Tongue in Cheek by Fiona Walker

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I started reading Fiona Walker’s books very recently having been a huge fan of Jilly Cooper for years and hearing that Fiona Walker’s novels were similar. I was sceptical but I purchased French Relations, Well Groomed and Kiss and Tell and read them in order.

I absolutely loved them! I couldn’t believe I had found another author who could write such fabulous characters, gripping plots and rather naughty scenes. I loved the trilogy and therefore decided to read the Oddlode books, as some of the characters from them play a major role in Kiss and Tell, and I wanted to know more about them. I bought all four of them: Lots of Love, Tongue In Cheek, Four Play and Love Hunt. I read Lots of Love and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have just finished this one, Tongue In Cheek, and I have to say I found it to be a fabulous book. I thought the characters were interesting and appealing. There was a very complicated and intricate central plot with various other plotlines cleverly interwoven and compelling. I couldn’t put the book down. In fact, all five of the Fiona Walker books that I have read so far have made me stay awake till the early hours, fighting sleep because I wanted to know what happened next.

I can’t wait to get started on the third of the quartet, Four Play. I do think that Tash and Hugo Beauchamp are my ultimate favourite characters, and of the five I have read Kiss and Tell is my favourite book. I would recommend them to anyone. A great read, bursting with drama, romance, humour, sex and horses. What more could anyone want? And coming from a confirmed Jilly Cooper fan, that’s saying something!

(Review written in May 2011)

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Honeycote by Veronica Henry

I don’t know why but I have avoided Veronica Henry’s books for years. I always thought they were quite heavy, serious books. I can’t imagine where I got that impression from but after deciding to give Honeycote a go I will definitely be reading her other books. I loved Honeycote. It grabbed me from the first couple of pages with a cast of compelling characters and a lovely Cotswold setting. There was real pathos in the book, along with humour and plot twists and brilliant characterization. Everything you can ask for in a novel to be exact. I loved the fact that the characters weren’t all good or bad, they were real people with flaws and faults and hopes and dreams and failures like all the rest of us. I started out hating Kay and ended up really caring about her and hoping that she would be ok. I think that’s the mark of a great story. I have bought the follow on books and will be working my way through them as soon as I can. It’s always lovely to discover a new author whose books you enjoy so much. Just wish I’d found Veronica Henry years ago! 5/5

This review was first published in 2011 and referred to the old paperback edition. It is now being reissued in both paperback and Kindle format and will be available in November 2015.

 

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Another Rebecca by Tracey Scott-Townsend

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I remember reading Tracey’s previous novel, The Last Time We Saw Marion, and feeling that I’d somehow been taken over by the characters within the pages. It was an intensely emotional book, and I didn’t think I’d ever experience that strange feeling from another novel again, let alone one by the same author. Yet, reading Another Rebecca, the same thing happened to me again. I spent the entire morning totally gripped by the unfolding events, and when I had to put the book down to go to work, I felt disoriented, confused. It was as if real life was no longer real, so involved was I in the lives of these fictional characters, so skilfully created by the author.

Like Marion, Another Rebecca is told from the viewpoint of several characters. Firstly, we have Rebecca – a young girl, trapped in the role of carer to her mother. When the story opens, she is in the grip of a fever in hospital, and experiences something which changes the course of her life.

Bex is her mother. An alcoholic, Bex used to be Rebecca, but her “Great Grief” put an end to that. She stopped the clocks and became someone else – a walking corpse, physically alive but emotionally dead. Nothing and no one can alter the course she has set for herself. Bex waits for only one thing, and the hoofbeats are fast approaching…

And then there is Jack. The man who believed he could save Bex and bring Rebecca back to life. The man who finally realised that she could never be his, and the one who is now desperate to help his daughter before it’s too late. Because she hears the hoofbeats too, and it seems she is willing to sacrifice everything for what they signify.

This story held me in its spell from the very first page. What’s so clever about Tracey’s writing is that she describes unearthly events – fleeting glimpses of something the reader cannot see, whispers we cannot fully hear, a brush of something not quite real against our skin – yet at the same time, she pulls no punches in her earthy descriptions of the all-too-human protagonists. Bex’s physical disintegration is shown in depressing clarity, and Rebecca’s mental deterioration is unnerving to witness. These people are imperfect humans, and their flaws and failings are not skipped over but shown in all their sordid and frightening fullness. Yet the stark narrative of these issues is coloured in with beautiful, poetic imagery. The author paints a picture with words – a picture as striking and lovely and as haunting as the featured painting, There Is No Night by Jack Butler Yeats.

