19 May 2017

Blog Tour: The Forever House by Veronica Henry

Today, I am thrilled to welcome one of my favourite authors of all time to the blog - it's Veronica Henry! I think I have read everything Veronica has ever written, and have enjoyed every single one them... that's how good she is! I have also read her brand new novel The Forever House which was a joy to read from start to finish, quite possibly Veronica's best novel yet.

For her blog tour stop with me, Veronica has written a piece about 'Books in Fiction' - one of the main character of The Forever House is an author herself, so this is an interesting look at that! Enjoy, and make sure you pick up your own copy of The Forever House!

Buy 'The Forever House' on Kindle and in paperback now.

Just like the heroine of The Forever House, Belinda Baxter, my father was in the services, so every two years we packed up our belongings and moved house. I think that expains why I have become so obsessed with houses, because until I was about 15 we didn’t have a home of our own. Whenever I went back to somebody’s house for tea, I felt a sense of envy that they had somewhere they belonged. Four familiar walls they could put pictures on – in an Army quarter you aren’t supposed to bang a nail into the wall –or decorate just as they wished. 

If moving every two years taught me anything, it was how to make friends easily, and not to become upset when you had to leave them behind. But my survival strategy was reading. Wherever I was in the world, bookshops and libraries were a safe place, and amongst the shelves were hundreds of potential friends who could remain my constant companion. I could take Laura Ingalls or the Moomins with me wherever we went. I became a bookworm, and every time the removal van arrived to take our belongings to the next ‘patch’, in would go my books.

I would spend every Saturday rearranging them, sometimes into alphabetical order by author, sometimes by size, sometimes by colour. I read and re-read my favourites –even today I will pick up my childhood favourites if I need reassurance. Because even the most turbulent childhood stories usually have a happy ending and order will be restored: The Little Princess will get her daddy back, Heidi’s friend Clara will learn to walk. 

And I always loved the houses within those stories. I could see them so clearly in my mind’s eye. I could even smell them: the sharp clean smell of the wooden walls cut by Pa in The Little House in the Big Woods; the musty smell of Professor Diggory’s mansion in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

And as I grew older I was still drawn to fiction featuring houses: Manderley in Rebecca, Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Brideshead, Cold Comfort Farm. To me, they were characters in their own right, drawing the characters in under their rooves.  

And that’s probably why houses feature so strongly in my own books. My first, Honeycote, takes place in and around Honeycote House, belonging to the high-spirited and party-loving Liddiard family. An Eligible Bachelor features Eversleigh Manor and Guy, the lord of the manor, who is looking for someone to share his legacy with.

And The Forever House is firmly based on my own fantasy dream home, Hunter’s Moon. Not too big, not too small, it’s nestled in the Peasebrook valley and has belonged to the Willoughby family for generations. I wanted to reflect the heartbreak and dilemmas people have when it comes to selling a much-loved home, and the ramifications that has on everyone who has lived in it. But I also wanted to show the lengths people will go to in order to get the house of their dreams!

It’s up to Belinda to keep everyone happy.

17 May 2017

Book Review: The Last Night by Cesca Major

"In a quiet coastal village, Irina spends her days restoring furniture, passing the time in peace and hiding away from the world. A family secret, long held and never discussed, casts a dark shadow and Irina chooses to withdraw into her work. When an antique bureau is sent to her workshop, the owner anonymous, Irina senses a history to the object that makes her uneasy. As Irina begins to investigate the origins of the piece, she unearths the secrets it holds within.

Decades earlier, another young woman kept secrets. Her name was Abigail. over the course of one summer, she fell in love, and dreamed of the future. But Abigail could not know that a catastrophe loomed, and this event would change the course of many lives for ever..."

Rating: 5/5

I am a huge fan of Cesca Major's books, historical fiction with wonderful stories that you can just fall in love with. Her debut novel The Silent Hours was an absolute triumph, I loved every page and so was very excited to find out her second novel was imminent. I was lucky enough to be sent a review copy of The Last Night, and I couldn't wait to read it and eagerly got stuck in.

This is a book with 2 stories running alongside each other, but in very different times. In the modern day, Irina is a furniture restorer, and lovingly brings back old pieces from the brink of being ruined. She's also hiding a secret of her own, something that hangs over her at all times. When she's sent a piece of furniture to be restored, it too seems it has secrets within its depths, and Irina isn't sure she wants to reveal all of them. Years ago, in the 1950's, lived Abigail, a young woman living in Devon with her sister and her husband. Abigail is settling into a new life there after leaving her home of Bristol after the death of her parents, but is struggling to feel like she is at home in her sister's house. Her brother-in-law Larry isn't exactly welcoming either, and Abigail feels uneasy. But as Abigail meets more people, and opens up her heart to love, she has no idea what is just around the corner...

