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Coming Home to Holly Close Farm, Julie Houston

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm, Julie Houston

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm: Addictive, heart-warming and laugh-out-loud funny. Perfect for fans of Katie Fforde and Jill Mansell by [Houston, Julie]

Genre: general fiction (adult), women’s fiction

Once more, women’s fiction. Why, why alienate men? They read books like this too.

Anyway, I’ve loved all Julie’s past stories, but this one wasn’t a great fit for me. It could well be living circumstances, I’m between homes, living in my daughter’s conservatory so getting “lost” in a book hasn’t been easy. I may reread this at a later day and feel very differently.
Its full of the usual realistic characters and events, and peppered with Julie’s trademark subtle humour. I’m always nervous when a book promises to make me “laugh out loud” as too often I fond that really means the forced, very unfunny humour I hate. Julie’s style isn’t that, is much more soft and clever humour, not pushed-in-your-face stuff .
So, the story, its kind of in two parts, and I found I loved Madge and her backstory more than I enjoyed the current time romance. Madge had such a tragic past, I loved her stoic, never give in mindset, but found it hard to believe no-one knew about Holly Close Farm, how a property so valuable would have no evidence that family would have picked up on linking her to it. No bills from the council? No demands for utilities etc? It’s possible but a bit hard to believe given that now I seem to get bills from the council in numerous duplicates constantly! Her daughter Nancy was a bit weird, and I couldn’t see her missing out on any stray info that would lead to reward for her.
I wanted to like Charlie, felt so much for her over Dominic, sadly things like that happen, and people can be horribly plausible about absences. I just found it hard to really feel for her after that, she’s a little too me, me , me for my taste. Like I said, maybe its my mindset, and I’ll feel differently at a later date.

Stars: Three, a good story, great characters, but fell a bit short for me of Julie’s others five star reads.

Arc via Netgalley

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Always With You, Indigo: Book 3, Kate McBrien

Always With You, Indigo: Book 3, Kate McBrien

 

Always With You (Indigo Book 3) by [McBrien, Kate]Genre: Romance

Well, a very climatic, drama filled finish to the trilogy. TBH it felt – cough- a little too drama filled. I love action, intensity and drama but there was so much here that I felt it became almost wearying to the senses, took away from the actual events. Having said that its still and amazing read, and a fabulous trilogy for a debut writer. Very well written, full of excellent plots and very polished overall.

Lucy; at times I want to say to her “what are you doing!!” when she dithers. She’s grown in confidence though, and there’s a lot less of that in this final part. Justin, well, he’s just fabulous, so very solid in his love, so very protective and I enjoyed how the past events affected him in this life. I loved Lucy and Justin together, but did feel they got a little lost in the other events that filled this story. Sometimes Less is More, and for me less additional plots ( the Russian connection) and more of Lucy and Justin would have worked better. That’s just me though, others will love it as it is.
Edward…Gah, I hate that guy, but I love characters like his. He played a terrific part in the story, very believable. I wasn’t so convinced on the Rachel story-line, especially with how things ended. I disliked her intensely, didn’t want to change my stance on that and though events could have proved otherwise I’m holding fast to my dislike 😉

I would have liked to have seen a bit more connection between Justin and Lucy’s nightmares and the past, maybe snippets of what they were dreaming or something? The past in each book is really kept to just beginning and end, which makes for a wonderful ending, where we see just what did play out, but I’d have enjoyed a bit more linking through the story.

I love the way the Cross links past and present Justin and Lucy, and how its creation from Love held fast, and meant so much to them when they touched in in the present. I enjoyed the history, past and present story of Lapis Lazuli and the issues behind it. Everyone has heard of Blood diamonds, but I’d never connected this stone with terrorism financing.

From the book blurb, and important. Note to readers: This book contains scenes which may be triggering to survivors of sexual violence

Stars: Four and a half, a great trilogy, but I wasn’t quite as gripped by this part as by parts one and two, especially part one, which I loved.

