Blog Tour : A Promise Of Tomorrow

The Promise of Tomorrow by AnneMarie Brear

The Promise of Tomorrow AnneMarieBrear_ThePromiseOfTomorrowCharlotte Brookes flees her lecherous guardian, McBride, taking her younger sister with her. After a year on the road, they stumble into a Yorkshire village. There, they are taken in by the Wheelers, owners of the village shop. This new life is strange for Charlotte, but preferable to living with McBride or surviving on the roads. 
Harry Belmont is an important man in the village, but he’s missing something in his life. His budding friendship with Charlotte gives him hope she will feel more for him one day, and he will have the woman he needs. 
However, when McBride finds out where Charlotte lives, his threats begin, and Harry takes it upon himself to keep Charlotte safe. Only, World War I erupts and Harry enlists. 
Left to face a world of new responsibilities, and Harry’s difficult sister, Charlotte must run the gauntlet of family disputes, McBride’s constant harassment and the possibility of the man she loves being killed.


Do you ever start to read a book, become embroiled in the story, and everything just fades into the background? Well, be prepared for that experience when you read A Promise of Tomorrow!

Charlotte and Hannah had a great start in life with a comfortable life and a family that loved them both. Tragedy steals it all away, and inexplicably they end up with McBride. Yet so quickly, their lives are shattered and become unrecognisable. Between lecherous and greedy men, and those who take care of two girls alone, we travel through the trials and tribulations of their life. Charlotte the older, the worker, taking care and protecting her little sister Hannah, through the safety of their new family, the Wheelers, to finding a man she loves, we are given a great story, with a cast of superbly portrayed characters.

The pace fluctuates between slow, steady and swift. While that sounds like a ‘well, duh’ comment, the author uses the pace to match the action, scenes, and emotions in the story. It is pacy at the start, then slows once the girls are in the safe hands of the Wheelers. It speeds up when McBride re-appears. The author clearly knows that this technique effects the emotional response of the reader – and she gets that response too. Once we reach the heart-ache of the First World War, with its attendant disruption and loss, the tension rises, and the danger heightens, not only because Harry is at the Front, but also because of the danger McBride poses to Charlotte and Hannah. With Harry’s sister thrown into the mix, the situation is worsened.

The author does not baulk from putting our leading ladies are put in uncomfortable and menacing situations. Yet it is through Charlotte’s strength and determination, no matter how nervous or terrified she is, that they come safely through. The war is reflected through both Harry’s and Charlotte’s perspectives. This juxtaposition of the war front and the home front is convincingly written, and the action and drama grab your attention and won’t let go.

AnneMarie Brear writes skilfully and with talent. Her characters are recognisable and familiar, and their experiences shape and mould them throughout the book; they grow as people. No situation feels forces or far-fetched, and when emotions run high it does not feel hysterical. In the end the big question is:

Will Harry make it home to Charlotte?

Nothing is certain in this turbulent but touching and emotional journey, so you will have to read it to find out. I have no hesitation therefore, in recommending The Promise of Tomorrow. It is engaging and sweet, tense and impassioned, and a wonderful sweeping tale set under the cloud of war. So good its on my Books of the Year short-list.

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Purchase 

Amazon UKhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07GHCXQ8Y/

Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GHCXQ8Y/

 


Author

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Australian born AnneMarie Brear writes historical novels and modern romances and sometimes the odd short story, too. Her passions, apart from writing, are travelling, reading, researching historical eras and looking for inspiration for her next book.

Social Media Links –

http://www.annemariebrear.com
http://annemariebrear.blogspot.co.uk
https://www.facebook.com/annemariebrear
Twitter @annemariebrear


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A Laughing Matter of Pain : Blog Blitz

A Laughing Matter of Pain by Cynthia Hilston

harrycoverHarry Rechthart always knew how to laugh, but laughter can hide a lot of pain that’s drowned by the bottle and good times. He grew up the joker in the early 1900s in Cleveland, Ohio, but as he enters adulthood, conflict splits him. His once close relationship with his brother, Erik, breaks as they come into their own and Erik goes off to college. No longer under Erik’s shadow, Harry feels he might finally shine and make others see him as someone to be proud of. Harry finds an unlikely comrade who understands how he feels–his younger sister, Hannah. Once free of high school, Harry and Hannah double date sister and brother, Kat and Will Jones, attending wild, extravagant parties during the years of Prohibition. Harry thinks he’s won at life–he’s found love in Kat, in a good time, and in the bottle. But all the light goes out fast when Harry’s alcoholism leads to disastrous consequences for him and Kat.

