this novel, making it all the more enjoyable.

This book was a bit of an emotional rollarcoaster as well. It was not all about the love and comfort you expect from this time of year. The loss of Lottie’s Nana was really very touching and it reminded me of the importance of close family relationships. Everything that Lottie is trying to achieve by recreating Nana’s Christmas was admirable and courageous, especially in the face of grief and mourning. However, Osborne creates the perfect balance of emotions by adding drama and comedy along the way. On reflection, I imagine this range of feelings is what many can encounter at Christmas time; it isn’t always the squeaky, perfect time of year that the media would have us to believe.

One Family Christmas

I loved how this story was so warm and inviting. The cast of characters is unique and they all added their own identity to the plot development. Lottie’s family is diverse and broad and, despite this, I felt like I was part of their Christmas celebrations. Indeed, Osborne provides plenty of detail that it felt like you knew each character personally, without this detail distracting you from the main plot.

With Christmas hanging in the balance of an invisible virus and the deciding politicians, this was the pick-me-up that should be prescribed to all. I enjoyed this book so much that it was a pleasant distraction from the doom and gloom all around, that doesn’t seem to want to go away any time soon. I felt invested in Zach and Emily’s secrets; I felt emotional towards Lottie and her uncertain future; and I wanted there to be reconciliation between her and Joe. All in all, I wanted the Christmas that Osborne portrays.

If there is one festive read you choose this year, then this book should definitely not go unnoticed. Although I haven’t read many of Osborne’s books, I am certainly a fan and this Christmas book was heart-warming from head to toe.

Author bio:

Bella has been jotting down stories as far back as she can remember but decided that 2013 would be the year that she finished a full length novel. Since then she’s written six best-selling romantic comedies and she’s been shortlisted three times for the RNA Contemporary Romantic Novel of the Year Award.

DSC_9469

Bella’s stories are about friendship, love and coping with what life throws at you. She lives in The Midlands, UK with her husband, daughter and a cat who thinks she’s a dog. When not writing Bella is usually eating custard creams and planning holidays.

For more about Bella, visit her website at http://www.bellaosborne.com or follow her on social media.

Social Media Links:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/osborne_bella

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/BellaOsborneAuthor/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/bellaosborneauthor/

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B085XQXDB9/

Universal Amazon link – http://mybook.to/OneFamilyChristmas

KOBO – https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/one-family-christmas

With thanks to Avon books, NetGalley and Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

One Family Christmas Full Tour Banner

Growing good times

‘The Secrets of Saffron Hall’ – Clare Marchant

5-star-rating

The Secrets of Saffron Hall

Two women. Five centuries apart.
One life-changing secret about to be unearthed…

1538:
Though Eleanor is not wealthy, the saffron spice she grows for her new husband is more valuable than gold. But as his reputation in Henry’s court soars, Eleanor soon understands that she has entered into a dangerous game. The king’s affections do not last forever, and she must do anything to protect her family.

2017:
Following a tragedy, Amber channels her grief into cataloguing her grandfather’s library. When she finds an ancient book that reveals a dark secret, she feels compelled to investigate. But as the truth begins to unravel, she realises the answers to Eleanor’s story lie closer to home than she could have ever imagined…

This mysterious, dual-narrative fiction captured my imagination from the beginning. From the intriguing prologue to the beautiful cover, this book had everything I needed for a five-star read.

Set in Tudor England, I have always been interested in this period of history. As Eleanor is shipped off to an arranged marriage, she learns very quickly that her older husband is forever absent, spending time in London to earn favour with King Henry VIII. Eleanor is like a spoilt child in the early stages of her marriage: grumpy that she cannot join her husband; grumpy that she has been forced into her marriage; grumpy about the flat, Norfolk landscape. However, it is her love for saffron and gardening that turn her and her husband’s fortunes. It is also this that leads to their downfall.

