29 September 2016

Book Review: The Secret of Orchard Cottage by Alex Brown

"April Wilson is wondering what to do next – her life has been turned upside down after the loss of her husband so she’s hoping to piece herself together again with a visit to her elderly great aunt, Edith. Arriving in the rural idyll of Tindledale, she’s dismayed to find Edith’s cottage and the orchards surrounding it in a sorry state of disrepair. Edith seems to have lost interest completely, instead she’s become desperate to find out what happened to her sister, Winnie, who disappeared during WWII.

April gets to work immediately, discovering that the orchard still delivers a bumper crop each year, and with the help of some of the villagers – including Matt, the enigmatic Farrier – begins to unravel the mystery of the missing Winnie. Slowly, April can feel things coming to life again – but can Orchard Cottage work its magic on her too?"

Rating: 5/5

I'm a big fan of Alex Brown's books so was really pleased when I was sent her new book, a new story in her Tindledale series, The Secret of Orchard Cottage, for review. While this is a book in a series, it works perfectly well as a stand alone so you don't have to have read the others to enjoy this one. This is the story of a widow, April, who decides its time she visited her elderly Great Aunt Edith, who lives along in Orchard Cottage in Tindledale. She only plans on a flying visit, but soon realises that the old lady needs more help than she initially thought, so decides to stay for a while. While she is there, she meets some new friends, some not as new as she thought, and wonders if perhaps Tindledale is the place to help her finally move on...

This was a lovely story from beginning to end, giving hope to anyone who has lost someone very dear to them that life does go on if you allow it to, and that there are many joys in life to still be discovered. I especially loved the close bond that April and Edith have, despite their age gap and the fact they seldom see each other. Edith was a wonderful character; eccentric, full of life and so sweet, I could see why April enjoyed spending so much time with her. I really enjoyed reading about the family secret that Edith has been hiding to do with her long lost sister Winnie, and April is determined to unearth to help her elderly Aunt, it was a real mystery and I loved how it came to be solved, and the actual truth behind it, it was fascinating to read and a great addition to the story.

Orchard Cottage sounds very idyllic when April arrives, even if it is in a state of disrepair due to Edith not really being in a state to look after it herself. The cottage and the orchard sounded very country-village, the perfect place you would want to be on a warm summers day, and I could see why April was so taken with her new surroundings. The inclusion of some lovely local residents certainly helped matters, and the fledgling friendship that April strikes up with a local teenager in desperate need of some guidance was very charming and a delight to read. I loved how Alex Brown found them something in common and built up a trust from that, people are quick to judge teenagers these days but April was able to look past that and see the scared young girl behind the sulky facade.

I loved being back in Tindledale, meeting some of the residents again from the previous books that I have read, but also learning more about Edith, her past and seeing April find some confidence in life again, ready to move on from her all consuming grief at the loss of her beloved husband. For me, though, the best part of this book and its writing were the relationships within, and how we can be satisfied with life due to our relationships with other people, and the many forms they come in. I loved how in this book age, background, beliefs - they just don't matter, people were judged for who they were and friendships sprang up in the most unlikely of places. It was a joy to read, and I can't wait to visit Tindledale again soon, what a delightful book.

27 September 2016

Book Review: Letters from Lighthouse Cottage by Ali McNamara

"The sun is shining in the quiet little seaside town of Sandybridge

Sandybridge is the perfect English seaside town: home to gift shops, tea rooms and a fabulous fish and chip shop. And it's home to Grace - although right now, she's not too happy about it.

Grace grew up in Sandybridge, helping her parents sort junk from vintage treasures, but she always longed to escape to a bigger world. And she made it, travelling the world for her job, falling in love and starting a family. So why is she back in the tiny seaside town she'd long left behind, hanging out with Charlie, the boy who became her best friend when they were teenagers?

It turns out that travelling the world may not have been exactly what Grace needed to do. Perhaps everything she wanted has always been at home - after all, they do say that's where the heart is..."

Rating: 4/5

It's been a few years since I have read a title from Ali McNamara but there was something that drew me towards wanting to read her latest book Letters from Lighthouse Cottage. Perhaps it was the gorgeous summery cover, perhaps it was the fact that I know how much I have enjoyed her previous novels, but I dived into this one eager for a fantastic new story. Luckily it didn't disappoint, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end.