ARC via Netgalley and publishers

His Uptown Guy by Felice Stevens

His Uptown Guy by Felice Stevens

His Uptown Guy by [Stevens, Felice]

Genre: Romance, LGBTQIA

I’ve enjoyed a few of Felice’s reads now, and was eager to read this one. It was a well written story but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d expected though.

I liked both guys, very real characters with very genuine problems though each are vastly different. I felt their first meeting was plausible, sometimes that first meet feels cliched and false but here I could see things playing out exactly like that. Dash is the kind of true Gentleman who would step in to help anybody. He’s a very likable man, loves his family, even though he can see issues with it, works hard to put himself through school, and Jesse comes from a world he can only imagine.
Jesse might look to have everything, money, family, good health but…after losing his father in 9/11 he’s left with a crippling fear of outdoors, hasn’t been past his front door for five years. He has everything set up to support him – money can do that – but it can’t make him happy, and he’s now realising he doesn’t want to stay confined but finding it incredibly hard to break through the fear. His desire for Dash helps him but its not easy.
At least not easy until suddenly it is. Well, not quite but I found it hard to believe after such protracted stay inside his flat, not venturing past the front door, he could move forward quite so quickly. likewise Dash and his problems with Jesse and money, somehow it all seemed to be huge hurdles one moment and poof, gone for love the next. It was a little too slick for me. I like a bit more struggle and angst.
Its an easy to read story, well set out and believable if only there had been a bit more distance from insolvable issues to -poof- all sorted now….I know love conquers all but I want a bit of struggle along the way.

Stars: Three, a good read but not quite up to some of her others for me. Could be just what you want though, reading is incredibly subjective.

ARC via author

Lake of the Dead, (A Winston Radhauser Mystery 5), Susan Clayton-Goldner

Lake of the Dead, (A Winston Radhauser Mystery 5), Susan Clayton-Goldner

Lake of the Dead: A Winston Radhauser Mystery: #5 by [Clayton-Goldner, Susan]

Genre:Mystery and Thrillers, General Fiction.

I love this series. I started with book two, offered the chance to review by the author and she’s been kind enough to let me review each succeeding novel.
You can read each story as a stand alone but you’ll get much more by reading in order, as there are people connecting each book, and its interesting and adds more if you know the back story. Parker’s girlfriend Rishima was in the last book, only as a very secondary character, but it brings the stories closer knowing just what she’s been through, and continues to face. I really felt so sad for her, a wonderful character.

As usual Radhauser is immersed in a complicated murder, with multiple possible suspects but no real motive. It makes me wonder how police even begin to search out who was responsible, and following this story, seeing Radhauser’s reasoning for doing things, the constraints that stop him doing other things, was really interesting and absorbing.
As always the characters here feel so real, so genuine. I think I could find ones like them easily within my own life, though hopefully not murderous ones! I love the way Susan makes what seems reasonable at first sight untangle to become something else, and then puts in reasons and bars to what seem like real motives and possible actions to the murder.
And once more she caught me out. I had an early dislike of a character but thought I was judging unfairly, and it wasn’t til very near the end that I began to see how and why things happened.

Its a sad story, one sadly that could be real, murders happen to so many folk, cut off before they’ve had a chance to grow, to become adults, have their own family. There were some really tragic backstories here too, ones that I had no trouble believing in.
I love Radhauser as a cop, he’s exactly they guy we all need, thorough, principles, meticulous and yet I’d hate to be married to him, to have him as a parent. He adores his family but work – when taking time off and going home could mean a killer escaping, possibly to kill again, how can he? We see here him spending so much time on work, that he barely has time with his family. Grace is incredibly understanding, though we have seen how his work causes friction at times. Its understandable, she’s got two young kids and is still recovering from her cancer treatment and surgery.
I guess she’s seen how he is when they first met, and it would be hard to say come home, knowing the possible consequences and also how it would affect him. You take the person as they are when you choose a partner, and Radhauser is very committed to his work. It doesn’t mean he loves his family any less.