Harry thinks the joke’s on him now that he’s sunk lower than ever. He’s in jail. He’s pushed away his family. He’s a broken man, but in the darkest depths of a prison cell, there is hope. Can Harry rebuild his life and learn that true laughter comes from knowing true joy, or will he bury himself once and for all in this laughing matter of pain?


Superficially, this is a cautionary tale of a boy coming into manhood in the shadow of a clever and much-loved older brother. It maps his journey through the excitement of 1930s American prohibition, with illicit booze and bootleggers, parties and speak-easies, glamour and sleaze. Harry is out of control. He can’t see or accept how bad he has become, nor the seedy depths he is spiralling down. He hits rock bottom. It is from his cheerless and miserable jail cell, with the lies and pretence stripped away, he tells his story.

Deeper into the tale, we find this powerful and moving study is not of one man alone, but the story of many. It is the study of family; the dynamics of sibling relationships, the conflicts and tensions between parents and children, and the damage we inflict on ourselves and those we love.

BUT…

this is not a bleak story. It is liberally laced with light and love, and with hope and redemption. The author has cleverly and successfully adopted the speech and style of the period which conjures all those images we have of that period in US history. She writes in a way that pulls you until you become so invested in the characters you have no choice but to keep reading. We have been given a gem of a novel that is perceptive and thought-provoking, and readers should add it to their TBR stacks.


A Laughing Matter of Pain

Purchase Links

Amazon UK: HERE

Amazon US: HERE

 


Author

authorimageCynthia Hilston is a thirty-something-year-old stay at home mom of three young kids, happily married. Writing has always been like another child to her. After twenty years of waltzing in the world of fan fiction, she finally stepped away to do her debut dance with original works of fiction. Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful is her first original novel. She’s currently working on more books. Visit her website for more information.

In her spare time – what spare time? – she devours books, watches Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, pets her orange kitty, looks at the stars, and dreams of what other stories she wishes to tell.

Social Media:

Website: http://www.cynthiahilston.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cynthiahilstonauthor

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/cynthiahilstonauthor

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Cynthia-Hilston/e/B01KSD8RPS/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1532102291&sr=1-1

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cynthiahilston

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/authorcynthiahilston


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Dangerous Waters – Blog Tour

Dangerous Waters by Anne Allen

Dangerous Waters 3D CoverTragedy seems to follow Jeanne Le Page around . . .
Can she really go through it again and survive?
She is lucky to be alive at sixteen Jeanne was almost killed in a boating accident which brought heart-breaking family tragedy. Now, fifteen years later, Jeanne returns reluctantly to the island of Guernsey following the death of her beloved grandmother. Struggling for breath as the ferry nears the island; she is overwhelmed by a dark foreboding as hazy memories of that terrible day resurface.
Only returning to sell her inheritance – her grandmother’s old cottage – Jeanne has no intention of picking up her old life. But the cottage holds a secret, dating back to World War II and the German Occupation, and Jeanne becomes drawn into discovering more. Then, soon after her arrival, a chance meeting with an old teenage crush leads her to thoughts of love.
Jeanne is forced to face her demons, reliving the tragedy as her lost memory returns.
When the truth is finally revealed, her life is endangered for the second time. 

Dangerous Waters is the first in the Guernsey Novels series

The Guernsey Novels

The author Anne Allen proudly presents an exciting prize draw to win a short-break to the beautiful island of Guernsey & signed copies of The Guernsey Novels, enter at end of review

Anne AllenDangerous Waters is a good story. A really good story. Author Anne Allen plays with genre; mixes it up, and slips seamlessly between them. This is romance, history, and mystery, but on so many levels – distant past, recent past, and present. She maintains a good balance on the whole, though I would have liked more of the distant past story, it’s  research, and piecing it together (but then I’m a historian).

The writing is too verbose for my taste, with irrelevant information and over-laboured issues. Examples:

  • Unless the dishwasher is ploy to introduce a character or an incident, and being used to move the plot along,  we don’t need to know anything about it
  • There is a lot of eating and drinking, but the  real food interest is the collection of historical family recipes and their modern reconstruction. An important catalyst in Jeanne’s story. By the time we get to their being cooked, I was bored reading about characters eating & drinking. Writing should have been confined to the recipes.