This book was utterly brilliant from the beginning. I love how we are introduced to the two stories, then we alternate between the time periods and the stories, and I was left wondering how it would all end up being tied together, and as the book progressed, it became clear and I couldn't wait to see what was happening and how it'd end. Slowly, everything came together and it was so cleverly done, I really didn't see the way it was done coming at all. There was an element of something strange going on with Irina and the bureau, something I wouldn't usually like in a book but it worked for this particular story, and added a certain something to the atmosphere, and definitely built up the tension.

I loved both characters in the book, and the imagery Cesca Major uses throughout to bring these stories to life was perfect. The setting of Devon for Abigail's story was perfect, and I loved the descriptions of the town, it was very vivid in my mind as I was reading. Abigail's turmoil at being uprooted from her home to somewhere unfamiliar will ring true with many readers, and her story became more compulsive as it unfolded. I was on tenterhooks waiting to see what would happen with her, and couldn't stop reading to find out more.

The book is based on a real historical event, and I had no idea that it had taken place. As the book hurtled towards this catastrophic event, I could feel the impending doom of something going to happen but couldn't work out what. When it did happen, it was shocking to read, Major writes so realistically and brilliantly, you truly feel like you are there. It was horrific, truly frightening but I just couldn't stop reading. I cannot recommend this read highly enough, whether or not you like historical fiction, because this is a brilliant novel. The book is packed with mystery, intrigue, tension and emotion, I really like felt like I had been on an emotional rollercoaster when I turned the final page. Simply brilliant, and I can't wait for more from Cesca Major.

14 May 2017

Book Review: Then. Now. Always by Isabelle Broom

"Hannah can't believe it when she's offered a trip to sunny Spain with her best friend and dreamy boss . . . what's the catch?

Twenty-eight year old Hannah is ready for an adventure. She and her colleagues are in Spain for a month to film a documentary, and it's a dream come true. Not least because Hannah will get to spend long summer days with Theo, her boss (and crush). If only Tom (Hannah's best friend and cameramen) and Claudette (the presenter) would stop getting in the way...

Then things become even more complicated when Nancy, Hannah's half-sister arrives. What on earth is she doing here?

For once in her life, can't Hannah just have one perfect summer, free of any drama?"

Rating: 4/5

I have been lucky enough to read several of Isabelle Broom's novels in the past few years, and whenever I receive them to review, they shoot to the top of my 'to be read' list because I enjoy them so much! I love the fact that her novels are always travel based, set in a far away clime for the reader to escape to when they are reading, and a fantastic cast of characters to boot. As usual, the cover for her new book was stunning, and I couldn't wait to read this one too.

This time, the book is set in Spain, in a small called Mojacar. It isn't somewhere I have heard of personally but when I finished the book, I googled the town and it looks truly stunning, I can see why Broom chose to set the book here! This time, we follow a small group of characters who are on a work trip, making a documentary about the people and beliefs of Mojacar. It's Hannah's first work trip, and she is so excited to finally be alongside the boss she's coveted from afar for a long time, called Theo. Also along are Hannah's best mate Tom, and Claudette, the presenter. But when Hannah's half sister shows up unexpectedly, she's worried the rest of the trip will be a disaster, and doesn't know how to communicate with her. Will Hannah be able to salvage her holiday/work trip before it's ruined?

I have to say the setting of the book is perfect for the story. I chose to not google it for a reason while I was reading - I wanted to use Broom's descriptions to set the scene in my head for me. I am so pleased I did because I found they were so well-written, so evocative and description that it was easy to imagine the small town, the beach, the fountains in my head for myself, and they sounded wonderful. The descriptions of Hannah's job, her research for the documentary, the slightly technical details within the book set the scenes up nicely, and I enjoyed reading it all pull together.

The characters in the book were good too, but I didn't connect with Hannah in the same way that I have done with Broom's previous leading ladies. I don't know why that is, but it didn't spoil the enjoyment of the book for me in any way. I didn't especially like Hannah's crush, I found it a little bit childish, but that was just me, I just didn't particularly like that story arc. I far preferred reading about the genuine friendship between Hannah and Tom, they were great to read about and such real friends. Claudette was quite amusing too in her own way, but the way Hannah's half-sister is introduced and the clear animosity between the pair was surprising, and I was keen to read on and find out why there was such hatred there.