My heart ached for all three of the main characters, and for Sebastian and for Evelyn. The book is all about loss in one form or another – loss of love, loss of self, loss of life, loss of sanity. At times it’s hard to feel sympathy for Bex, when she behaves so selfishly and outrageously, dragging her daughter into her joyless existence. Yet, as was the case with Marion, it’s hard to judge her too harshly. The skill of the author lies in creating fully-rounded characters, who evoke compassion and love, even when behaving in the most appalling manner.

By the end of the book, I felt I had read something truly remarkable. I am so impressed with Another Rebecca, as I was with The Last Time I Saw Marion. I think Tracey Scott-Townsend’s writing is something really special, and I’m happy to recommend this book to anyone. I wait with eager anticipation for the next one. 5/5

 

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Wannabe a Writer?/Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? by Jane Wenham-Jones

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These books are excellent. They made me laugh out loud as well as providing lots of very useful information and inspiration. They’re written in a very easy to read manner and I couldn’t put them down. These are the books that I picked up when I first had the idea for the novel I am currently working on and wanted some advice and encouragement. They gave me the inspiration and belief to give it a go and I will always be grateful for that.  I realise how hard it is to get published but these books reminded me of the sheer joy of getting all those characters and plotlines that swirl endlessly round my head onto paper. Sheer hard slog but so worth it even if it never sees the light of day. The first book  is more about the life of a writer and the nuts and bolts of getting down to the actual craft. The second deals with the problem of how to get your book “out there” – the marketing, the publicity, the self-publicizing that is essential if you want to sell your book to anyone other than your great Aunt Martha. If you want to write and need something to motivate you in a fun and friendly way these are the books for you. After that, get on with the writing! 5/5

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Wannabe a Writer?

Wannabe a Writer?

Wannabe a Writer We've Heard Of?

Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of?

Vampire State of Mind by Jane Lovering

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Personally I blame Sarah Tranter. Having managed several decades (never mind how many!) without having the slightest interest in vampires, and having sat through the first two Twilight films, at the insistence of my daughter, with eyes glazed over with boredom, I picked up her novel “No Such Thing As Immortality” and loved it. Totally fell in love with her vampire hero, Nate, so much so that I actually watched Twilight Eclipse the other week and didn’t fall asleep – although I still think those films are curiously lacking in passion. (Can’t comment on the books as I haven’t read them). Anyway, with Sarah busy working on her sequel, I decided I needed another vampire fix, and fast. And who has written a vampire novel but the writer of one of my favourite books, “Please Don’t Stop The Music”. Yes, Jane Lovering had turned her very capable hand to vampire fiction and so, of course, it was the obvious choice.

Well, it turns out “Vampire State of Mind” is actually better than “Please Don’t Stop the Music”, and, believe me, I wasn’t expecting that. The heroine, Jessica, lives in an alternative York, where a rift has opened and allowed all sorts of otherworldly creatures in, such as werewolves, ghouls, zombies, shadows and, of course, vampires. Jess works for York City Council, and her job is to make sure that the otherworlders keep to the rules. After a terrible war with humans, a peace treaty was drawn up and the humans and otherworlders now live in relative peace, although neither side really trusts the other and there is a lot of prejudice on both sides.

Jess is a great heroine. She has humour, courage and compassion. Her relationship with her sidekick Liam is warm and trusting, with a great deal of gentle mickey-taking on both sides. Jess’s one weakness is her feelings for the leader of the city’s vampires, Sil, a sexy vampire with an inner demon. No, literally. You see, vampires in Jane Lovering’s world, are humans that have been bitten by other vampires and “seeded” so that a demon grows inside them and lives within them. It is that demon that keeps them alive, craves human blood, and drives the vampire to indulge in rather unsavoury pursuits as it needs the adrenaline rush this produces. Luckily, a form of synthetic blood has been developed which can be bought freely and which staves off the need to drain humans, although certain clubs exist where willing humans can “donate” blood to eager vampires. As long as the blood is freely given no crime has been committed, and the vampire is able to withdraw before “seeding” takes place if the human doesn’t wish to become a vampire, too. Sil frequents these clubs and is never short of company at them, something which fills Jess with disgust.

