Competition – Win a Copy – Court of Lions, Jane Johnson (Paperback)

Competition Time – You have a chance to win this amazing book (paperback) Court of Lions by Jane Johnson. I have previously reviewed this book and loved it alot (if you wish to read the review, click here).

An epic saga of romance and redemption. Court of Lions brings one of the great turning points in history to life, through the stories of a modern woman and the last Moorish sultan of Granada.

Kate Fordham, escaping terrible trauma, has fled to the beautiful sunlit city of Granada, the ancient capital of the Moors in Spain, where she is scraping by with an unfulfilling job in a busy bar. One day in the glorious gardens of the Alhambra, once home to Sultan Abu Abdullah Mohammed, also known as Boabdil, Kate finds a scrap of paper hidden in one of the ancient walls. Upon it, in strange symbols, has been inscribed a message from another age. It has lain undiscovered since before the Fall of Granada in 1492, when the city was surrendered to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Born of love, in a time of danger and desperation, the fragment will be the catalyst that changes Kate’s life forever.

Court of Lions brings one of the great turning-points in history to life, telling the stories of a modern woman and the last Moorish sultan of Granada, as they both move towards their cataclysmic destinies.

So, if you would like the chance to win a copy of this amazing book all you need to do is follow me on Twitter @Shhh_bookblog and retweet the link. Competition closes on Tuesday 6 February 2018 at midnight. This competition is only open to UK residents only.

Good Luck!

Forget Her Name – Jane Holland 

Rachel’s dead and she’s never coming back.

Or is she?

As she prepares for her wedding to Dominic, Catherine has never been happier or more excited about her future. But when she recieves an anonymous package – a familiar snow globe with a very grisly addition – that happiness is abruptly threatened by secrets from her past.

Her older sister, Rachel died on a skiing holiday as a child. But Rachel was no angel, she was vicious and highly disturbed, and she made Catherine’s life a misery. Catherine has spent years trying to forget her dead sister’s cruel tricks. Now someone has sent her Rachel’s snow globe – the first in a series of ominous messages…….

While Catherine struggles to focus on her new life with Dominic, someone out there seems intent on tormenting her.

But who?

And why now?

The only alternative is what she fears most….

Is Rachel still alive?

About the Author

Jane is a Gregory Award – winning poet and novelist who also writes commercial fiction under the pseudonyms Victoria Lamb, Elizabeth Moss, Beth Good and Hannah Coates. Her debut thriller, Girl Number One, hit 1 in the Kindle Store in December 2015.

Jane lives with her husband and young family near the north Cornwall / Devon border. A homeschooler, her hobbies include photography and growing her own vegetables.

What a book……. this is the first book I have read by Jane and I was certainly not disappointed. There are twist and turns you need to hold on tight as Jane takes you on the dark twisted rollercoaster.

The main character Catherine, is a complex lady who continues to grieve over the death of her sister Rachel. Her family due to being quite a “stuffy, traditional” family do not talk about what happened in the past and just want to move on and forget about the past and sweep it under the carpet. Catherine is desperate to know more about what happened but everytime time she approaches the subject she seems to get shut down and no one wants to talk about Rachel.

“I can’t believe I’m admitting the truth at last. I’ve never discussed Rachel’s condition with anyone outside the family except a therapist when I was younger, and even he avoided using her name. As if it was unlucky. But now that I’ve started, I can’t seem to stop. Not until Louise understands.”

As you head towards the end of the book, oh my I was gripped and Jane’s writing covers subjects that perhaps people struggle to talk about due to the stigma attached to it. I know I sound kriptic, but, I do not want to say too much as it will simply spoil the book and you just have to read it. Another great read for 2018, I am being spoilt.

You can catch up with Jane via Twitter @janeholland1.

If you need author resources such as cover reveals or blog tours follow Rachel @rararesources.

Hattie’s Home – Mary Gibson 

January 1947

The war is over

But London is still a wasteland

After eight years in the ATS, Hattie Wright returns to a Bermondsey she doesn’t recognise. With so few jobs, she reluctantly takes work at the Alaska fur factory – a place rife with petty rivalries that she vowed never to set foot in again. But while she was a rising star in the ATS, Hattie’s work mates are unforgiving in her attempts to promote herself up from the factory floor.

After journeying across the world to Australia to marry her beloved, Clara is betrayed and returns penniless, homeless and trying to raise a child in the face of prejudice. While war widow, Lou, has lost more than most in the war. Her daughter and parents were killed in an air raid bomb blast and her surviving son, Ronnie is fending for himself and getting into all kinds of trouble.

The lifelong friendship these women forge while working in the fur factory will help them overcome crippling grief and prejudice in post-war Britain and find hope in tomorrow.

About the Author

Mary was born and bought up in Bermondsey, where both her grandmother and mother were factory girls. In 2009, after a thirty year career in publishing, Mary took the opportunity of early retirement to write a book of her own. She is the author of the bestselling Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts, which was selected for World Book Night in 2015. She lives in Kent.

Other books Mary has written:

  • Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts
  • Jam and Roses
  • Gunner Girls and Fighter Boys
  • Bourbon Creams and Tattered Dreams

If you would like to keep up to date with what Mary is up to you can have a look at her website here. Or follow Mary on Twitter @MaryGibsonBooks.

Or

You can purchase Mary’s book through her amazing publishers Head of Zeus, please click here.

Mary has kindly provided an extract to Hattie’s Home to give you a taster.

“The Wasteland

January 1947

Life was moving on for Hattie Wright, but it seemed the number forty-seven bus to Bermondsey was not. Too much snow and too little skill on the part of the driver had brought the bus to a halt in Tooley Street. A resigned groan from her fellow passengers rippled along the bus. Hattie stood up. Hefting her well-worn army kitbag down from the overhead rack, she hopped off the running board into the deep bank of snow piled against the kerb. Still wearing her stout army shoes and ats greatcoat, at least she’d be warm. They were calling this the worst winter in living memory, but she’d been hardened up by three biting winters in Belgium.

The journey by rail from Southampton had been predictably slow. Everything in the country seemed broken. Trains, rails, ticket machines, buffet cars, signals and even the people, hustling along platforms, huddling in smoke-filled, freezing carriages, seemed worn out beyond repair. There was a national stoop she’d noticed – which surely hadn’t been there last time she was home – a universal taut-faced, clenched-fist bowing to the bitter Arctic wind sweeping across the country. She marched along Tooley Street, glimpsing herself in an office window. Had she developed the stoop? Not yet. Her tall figure was slim and strong. Perhaps staying on in the army had saved her. Her shoulders were square beneath the kitbag’s weight and, in spite of the hampering snow, her stride purposeful. At twenty-seven, her pale ivory skin was still good, her pointed chin taut and her red-gold hair still abundant. The war hadn’t worn her out; it had honed her.

Hattie hadn’t been back to Bermondsey since 1942; five long years and it hadn’t been long enough. She certainly didn’t want to be here now. But what choice did she have? Eight years as an ats sergeant fighting the war hadn’t prepared her at all for the peace. The sort of roles she felt ready for were being reserved for returning servicemen. Besides, her mother had made a rare plea for her to come home. She was, she’d said, finding it hard to cope these days and was nearly blind. Sometimes her mother was prone to exaggeration, but the spidery, blotted handwriting of her letter spoke more persuasively than her words.

The devastation along the riverside was plainly visible from Tooley Street. It wasn’t so much what was still there, as what was now gone that struck her. Here, the Thames had always been obscured by slab-faced offices and docks, but now through jagged gaps she could see the river riding high, a dull afternoon sun raddling its ice-black surface. The destruction in this area was exactly what she’d expected. The docks had always been the target, of course.

Hattie cut down Bermondsey Street – a whole tract of which had disappeared in a tumbled wreckage. Burned, eyeless windows stared from shells of buildings and she passed one tall house, still inhabited by the looks of it, which stood exposed on three sides. Wallpaper and fireplaces patterned its outside walls as it stood in isolation amongst the piles of rubble. She wondered who would have wanted to stay living there, and yet where else would they go? She wasn’t the only one facing a life of limited choices.