In present day, we meet Amber. She is taking a sabbatical and living with her grandfather. He is presented as a proper bibliophile and Amber has the responsibility to archive his book collection. Some of the things described did make me chuckle; bookish traits that I could recognise in myself! I also liked how her grandfather had hoarded so many versions of the London A-Z street map! How times have changed…

As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Amber and Eleanor have a lot more in common than Saffron Hall. Both women are tainted by tragedy. It is not until the end of the novel do we really learn Eleanor’s outcome, but the writer makes enough hints from the beginning for readers to make this connection. Amber has arrived at her grandfather’s after miscarrying her baby just before it’s due date. This tragedy haunts her and has driven her and her husband, James, apart. The parallels between the two women made this story more poignant, particularly as we witness Amber’s journey of coping with her grief.

Consequently, the theme of miscarriages is rather prevalent and some readers may find this upsetting. It is the reason why Amber is able to discover Eleanor’s journal and she feels herself haunted: both by Eleanor’s story and her own grief. As such, when a resolution is reached at the end, I found it completely satisfying for both female characters because it represented a closure that they yearned for.

The subtle parallels between Amber and Eleanor are cleverly presented by Marchant. It made the story all the more vivid and engrossing for me as I learned how Eleanor made wealth through growing crocuses and harvesting the flowers for their saffron. However, I think I would have liked to have seen a switch to London for the writer to really enforce the Tudor setting. Readers only learn of it through brief letters and I think I missed seeing the court and royalty that is only hinted at during the narrative.

I really enjoyed this story. The two time-frames did not make it complicated to follow and there was not an abundance of characters. It was sad to read of the tragedies, but I enjoyed the growth of the two women. Although an Epilogue was not included at the end of the story, I could easily picture a satisfying, happy ending for Eleanor and Amber.

With thanks to Avon books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There’s no bad guys in these pages

‘The Christmas Swap’ – Sandy Barker

4-star-rating

The Christmas Swap

Chloe, Jules, and Lucy meet at a Maui resort kids’ club, aged 11, forging a lifelong friendship spanning two decades and three continents.

Twenty-two years later, they decide to swap Christmases, none of them expecting the hilarity and romantic escapades that will ensue.

Chloe from Melbourne spends her Christmas with Lucy’s mum and dad in a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, England, stunned to the core when she discovers who grew up across the road from Lucy.

Lucy, who has jetted off to snowy Colorado for her dream-come-true white Christmas, is taken into the fold of Jules’s loud and brash family, discovering more about herself in a few short days than she has in years.

And Jules leaves the cold climes of Colorado to spend a balmy ‘Orphan’s Christmas’ with Chloe’s friends in Melbourne, finding that time away from her mundane life is just what she needed.

Join these three lovable women as they each get a Christmas to surpass their wildest dreams.

This book was sweet. Seriously sweet. As in, once I had finished it, I had the sensation of tooth ache. There is not a dilemma or real cross word in these pages and I think it would be impossible not to find your mood improved after reading Barker’s book. Plus, it will certainly get you in the Christmas spirit.

The best way to describe this book is by referring you to the Christmas film, The Holiday. Because, that’s what this book is. Three friends who are dotted around the glove – Denver, Oxfordshire and Melbourne – decide they want the other’s Christmas season. Jules wants to escape the chilling winter snows and heads to Australia; Lucy wants more snow than what Britain can offer, so jets to America; Chloe wants something more traditional than a summer Christmas and therefore lands in the UK. You get the gist of it.

Throw in three gorgeous men and you have the recipe for romance and relationships. The three males are all equally appealing and do not seem to have a bad bone to them, nor any skeletons in the closet. Will, Jules’s brother, is portrayed as the most vulnerable and I found it difficult to believe he was in his twenties – he seems more like an old teenager! On the other hand, Archer, in the UK, is a famous actor and readers only get a true sense of his fame as Chloe grows closer to him. In Australia, Jules sets her eye on Matt, who, as it turns out, is a bit of a wine connoisseur and businessman. Will the ladies settle into their relationships?