As with all ChocLit book we also get to see things from the hero’s perspective, and it soon becomes clear that Sil is not the unemotional monster that Jess believes him to be. But Sil is determined to keep his feelings at bay, and Jess can’t risk getting involved with a vampire who she believes will never love her, and never be satisfied with her.

When a stranger called Malfaire arrives in York, seeking out Jess, it triggers a series of events which leads to Jess and Sil having to work closely together. Jess, who sees herself as nothing more than a council worker doing her very poorly-paid and rather undervalued job, is shocked to discover her life is in danger. Someone wants her dead, but who? And why? The danger is growing, the uneasy truce is threatened, and both Jess and Sil have to come to terms with who they really are. “The stakes are high and very, very pointy”!

Told with a lot of humour, this book neverthless has a very dark edge to it, and there is some really passionate romance in there, too. The mystery of Malfaire is intriguing, and the mistrust and prejudice displayed by both humans and otherworlders is thought-provoking.
This novel is gripping, exciting, passionate and funny. It’s a bit Harry Potter, a bit Buffy, but most of all it reminded me of the first two series of Torchwood. I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to read Jane’s next novel, Hubble Bubble. Hmm, wonder what that could be about? 5/5

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Vampire State of Mind

Vampire State of Mind

Tickled Pink by Christina Jones

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Steeple Fritton is a quaint country village in the doldrums. The village pub, The Crooked Sixpence, is run by the less-than-charming landlord, Hogarth, who is hardly welcoming. There are empty shops and a bed and breakfast that is barely managing to break even.
Posy is in the doldrums, too. When the novel starts she has been dumped by her childhood sweetheart and, as their wedding day arrives, she decides to run away and make a new life for herself in Swindon. As you do. Luckily for Posy, a problem with her beloved motorbike and a chance encounter with a dog called Persephone sees her heading back to Steeple Fritton, determined to hold her head high and show everyone she’s not defeated.

Lola arrives in Steeple Fritton by pure chance. She’s had the worst run of bad luck and feels life can’t get much worse. To make things even more difficult, she ends up at the bed and breakfast place run by Posy’s parents, and it turns out that she and Posy are both nursing broken hearts but are from different sides of the fence, which initially leads to a great deal of tension and hostility.

Gradually, Posy and Lola decide to take matters into their own hands and turn not only their own lives around, but the fate of Steeple Fritton itself. When two gorgeous men arrive in the village hearts begin to heal and hopes begin to surface, but Flynn and Ellis have their own baggage, and there are tough decisions, sizzling passion, laughter and heartbreak ahead for all four of them.

I loved the warmth of this book. It had a real, cosy village feel to it, and there was a wonderful assortment of secondary characters with marvellous names like Tatty and Glad and The Pinks. I liked the fact that good things didn’t just start to happen for Posy and Lola – they made them happen. They took charge of their lives and, despite the blows that life had dealt them, they stopped moping pretty quickly and set about changing things. In the process of improving their own lot, they managed to improve the lot of the villagers and put Steeple Fritton well and truly on the map. Both Lola and Posy are very likeable characters – women you would want to be friends with – and Ellis and Flynn are, well, phwoar!

With a carnival, an old-fashioned fair and the Orient Express all thrown in for good measure, this really is one steamy romance in the nicest possible way. And it’s made me quite nostalgic for Adam Ant. Read it and bask in the eccentric warmth of Steeple Fritton and its delightful characters. 5/5

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The Trouble with Knights in Shining Armour by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