But as she came to the end of Bermondsey Street shock hit her like a bomb blast. She was about to cut across one of the many small side streets leading into Abbey Street, but she couldn’t find one of them. Where was Larnaca Street? Stanworth Street? There was nothing left. Instead she was forced to cross a moraine of tumbled bricks, stone boulders and splintered timber. Where rows of terraced houses ought to have been, was instead a wide tract of wasteland, littered with rubble, heaped with pyramids of charred beams, punctuated by twisted metal. In one street, only the back wall of a row of houses was left standing – a patchwork mural of water- and fire-damaged wallpapers.

She pushed on, astonished that in the twenty months since the war’s end so few areas had been cleared. But in those that had, no sign was left of their former occupants or usage, all trace of the life that had gone on in that place had been eradicated. The cleared sites looked somehow more forlorn than the jumble of walls and collapsed roofs. At least they remained a memorial to the life that had been lived before the war.

So many once familiar landmarks had vanished, it made her feel queasy and disorientated, as if set adrift on a featureless ocean and washed up on a barren island, where some giant’s scythe had cut down houses like so many stalks of corn, leaving only an irregular stubble of truncated walls and crushed plaster behind. The air was thick with dust, picked up on the chill breeze, which swirled the beginnings of a new snowfall around her feet. Panic seized her and she had to fight for her breath as a great weight seemed to press on her chest. But she knew the stifling, choking feeling wasn’t simply a result of the fields of debris. She was approaching the place where she feared her spirit might be crushed into as many particles as the dust at her feet. The Alaska.

During all the war years she’d feared nothing so much as the prospect of returning here, but now it seemed her only hope. Bermondsey smelled of death to Hattie, and right now it felt like her own. The Alaska fur factory, brimful with the pelts of dead animals, was somewhere she’d vowed never to return. She’d experienced another life, another country and another self; now she was determined to do more with her life than paint stripes onto beaver lamb furs. She’d be the one wearing the musquash and the mink, and she wouldn’t put up with any fake beaver lamb either. She passed some hastily erected ten-year bungalows in The Grange – prefabs people were calling them. Uninspiring barrack-like cubes they might be, but at least they were evidence of life going on.

Her feeling of nausea increased as the Alaska’s square white tower came into view. The high tower had proved its worth for spotting approaching Heinkels during the war, but she thought it resembled a watchtower in a German prison camp. Once in Grange Road she stood outside the Alaska’s gates, staring up at the sad-eyed seal carved above its entrance arch, along with the date – 1869. The creature’s mournful, drooping eyes mirrored her mood, and she lifted her gaze beyond the arch to the hotch-potch of Victorian and modern buildings that made up the factory. The white tower was one of the newer buildings, only fifteen years old but already looking worn out by the war. Though the factory had largely escaped the bombs, she’d heard one had dropped through several floors of K building without ever exploding. A guilty wish crossed her mind that the German bomb-maker had been more efficient. But she dismissed it, horrified at her callousness, for her friend Buster Golding and a few hundred workers had been sheltering in the factory basement at the time. She peered between the gates into the yard and thought of Buster. He was the foreman in charge of the Alaska girls and he’d been exempted military service so that he could continue doing war work at the Alaska. He’d stayed throughout the war, working day and night to produce sheepskin flying jackets for the RAF and fur mittens for Arctic manoeuvres. All that patriotic team spirit and sacrifice and what had they ended up with? A wasteland.

She turned away. Time enough for thinking about the Alaska when she was actually clocking on. She didn’t even know if they’d take her back. Besides, there was still hope that one of her office job applications might be successful. For now, she was tired, hungry and looking forward to falling into a bed at her mother’s house in the Square. Dusk was coming on as she hurried along Spa Road, stopping only to look at the half-ruined town hall. There was evidence of some shoring-up work, but little attempt had been made to repair it. She crossed the road intending to take a short cut across an uncleared bombsite, but as she moved through its stone-strewn heart something made her stop. A fire was burning. Made from roof timbers stacked teepee-like and packed with assorted smaller debris, the fire’s heart was white-hot and red flames flicked up into a yellowish evening sky. Figures were silhouetted against its glare. They were moving; dancing round the pyre, hopping first on to one foot, then another, stomping the ground and whooping.

Kids. She shifted the kitbag on to the other shoulder, considering whether to tell them to clear off. She didn’t mind if the rest of Bermondsey burned down, but she supposed she ought to care that a child in one of the nearby prefabs might get fried to a crisp. She sighed and in her loudest parade-ground voice roared: ‘Oi, you lot, clear off out of there!’ But the whoopers continued to whoop, oblivious to her order. She began picking her way towards them across the rubble-strewn ground.

Thick oily smoke serpented from the fire. She smelled creosote and soon spotted the fuel source: a pile of tarred roadblocks, no doubt dug up by the little ‘Red Indians’ for their fire-lighting potential. Heat rolled towards her in billowing waves, searing her cheeks as she drew nearer. How the kids weren’t getting their hair singed she didn’t know. She tugged on the unravelling jumper sleeve of the nearest boy, who spun round, fists already raised to defend himself. Each cheek bore three charcoal stripes and he had a grey pigeon’s feather stuck in his hair.

‘Oi, get yer bleedin’ hands off me!’ His voice was hoarse, perhaps from the smoke or else from continual shouting to his mates. His bony, elfin face had the street-urchin’s pallor, and wary eyes stared at her beneath pale lashes. His hair was brittle straw, spikey with dirt and sweat. Around his neck, in spite of the failing light, she saw a visible tidemark. Just where the noose might go one day, she prophesied.

‘If you want to burn yourself to a cinder that’s up to you, but if those flames catch the prefabs all the little children in bed where they ought to be will go up in smoke too. So, sling yer hook, you, Sitting Bull, or whatever your name is, and take your tribe with you!’

The straw-headed boy thrust out his chin. ‘This is our place, not your’n! Piss off, scrubber!’ he said, using the pejorative term for ats girls she hadn’t heard in a while.

‘That’s enough of that, you cheeky ’apporth,’ she said as he put two fingers in his mouth and emitted a shrill whistle, at which the rest of his tribe moved away from the fire and fanned out round her. Soon she was encircled by a crowd of street rakers, one as young as four or five. The straw-headed boy, obviously the leader and about eleven, squatted down and wrapped dirty fingers around a broken brick. Before she realized what was happening the brick was hurtling towards her. She ducked, but its jagged edge caught her cheek and she heard the crack of brick on bone even as she felt the sting. Rubbing at her face, she brought away blood-smeared fingers.

The gang of kids shuffled closer. Each now held a missile of some sort and she felt a growing unease as something like fear prickled up her spine. There were two girls amongst them, obviously twins, sporting identical bows in their hair, but the looks of glee on their pretty faces were even more unsettling than the stony-faced boys. The girls were the first to scream, ‘Let’s get her!’

The street was deserted. Too early for the night shift to be clocking on or the pubs to be turning out. The smallest kid darted behind her, harrying like a yapping terrier before giving her a sharp kick in the ankle.

‘Oi! Stop that!’ She made a grab for his shirt collar, but he eluded her, to hoots of laughter from the others.

One of the twins produced a sharpened wooden stave and now, like a spear-wielding Amazon, launched it at Hattie, who dodged aside just in time. The missile whizzed past her ear. But now the boys began to howl and leap with strange high-kicking steps round her. It reminded her of country-dancing lessons at school, where the boys had been taught to leap over the sticks, shaking their ankles to make the bells ring. But this cavorting was nothing so innocent. She didn’t know what had happened to kids in her absence, but this lot were more vicious than any she’d ever seen. When straw-head picked up a piece of pipe so heavy it required two hands to lift, she judged it time to retreat. But it was too late – a wall of kids blocked her way.

She turned back to straw-head. ‘I know your name,’ she said, ‘and I know who your mother is!’ A complete lie, but it was a threat that had always worked on her as a child.

A lanky, black-haired boy sniggered. ‘His mum! Everyone knows that slag!’

Suddenly the other children froze and straw-head’s face flushed red. He seemed to catch fire, as the flames behind him licked higher and higher. His face twisted in fury and raising the rusted piping like a golf club, he slashed at the lanky boy, catching him behind the knees. The boy yelped in pain and fell forward on hands and knees. But straw-head hadn’t finished. He swung the pipe above his head and charged at Hattie, roaring, ‘Don’t you talk about my mum!’