I think I was wishing for a bit more drama and crisis in this story. But, this would definitely go against the Christmas spirit! It was a predictable story for the most part as it was clear that each of the girls would end up in a holiday relationship. True, I was keen to see how the romance would be established, especially as each girl is surrounded by friends and family – where was the privacy?! In addition, I was really curious about how Barker would conclude the narrative: would the girls keep their Happy Ever After, despite living in different countries?

As you would expect with the Christmas season, there’s a lot of references to food in this book. It was guilt-free over indulgence through the pages and with no need to diet afterwards! Reading the book did make me peckish and craving a few hot chocolates to drink so, perhaps read this when you can control your munching?!

The Christmas Swap

This was a lovely book to read, I’ll admit it. Once I got my head around each of the character’s home town and then where they had landed, I soon fell into this easy-to-absorb narrative. I loved the cultural differences that became evident in the plot, such as Jules not understanding certain Australian phrases. It felt like the writer had really considered how each character would fit into her new surroundings and what they would find so different.

If you love everything Christmas and you love that festive film, then this is definitely going to be a popular read. Personally, I would have preferred a bit more drama and crisis to the characters’ happiness but, this would certainly go against all what Christmas symbolises. It is lovely, the characters are lovely and, on completing the book, you will feel even more festive.

Author bio:

Sandy Barker is a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list. She loves exploring new places, outdoor adventures, and eating and drinking like a local when she travels, and many of her travel adventures have found homes in her novels. She’s also an avid reader, film buff, wine lover and coffee snob.

Social Media Links:Author Photo Sandy Barker

https://twitter.com/sandybarker

https://www.facebook.com/sandybarkerauthor

https://www.instagram.com/sandybarkerauthor

https://sandybarker.com/

Purchase Links:

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/the-christmas-swap

https://books.apple.com/gb/book/the-christmas-swap/id1522992097

https://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-christmas-swap,sandy-barker-9780008390044

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-christmas-swap/sandy-barker/9780008390044

With thanks to One More Chapter, NetGalley and Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Christmas Swap Full Tour Banner

Not enough tension

‘Stranded’ – Stuart James

3-star-rating

Stranded

What could be more innocent than going on holiday?

As a family drive along a quiet country lane on their way to the airport, they meet a stranger standing alone in the middle of the road.

Steering them along another path, he tells the driver, Ben, that a tree has fallen and there’s no way through.

But as they make their way along the diverted route, they come across a coach blocking the road.

Getting out of the car Ben goes to investigate and is horrified to find the passengers tied to their seats.

Then a discarded phone starts to ring…

If Ben calls the police, everyone on board will die.

The caller is about to start the horrific game…

Yes, I liked the premise, but I just did not get a sense of danger. I cannot quite put my finger on it; I did not find that anyone was truly threatened and, even when there were killings, did not get a sense of a sinister atmosphere.

At first, I felt like the story was rather far-fetched. But, this is fiction and, well, you do have to lose yourself in this setting. However, I could not believe in the remoteness of the setting and the isolation that the characters experience.

However, James is the master of twists and turns: this is definitely the strength of this narrative. I loved how the characters eventually connected together and the unexpected ending was brilliant. I definitely did not see it coming! Whilst I was a little frustrated by the attention paid to Stephen and his friend, particularly with the woman in white, I gradually grew to appreciate the necessity of establishing this as part of the plot.

The characters are all rather varied, but with a sordid background. I wish Jack had more of a moral backbone; I tend to dislike characters that do not feel they are capable of owning up to their mistakes. However, I did find Ben and his family rather “sappy”. All the comments about Ben being a hero and him and his wife’s discussions about their brave daughter were, if I’m being honest, just too much. It felt rather out of place in such a sinister setting, especially when the coach passengers were supposed to be fearful for their lives. Instead, it made it seem like the family were out on a jolly taking on some voluntary charity work!

This is a decent book but I did not find it thrilling enough. James has masterfully created unexpected twists and turns in his narrative that heightened my enjoyment. Despite this, there were enough niggles in the story that I could not fully engross myself in the plot and, although gasping at the closing pages, was left feeling a little lack-lustre by the end.