The Letters:

These are an historian’s dream! I appreciate that Jeanne is not an historian, but she is a journalist and writer. Who in their right mind would delay reading them?  Yet Jeanne does. This doesn’t quite fit in with her character and motivation.

AND YES  *head in hands* tracing ‘W’  IS a priority.  The letters and the recipes are the whole soul and centre of Jeanne’s book. It is their stories from the 19th and 20th centuries that give it a unique selling point, and thereby make it very attractive to a publisher. Equally, they are at the centre of this book too. An amazing opportunity allowed to just gradually slip away by the end (which came too swiftly). I couldn’t help but think that with DNA kits, Ancestry, Find My Past, and myriad of other sites online, Jeanne potentially had the chance to find someone from W’s family. DNA is a part of the story, but missed that vital and fascinating opportunity.

What I loved.

Guernsey Author and BooksAnne Allen’s genre mix is excellent, quite well-balanced, and works well. She doesn’t follow the easy path of an angst and issue ridden character where ‘misery loves misery’, creating morose people missing opportunities to make their lives better. Of course life’s experiences leave their mark, but her main characters generally take responsibility for themselves rather than sink deeper and further into their unhappy episodes.

Jeanne, Marcus, and Nick are great characters; well-drawn, rounded, and full-bodied, to pinch a wine metaphor. If we ignore the occasional ‘not so great’ dialogue, the interplay between characters is good. Jeanne’s inner monologue could have done with an edit, but its insightful, funny, and utterly realistic. I certainly felt an affinity with her on certain points.

There are typical romance novel teases. Will she won’t she? But I also loved the will he won’t he? I don’t know why, but at one point I half expected ‘A’ to appear full of remorse (or with an eye to the main chance, given Jeanne’s inheritance). At first Jeanne comes across as an easily manipulated young woman, but her development through the novel is subtle, and she soon shows that she had an iron rod back.

Molly and Peter are lovely, though more use could have been made of Peter. Molly is gentle and loving, though at times I think a little misguided. This makes her a lovely flawed human being, and she is certainly not a ‘substitute-mother’ trope. They’re Islanders, they know the people Jeanne went to school with and with whom her parents and Grandmother were friends. They would have heard the gossip and rumours, but little is made of this. This is an island community, people know things, guess things, and stories would have been flying around about the accident. Even so, they add an interesting perspective.

Historically, wartime occupation romances can be tricky things, and depending on the country, retribution against females was mostly violent and abusive, even towards the children of those relationships. Allen is no apologist. She writes fictionally about events that actually happened, and the character of Mrs Ozane was crucial. She came into the picture late in the day, but not too late. A lovely little old lady now, yet a very vibrant young woman during the occupation. What a lost opportunity  – in real life she could have furnished us with a fascinating tale or two from wartime Guernsey. Through her we get to feel the desperation and despair of the elder Jeanne, her fear of the consequences of her actions, but no guilt. Love is love. Although these things are merely touched upon in comparison to other parts of the story, she still tugs at our heartstrings, and we can only feel sympathy for such awful events in a terrible time.

There are lovely descriptions of the island, the walks on the beach, the countryside –  I’ve never been to the Channel Islands, but the author makes Guernsey a ‘must see’ place.

Then there is the garden. I could see myself there, in summer, with a good book. All the way through I hoped for something magical to happen concerning it, because young Jeanne clearly has some sort of sixth sense, and with all the herbs and so forth, it sounded like a white witches’ charm!  (And I wanted magic, damn it!)

Dangerous Waters a great story, and I did enjoy it. I just wish Anne Allen had a much better Editor. On the whole her writing is lovely, and she certainly has great story-telling instincts. It’s a shame so much was lost in the extraneous prose. I’m torn but for this novel can only give 3 stars while wishing it could be 5.

Please pick up Dangerous Waters and read it. If you’re unsure, try a sample from Amazon first.

I will never read Anne Allen’s entire series – not all the plots appeal to me – however I’m hoping that, with another five books under her belt, the editing skills have been honed. So I have chosen three that  do interest me, and downloaded samples. If I do read the books in full, I shall post reviews for them here, though it may be many months before I can.

SO WATCH THIS SPACE.

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Teashop of Horrors – Blog Tour

 

Little Teashop of Horrors – Jane LoveringJane Lovering 2

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Secrets, lies, carrot cake and an owl called Skrillex!