Hattie turned and ran, but the phalanx of dirty-faced kids was like a shield wall and she felt the pipe smash into her back with the force of a kidney punch. She fell on to her knees as straw-head followed up with another whack across her shoulders. She covered her head with her hands as he smashed the iron across knuckles and wrists. He was trying to break her skull! They would kill her if she didn’t get up. The time for reasoning had gone. She curled up into a ball as small fists wielding bricks and wooden sticks battered the tender places of her body. She dug her toes into the frozen earth and sprang to her feet, but not before straw-head caught her another glancing blow to the head. Now she swung her kitbag like a shield around her, fending them off. Then she ran. Turning her ankle on bricks, tripping over beams, she daren’t look back but she heard them whooping as they chased after her. She sprinted, as fast as her injuries allowed, along Spa Road, not stopping until she reached the corner of Pearce Duff’s custard factory. The kitbag, heavy as lead, had bitten into her shoulder.

Hoarse breaths raked at her chest and she coughed up residue from the tarry fire, which seemed to have coated her throat. She could run no further; they would be on her in seconds. Venturing a look behind, expecting to see them closing in, she was surprised to see they had retreated to the bombsite perimeter. Stony-faced little sentinels, they stood to attention, each holding their weapon, staring hard in her direction, daring her to return.

She felt a rush of humiliation. So much for being honed by the war. So much for all those ju-jitsu lessons in PT. A crowd of kids had done what no German ever could. She’d been terrified. She slumped against Pearce Duff’s wall, letting her forehead rest on the ice-cold green tiles.

‘Should have let them burn. The little gits,’ she muttered to herself, and pushed herself off the wall and headed for the Square.

Hattie’s mother, Cissie, lived in the Square – its full name was never used. In the distant past it had been the ‘posh’ part of Bermondsey. But its three-storey Victorian houses had long since been deserted by the posh and taken over by the poor. Three or four families were crammed into each house, though the corner villas were still reserved for the vicar and doctor and other better-offs. Four streets led into the Square, so that it formed a sort of cross at the heart of Bermondsey and at its centre was a church. Cissie occupied the top floor of an end house adjoining one of the incoming streets. Hattie hoped her mother had received her telegram. She’d sent it two days ago before she’d caught the train to Ostend.

The last time Hattie had seen Cissie was in 1944, shortly after D-Day, when she’d taken her chance and volunteered to join a new battery going to Belgium. Cissie had made the trek down to Southampton to see her off. She’d been touched. Cissie had never been a typical mother and perhaps that’s why Hattie rarely called her ‘Mum’. But obviously the thought Hattie might never come back had penetrated her normal cavalier indifference to her daughter’s life. When after VE day Hattie still hadn’t come home, Cissie didn’t complain. By then Hattie had switched from big guns to a pen – transferring to the army records office in Brussels. She was doing important work, helping to wind up the war in Europe, that was why she couldn’t go home, or this was what she told her mother. But Hattie knew better. When she’d received her notice to leave Brussels, she’d actually cried.

Now she stood outside Cissie’s house, the only one in the Square with bomb damage by the looks of it. Adrenaline had sustained her this far, but now her battered ribs and legs began to scream in pain. She hadn’t stopped to wipe the blood trickling down her forehead and caking her hair. She put a hand to her ribcage and looked up. A snow-covered tarpaulin stretched across her mother’s roof, and she noticed with alarm that the three top-floor windows were boarded up. What if Cissie had been forced to move out? She groaned. There was nowhere else for her to go. She staggered, propping herself up against the low wall in front of the basement area, breathing painfully. If Cissie was still living on the top floor it must be very dark and damp in there. The front door was reached by some stone stairs, which Hattie mounted slowly, wincing at each step. As she waited for someone to answer her knock, she peered down into the airey where the basement flat was also boarded up and deserted.

‘Hattie? Is that you, Hattie?’ Cissie stood at the door, squinting hard. Vanity usually prevented her from wearing the round, pebble glasses she needed to see any distance.

‘It’s me, Ciss, it’s Hattie. Let me in for chrissake.’ She slumped against the door jamb, feeling splintered wood under her palm. A band of pain tightened around her ribcage. Something was broken.

‘Good gawd, Hattie? What are you doing here?’ The look of surprise on her mother’s face told her either the telegram hadn’t been received or had been forgotten about, which wasn’t impossible with Cissie, who had always had a jumbled-up, disorganized sort of existence, however much Hattie had tried to combat it with her own tidy, ordered mind.

‘Didn’t you get the telegram?’ She stumbled into the passage and into an awkward embrace, which was absolutely necessary if Hattie were to keep upright. Cissie threw her arms round her.

‘Don’t stand on the doorstep, love, come in!’ Cissie said, helping Hattie into the house.‘Whatever’s happened, are you all right, love? I wasn’t expecting you.’

They staggered together along the passage, Hattie leaning heavily on her mother, who barely had strength to support her. ‘Why wouldn’t you be expecting me? You asked me to come home!’

Streaks of water damage had lifted the passage wallpaper and a damp smell permeated the place. She waited for her mother to lead her upstairs to the top-floor rooms, but instead, Cissie stopped at the first door in the passage. It had once been the Weller family’s front room.

‘We’re in here now, love. The Wellers moved out to Beckenham when we got bombed.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me about the bomb, Ciss?’

‘Oh, there’s worse off than us, it was just blast damage. But the Wellers and the family that was in the basement couldn’t take it no more and moved out. I’ve just got the one room now. They say all the rest of the house is inunhabitable,’ Cissie said, flashing a red-lipsticked smile in her direction as she fumbled for the door handle. Sometimes her mother’s words were as jumbled as her life. Cissie lowered her voice. ‘Just to warn you, I’ve got a new friend staying.’ She dropped her voice to a whisper. ‘’Scuse the mess. Now don’t start jawing me – we was just having a bit of fun.’

Net curtains were stretched taut round the front bay window and the room was lit by a single gas mantle. In the orange glow, Hattie saw that what appeared to be all the furniture from her mother’s upstairs flat had now been crammed into this single room: table, chairs, a sofa, a metal kitchen cabinet and a gas ring. A heavy green satin curtain was strung across the room and from behind it she heard a rumbling cough.

‘That’s my new chap,’ Cissie mouthed. ‘Mario! Well, his name’s Marian really – he’s Polish! But I can’t call a feller Marian, can I? Come out here and meet me daughter, darlin’!’ Cissie tweaked aside the curtain, revealing a dark-complexioned, black-haired middle-aged man lying on the bed, dressed only in vest and underpants. When he saw Hattie, he sprang up.

‘Cecilia, she is hurt!’ he said in a heavy Polish accent, taking hold of Hattie’s arm, as Cissie finally registered the blood and bruises.

‘Oh, gawd above, you’ve been in the wars!’

Hattie gave a wry smile, which hurt, and said, ‘Yes, Ciss. I have, for eight years…’

Mario helped her to the sofa, then turned away while he pulled on trousers and shirt. Hattie looked in vain for the bed she had hoped to fall into, while Cissie cleared space on the sofa.

‘Who did this to you?’ Mario asked. ‘I will find them and beat them.’ He seemed eager to go out into the night and avenge her, but she was too exhausted for any more battles.

‘I was crossing a bombsite, bunch of street rakers set on me…’ She put a hand to her ribs. ‘Think I might have bruised a rib or two… nothing to worry about.’ Mario looked unconvinced, but Hattie saw him register Cissie’s bewildered expression.

‘Is it bad, Mario?’ she asked in her little-girl voice, which she often reverted to when a problem presented itself.

‘I get bandages,’ Mario said helpfully.

‘I’m fine!’ Hattie snapped, pain fraying her manners.

‘I will make tea,’ he said, looking hurt.

‘Well, if you’re boiling water, I’ll have some in a bowl to clean up this mess… thanks, Mario.’

He smiled. A nice smile, that puffed his cheeks into two pouches.