With thanks to Bloodhound books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Mis-matched dating

‘What Are Friends For?’ – Lizzie O’Hagan

3-star-rating

What Are Friends For

Everyone gives their friends advice when it comes to dating, but what happens when it all goes wrong?

Eve doesn’t have time for dating, but having watched her best friend and flatmate have her heart broken one too many times, she reluctantly volunteers to play her Cupid.

Max is too much of a hopeless romantic to find the algorithms of online dating anything other than clinical, but he lives with his romantically-challenged best friend who desperately needs his advice.

And after all, what are friends for?

As Eve and Max become more involved in their best friends’ relationship, they quickly realise there is a fine line between instruction and imitation, especially when they find they can’t stop thinking about their best friend’s date…

For the most part of this novel, I found myself very frustrated towards the central characters of Eve and Max. I thought it was blindingly obvious that they were posting on behalf of their friend and I just wanted some honesty to come through.

This book may seem like a light-hearted read, but actually, the theme of loneliness and isolation is prevalent throughout. Taken on its own, this makes it quite a sad story and I felt rather swamped by the drowning emotions that so many of the characters feel. With increased mental health awareness in society today, this made it all the more poignant; it did not matter what age, gender or path of life, the cast of this book were all experiencing loneliness.

In an age where finding your perfect life-partner is usually going to take place via a dating-app, O’Hagan demonstrates that it can still lead to loneliness and isolation. Indeed, when considering this story, it is quite sad that both Max and Eve are comforted by pretending to be someone that they are not, just so they can get some company and a listening ear. It is clear from the beginning that the match between Tom and Becky is not compatible, especially as their friends have dominated so much of their interaction. However, the writer does not want us to focus too much on their budding relationship, rather the puppet-masters in the background.

Eve’s career felt as depressing as Max’s guilt. Eve feels trapped in her job and wants to promote herself further within the newspaper environment. But, something keeps holding her back – a bit like her own romantic life. On the other hand, Max’s visiting Peggy at the care home is intended to redeem the treatment of his own late grandmother. Peggy is a charming character but all it did was remind me of how dishonest Max is being to those around him.

I really wanted to see the writer spend more time on the key relationships. As the truth finally is revealed, I found the ending rather curt and abrupt. I wanted to know if Max and Eve are a successful couple after their hidden messages on the dating app. I wanted to see if Tom and Becky would have a second attempt at their relationship, especially now they had the opportunity to be themselves. Furthermore, I was hoping there would be more focus on the walking event that Max arranges and how Eve’s relationship with her estranged father develops. All in all, I just wanted more than this book provided.

Despite the characters irritating me, (Eve’s constant, mental Post-it notes were particularly annoying), this book does demonstrate the power of friendship and how far your companions will go to protect you. The novel does have a message of love and connections, it just seems to be bogged down by loneliness and insecurities.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I continue to love this series

‘The Healer’s Curse’ – Helen Pryke

5-star-rating

The Healer's Curse

The year is 1348 and the plague is set to sweep through England, leaving tragedy in its wake.

Unaware of what awaits her, Agnes is in love and betrothed to Ted. But her life is about to be torn apart and nothing will ever be the same again.

Jennifer’s life has changed for the better since she arrived in Italy. She’s put her past behind her and can finally look forward to a brighter future with boyfriend Francesco and her Italian relatives. If it wasn’t for the disturbing visions she keeps having of a pregnant young girl.

Who is she? And what is her connection to Jennifer?

Jennifer knows she must once again travel into the past to find the answers to her questions, but this time she’s afraid she may not come back…

Whilst I only rated the first book of the trilogy at four stars, this one just blew me away! I raced through Pryke’s story because I enjoyed it so much. It had all elements of a novel that I really enjoyed, leaving me desperate to see how this story concludes.

The story continues pretty much immediately where we left off, with Jennifer in Italy and living with Agnese. Some time has passed to show that Jennifer has become more established as a local healer however, it appears that she is having visions that she cannot fathom. Using the special healer’s box that Jennifer discovered in book one, readers are transported back to England in the 1300s.