This was a fun read, set in a stunning place that I would most certainly like to visit now I have read about it, it sounds very idyllic. The characters were fun, with lots going on between them to keep you interested from surprising relationships, past histories being thrown up and a little family animosity to boot. Isabelle Broom's writing was, as always, a joy to read and beautifully described the small Spanish town. This was a very enjoyable summer read, perfect to escape into, and to devour in a few sittings! Looking forward to more from this talented author.

10 May 2017

Book Review: A Song for Tomorrow by Alice Peterson

"Tom fell in love with Alice the moment he saw her. He realises that being with her will not be easy, but she is a force of nature, a burst of sunlight in his otherwise ordinary world. 

Some people might look at Alice and think she has everything, but Alice knows she is not like other women. Her life is complicated, unpredictable, difficult. Alice does not like pity. All she wants to do, has ever wanted to do, is sing.

Alice has been told not to follow her dreams. But when fate has already dealt a tough hand, it’s time to stop listening to everyone else and only follow their hearts."

Rating: 5/5

I love Alice Peterson's stories, and when I was sent a review copy of her brand new book A Song for Tomorrow, I was over the moon and couldn't wait to get reading. As the publicity for this book began, I found out it was based upon a true story, a real woman called Alice Martineau suffering with Cystic Fibrosis, and this certainly adds an element of realism when you are reading it. It's based on the real Alice, but this particular story, including Alice's family and friends, are fictional, but again you can't help but draw parallels with a real family going through these things.

Alice knows that her Cystic Fibrosis is going to kill her before she reaches old age, unless she is lucky enough to receive a lung transplant, among other things that she needs. However, before she dies, Alice is determined to prove everyone wrong and fulfill her ambition of becoming a singer. She won't let her bad lungs hold her back, and is sure that she can do it. When she meets Tom, completely by chance, the pair strike up a quick friendship which soon develops into something more, although he knows he could lose her at any time. Will Alice be able to make the songs she so desperately wants to before its too late, for both her and Tom?

As you can probably tell, this is a very emotive book right from the beginning, and doesn't let up throughout. It also doesn't shy away from detailing the horrible realities of suffering with Cystic Fibrosis, and some of the scenes in the book did shock me a bit I have to confess. I did know a little about CF before I read this, but the book certainly opened my eyes to elements of the illness that I wasn't aware of before. It's very clear how much research Alice Peterson has done in order to write this book properly, and I have to commend her for that because it reads incredibly well. and it was very eye-opening for me.

Alice is a great character to lead the book, and I loved her straight away. She is very realistic about her illness, how it affects her and the prognosis it has on her life. It's horrible to confront your own mortality, especially at such a young age like Alice does, and I don't know how she had the strength. In fact, it was her parents that made me the most upset - how do you contemplate losing your child before you die, watching them get weaker and weaker, losing them and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it? The scenes with Alice's parents, particularly her mother, were truly heart-breaking and often had me in tears.

Alice's talent at songwriting was amazing, and seeing her lyrics on the pages of this book was so touching, and made me want to go and download some of the real Alice's songs and hear just how good she was for myself, to understand why she was so determined to make a success of her music against the odds. As well as this part of the story, there was her relationship with Tom which was emotional reading as well. Tom has a lot of harsh realities to face, something his family and friends worry about (as anyone would of course), but the way he was determined to show that his love for Alice could come above all of the worry, fear, grief and loss was very emotional and inspirational.

For me, this novel was a triumph, and certainly the best book of Alice's I have read so far, which is no mean feat believe me! Alice's writing about everything from the strength and grace of the leading lady Alice through her struggles, to the details of CF and the effects that has on not only the patient but the family and friends were so well handled, it was very emotional to read and I did shed lots of tears throughout this book. For me, though, the over-riding sadness came from reading Alice's parents side of it, the small things Alice witnesses between them, the crushing grief that clearly lives inside them was just awful to read, and as a parent, it is your worst nightmare. However, I cannot help but recommend this stunning, emotive read. Wonderfully written, a joy to read and a story that has touched me and will stay with me forever.

8 May 2017

Blog Tour: The First Time Mums' Club by Lucie Wheeler

I am thrilled to be hosting the opening day of Lucie Wheeler's blog tour for her debut novel The First Time Mums' Club. I have the book sat on my kindle ready to be read, but in the meantime, I have a very interesting article by Lucie herself on 'The Many Colours of Inspiration' so please enjoy, and let me know in the comments if you have or are going to be reading The First Time Mums' Club!