The story is about a character called Grace, who inherits a typewriter when doing a house clearance with her parents. It isn't her ideal job, but there is sometimes the odd treasure that Grace finds along the way, and the typewriter certainly seems to be one of those special items, especially when it starts giving Grace mysterious advice about her life, friendship with Charlie, her childhood friend and more. Many years later, Grace finds herself back in her hometown, reconnecting with old friends and family, not having achieved all the dreams she set out to. But is home where Grace really and truly belongs?

What I didn't realise when I began reading this book is there is a bit of a magical element to it, in a way. I'm not usually a fan of things that aren't believable, I prefer my novels to be something set in real life, that could really happen. However, I decided to bear with it and I am pleased that I did because the overall story was so enjoyable, and I found myself getting swept away with Grace's story, the magical element just became a odd little extra for me. It wasn't my favourite part of the book, but it was an interesting inclusion for me.

I really liked the character of Grace, even if it took me a little while to warm to her. She seemed like a bit of a whinger in parts, never happy with her lot despite the fact she had parents who loved and cared for her, a lovely best friend in Charlie, who was there no matter how many times she abandoned him for other boys, and a good life. However, as the book progresses and we find out more about the twists and turns Grace's life takes, she mellows as a character and I grew to like her more and more. By the end, I felt we saw the true Grace and liked reading her path through adulthood to arrive at being a nicer person overall.

The setting of the story mainly takes place in Sandybridge, a small sleepy seaside town with its own lighthouse, fish and chip shop, and lots of gift shops... and Grace's parents antique shop of course. I really enjoyed Ali McNamara's descriptions of the town, it sounded so quintessentially English, and a proper little seaside town, you could see why some people chose to stay there, and I couldn't fathom Grace's reluctance to go back there! I was glad though that she did, if only for the support of her family after things began to go wrong for her as an adult, as they often do in real life.

As I previously mentioned, the typewriter part of the story and what happens surrounding that was a bit of a by-product of the story for me. I enjoyed the inclusion of this, but I could have happily enjoyed the story without it. For me, it was the story, the coming-of-age of Grace and her friends, the friendships, and the feel of home about this book which I truly loved. It was a lovely book to curl up with and escape to, the setting of Sandybridge was lovely to read about, and there was a great cast of characters, my favourite being Grace's best friend Charlie... everyone needs a Charlie of their own, and I just wished that Grace had treated him a little bit better! But a good book is one that moves you and causes you to feel something towards it and its characters, and this certainly did that for me. This was a really enjoyable read, I was pleased to be back reading Ali McNamara's books and this is definitely a recommended read from me!

26 September 2016

Book Review: The Secret Wife by Gill Paul

"Russian grand duchess and an English journalist. Linked by one of the world’s greatest mysteries . . .

Love. Guilt. Heartbreak.


Russia is on the brink of collapse, and the Romanov family faces a terrifyingly uncertain future. Grand Duchess Tatiana has fallen in love with cavalry officer Dmitri, but events take a catastrophic turn, placing their romance – and their lives – in danger . . .


Kitty Fisher escapes to her great-grandfather’s remote cabin in America, after a devastating revelation makes her flee London. There, on the shores of Lake Akanabee, she discovers the spectacular jewelled pendant that will lead her to a long-buried family secret . . .

Haunting, moving and beautifully written, The Secret Wife effortlessly crosses centuries, as past merges with present in an unforgettable story of love, loss and resilience."

Rating: 5/5

I am very lucky that thanks to my blog, I get to read lots of amazing books. One of my reads of 2016 so far is certainly going to be Gill Paul's new novel The Secret Wife, set both in the present day and in Russia during the First World War. This is one of my favourite periods of history, I studied it for GCSE, A-Level and my first year of University too.  I was fascinated to read, at the end of this novel, that the historical part of this story is based mainly in fact and just a few things have been embellished for the sake of the story, which makes it even more exciting to read, and I simply couldn't stop reading once I had started, desperate to find out what was to come.