This is where the majority of the story takes place. Being so far in the past does not make this book any less enjoyable and Pryke’s descriptions really brings the past alive. Seeing Agnes and her experience of the Plague was quite uncanny, considering that this is a re-release book and the world is suffering from a pandemic that is becoming equally devastating. Consequently, I really enjoyed watching as Agnes develops to become a healer. Whilst in England it is doing anything she can to help others from the suffering; it is on her travels to Italy that she really starts to learn her craft. This is where we see how Jennifer’s heritage has come to the present with the traditions and superstitions.

I did not feel that the dragonfly was emphasised enough in book one. However, this time the symbolism is incredibly important. I loved the background story to the dragonfly and how significant they were to mankind. It really establishes the story and makes a connection with the threat that Jennifer feels in present day, as well as Agnes’s fears in the past. It was a wonderfully binding mechanism that made the first book all the more enjoyable on reflection.

I am so excited to see how this story concludes! I love the setting and the fact that I now know more about Jennifer’s heritage of healers means the present-day story is more prevalent. The plot is wonderfully written and I was so interested throughout the novel. It is definitely not heavy-going and I loved the magic that flows through the pages. This is a great read and with the historical element, romance and magic, had all the ingredients for a charming story.

With thanks to Bloodhound books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cat to the rescue

‘Stumpy cat: A Pawful of String’ – Peter Lewis-Dale

3-star-rating

Stumpy Cat

Stumpy Cat is the coolest cat in town! Perched high up on his tree stump, Stumpy Cat has an amazing cowboy adventure saving a town in the wild west from the dreaded tumble string! This gorgeously illustrated tale of a new cat in town with big dreams reminds us of the value of helping others and making new friendships wherever we go.

I wasn’t completely blown-away by this children’s story. I couldn’t quite grasp what felt like an abstract angle to the story and I did not feel the images were appealing.

This is a tale of a cat named Stumpy, named after his short tail. Whilst asleep in the garden, he dreams about the Wild West and saving a town that is beleaguered by a giant ball of string. Enter Stumpy cat! He rescues the town and saves the day by clearing up the string. Waking up again, the writer makes it clear that this was all a dream.

It’s a great premise to the story. My daughters loved the cat protagonist and his heroic nature. Indeed, the writer has picked up many cat behaviours that feline owners will certainly recognise when reading this book. This definitely added enjoyment to the story and made Stumpy cat even more larger than life.

The book is written in enjoyable rhyme. It did not always flow and keep pace because of the repetition used. This made it feel rather awkward to read. Furthermore, I don’t think the writer made it clear enough that Stumpy cat was dreaming; I had to pause reading this book to my daughters when it suddenly changed setting. I think the writer could have handled this transition a little clearer.

The illustrations did not really grab me. They felt rather amateurish and not very appealing, particularly the scenes with the ball of string. At times, I thought they were rather untidy and I think this lessened the impact of Stumpy’s story as a result. Overall, it was like something was missing from the illustrations that meant it felt more like a computer game than a children’s book.

I loved the biographical details at the end – I think I found this part most enjoyable! There is a percentage of sales donated to Cats Protection, emphasising the love that the author and illustrator have put behind this book. My daughters were really interested in this part of the story and the fact that Stumpy is a real cat.

This book has the potential to be created into a series. However, I think the foundations need to be more secure for this to be a success. With more attention to the crafting of the story and improve images, I think Stumpy has the promise of becoming more than just a one-book wonder.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What’s a traditional Christmas?

‘You Make It Feel Like Christmas’ – Louise Marley

4-star-rating

You Make It Feel Like Christmas

The only thing preventing Beth’s perfect family Christmas? Her family!

Television presenter Agatha Holly has built her career on telling viewers how to have the perfect Christmas. ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’ has been screened every December for twenty years and her entire family are involved, including her daughter Beth—the unwilling star of a thousand memes and gifs. But Beth has finally had enough of public ridicule. All she’s ever wanted is a traditional family Christmas away from the television cameras. If she can’t persuade her family to change, should she consider celebrating Christmas without them?