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Having read and loved this author’s previous book, Once Upon A Winter, I had high hopes for The Trouble With Knights In Shining Armour. Reading the blurb and discovering that one of the characters was called Gawain only increased my optimism that this would be a story well worth reading. I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint. Valerie-Anne Baglietto is a wonderful writer, with the ability to transport her readers to another world where all things are possible. From the very beginning of the story, with its allusions to Narnia, I was already opening my mind and heart to the possibilities of the unseen and the hidden – the realm beyond this reality. There is a tenderness and beauty in her prose that leaves me feeling happier for having read it; a sprinkling of magic in her stories that makes me believe that anything is possible, and what could be better than that?
MaryAnn Laurey and her young daughter Beth arrive at the family home of Wychewood in North Wales, in need of an escape. MaryAnn has had a broken engagement, her mother is embarrassed by her, anxious to send her away until the fuss dies down, and her three-year-old daughter has retreated into silence for reasons that MaryAnn cannot fathom. If anyone needs a knight in shining armour it’s MaryAnn, and when she meets Gawain he arouses feelings in her that she never knew existed. But why are her Uncle Rex and housekeeper Dilys so worried about their budding relationship if Gawain is as perfect as he seems to be? What is his secret?
With Wychewood’s future uncertain and her mother pressurizing her to secure the place for her branch of the family, the arrival of an American relative with plans for the estate causes more confusion and places Beth in great danger. With Gawain, her gallant knight, riding to the rescue, it is only much later that MaryAnn realises the terrible fate that awaits her daughter as a result. As events take a dramatic turn, MaryAnn must face up to the inevitable and recognise that there is more than one knight at the court of Wychewood.

This is a lovely story of love, loss and hope. An enchanting, modern-day fairytale where we learn that people are not always as they first appear to be, and it’s not just a frightened little girl who needs to find her voice.
Utterly spellbinding, like all good fairy tales it will leave you feeling like you’ve just learned a great truth all wrapped up in love and magic. Wonderful. 5/5

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The Trouble With Knights in Shining Armour

The Trouble With Knights in Shining Armour

The Shack by William Paul Young

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I read this book after a friend lent it to me, urging me to give it a go. To be honest, I wasn’t that interested and it took me months to get round to picking it up. One morning, I just saw it on the book shelf and thought, it’s time.
I read it over the weekend and honestly, I have never cried so much over any book. I can’t really explain what it was that made me so emotional but I see from other reviews that it had the same effect on many other people.
The Shack is a story of family, loss, and devastating grief…but more than that, it’s about hope, forgiveness and above all, love.
If you can read it with an open mind and an open heart and not get too bogged down in the theological questions it really does uplift and move you in ways you wouldn’t believe possible. I have read so many reviews which focus on whether or not this book is heretic or blasphemous, debating The Shack’s message and comparing it with Biblical passages to see how it stands up. The fact that God appeared to Mack as an African-American woman seems to distress some, and some are angered by the assertion that each member of The Holy Trinity is equal – three parts of the whole, with no hierarchy.

I’m not an expert on the Bible but I do know that I have grown weary and disillusioned with religion – tired of the “only my church is right” attitude and the arguments and anger and bitterness that seems to be the one sure way to put anyone off believing in God. People may rant against this book, stating that it is “un-Christian” or against God, that it goes against the teachings of the Bible, whatever. What I do know is that it made me feel closer to God than I have in a long time. It made me look at Him/Her/It with fresh eyes and it made me feel as if I might actually matter to whatever God is. I woke up the following morning (after an evening sobbing over this book!) and I sat up in bed and what popped into my head? The question: “What did you learn from this?” and my answer: “I am loved.”
So really, argue all you like about the theological issues, but if you read this book and let yourself really feel what is happening within its pages you may just be amazed to find that the other stuff doesn’t matter at all, because whatever religion, race or sex you are, God is especially fond of you…5/5