The Romanov family are certainly very famous in history, and there is of course the historical mystery of whether or not one of the Romanov duchesses, Anastasia, managed to escape the brutal slaying of the family in Russia during the war. However, this story follows Anastasia's older sister Tatiana, who is working as a nurse at the Palace, tending to injured soldiers. Here, she meets Dmitri, an Army officer who has been wounded and is in for medical attention. The pair strike up an unlikely friendship which soon evolved into much more. However, the war creates many problems for the pair, especially when Tatiana is forced into a makeshift prison along with her family. Dmitri is determined to help free his love, and her family, but his actions come at a terrible price.

This historical part of the novel was utterly compulsive to read, and I loved Gill Paul's writing. You can tell that she has done copious research into this topic, because everything read so beautifully, you weren't left wondering anything at all. Everything, from the palace, to the clothes, the gems, the setting, it was all so descriptively written that I enjoyed every single word of it, it set the scene perfectly. As well as these more technical details, the passion and emotion between these two characters comes across beautifully in Paul's writing. Many of the couple's interactions are actually through letters, and again I thoroughly enjoyed reading these exchanges. Their desperation, fear and love for one another really comes across and I was really praying for a happy ending for the pair.

The book alternates this story with another set in the modern day. We meet a character called Kitty, who has a link to someone in our historical story, which I loved straight away. Kitty has had her own personal trauma, and so has fled to a cabin in the woods on the shore of Lake Akanabee. There, she unearths a beautiful necklace, and finds out a lot more about the great grandfather who left her the cabin. The secrets are slowly unlocked throughout this book, and the fact that Kitty was discovering them along with the reader makes it all the more exciting because you simply don't know what is going to be revealed next.

There were a few jaw dropping moments that had me really stunned, a few moments where I did guess a couple of twists but it did not detract in any way from my enjoyment of this wonderful story. I loved how the two stories were woven together beautifully, drawing all of those threads together by the end and leaving me feeling like I had been on a real emotional rollercoaster. I honestly wished that it didn't have to end, because I could read about this set of characters forever, and the ups and downs they each went through at the different points in their lives. Gill Paul's writing was simply brilliant, and I cannot fault this book in any way. It is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year, and I cannot wait to read more from her, this was just pure brilliance. Make sure you read it and allow yourself to be swept away with the captivating tale of The Secret Wife!

Blog Tour: Christmas at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

Today I am really thrilled to be part of the blog tour for the eBook release of Debbie Johnson's brand new festive treat, Christmas at the Comfort Food Cafe! This book is the sequel to her previous book Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe, a title I loved, so I am really looking forward to getting stuck into this one when I begin my Christmas reads for 2016.

My post today is all about my favourite comfort foods at Christmas... and there's quite a few choices (unfortunately for my waistline!). So leave a comment and let me know what your favourite comfort foods are below!

1. Hot Chocolate
Nothing beats a yummy hot chocolate on a cold winter evening, with the Christmas tree lit up beautifully in the corner of your living room! My son and I love to put a bit of squirty cream with chocolate dusted over the top as a treat too, yum yum!

2. Sausage rolls
There is, however, a bit of a stipulation with this one... they have to be homemade! I remember baking them with my mum and my brother when I was young, and now I love to do the same with my son. Now he's older, he does more jobs that he used to, and I love his pride when he takes them out of the oven, all golden brown and smelling utterly delicious. This is actually making me want to go and start baking right now!

3. A tin of Quality Street
For my house growing up, we always had 1 tin of Quality Street at Christmas, and I loved it! It was always a special treat when we were little being allowed to dip into the tin and pick our favourites (always the Strawberry Creme!), with the lesser liked ones left unloved in the tin long after Christmas had passed (I'm looking at you, coconut and toffee penny!). I have stepped over to the dark side and tried both Celebrations and Roses, but for me it isn't Christmas without that iconic purple tin!

4. Tree Chocolates
Oh yes. You know the ones I'm talking about! Every year, I buy 2 packets - one of the caramel bells (has to be Cadbury's I'm afraid, I'm a bit of a chocolate snob!), and one of the milk chocolate square parcels, and hang them on the tree when my son has gone to bed. I love it when he finds one and asks if he can treat himself, there's usually a sneaky one to be found when we're putting the tree down too for an extra surprise!