In this sweet, festive novel from Louise Marley, readers follow Beth, who has been subjected to two decades worth of televised Christmases. She is desperate for a “traditional” family Christmas, but I don’t think even she knows what this really is.

Undoubtedly, Marley has given readers a Christmas book that will have you reaching for the hot chocolate, mince pies and Christmas decorations. This will definitely get you in the mood for Christmas and, if you are unfortunate enough not to get a sprinkling of snow, this book makes up for it: there are dumpings of it throughout! I really loved the festive feel and, although I have read it a few months ahead of Christmas, it made me all warm inside about what is to come.

Christmas Snowman What makes the perfect Christmas

It is difficult to not sympathise with Beth. She is hounded by her mother and sister as they continue to televise their Christmas program. Beth has been haunted by it since her appearances as a child and yearns for normality. Everywhere she goes, so it feels, she is defined by the program, not for herself and her own identity. Therefore, when she agrees to help her sister out for a (hopefully) final Christmas show, Beth does not realise that there is more to it than she signed up for.

In contrast to sympathising with Beth, I really did not gel with Lucy. I found her domineering, unfeeling and rather selfish. I think this is the point that Marley is trying to make as the Holly family try to identify their own Christmas traditions that have not evolved as a result of television crews. As such, when Lucy was given time in the plot, I found myself bristling towards her selfish, monopolising treatment of her family; she is determined to keep her producing career alive, even at the risk of her relationship with Beth.

You Make It Feel Like Christmas

A Christmas book is not complete without some festive romance. Marley had me guessing throughout at how the coupling would settle, particularly as it felt like the couples were mis-matched throughout most of the novel! I really enjoyed watching Beth and Nick’s relationship develop, but was intrigued as to how Aidan would fit back into Beth’s life. (By the way, Nick’s name is another festive technique to keep Santa within the pages!)

I liked the unpredictability of the plot. It was surprising for me, as I sometimes find books of this genre incredibly dull and obvious. This definitely made the book more enjoyable and I loved the remote castle setting. The story has plenty of elements beyond Christmas, including a family tragedy but, what I like most of all, is that Marley is reminding readers that the most important thing about this time of year is… family. Without family, there is no Christmas and certainly no traditions.

So, with that in mind, I’m left thinking about my own family Christmas traditions. It’s a lovely message that the writer leaves with readers and I could easily imagine this being turned into a film. It has everything you could need for a Christmas story. Indeed, maybe this could become your annual Christmas Eve read?

Author bio:

Louise Marley writes murder mysteries and romantic comedies. She is lucky enough to live in a village where there is a famous library and TWO ruined castles. (Her husband still thinks they moved there by accident).

Louise Marley May 2020

Her first published novel was Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which was a finalist in Poolbeg’s ‘Write a Bestseller’ competition. She has also written articles for the Irish press and short stories for women’s magazines such as Take a Break and My Weekly. Previously, Louise worked as a civilian administrative officer for the police.

Louise’s books have spent a total of 7 months in the Amazon Top 100 (UK). Three of her books have been #1 bestsellers in Romantic Suspense and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was #1 in Romance.

Social Media Links:

Website: http://www.louisemarley.co.uk/

Amazon Author Page (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Louise-Marley/e/B005FV0ITM

Amazon Author Page (USA): https://www.amazon.com/Louise-Marley/e/B005FV0ITM

Twitter: https://twitter.com/louisemarley @LouiseMarley

Blog: https://louisemarleywrites.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LouiseMarley

Facebook (Page): https://www.facebook.com/LouiseMarleyAuthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/louisemarleywrites/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4557986.Louise_Marley

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/louisemarley/

Purchase Links:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Make-Feel-Like-Christmas-ebook/dp/B08HL8QH9B

USA: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08HL8QH9B

With thanks to Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

You Make It Feel Like Christmas Full Tour Banner