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The Shack

The School Gate Survival Guide by Kerry Fisher

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Maia Etxeleku is living on a run-down estate with her lazy partner, Colin, and her two children, Bronte and Harley. Maia supports her family by holding down several cleaning jobs, and as the story starts she is mourning the death of one of her clients, not just because she has lost one of her jobs, but because the old lady urged her to get an education and was interested in her as a person, taking the time to meet her children, teaching them and encouraging them to read. With a partner like Colin, who has no interest in finding a job, Maia can’t afford to apply for the Open University course that she desperately wants to take, and sees little chance of a better future for her children. When she discovers the old lady has left a sum of money for her in her will, to be used exclusively for school fees for Harley and Bronte, Maia wonders if she can afford to take the offer. After all, school fees are one thing, but what about the unifoms, the music lessons, the expensive school trips? But realising that this will be the best and possibly only chance the children get of a decent future, Maia takes the risk and enrols them at posh Stirling Hall School, a decision that will bring profound changes for her entire family, and for Maia most of all.
I absolutely loved this book. The characters were fantastically drawn. Maia is lovely, trying so hard to do the right thing for everyone and putting herself last at every turn, but somehow finding the strength to go against the wishes and advice of those around her who want her to stay in her box, be the person she’s always been. It takes courage to stand up to Colin, who is appalled at idea of sending his kids to private school, convinced it will give them delusions of grandeur. It would be easy to view Colin almost as a caricature as he’s so awful, but then the author cleverly gives him some redeeming qualities that just prevent this. He’s never going to be likeable, but the fact that he’s so devastated and afraid when something truly scary occurs makes the reader see that he’s not all bad. Just ninety-nine per cent!
Sandy, the neighbour, is truly appalling. I sussed her from the start and hated the way she kept undermining Maia, being unsupportive and sarcastic and turning against her because she wanted a better life for her children.
I loved Bronte and Harley. They were masterfully written. Bronte, all buttoned-up and angry, insecure and embarrassed, and Harley, who is just adorable. His determination to make the best of things and his loyalty to his mum was enough to reduce this reader to tears. I really, really wanted those children to have a better life and was praying things would turn out for them.
Mr Peters is a real hero. I could quite see the attraction there and found his determination to support Maia, and to help Bronte and Harley reach their capabilties wonderful, so it didn’t surprise me when he revealed his own secret.
Clover is another marvellous character. She’s the one who proves that having money doesn’t have to make you a bad person. Her total, unconditional acceptance of Maia and the way she champions and includes Bronte and Harley won me over immediately. I wanted Clover to be happy and I like the way her storyline unfolded.
Even the haughty Jen1 (great name!) is an interesting character, because she’s snobbish, vain and cruel, but the writer cleverly give us an insight into the reasons for this, the insecurities that lie behind the obnoxious behaviour. It doen’t make her any more likeable but it does make it easier to understand why she behaves the way she does.
Kerry is very good at creating characters that aren’t all black or white, which makes them much more realistic and interesting to read about.

This book is really easy to read and so funny, it’s difficult to put down. I zipped through it in a day and I really can’t wait to read what the author has in store for us next. Excellent! 5/5

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The School Gate Survival Guide

The School Gate

The Little Book of Lost Hearts by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

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At this time of year, there is nothing better than settling down on the sofa and losing yourself in a story full of love, hope and a hint of mystery and magic. The Little Book Of Lost Hearts is exactly that. A festive treat and a proper fairytale for grown-ups.
Set in the enchantingly named village of Fools Castle in the days leading up to Christmas, this story has the feel-good factor and will leave you feeling all warm and cosy inside, as well as remembering the days when Christmas was truly magical and you really believed in Santa.
Antoinette Ellis has lost her heart. It happened quite unexpectedly when her beloved sister and brother-in-law died and she took over the care of her niece, Tabitha, the only survivor of the horrendous fire which killed her parents. Antoinette, or Nettie, grieving and in shock, determined to do the right thing by the little girl, puts all her own dreams and hopes aside. In spite of his protests that he wants to be with her and help her take care of Tabitha, Nettie says goodbye to the man she loves, knowing that his career plans did not include the guardianship of a child.
Leaving London and her old life behind, she returns to her childhood home of Fools Castle, where her brother Sawyer is in a similar situation, taking care of his two stepchildren after the death of his wife. Life for them both revolves around caring for the children and earning a living.
Then one day, a stranger arrives in Fools Castle. Rufus is an unusual man, obviously not used to socialising, the “black sheep” of his “famous” family. In spite of all Antoinette’s efforts, Rufus will not reveal anything more about them or himself, but before long he is part of her life and proves popular with the children, too.
But someone else is heading to Fools Castle, and before long Nettie will have to face up to her past and the decisions she once made, as well as accepting what her future may hold if she doesn’t change course. Can she reclaim her heart and find her way back to love? Or is she destined for a life of sacrifice and ultimately loneliness? And what, if anything, does Rufus have to do with all this?

This is a short story which can be read in a couple of hours. In the hectic run-up to Christmas, take the time to curl up by the fire, beside the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, and lose yourself in this delightful festive treat. Look back to the time you believed in magic, and remember, you’re never too old for fairytales.  5/5

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The Little Book of Lost Hearts

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