‘Did I say he’s Polish?’ Cissie puckered her red lips in appreciation, as if she had just eaten a juicy peach. ‘Very polite. Ex-airman. I saw him one day down by John Bull Arch clearing a bombsite, had his shirt off, the physique on him! Didn’t even have me glasses on – but I saw enough.’ She lowered her voice. ‘I offered him the basement on the “share a house” scheme, but we ended sharing a bit more, if you know what I mean.’ Cissie gave her a knowing look, which would have scandalized any other daughter, but Hattie had grown up being her mother’s confidante. ‘Well, that basement’s not fit to live in now,’ her mother continued. ‘The drains is up, pipes froze, water everywhere, and the rats! ’Course you can stay here with us as long as you like, darlin’,’ she said.

‘That’s big of you, as you’re the one asked me to come home and then forgot all about it!’

She’d raised her voice and Mario looked alarmed as he came back with a bowl of steaming water. He offered her a rag and a mirror.

‘Take no notice, darl’. I’m used to it. Talks to me like shit, her own mother.’

Hattie ignored her and began wiping her grazed knuckles and knees, then dabbing the cuts on her face. She couldn’t reach the gash on her neck, because her shoulder didn’t seem to be functioning as it should.

‘I will help?’ Mario asked cautiously, and Hattie nodded.

He was remarkably light-handed for a large man, gently bathing her cuts, then applying Germolene and dressings made from an old sheet that had already been topped and tailed into a patchwork.

‘Thanks, Mario, you’re a better mother than Ciss ever was!’

He gave a warm, deep laugh, which she was relieved to see Cissie join in.

They fished out some blankets from a box under her mother’s bed and made up the sofa. After pulling the dividing curtain closed and saying good night, she examined the wounds to her legs. They were covered in grazes and purple bruises but she didn’t think anything was broken. Her main worry was her ribs, which hurt with each breath. She turned down the gas mantle and eased herself back into the sofa. For all its lumpiness and the suffocatingly overcrowded room, Hattie found herself drifting off gratefully within minutes. She’d been on the move for two days and her tiredness was almost as painful as her wounds. But her relief was short-lived for she was kept awake by the unmistakable sound of Cissie and Mario sharing more than just the house.

‘For chrissake!’ she muttered, throwing off the stifling blankets and getting up. She’d spent most of her childhood, ever since Dad left, accommodating Cissie’s string of ‘gentleman friends’, but never at such close proximity. There were limits. She padded over to the front bay window. A thick freezing fog now enveloped the Square and a full moon hung over the church, washing it with an opaque, silvery light. It looked pretty, under the earlier snowfall, an undamaged incongruity in this war-ravaged place. She’d almost rather be out there than cooped up in here with the two lovebirds behind the curtain. For now, proceedings had come to a halt but she knew sleep wouldn’t come again for her tonight. She was about to let the curtain fall when she thought she heard a noise coming from downstairs in the basement. She craned her neck, but couldn’t see down into the airey; the angle was impossible and she daren’t open the window. The sound came again. Just a cat, crying like a baby. She shuddered, remembering her mother’s description of the rat-infested place below. The cats would have good hunting tonight.

* * *

That night, as the embers from the bonfire opposite the town hall folded into grey ash, a woman picked her way across the moon-washed bombsite. Dressed only in a thin frock and a wraparound pinafore stretched taut across her swollen stomach, revealing her heavy pregnancy, she was wearing carpet slippers and, though she wore no coat, didn’t seem to feel the bitter cold. She was a short, skinny woman of about thirty-five, though she looked older, with unkempt, pale, straw-coloured hair. Her stockings were falling down, wrinkled at the ankle, and as she walked her head moved from side to side, as if searching the rubble. She wove an aimless path through scattered masonry and mangled wooden window frames. And though there was no one to hear her, she continually asked invisible passers-by, ‘Have you seen my Sue, my little Sue? I’m sure it was here I left her. She was with me mum and dad. Have you seen my Sue?’ And then she raised her voice. ‘Sue! It’s time to come in for bed, darlin’. Sue?’

A slight figure rose up from behind the fire where he had been poking at it with a piece of rusty pipe. He rubbed at his elfin features, smearing the charcoal stripes on each of his cheeks, then ran dirty fingers through his straw-coloured hair. He walked over to the woman who seemed not to notice him. He tugged at her arm. ‘Mum, it’s me, Ronnie. Sue ain’t here. I told you that before – she’s gone! Come on, you’re catchin’ your death. Hurry up, it’s time to go home!’ But when the woman did not move, the boy took his mother’s hand and, pulling her gently, led her out of the rubble-strewn wasteland.”

This book transports you to the aftermath of the war and communities making attempts to get back on their feet and come to terms with how things have changed, the country, families and life in general. Local communities are dealing with grief -losses of family members, their homes, their jobs and war in general has changed people who come home.

Mary has a way of picking you up and placing you at the heart of Bermondsey. You can feel their community starting to come back together, when there is a realisation of they are all in the same boat and the only way they can get out of this is to work together even, against authority at times and Hattie is at the heart of this and driving the community to make improvements and make positive changes for the next generation.

pg 71

“After skirting a bomb crater, which was all that remained of the children’s paddling pool, she came to the once grand boating lake. It had been commandeered as an Emergency Water Supply during the war. Now it was a dwindling stagnant pond, as the bomb craters on either side had been slowly leaching away its water since the Blitz. Hattie’s heart contracted at its ruined beauty. The war had made everything ugly and the place which had once allowed her to breathe now seemed to suck the very air from her lungs. Perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea to come here after all.” 

The way Mary writes, made me feel the same emotions and feelings as Hattie I could smell the smells she had and I felt the suffocation Hattie had when she arrived back and the frustration of how the war had changed so much.

At the moment, there seems to be alot of books which explore the aftermath of the war and speaking with my great grandmother, who herself was in London during the war I feel that it is imperative for us to remember and never forget.

Bravo Mary on a great read and the compassion and respect you had throughout this book.

Book Haul January 2018

At the moment, I am in a real book “pickle”. I have started to read about six books, but have not got very far through them I am struggling to concentrating on one book. I have so many books I want to read, but just cannot focus. I hope this improves with time. Anyway, enough of my grumbles here are a few books I have either purchased or have been kindly sent (I will clearly let you know which is which). I hope you enjoy.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace – Maureen Orth 

On 15 July 1997, Gianni Versace was shot dead on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion. Within hours, the police had identified his murderer as Andrew Cunanan, a serial killer on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

At the time of Versace’s murder, award-winning journalist Maureen Orth was already investigating Cunanan’s killing spree for Vanity Fair. Drawing on over 400 interviews and thousands of pages of police reports, she reveals the story of what led Cunanan to become one of America’s most notorious serial killers, and how he managed to elude the police and FBI for so long.

About the Author

Maureen’s award-winning career begain as one of the first women writers at Newsweek. Currently a Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair, she has profiled everyone from Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel to Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift, and has researched and written groundbreaking pieces on Woody Allen and Michael Jackson, among others.

The Innocent Wife – Amy Lloyd 

You love him. You trust him. So why are you so scared?

Her obsession started eighteen years after the first documentary……As the story unfolded on screen everything else started to fade away. At the heart of it the boy, too young for the suit he wore in court, blue eyes blinking confused at the camera, alone and afraid. It hurt her to look at him….barely eighteen years old, alone on Death Row.

You’re in love with a man who’s serving time for a brutal murder on Florida’s Death Road. He’s the subject of a true-crime documentary that’s whipping up a frenzy online.

You’re convince he’s innocent, and you’re determined to prove it. You leave your old life behind.

Now, you’re married to him. And he’s free, his conviction overturned.

But is he so innocent after all?

How do you confront your husband when you don’t want to know the truth?

About the Author

Amy studied English and Creative Writing at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Her writing combines her fascination with true crime and her passion for fiction. The Innocent Wife is her first novel and was borne out of a course module in university. She lives in Cardiff with her partner and two cats.

@AmyLloydWrites

This book was kindly sent to me.

Back Up – Paul Colize 

Berlin 1967: four members of the British rock band Pearl Harbor die at the same time but in separate locations. Inexplicably, the police conclude natural causes are to blame.

Brussels 2010: a homeless man is hit by a car outside Gare du Midi, leaving him with locked-in syndrome, only able to communicate (sometimes) by blinking.

Irish journalist, Michael Stern, starts to investigate. How did the members of Pearl Harbor die, and how is this linked to the homeless man in Brussels?