5. Christmas Dinner
No Christmas comfort food list would be complete without the inclusion of Christmas dinner! It's a dinner I really enjoy, but I wouldn't say it is my absolute favourite meal. However, I love the tradition of it, and always look forward to sitting with family and enjoying it. There's always lots of choice, since everyone likes different things but that's part of the fun! Seeing the table beautifully decorated with gorgeous food on just before everyone tucks in is one of my favourite parts of Christmas Day, hands down!

And yes... I've noticed the traditional mince pies and Christmas pudding aren't on here and that's simply because... I don't like them! Never have, never will, and you won't change my mind! Believe me... many people have tried over the years but I won't be having it! Let me know your Christmas comfort food faves below :)

5 September 2016

Book Review: Destination India by Katy Colins

"Starting the Lonely hearts Travel Club was supposed to be the second chance that gave Georgia Green back her life. She thought it would be just like travelling, but the reality is far from rosy as she realises that starting a new business is definitely not a beach!

So when Georgia finds herself on an impromptu work trip to India she knows something’s got to give! Where has the girl gone who fought so hard to rebuild her life?

The land of Bollywood, gorgeous beaches and the Taj Mahal might just hold the key to Georgia finding her stride again… Only she is about to find out that when in India the country calls the shots – not you. But Georgia’s not going down that easy!"


After thoroughly enjoying Katy Colins' debut novel Destination: Thailand much earlier this year, I very much looked forward to reading the second book in the series, entitled Destination: India. I really loved the characters and was looking forward to the second outing to see what was happening with them. Also, I was curious to read a book set in India, somewhere I would love to travel to but a holiday like that is years off at the moment, so I have to settle for reading about it in books!

Georgia has enjoyed setting up her own travel business, The Lonely Hearts Travel Club with her friend Ben who she met on her travels, but things haven't quite gone to plan. Georgia feels like she's working all the time, to the point where she is ignoring her family and friends due to work stress. When she finds out one of her tours is getting bad press online, she decides the best way to rectify the situation is to go on the tour to India herself... but not tell any of the other clients who she is. Will Georgia be able to pull it off and sort out the tour, or will it all finally come crashing down around her shoulders?

As I mentioned, this is the second out for Georgia and co, so while this could be enjoyed as a standalone story, it works better if you read it after the first book as that sets the scene for Georgia's life, what has happened to this point and how she came to set up her business. I liked the fact that when we joined her, things aren't all rosy and working perfectly - it felt realistic that she was becoming bogged down in the running of the business, and how stressed she was seemed to reflect many people's mindsets when they work for themselves. I did want to give Georgia a bit of a shake and tell her to ease up on the workload and put other things first, but I calmed down and read on, sure that Katy Colins would pull everything together perfectly for me.

The setting of India in the book was glorious, and Katy really brings it to life on the page with her words. You can fully imagine the wonderful scenery, the city, the hustle-bustle of the people, the sights, the smells - everything is written so vividly, and when you couple it with the images you've probably seen on the television and the internet, you can certainly imagine everything that Georgia is seeing and experiencing in your mind as you read along. I have to confess not all of it sounded ideal of course, and I would definitely miss the creature comforts of home but experiencing a totally different culture like that sounds wonderful and I enjoyed how Georgia immersed herself fully into everything she tried.

The other characters on the tour were interesting, and I feel there were a good spread of people on it with Georgia, all determined to get over their own broken hearts. As well as this main storyline, there's a bit of a 'will they, won't they?' with Ben and Georgia going on, but since neither of them seemed capable of admitting how they felt, I wasn't very hopeful, especially when Georgia insisted on taking charge of everything and not relaxing one bit at all! However, I kept reading on in a vain hope that the two might see what was in front of them, and I enjoyed the development of this storyline very much.

Overall, this was a very successful second outing for Katy Colins and her characters for her 'Destination' series, and I really liked catching up with Georgia again to see what she was up to this time, and how things were going for her. Luckily, there is going to be a third book called Destination: Chile so I will certainly be reading that one when it's released. This is a really fun book, I loved the writing and Colins' style is really enjoyable, and the first person narrative works so well, allowing us to really experience India along with Georgia, as well as her emotional ups and downs as well. A really enjoyable book, definitely one if you aren't off on your travels this year and fancy a bit of escapism!