The many colours of Inspiration
I am a very visual person. I like to look at beautiful things and scenery is something that draws so much emotion from deep within. I love looking at colour, too. It is amazing what a vision of vibrant colour can do for your imagination and your mood. I think, when I eventually get the chance to redecorate my writing space, I want to have vibrant splashes of colour around. Not blocks of colour, splashes. I like the unevenness and messiness of a splodge of colour – maybe it’s the big kid inside of me. I am not one for straight angles and equal lines – although saying this, I do like -. I like things to be even, but not necessarily straight.

You know, it isn’t until you start to write these things down that you realise how strange you sound. But stay with me, it gets more ‘normal’.

As well as being a visual person, I also respond highly to audio stimuli. I find music incredibly inspiring. Sometimes I like to listen to the melodic notes of classical music to relax my chaotic brain, to allow the inspiration to materialise in my mind. But equally, I find quite heavy music inspiring too. By heavy, I mean in reflection of the vocals and the words. I listen to a wide range of music, I don’t really have a genre that I won’t listen to. Growing up, I went through a stage in my teens where I was heavily influenced by bands such as Green Day (who I still LOVE to listen to- much to the dismay of my family) Nirvana, Offspring and Linkin Park. Some of my friends couldn’t understand why I liked to listen to that style of music. “It’s just shouting – that’s not singing,” they would say to me. And I would think; but listen to the words, listen to what they’re saying. Because you can hear the passion, and the heartbreak and the life lessons pouring from their hearts as they shout the words. The emotion those types of songs draw from me is immense.

And then we come to people. Who inspires me?

There is one woman who was the inspiration that started my writing journey off. One woman who is my idol, who I admire and who I would desperately love to grab a coffee with (or a glass of wine!). And that woman is JK Rowling. Reading Harry Potter gave me the spark that deveoped into my writing passion. The way I felt when I read Harry Potter was incredible. Not necessarily because of the story (although I love it), but because of the awe I had that she could write a story, with just words, of which totally transported me to another land. There have been other writers since who have equally wowed me with their ability to write, but she was my first real writing idol and I credit her for giving me the drive to want to be just like her. I don’t just admire her talent, but her love, kindness and drive to make the world a better place. She is beautiful inside and out and I really hope one day I get to meet her – although I worry that I would be that woman who totally has a fan girl moment and merely makes noises instead of forming words to say.

But, actually, I think the person who inspires me the most - and she inspires me every single day -  is my daughter. She is an incredible little lady and as I watch her grow, I can feel my heart grow with love. Everything I do, I do it for her. Every day I wake up and I work hard, just to make her proud. She is the one thing in my life that I will work every hour, of every day, of every year, to make happy and believe that she can achieve great things. Without her, I wouldn’t have that drive to succeed. She makes me the person I am and I hope that one day, she looks back and is inspired by me as much as I am by her.

Thank you so much, Lucie!

Check out the other stops on the blog tour this week too :)

2 May 2017

Book Review: My Everything by Katie Marsh

"On the day Hannah is finally going to tell her husband she's leaving him, he has a stroke . . . and life changes in an instant.

Tom's only 32. Now he can't walk or cut up his own food, let alone use his phone or take her in his arms. And Hannah's trapped. She knows she has to care for her husband, the very same man she was ready to walk away from.

But with the time and fresh perspective he's been given, Tom re-evaluates his life, and becomes determined to save his marriage. Can he once again become the man his wife fell in love with, or has he left it too late?"

Rating: 5/5

Sometimes, I enjoy taking a look at my bookshelves, and look for an older book, one that has somehow passed me by but one that I know I really want to read. Katie Marsh's book My Everything was one such book. I remember wanting to read it, but as usual, I haven't got time for everything so it got left on the shelf. Recently, I decided I had to read this one, and I am so pleased that I did because I found it was a compulsive read and I really didn't want to put it down. I now can't wait to read more of Katie's more recent novels!

Hannah has finally decided it's time to tell her husband that their marriage is over, and she's leaving. But when she awakes in the middle of the night and finds him on the floor, having suffered a stroke, she knows those plans have to go out of the window and she has to step up. Tom is really struggling with his new reality, barely able to walk and talk, and totally dependent on his wife and nurses to help him. However, it's made him realise how much he loves Hannah, and that he has to save their marriage, against the odds. Will Hannah be open to a reconciliation, or has too much passed to save something that has long been lost?