About the Author

Paul was born in Brussels in 1953. He is the author of  ten novels including Back Up, which was shortlisted for the Prix Victor-Rossel and the Prix Saint-Maur en Poche. He lives in Waterloo, Belgium.

This book is due to be released on 1 February 2018 and was kindly sent to me by Oneworld.

http://www.oneworld-publications.com

Darkest Hour – Anthony McCarten 

May 1940, Britain is at war, European democracies are falling rapidly and the public are unaware of this dangerous new world. Just days after his unlikely accession to the post of Prime Minister, Winston Churchill faces this horror – and a sceptical king and a party plotting against him. He wondershow he can capture the public mood, and does so, magnificently, before leading the country to victory. 

About the Author

Anthony is a celebrated New Zealand-born film-maker, novelist and playwright who now divides his time between London, Los Angeles and Munich. He recieved early international success with his play Ladies Night, which was translated into twelve uages. His screenplay for The Theory of Everything, which he wrote and produced, won a Bafta and  was nominated for an Oscar.

Why I Read The Serious Pleasure of Books – Wendy Lesser 

Wendy draws on a lifetime of pleasure reading and decates of editing to describe a life lived in and through literature. Wendy examines work from such perspectives as “Character and Plot”, “Novelty”, “Grandeur and Intimacy” and “Authority”, the reader will discover a definition of literature that is as broad as it is broad-minded. In addition to novels and stories, Wendy explores plays, poems and essays, along with mysteries, science fiction, and memoirs. Wendy’s passion for reading is infectious – and is resonates on every page. 

About the Author 

Wendy is the founder and editor of The Threepenny Review. She is the author of eight previous books of non-fiction and one novel. 

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton 

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…..

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. Through curiously distant, he presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations ring eerily true.

As Nella uncovers uncovers the secrets of her new household she realises the escalating dangers they face. The miniaturist seems to hold their fate in her hands – but does she plan to save or destroy them?

About the Author

Jessie Burton was born in 1982. She studied at Oxford University and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and worked for nine years as an actress and a PA before The Miniaturist was published.

The Miniaturist is Jessie’s first novel. An international bestseller, it has been published around the world in over thirty languages. She has siince written a second bestselling novel, The Muse.

What She Left – Rosie Fiore 

Helen Cooper has a charmed life. She’s beautiful, accomplished, organised – the star parent at the school. Until she disappears. 

But Helen wasn’t abducted or murdered. She’s chosen to walk away, abandoning her family, husband Sam, and her home. 

Where has Helen gone, and why? What has driven her from her seemingly perfect life? What is she looking for? Sam is tormented by these questions, and gruadually begins to lose his grip on work and his family life. 

He sees Helen everywhere in the faces of strangers. He’s losing control.

But then one day, it really is Helen’s face he sees……

Rosie was born and grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She studied drama at University and has worked as a writer for theatre, television, magazine, advertising, comedy and the corporate market. she has lived in London since 2000. 

Rosie is a keen cook and an avid runner, and is always keen to write about either. 

When you manage to finish a book in one day, it’s a pretty good sign that it’s a good book. Rosie covered a topic which I strongly believe needs to be discussed a lot more and that is missing people. We need to establish a better understanding as to why people do it and at times people just do not want to go back and ensure there is a proper support network for families that are left behind. 

Helen is most definately a “perfect” wife and mother but there is a lot more to this perfection which you will later learn in the story. I do not want to say too much about what happens as I feel it would spoil the story. It’s a book that explores the complex relationships families can have and not everything maybe what it seems. 

I appreciated Rosie’s reflection on what Helen may have felt for the family that she had left behind: 

pg143 

“My darling Frances is a careful, shy girl. She’s not one for forming close, passionate friendship bonds, as so many little girls do. She tends to hang back. She has friends, and she’s kind and quietly confident, so she’s generally popular. But she doesn’t let any of them get too close. I know, deep down, that this is the fault of her feckless father, and it is another on a long, long list of reasons why I want to punch him.’ 

You go on the rollercoaster ride of emotions, not only for Helen but Sam, Helen’s husband the children and the impact on the wider community. Rosie also reflects the behaviour changes, challenges and relationship changes from Helen leaving. Sam’s behaviour becomes quite obsessive as he has so many unanswered questions and because of this his mind starts to play tricks on him. At some points in the book, I became increasinly frustrated with Sam and kept shouting at him to pull himself together and to look after his children as I felt that they were always forgotten about, and actually his children were the ones that needed him the most. 

pg.268 

“What are the odds of bumping into someone in London? One in several million? And yet it happens. Had happened. Helen has obviously decided that it was worth the risk of staying in London, that the odds were overwhelmingly in her favour. She might easily have lived another lifetime in the city without ever encountering me or anyone she knew. But she’d been unlucky. She’d caught the wrong Tube on the wrong day, and despite the enourmous changes to her appearance, I’d seen her.” 

This is a must read book, and one I would highly recommend. I have had an amazing start to my reading in 2018. 

If you would like to keep up to-date with what Rosie is doing or purchase her amazing book, clickhere. 

This blog tour was arranged by Rachel, if you are an author and require any promotional work for your new book, please click here for more details. 
 

 

The Matter of the Crown – Linda Ferreri 

The Crown of the Andes, one of the world’s most precious and beautiful sacred objects, has been stolen right off the stage at Satterling’s Auction House in New York City. Five pounds of magnificent baroque gold that ransomed the Inca Ruler Atahaulpa, and hundreds of perfect Colombian emeralds, all gone without a trace! With this legendary treasure be destroyed for its gold and emeralds? One woman is dead and another one in hot pursuit. 

About the Author 

Linda is a well-known art lawyer and author. Her books include novels about the Crown of the Anes, a novella entitled The King of UNINI, and whimsical hand-illustrated iBooks. She is known, also, for her drawings. She divides her time between Italy and the United States, and lectures widely around the world about art and history. Her next novel is in progress. 

Linda has kindly provided an extract from her amazing book, I hope you enjoy. 

“The story opens with the fact that a woman living alone is missing from her small house in a small medieval hill town in Le Marche, Italy. Baldo, soon to become one of the main characters in the novel, puzzles int he street in front of her house.

Baldo knew something of the habits of the occupant of the house with the open door. Avi, he had seen, was an orderly young woman who lived quietly there in her small house on the outer rim of the historic center of the town. He believed she was American. The residents had taken an interest in her when she had come to Castello Piceno a few months go, but by now she was simply a respectable wallflower there. It was the woman’s practice to stay in her house in the mornings, except on market day when she could be seen wandering from stall to stall, admiring the fruits and vegetables and buying a few. She went about alone, people noticed.

“She paints, you know,” Baldo said to the old woman.

“Maybe she’s a shoe buyer, too,” the old woman replied. “I think that might be how she makes her living. Buying shoes here from the manufacturers. That’s normal, yes?”

“Ah, si, perhaps,” Baldo answered. “An artist, however. I am guessing that.”

The old woman made a humphing sound that failed to form a word. It indicated that Baldo might be correct, or might not, but that she was disinterested in the matter.

“Oh I think so,” Baldo continued. “But I don’t really know. She has some nice paintings on the walls. I think she made them. But she seems not the type to wander off. I will see about this.” Baldo spoke to himself as well as the old woman at the chapel door.

“Yes, yes, Baldo! You should do that,” the old woman was offering encouragement that bordered on instructions.

The old woman, wearing her sensible black shoes and navy-blue sweater, had dressed properly before going out in public to place flowers on the door of the chapel of Santa Maria. She wore a single rope of small pearls around her neck and small gold earrings. Her hair was grey but her eyes were bright. She knew what went on along this street, though it had very few residents, because of her regular walks there. And she knew Baldo.

Like everyone in the town, the old woman relied on Baldo’s credentials for everything from negotiations about street repairs to opinions about rose bushes. After all, he was a retired policeman from Loreto that was only 70 kilometers away. Loreto was the place of the Blessed Virgin, her protection and her healing. If Loreto, with all of its pilgrims and spirits, could trust Baldo, then he was to be trusted with everything and called upon by anyone in Castello Piceno who had concerns about almost anything.