Amy Knowles has always been the plain sidekick to her pretty best friend Jules. And whilst the tearoom they both work in on the Monkpark Hall estate in Yorkshire is not exactly awash with eligible bachelors, it’s obvious where the male attention is concentrated – and it’s not just on the cakes!

There is one man who notices Amy. Joshua Wilson also works at Monkpark, where he flies his birds of prey for visitor entertainment. He lives a lonely existence but he has reasons for choosing isolation – and, in Amy, he may have found somebody who understands.

Then a management change brings slick and well-spoken Edmund Evershott to Monkpark. He’s interested in Amy too, but for what reason? Josh suspects the new manager is up to no good – but will Amy? Because Edmund could leave her with much worse than a broken heart…

Let me say upfront, that I really enjoyed this book. The characters are very relatable and  very real. A couple are annoying, horrible, selfish, and downright revolting. They do not, however,  take away from the fact that this odd, idiosyncratic romance is an absolute delight, and is a great anti-dote to the standard sickly sweet romantic tropes churned out ad nausea.

I found the title to be a little misleading; the ‘Little Teashop of Horrors’ led me to expect something very different. I’m not exactly sure what the ‘horror’ was meant to be, maybe it was the new boss…

Amy is a character that makes you want to shake her, but only because you are rooting for her to stand up for herself. The two people closest to her, her grandmother and friend Julia, are more concerned with themselves, and don’t appear to see the negative impact they have on Amy’s life.

Her Grandmother has brought Amy up within a confining set of rules and behaviours to the extent that Amy’s gentle character consistently buries her anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction. The behaviour and strictures are the product of Grandma’s generation, class, and upbringing, and from having lived and worked all her life within the small community on the estate. Though I wouldn’t put up with the tea-making shenanigans, Amy must also deal with the early symptoms of her Grandmother’s dementia.

Amy’s childhood friend Julia knows how to manipulate and sway Amy to get her own way. I found her to be selfish and ego-centric, and given what happened between them in the past, I would have questioned their friendship except that Amy is so used to burying any irritation or grievance,  her life has become governed by other people’s wants and needs rather than her own. She sees nothing in herself that would be attractive to the opposite sex, or make her of more value to those around her.

Evershott is brilliantly drawn as one of those men who plays with the emotions of people he perceives to be ‘weak’, in order to get what he wants. His manipulation of Amy is almost textbook and very unpleasant. Gaslighting springs to mind. As the new boss who holds the future of the estate’s employees in his hands, and by extension their homes, he is in a position of power, and he uses it for his own ends, especially with Amy.

Josh is the unlikely hero of this tale, and by far one of the best characters in the book. He is a loner, a bit odd, and is plagued by his past. In Amy, he sees someone he can relate to. He is attracted to her but not sure what to do about it. His behaviour at one point is totally un-hero-like, and I loved it. None of that ‘man to the rescue’ stuff we are plied with repeatedly. The other great characters are Josh’s birds. They are such a refreshing addition, and I love their disobedience! The relationships between humans and birds are terrific – Skrillex is just a delight!

Written slightly tongue-in-cheek, it is gentle and warm with a most liberal sprinkling of humour. I read it in two sittings (I do sleep occasionally), and thoroughly enjoyed how the story panned out. Peopled by refreshingly real characters, this isn’t a fast-paced read, but it doesn’t need to be; the story unfolds around the characters and the romance builds naturally. Lovely!

Read and enjoy.

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Blog Tour – Elle Spellman Interview

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The joy of asking an author questions is that you can be as imaginative as you want to be with the questions. Of course they don’t have to answer, but when they do, what an interesting insight you get into the author.

Today we have Elle Spellman, author of the great fun read She’s Bad News, who hasShe's Bad News - Author Photo ES HSBS agreed to join the fun Here are the questions with her repleis.answer my questions.

Here are her replies:

If you had to spend a day with Bella, what would the two of you do?

Fight crime! Well, maybe. Bella is definitely someone I’d like to hang out with. I’d love to be part of her slightly crazy life if just for one day, as she tries to find some interesting stories for the Hartleybourne Gazette. I’d love to meet Chloe too. And yes, I would love to head out in the night and catch some criminals with her. Sure, I don’t have powers, but I could be the lookout!

If you could have any, what super-power would you choose and why?