This story drew me in right from the beginning. We know Hannah's intentions, why she is wanting to leave her marriage, and how it all gets thrown away once she realises the horror that has happened to her husband. She of course can't leave him - who could? But now she is stuck caring for a husband she doesn't truly love anymore, unsure if she can carry on doing this for a long period of time like she knows she will have to do. I felt sorry for her, in an impossible situation, but at the same time, I wanted her to do the right thing and stand by her husband, to see if there was anything that could be saved. The way she let her dream of teaching abroad float away to stay with her husband was very admirable, and was a touching story, showing how far some will go to uphold their vows.

Tom was living every person's nightmare, especially someone at the peak of their life, a fit young man who has had every independent thing about him ripped away cruelly. I think anyone else would feel exactly as Tom does, helpless and trapped, but I liked how it made him decide he had to do something about the state of his marriage, to change what he feels could have been broken. Again, I hugely sympathised with Tom, his scenes were awful to read because he was in a horrible situation, and I hated his reality, it really was a nightmare.

What I loved about Marsh's writing was the way she gets right into the heads of her characters. She carefully balances Hannah's guilt, her reluctance, her duty to her husband and the dreams she is letting go, and places them perfectly into this story. This is held together by the flashbacks to Tom and Hannah's relationship building up, with an item that links to a chapter about that particular thing, showing their love growing in the days before things turned sour between the pair. It gave me hope that they could find that side of their love again, and I really enjoyed the balance of this book, and Marsh's detail in Hannah and Tom's romance.

This was a brilliantly written novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed every page of it. As the story hurtled towards its conclusion, I felt optismistic, hopeful that these two characters I had come to love and care about would be able to work it out, and that Tom's recovery would carry on in the right direction. Plenty of detail is given about what Tom goes through, how hard he has to work to aid his recovery, but also the toll it takes on not only him, but those around him too. This is a topic I haven't encountered before but found this book eye-opening and completely intriguing to read. A love story, a story of hope, grief, loss and acceptance. It's all in here, and I cannot wait to read more from Katie Marsh, this was simply brilliant.

25 April 2017

Book Review: To Rome, With Love by TA Williams

"A summer of second chances…

Just a week before her big day, Sarah returns home to find a note from her husband-to-be – the wedding’s off! So when her boss decides to send her on an epic cycling trip, from Venice to Rome, it seems like the perfect distraction…

Although she never expected the distraction to come in the form of her oh-so-handsome, but slightly serious, cycling companion, Miles. And with still 600 miles of beautiful scenery, mouthwatering food and delicious wine yet to cover, anything could happen!"

Rating: 4/5

I am a big TA Williams, and find his books a joy to read, often taking me to far away places with great characters and a very enjoyable story to boot. His latest book with HQ is called To Rome, With Love, following his usual theme to send the characters off on some exotic holiday that I can join in with from the comfort of my sofa or bed! The cover for this one is really fun, and I was very much looking forward to this one, and luckily, it didn't disappoint!

The story focuses on one woman, Sarah,  who is pretty heart-broken after her husband-to-be tells her he can't go through with their wedding, just a week before the big day. Sarah chooses to not tell anyone at work, and when she is offered the opportunity to go on a cycling trip abroad for work, she jumps at the chance. Just her, her bicycle and Italy... what more could you ask for? Oh.. and the tourist group going along with her of course! It's a trek from Venice to Rome, and much more in between, and Sarah is hoping to fix that broken heart of hers again...

I loved the character of Sarah, and found her to be someone I could warm to straight away. I felt very sorry for her as her ex-fiancé sounded a bit of a pig, and treated her so badly. She was really brave after what he did, and I understood her need to get away from it all and escape to much sunnier climes. She is a cycling enthusiast, and that really comes across. TA Williams uses his own personal knowledge of this subject to fill the reader in with lots of detail, not so much that you get bogged down, but its easy to imagine whats going on with the bikes as you read along.

There are quite a few other characters in this book too, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the whole group. Williams creates these characters perfectly, allowing you to care about them, and want their friendships to develop. There are rookie cyclists, ones who have done many treks like this before, and others along for the fun of it, and I admired them all - I couldn't do it! One colleague in particular who stood out to me was Miles, Sarah's boss. He's clearly hiding something, but I was desperate for he and Sarah to get it together, they seemed like a perfect match!

Finally, the setting of Italy is perfect for this book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about all of the cycle routes they went on, the lovely hotels they stayed in and the experiences that they had together, from the gorgeous Italian food to the sights and scenes. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish, I loved the relationships between the cycling group; the laughs and jokes, the tears and frustration, and sheer determination from everyone to keep going, there was always something going on in this story to keep me wanting more! Williams' writing was excellent, kept me interested and I loved both the cycling element and the location of this. I'll definitely be reading more from this author, and if you haven't yet discovered him, try starting with this fab summer read!