Baldo had great height, an unusual and attractive characteristic in an Italian man, affording him an extra degree of authority in any small town he visited but especially the one in which he lived. So yes, the old lady who was delivering flowers to the chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin knew he could be trusted to see about this mystery across the street from a holy place.

Baldo reassured the old woman that she could continue with her floral work on the chapel door, and that what investigating was required he would do. In order to satisfy her, he was compelled to turn around and walk back along the narrow street in the direction of the center of Castello Piceno, but he walked slowly and continued to stop, then turn to stare at Avi’s house.

The windows were open, he noticed. It was a fine but almost cold day, and Avi’s windows were open to the world as though the owner were at home. Not only were the windows open, but the wooden shutters upstairs stood ajar.

Her full name, he knew because she had told him, was Avelina Valencia. A signora or a signorina? He had no idea so he called her Signorina and she did not correct him. There was no evidence whatsoever of a husband, and she seemed youthful. He gathered that she had come to Castello Piceno in the first place because she wanted peace and quiet and the use of the thermal baths. Some kind of condition of her body, he remembered her saying once in passing. She told him that she needed the healing. But maybe she was a shoe buyer. Everybody in Le Marche sooner or later wanted to buy the fine Italian shoes made there. The foreign buyers for the best stores in other countries all came there to visit the shoe factories.

“Ah, Signor Baldo!” she always greeted him politely when he arrived to tend the garden. “Thank you for your work,” she would say before Baldo had touched the first blade of grass.

On more than one occasion, he had found her seated in her small garden with her long dark hair spread freely over her shoulders. Sometimes he would discover her there, her head bent forward over a watercolor block, saying “Just one moment, Signor Baldo. I am finishing this one part of my painting.”

Baldo had once asked her, perhaps rudely, whether she was American. Thinking back, now, he remembered that she had not answered him but implied yes. “Ah, from over there, yes,” she had said, and then offered him coffee. He respected a person’s privacy. He knew better than to ask more questions. Her house was always quiet and she was always alone. Baldo understood very well that many people wanted their homes just that way. Quiet.

Her neighbors, however, had not been so respectful. The old lady who regularly delivered flowers to the door of the chapel across the street had asked Avi once what had brought her to Castello Piceno. The old woman told Baldo all about that interview while he was examining what appeared to be Avi’s empty house on the day of her disappearance.

“She said she had been both sent here and called here,” the old woman in the navy-blue sweater said to Baldo. “What was that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know,” Baldo answered.

“So I told her I did not understand her, and she said that she knew I didn’t understand her. She just smiled at me. That was all. It was strange, eh Baldo?”

Linda’s amazing book and her website are available here. 

This blog tour was arranged by Rachel if you require her services or to find out further information please click here. 

Appetite – Anita Cassidy 

Because everyone hungers for something. 

Food and sex: two appetites the modern world stimulates, but also the ones we are expected to keep under control. But what happens when you don’t?

Embarking on an affair, lonely wife and mother Naomi blossoms sexually in a false spring while David, the fattest boy at the local comprehensive and best friend of her son, struggles to overcome bullying and the apathy of his divorced mother. David finally starts to learn about the mechanisms of appetite through a science project set by his intelligent but jaded teacher, Matthew. David’s brave efforts to change himself open Matthew’s eyes to his activist girlfriend’s dangerous plans – to blow up VitSip, a local energy-drink company where Naomi works…… 

About Anita 

Having enjoyed a successful career in recruitment and advertising and begun to raise her children, Anita started to write in 2012 during No NoWriMo. Anita divides her time between London and Kent and is currently writing another novel focussing on the intersections between work, love and life, covering issues such as family and self vs community, BDSM and polyamory. Her writing both challenges and entertains. 

About the Book 

It is the first time I have read a book that really explores the complexities around the relationship with food and the community. We follow David, Naomi and Matthew’s lives and the tangled web that ensues. 

Initially, I didn’t warm to Naomi I felt that she was cold and I just could not connect with her. However, as I progressed through the book my views did thaw and I realised that she was lonely despite having people around her and having a great job but it felt as if something was missing and she felt this too and went out exploring what this could be and embarked on an affair, would this be the missing piece?

pg296 

“Her chest ached, her vision blurred, snot filled her nose. Eyes burning, the tears ran down her face. She knew they would stop, supposed they had to at some point but the pain ached and throbbed in her chest – not her heart, no, that had frozen over. She felt both chilled and raw, the fire she had been feeling of late put out in an instant. It was as if she would never feel like that again.”

Anita during this novel explored many current issues being reported in the press with such respect and dignity but ensuring she got her point across. For example, dealing with obesity in young people and for them dealing with not just that, dealing with their peers in school and other issues impacting on their home life. 

pg136

“A few pages in, he found himself settling back and settling in. The colours, the simple text, the drastic before – and after images. It was an assault on his eyes and mind, a barrage of exclamatory capitalisation, but the narratives were utterly absorbing. The battle of the bulge, the war on sugar, the fight againstthe flab. Strategies were outlined, failures mourned and victories celebrated. Page after page of this magazine was filled with stories; tales of young women and old. Age was not a factor in the war against excess weight.”

This book truly reflected the important relationship between pupil and teacher and the positive influence they could have on one another. Matthew, David’s teacher seems lost in his life and uncertain as to what he wants to do and what his future may look like. He realises the positive impact he could have on David to help and advise him to make improvements on his life and lifestyle choices. However, perhaps Matthew needs to take some of his own advice in his personal life. 

This was such a great start to my reading for 2018, and I cannot wait to read Anita’s next book, I will be keeping my eye out for it. 

If you would like to purchase a copy of Anita’s book or catch up with what she is up to her website is available here. Or, you can follow Anita via Twitter @AnitaCassidy76.

Anita is published by RedDoor Publishers, further information is available here.  

Springtime At The Cider Kitchen – Fay Keenan 

Caroline Hemingway can’t help but feel a little strange watching her ex sister-in-law marrying the ownder of Carter’s Cider Farm, but she’s delighted Anna’s found happiness after the death of her late husband, and Caroline’s brother, James. If only Caroline could find her own love story…..

Desperate to escape the rat race, Caroline decides to take the plunge and move to the idyllic village of Little Somerby, where she is given the task of opening and running a restaurant in one of the forgotten barns on the Cider Farm. 

Opening and running The Cider Kitchen is no easy task, and there are many challenges on the way, but slowly Caroline feels she’s being accepted into the local community, and starts to believe she may have found her forever home. But secrets from her past seem destined to haunt her, and not even the attentions of the very dishy Jonathan Carter can distract her from all she’s left behind…..

About the Author 

Fay was born in Surrey and raised in Hampshire, before finally settling back in the West Country. When Fay is not chasing her children around or writing, she teaches English at a local secondary school. She lives with her husband of fourteen years, two daughters, a cat, two chickens and a Weimaraner called Bertie in a village in Somerset, which may or may not have provided the inspiration for Little Somerby.

Fay and Aria Publishers have kindly provided me with an extract from this amazing book. 

“Matthew extended a hand and shook Caroline’s outstretched one. ‘It’s lovely to meet you at last. Anna’s told me so much about you.’

‘Not too much, I hope!’ Matthew laughed and the two women joined in. ‘It’s great that you could make it. We’re both so happy you could come.’ Then, turning his gaze back to his wife fleetingly, ‘Anna said you’d booked into the Rose Cottage B&B in the village. You’re more than welcome to come and stay with us if you’d like.’ Caroline smiled. ‘Thanks, but I thought I’d save you the hassle of a houseguest during your own wedding. And Rose Cottage comes highly recommended.’

‘They’ve had five stars on Trip Advisor since they opened,’ Anna said. ‘But you are coming to dinner tomorrow night, aren’t you?’

‘Definitely,’ Caroline replied. ‘Wouldn’t miss it.’ Looking at the two of them, and her own niece, so happy in this new life, Caroline felt another wave of grief washing over her. Cursing what she knew to be the brightness in her eyes, she searched over Anna’s shoulder for where the drinks were being served. ‘I’d better go and get a glass of this famous sparkling cider!’ she said. Somehow, she knew Anna understood. Just as she was about to turn away, however, Matthew called out.

‘Jonno, come and join us for a moment,’ he said, beckoning to his younger brother.