Oh, that’s such a tricky question (but definitely one of my favourites)! There are so many possibilities that it’d be hard to choose. I mean, I’d love to have superhuman strength, for a variety of reasons. But I’d also like to have sentient hair like Marvel’s Medusa. I guess it would have to come down to what would be the most useful. So for me, my super-power would probably be something like the ability to control or freeze time, so that I’d have more hours in the day!

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters of the opposite sex?

I think the main problem I have is being overly-cautious when it comes to writing male characters. I tend to worry that I might be writing a stereotype, or adhering to certain traits often found in women’s fiction. That’s normally just me overthinking things! Luckily I have a lot of male friends, so it helps me to draw from experience, or that of my friends.

When writing, do you have a favourite snack and/or drink?

Definitely tea! I’m not so particular when it comes to snacks, but I have to have a mug of tea as I’m writing.

 How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I’ve just put aside my third book (which I’ve only just started) in order to rewrite my second. Both books are standalone novels and not related to She’s Bad News, although I do have ideas for a sequel. Currently I’m enjoying working on other projects so if I do decide to write a second Bella book, it won’t be for a little while yet. After that, I have a fourth book planned, which is currently just a fun personal project. There’s also a YA novel that’s been in my head for over a decade so hopefully at some point in the near future I can sit down to work on it. (And this is why I need that time-stopping power!)

If you could invite any fictional character to dinner, who would it be and why?

Can I stick with the superhero theme here and say Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman? Catwoman has always intrigued me, and she’s one of my all-time favourite Batman characters. Most people would recognise her as a villain (especially when working with fellow Sirens: Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn) but personally I’ve always found her to be neutral. An anti-hero. Sure, she’s an expert thief, but she only hurts those who truly deserve it. She does her bit to help Gotham, and often Batman, in her own special way. Her attitude and willingness to fight often masks the fact she has a big heart. Plus, she’s sassy, strong and kick-ass. What’s not to love about Catwoman?

What was your favourite childhood book?

I had many! I learned to read with Ladybird Books, so had a big collection of those, which included the Garden Gang series and a lot of fairytales. I still love reading fairytales, but nowadays I like to read the original, much older versions that are were a lot more sinister! But I think my all-time favourite childhood book is Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Everything about it is wonderful. I read it again and again, and still love it to this day.

What is the naughtiest thing you did as a child?

I don’t think I was a particularly naughty child but I did play the game ‘knock down ginger’ (when you knock on someone’s door and run away) a couple of times with friends in my street even though I would have been in a LOT of trouble if my mum knew!

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, because I’ve wanted to read the James Bond novels for so long and it’s about damn time! I’m also about to start The Babysitter by Sheryl Browne, followed by The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. As for comics, I’m currently reading Gotham Central #2, by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka.

If Heaven is a library, in which section will you spend eternity?

It would have to be fiction! I would spend every blissful day in a different fictional world. I would never feel alone. The very idea of Heaven being a library is an amazing one indeed.

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EBook available from:

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She’s Bad News – Blog Tour

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She’s Bad News – Elle Spellman

What would you do if you woke up with super powers?
For Bella Brown, life hasn’t gone according to plan. She’s almost thirty, still living in her uneventful hometown, and her dreams of becoming an investigative reporter have fallen by the wayside.
That is, until she wakes up one morning to find she’s been gifted with some amazing new abilities. What’s a girl to do with heightened senses, super speed and the ability to lift a truck one-handed? Bella quickly discovers that her new powers can easily help her land front-page leads at local newspaper, The Hartleybourne Gazette. 
Soon Bella’s out every night chasing down local criminals for stories, while keeping her powers a secret from everyone besides flatmate Chloe. But when a burglary-gone-wrong accidentally turns her into the mysterious Hartleybourne Heroine, Bella finds herself on the front page for the wrong reasons. Her secret becomes harder to keep as she tries to track down the source of her powers, and especially when crime reporter Matt Gilmore is intent on unmasking the town’s new vigilante…
Suddenly, having an extraordinary life is far more dangerous than she ever imagined.

She's Bad News - Author Photo ES HSBSIt would be very easy for any reviewer to classify this story as a nice easy read with nothing much to think about, or that it is a silly book, and over the top. Yes, it is all those things, but it is also much more. It very subtly addresses weight issues, the diet industry, workplace bullying, amongst other things.

Elle Spellman has written a fun superhero novel, where an ordinary girl accidently acquires some super-powers. It is funny, cringeworthy, sad, and scary. Yes, there are sections that could have been edited more tightly, others that should have been cut or condensed, but all in all this author has given us a book that covers some interesting issues and does it within the confines of a delightfully eccentric, entertaining, and thoroughly enjoyable story.

Bella, our heroine, can be irritating, but is adorable. She is the girl who left her mundane life, went to university and graduated with a journalism degree, and hoped for a bright future in London with a national newspaper. Sadly, she finds herself locked into a job with the local newspaper where she writes the Better Self column, covering slimming aids, the health benefits of asparagus, and such trivia, but not anything she regards as journalism. Layla, her boss, is a bitch, and belittles Bella at every opportunity. No matter how many article idea Bella tries to get approval for, Layla cruelly shuts her down, telling her that she is overstepping, and to leave the journalism to the reporters.

‘You’re responsible for Better Self, not Bella Brown Investigates…read the PR, write the reviews and the copy. It’s all I want you to do.’

Alice, Bella’s sister, doesn’t treat her much better. Everything is about Alice. She contacts Bella at anytime she deems fit, ignoring the fact that Bella is at work, for example, or anything else Bella may be doing. Bella may as well answer her mobile at work, she not a reporter, after all she failed at journalism.  As Bella tells us:

‘She would either call my desk phone all day, hire a sniper to take me out, or worse, take a three-hour drive…and turn up at my office just to make a point.’

Chloe is a health and fitness trainer and Bella’s best friend. She’s as mad as Bella, and though a bit annoying and ‘preachy’ at times, she has Bella’s best interests at heart, and helps and supports her. Add to the character mix the attractive crime reporter and the mysterious CEO of the company that produces NARCIS Ultra-Boost, the slimming pill that Bella must review, and the stage is set for madness, mayhem, and mishaps.

She's Bad News Cover HSBSShe’s Bad News is pure escapist fun, with a subtle lifting of a mirror to reflect the insanity of our world. A world that bullies, denigrates, and belittles those who don’t meet the standards of others. One of the things I liked about Bella and her acquisition of superpowers, is that she remained the same – a curvy overweight, awkward, sweet, down to earth girl. The superpowers gave her back the confidence and self-worth that was being slowly chipped away by her boss, her family, and others.

There is plenty of laughter, plenty of action, and some scary moments, as Bella uses her powers for crime-fighting investigative good. I just couldn’t read the last few chapters fast enough. Whatever the need for editing, She’s Bad News is a one of the most fun and enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. I’m keen to read whatever Elle Spellman writes next and I hope she’ll bring us a Bella sequel.

Highly recommended.

Last Letter Home

Last Letter HomeLast Letter Home – Rachel Hore

On holiday with friends, young historian Briony Wood becomes fascinated with a wartime story of a ruined villa in the hills behind Naples. There is a family connection: her grandfather had been a British soldier during the Italian campaign of 1943 in that very area. Handed a bundle of letters that were found after the war, Briony sets off to trace the fate of their sender, Sarah Bailey
In 1939, Sarah returns with her mother and sister from India, in mourning, to take up residence in the Norfolk village of Westbury. There she forms a firm friendship with Paul Hartmann, a young German who has found sanctuary in the local manor house, Westbury Hall. With the outbreak of war, conflicts of loyalty in Westbury deepen. 
When, 70 years later, Briony begins to uncover Sarah and Paul’s story, she encounters resentments and secrets still tightly guarded. What happened long ago in the villa in the shadow of Vesuvius, she suspects, still has the power to give terrible pain.

This book is like glue, it doesn’t matter what you want to do, you can’t put it down. I read it in two sittings BUT only because I had to sleep in between. Some bits I read twice, which I’ll explain later.

Compelling, romantic, and mysterious, it’s a thoroughly fascinating tale that moves between two time-periods, present day and World War 2, revealing some interesting relationships in both. This appealed to the historian in me, and it highlights a much-ignored subject, those Germans who lived here, served, and fought for this country.  Few people know that some 10,000 German and Austrian nationals volunteered to fight for Britain.

These won’t spoil the story, but I had some ‘niggles’. Let me get those out of the way first. Research historians enjoy the chase. In fact we LOVE the chase; hunting down information, solving the riddles, answering the questions, there is nothing quite like the thrill of it. So that being the case I had some issues with Briony as a research historian with a PhD, and why I had to read certain parts twice, in case I had missed something. Given that her specialism is supposed to be World War 2, I found it difficult to believe that she struggled at certain points about what to do, and at another had a museum assistant to direct her to what amounts to the county record office. No doubt some of her research was done ‘off stage’ as it were, but when she’s questioning herself, I was mentally shouting things like ‘look on bloody Ancestry’ or ‘go to the National Archives for heaven’s sake’. This is stuff she should and would know. A missing part for me is how she researched Sarah and Paul’s story, and I was disappointed that the author didn’t give us more of that.