Jonathan Carter paused on his way to the makeshift bar and took a detour in his brother’s direction. As he drew closer, he smiled at his brother and their guest. ‘Hi. I’m Jonathan,’ he said, extending his hand to Caroline. Caroline immediately noticed the tidy, square cut nails, the long, elegant fingers. ‘It’s lovely to meet you.’

‘Caroline Hemingway,’ Caroline replied. ‘It’s nice to meet you, too.’

‘You’re Anna’s sister-in-law, right?’ Jonathan smiled. ‘Ellie’s aunt?’

‘That’s right.’ Caroline took a moment to study the man in front of her. He was broad shouldered, although not as broad as her sister-in-law’s new husband, and up close, Jonathan looked like the watercolour version of Matthew’s oil painting. His features were similar, but softer, lighter somehow, as if more prone to laughter than his volcanic older brother. Caroline liked the look. The grey suit perfectly offset his colouring, which was itself enhanced by a light suntan. Unguardedly, Caroline wondered how far down the tan went below his clothes.

‘It’s lovely that you could be here,’ Jonathan said softly. He glanced at his brother and new wife. ‘It can’t be easy. Can I get you a drink?

I was just on my way to the bar myself,’ Caroline replied, suddenly very much in need of an escape from Anna and Matthew’s almost incandescent love. ‘Why don’t I join you?’ Jonathan smiled. ‘Sounds good. I can point you in the direction of the better variety of sparkling cider that we’ve got on offer.’ Gesturing in the direction of the bar, he bore Caroline off. As they walked away, conversation sparked between them. Anna watched them speculatively. Matthew gave his new wife a glance.

‘What are you smiling at?’ he asked.

Anna smiled back. ‘Oh, nothing.’ She slid a hand into Matthew’s, which was still nestled into her waist. ‘You know me; I like to see what happens when people meet new people.’

‘If I didn’t know you better…’ Matthew shook his head. ‘I don’t think Jonno needs any help meeting new people, if the tales Dad keeps telling me about overnight guests at the cottage are anything to go by.’ Anna laughed. ‘He’s still up to his old tricks, is he? And Jack doesn’t mind?’

‘Are you joking? He’s quite partial to a pretty girl, as you know. He might not feel the need to go out on the tiles himself these days, but I think living vicariously through Jonathan has certainly perked him up lately!’

‘You almost sound like you approve,’ Anna wrinkled her brow. ‘You’re not jealous, are you?’ Matthew ducked his head and gave his wife a lingering kiss. ‘What could I possibly have to be jealous of, when I’ve got you in my life?’ he said softly. He followed Anna’s gaze to where Caroline and Jonathan were standing. ‘Although if there’s a chance of making Jonathan as happy as you’ve made me… I’m all for it.”

If you would like to find out further about Fay or purchase her book, please click here. Fay also has a website which is available here. 

Or you can follow Fay on Twitter @faykeenan.  

For more information about Aria Publication, please click here.
 

 

The Single Girl’s Calendar – Erin Green 

A task a day to cure a broken heart. 

Esme Peel is approaching thirty with some trepidation, but hope in her heart. If she can just get her long-term boyfriend Andrew to propose, she will have ticked everything off her ‘things to do by the time you’re 30’ list. She didn’t reckon on finding another woman’s earring in her bed however, and soon she finds herself single, homeless and in need of a new plan. Her best friend Carys gives her the perfect present – The Single Girl’s Calendar – which has a different cure for heartbreak every day:

Day 1: Look and feel fabulous with a new hair style. 

Day 2: Step out of your comfort zone and try something new. 

Day 3: Reconnect with friends and enjoy!

Despite thinking it’s a bit of a gimmick, Esme hasn’t got any better ideas, so she put the plan into action. By the end of week one she has four new male housemates, and despite a broken heart she is determined to show Andrew she can do more than survive, she can thrive. 

About the Author

Erin was born and raised in Warwickshire, where she resides with her husband. She writes contemporary novels focusing on love, life and laughter. An ideal day for Erin involves writing, people watching and copious amounts of tea. Erin was delighted to be awarded The Katie Fforde Bursary in 2017 and previously Love Stories ‘New Talent Award’ in 2015. 

Blog – The Single Girl’s Calendar

Erin’s recipe to overcome a broken heart:

1 A handful of genuine friends that care about you is essential.

2 A tonne of chocolate helps to dull a painful heartache.

3 Carefully peel away, delete and disconnect all social media connections with the

recent partner – why torture yourself following their away days and nights out?

4 A pinch of self-indulgence doing what you like and when you wish, is essential.

5 Unmeasurable amount of time spent doing interests/pastimes that you previously participated in and enjoyed.

6 Add a guilt-free pass to hibernate from all social situations, but only valid for the duration that is absolutely necessary, trust your instinct regards how long.

7 A huge dollop of me-time to reflect and heal before venturing to pastures new.

8 Add a brand-new outfit that makes you feel fabulous and wonderful – in preparation for the day when your renewed faith wishes to take flight.

I had lot of useless suggestions during my twenties when broken hearts seemed to be my penchant. Age-old advice revolved around red wine, match-making suggestions and fly-fishing amongst the bountiful fish in the sea were all totally unhelpful. If anything, they resulted in more heartache than the original situation.

As time went by, along with various beaus, I learnt what was best for me. It usually involved a damned good cry where I got to choose all the rules in relation to the duration, the frequency and the moping about on sofas. Seriously, I literally gave myself permission to grieve for what could have been, might have been and for the hurt that had been caused to me in the process. A diet of Cadburys chocolate and Lucozade is perfectly fine in such circumstances! A balance diet of vegetables and fish can wait their turn!

I used to withdraw from social occasions too, I literally couldn’t abide doing the whole glad-ragging events where I was supposed to wear a huge smile and chat about inane subjects while dragging about a heavy heart that was smouldering inside my chest. All I͛d do was watch the clock until I could escape to go home. Sadly, I found that the more I put on a brave face, others would incorrectly assume oh she’s back on her feet– er, no, I’m simply going through the motions to please everyone else. Left to my own devices, I’d have chosen to be in my pyjamas for a stint of hibernation and reflection, with plenty of wound licking.

It would take a little while, sometimes a few weeks, on a couple of occasions nearer a few months but hey, I knew what was best for me. I only ever put my best foot forward when I knew I was ready to face the world and rejoin the party.

During my hibernation, I did usually return to the things that made me truly happy.

The reading of favourite books was one such treat – Fitzwilliam Darcy has rebuilt my faith in others on more than one occasion. On the most desperate days, I’d simply adlib Elizabeth’s lines… guaranteed to make me feel better every time!

I valiantly fought and refused to attend those situations where people have secretly match-made during their lunch hours – thinking they know what’s best for you. I remember being invited to a house party where the host had virtually promised my hand in marriage to a police officer. It made for an uncomfortable evening, as everyone in the room knew and so watched as he chased, attempted to chat-up and woo me with an audience of twenty. Thankfully, I had a loyal friend who told me before the event as she felt it was unfair that this damsel-in-distress should be violated to grace another with match-making bragging rights and an unwanted date.

It’s one reason why I never match-make, I know the downside.

And finally, when you are back on your feet don’t forget to tread carefully, there’s no race, simply take your time and be happy. The best things in life are worth waiting for, I promise.

Erin and Aria Publication have kindly provided a small taster from The Single Girls Calendar, I hope you enjoy. 

‘Look at you, jumping the gun – you’ll only be disappointed if he doesn’t ask,’ warned Marianne, buttoning her coat against the March chill. ‘Most men need an arm up their back or an unexpected pregnancy to force them into marriage. Take my Jimmy… twelve years of dating and still nothing.’

All three women shook their heads, knowing the tale of woe which would follow, each was word perfect in their practised lines for the retelling of Marianne’s one and only proposal story.

‘You ruined your chances by pushing your luck,’ began Penny.

‘Really?’ said Esmé in a bewildered tone, feigning interest, much like a first-time listener.

‘I made an appointment with the vicar, tea and sponge cake arranged…’ explained Marianne.

‘All proper and above board, then?’ asked Penny, knowing her lines.