None of this will spoil the enjoyment of an otherwise great story, or more properly, two great stories.

Rachel Hore writes the historic sections exceptionally well. Her subtle composition reflects the social divisions of the 1930s and how they work under the surface, while clearly highlighting the awful calculating snobbery and conceit of some of the characters. She recreates the period splendidly and doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant and ugly aspects of war and society.

I liked Briony, though occasionally her lack of confidence became very annoying, but I couldn’t like her friend Aruna no matter how I tried. There were moments when I wondered how and why they were friends though towards the end there is some resolution on that front. Lavender, her step-mother develops beautifully, as does Briony’s relationship with her. The men in her life are not perfect, indeed far from it, but they are real in as much as they are fleshed out, flawed, and recognisable.

Sarah and Paul are fantastic characters. The chapters dealing with their story had me glued to every word on every page, and they raise the book from an average to an outstanding. The beautifully paced journey of their relationship makes for great reading, and the whole mystery element makes this a page-turner. At certain parts you will find yourself anxious to find out what’s going on and so rush to read, yet at others you’ll enjoy and relish the slower pace that lets the story unfold gently. The ‘will they, won’t they’ conundrum will have you rapidly reading and page turning through secrets, heartbreak, and tightly bound emotions, all of which builds to an end that is both bitter and sweet at the same time.

Enjoy!

Sunshine at the Comfort Food Cafe

JohnsonSunshine at the Comfort Food Cafe – Debbie Johnson

My name is Willow Longville. I live in a village called Budbury on the stunning Dorset coast with my mum Lynnie, who sometimes forgets who I am. I’m a waitress at the Comfort Food Café, which is really so much more than a café … it’s my home.

For Willow, the ramshackle café overlooking the beach, together with its warm-hearted community, offers friendship as a daily special and always has a hearty welcome on the menu. When a handsome stranger blows in on a warm spring breeze, Willow soon realises that her quiet country life will be changed forever.  Perched on a windswept cliff on the coast at what feels like the edge of the world, the café and its warm-hearted community are a haven for lost souls who happen to wander by with a heavy heart and a story to tell. Serving up the most delicious cream teas; beautifully baked breads, and carefully crafted cupcakes, there’s nothing a cup of tea and a delicious treat won’t fix. For tourists and locals alike, the ramshackle cafe overlooking the beach is a beacon of laughter, companionship, and security – a place like no other; a place that offers friendship as a daily special, and where a hearty welcome is always on the menu.

When I started reading this I didn’t realise it was part of a ‘Comfort Food Cafe‘ series. I had a quick look at the synopsis for each of the other titles, and they all sound fabulous. That said, Sunshine at the Comfort Food Cafe works just as well as a standalone,  certainly  I don’t feel that I have missed anything, in the way that you do sometimes with a series. It took me a while to settle into the book, but once we got going, I was glued to it.

Willow, the central character, doesn’t have it easy as not only does she work cleaning as well as waitressing at the cafe, but she is also she is her mother Lynnie’s carer. Sadly, Lynnie has early onset dementia, and as this progresses, Willow’s struggles and issues are heartbreaking.  I could make a long list of the things that pulled me into the heart of this book, here are but a few. Willow’s pink hair, Doc Martens, piercings, and tattoos (very close to home…); the journals they both keep, one to remember, one to unburden;  the dogs; the colourful array of characters. There is something a little magical about it.

Then enters Tom, a boy from Willow’s childhood; an inventor and rich, but still geeky and awkward, yet totally on Willow’s wavelength – let’s just say Zombie Apocalypse. Read and you’ll understand.

It would be easy to go down a clichéd and superficial route, but the author has dealt with issue of dementia in a real yet sensitive manner, and is to be applauded for that. She’s written a lovely book full of love and optimism, humour and tears. I’m going to arm myself with the previous books, and will read them all at some point – that’s how much I enjoyed this one. Seriously, just go and get a copy and read it.

BE WARNED: you’ll need a supply of tea and cake, and tissues to wipe your damp eyes….