‘I drove us to the local church and then bam… delivered the ultimatum – marry me or else!’ announced Marianne, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

‘Such a beautiful declaration of love,’ said Esmé, her eye lashes fluttered at Marianne.

‘Who’d have thought such a proposal could be perceived as a tad too pushy,’ said Penny.

‘Exactly,’ giggled Esmé. ‘Wasn’t it your fairy-tale dream?’

Marianne nodded in a comedic fashion, her maturity enabled her to laugh at herself, unlike five years ago.

‘I’ve lost count of the nights I’d dreamt of him springing such a gallant gesture, driving me to church and booking a wedding date.’

‘Locking himself inside your car and performing a one man sit-in for eight hours, while you pleaded with the vicar, was a definite cry for help,’ said Penny.

‘A definite answer, though,’ said Esmé, who hugged her friend.

‘The vicar was none too chuffed given his wasted sponge cake and tea platter,’ said Marianne, adding. ‘Seriously, Esmé – joking aside, what have you planned?’

Esmé gave a cheeky grin, before she stared at each colleague in a bashful manner.

‘Oh Lord, if that’s not the face of a woman on a mission!’ cried Penny, her wide eyes sparkling.

‘I’ve got it all planned… candlelight, champagne on ice, bubble bath for two, a slinky silk number ordered from Agent Provocateur and a fresh set of Egyptian cotton sheets,’ reeled off Esmé, trying to supress the shiver of anticipation that ran along her spine.

‘A dirty night on clean sheets, hey?’ said Marianne with a knowing smile. ‘That should do it.’

‘And not too much champagne… be giggly but not drunk,’ warned Penny, her blonde curls bobbing from side to side. ‘And above all… let him think it was his idea!’

‘If that fails, hail a cab, drive to your local church, present him with the ultimatum and see if he does a sit-in,’ laughed Marianne.

‘Andrew wouldn’t do a sit-in… not with a taxi meter running,’ said Esmé, tying the belt of her new coat. Esmé doesn’t like to criticise his habits, not even to her friends, but Andrew could accommodate both ends of the generosity spectrum. Self- indulgent with his own perceived needs such as designer suits, high-tech gadgets or boys’ nights out whilst a smidgen stingy where others are concerned. Esmé could laugh it off, everyone had their faults. Being ‘financially savvy’ as Andrew called it wasn’t Esmé’s style, she liked to be generous with those she loved.

‘Yet he’ll waste good money on a snazzy rental apartment,’ muttered Marianne. ‘The man needs sorting out, and quick.’

‘I’m trying,’ said Esmé, trying to keep her tone light hearted.

‘Enjoy,’ Marianne gave Esmé a quick squeeze and an air kiss, ‘but don’t hold your breath, lovey.’

‘Enjoy your weekend… whatever happens, OK?’ added Penny, hugging Esmé tightly before she and Marianne hastily departed for the bus station.

Since starting at Stylo Stationery some nine years ago, the trio had shared so many of life’s moments during office hours and coffee time: Esmé’s first date dress dilemma, post-date dissections – of which there had been far too many for Esmé’s liking, and numerous post-coital mishaps during her pre-Andrew existence, obviously.

Since meeting Andrew, Esmé’s daily chatter had been the detail of their seven year love story: the occasions, the memories and the day to day routines. Events slowly evolved, reaching today’s pivotal moment – the evening of her happy-ever-after.

Come Monday, if tonight goes well, the three colleagues would be sharing celebratory drinks after work in a local bar. How exciting? But first, tonight. St Martin’s church clock shows six o’clock. Esmé watched the pair disappear amidst the bustling crowd. Her heart pounding faster, with anticipation, that the very next time she’d see either of them, she could be, might be, correction, would be starting a new chapter of her life.’

If you would like to know further information about Erin, she has an amazing website available here. 

Or, Erin is available on Twitter @ErinGreenAuthor 

To purchase Erin’s book or to find out more on Aria Publication please click here. 

That Girl – Kate Kerrigan 

You can escape a place. But you can’t escape yourself. 

Hanna flees the scene of a terrible crime in her native Sligo. If she can just vanish, re-invent herself under a new name, perhaps the police won’t catch up with her. London seems the perfect place to disappear. 

Lara has always loved Matthew and imagined happy married life in Dublin. Then comes the bombshell- Matthew says he wants to join the priesthood. Humiliated and broken-hearted, Lara heads to the most godless place she can find, King’s Road, Chelsea. 

Matthew’s twin sister, Noreen, could not be more different from her brother. She does love fiance John, but she also craves sex, parties and fund. Swinging London has it all, but without John, Noreen is about to get way out of her depth. 

All three girls find themselves working for Bobby Chevron- one of London’s most feared gangland bosses – and it’s not long before their new lives start to unravel. 

About the Author 

Kate lives in County Mayo, with her husband and children. Her novels include Recipes for a Perfect Marriage, shortlisted for the 2006 Romantic Novel of the Year Award and Ellis Island, which was a TV Book Club Summer Read.

Kate and the amazing staff at Head Of Zeus have provided an extract: 

“One day Hanna came home from school and found Dorian standing in the hallway to meet her. His face was stricken. Hanna remembered the expression from when she was eleven years old and her mother told her that her father had been killed in a car accident.

She screamed out. Dorian ran across the hall and held her in his arms. She sank her head into his chest, drawing what comfort she could from the smell of soap and tobacco on his cashmere sweater. The smell of a father. He was all that was left of her family now. Hanna did not remember much of the next few hours. Dorian administered tea and comfort and, eventually, to stop the jagged sobbing that she feared would snap her body in half, a sedative to help her sleep.

Late at night or early the next morning – she could not be sure – Hanna was woken by the sound of Dorian opening her bedroom door.

‘Father?’ she called out in her groggy state. It was the first time she had called him that.

She could see from his outline against the light from the hall that it was Dorian, but he did not reply.

Instead he walked silently across the room towards her. Hanna was briefly warmed with a child’s moment of relief that a parent is nearby. She felt the warmth of his breath as Dorian leaned down to kiss her on the forehead, as he had done a hundred times before. But he did not kiss her as he had done before. Instead, he kissed her on the mouth and bore his body down and into her.

Her body clenched as the first pain shot through her, but after that, Hanna did not struggle or scream. Her limbs, in any case, felt too weak and he was too heavy to fight. She kept her body as still as she could. Afraid to move. Terrified that any movement on her part might be read as encouragement. His body was heavy and his touch firm and confident. The same chest she had leant against for comfort when her mother was sick, the same hands that had patted her back with reassurance, betraying themselves in this appalling act. Hanna was numb, unable to comprehend if this was really happening. Why was he doing this? Had she done or said something to invite it? This man called himself her father. Although, she now realised that he never actually had. She had not allowed it. She had demanded that she call him by his first name. Perhaps if she had called him father, as her mother had wanted, this would not be happening.

After he had finished, Dorian lay down next to Hanna. She had not realised she was crying until he gently wiped her tears away with the palm of his hands. Her body flinched at the gentleness of the gesture. There was something even more terrifying about that than what had gone before. The betrayal of it.

‘I probably should not have done that… but you looked so sad.’

Hanna did not know how to react. Sad? Her mother had died. Was that what you did to people when they were sad?

‘You are still crying,’ he said, and then he began to cry himself. It was terrible to see a man cry. Despite what he had done to her, Hanna wanted him to stop. She wanted to make his tears go away.

‘I am sorry,’ he said. He told her that he missed her mother and had simply acted out of grief. He said he would never do it again. He seemed so contrite, so upset by his own actions that when he said, ‘Do you believe me Hanna? Please. I’m sorry. Forgive me,’ she said that she did and would.

Although she knew in her heart that things would never be the same between them, she wanted to believe him.

Nonetheless, Hanna locked her bedroom door that night. Over the coming days, through the drama of the wake, funeral and burial of her mother, Dorian’s actions became subsumed by Hanna’s despairing grief.

The night after the burial, she heard him try the door of her bedroom. She was protected by the lock. He went away and she told herself that he would not come back again. The locked door had made him pause. She would just have to continue locking it until he came to his senses.”

If you would like to find out more about Kate or purchase a copy of Kate’s amazing book, please click here. 

Or, you can follow Kate on Twitter @KateKerriganAuthor