Stars: Five. Its another great story from Susan, well plotted and gripping reading, which wraps up properly. I hate novels that make me thing “but what about….” when they end. This doesn’t, we get a brief six month on peek into what’s happened with some of the key characters and that’s just perfect for me.

ARC supplied by author

The Binding, Bridget Collins

The Binding, Bridget Collins

Genre: General fiction (Adult)

A really unusual story, its hard to class it but it feels like its set back in time but where the magic of Binding – removing peoples memories and putting them in a book– is real. Of course while alive those memories aren’t supposed to be sold, but they are the only kind of stories around, and there are always unscrupulous folk….

I did find it difficult re pacing at the start. I felt like I was fully engrossed in Emmet’s present and the issues he’d been through when I’m taken to his past, where he meets Lucian. And that was heartbreaking for all parties.

Its a read full of what if’s – what would I do in the same situation, and it shows that the old adage of be careful what you wish for is something to be carefully considered.
I loved the characters, the descriptions of everyday life, the horrors of those who abuse the system, from people covering up or forgetting their own bad behaviour, to those poor folk who had nothing left to sell, were so poor they parted with their memories, each leaving its own impact on them. Of course things like that weren’t supposed to happen, ostensibly people had to consent but there are ways around that and the more money and position orientated Binders were ready to take full advantage.
It did feel a little disconnected at times, as though I’d missed some essential parts, but that didn’t affect the overall story, and the gentle, unfolding romance was beautiful. If this magic was real, yes, I could see all the things in the novel happening all too easily. Its not a HEA story, there’s a conclusion of sorts, but its very much a possible HFN, and maybe the magic HEA, though in that time and clime I think its unlikely.
Would I reread this? Possibly, and I’d certainly read more from this author.

Stars: Four, a really unusual and entrancing story but the pacing was a little off for me, and I would have liked a bit more of an ending.

ARC via Netgalley and publishers

Waiting for You, Indigo: Book 2, Kate McBrien

Waiting for You, Indigo: Book 2, Kate McBrien

Waiting for You (Indigo Book 2) by [McBrien, Kate]

Genre: romance

Well, at the end of book one Justin and Lucy were apart, the fame/media aspect scaring Lucy. Its one of those things that’s so hard, if she wants to be with Justin she has to accept that the fame and publicity are part of the package. Even if he gave up his music, he’d still be hounded by media for a significant time – and anyway, its part of him, part of the man she loves.
He understands her fears, blames himself for the awful events that separated him even though they aren’t really his fault and were done without his permission or knowledge. He’s left it up to Lucy to contact him, says he’ll be waiting.

Her parents though, they really don’t like him, and are determined to push Edward in her way. He’s got himself highly placed at her work too, so she’s really no way of escaping him. He is such a horrible sleaze and in this book we see more of that. I loved it, someone appearing so genuine, caring, respected outwardly, and yet behind the scenes, in the pursuit of what he wants he’s a horrible, manipulative bar- stard. That’s reality – we often see friends and family of people who’ve committed some awful crime saying it can’t be true, the person simply wouldn’t do that. But they can and do, manipulators are expert at presenting one face to the world while doing the opposite.
He arranges for Lucy to travel to London, with him of course, to deliver the Cross to its new buyer. As usual he’s moving events to suit his purpose but Justin is in London too, and Lucy is thinking its a chance, fate maybe, to reconnect. Once more though Justin’s fame comes between them with yet more horrific allegations against him. Its a time that’s testing Lucy to the fullest, and she needs to decide, trust her heart, her instincts or believe the media and of course the person behind things. I really wanted to shake her a couple of times, shout at her “c’mon Lucy, give the guy a break, he loves you, you love him” but she was so cautious.

I’ve seen criticism about the attack, that it wasn’t reported. In reality something like over 80% of attacks go unreported and given that only a small percent of those that are reported lead to conviction, its almost understandable why some women choose not to put themselves through the trauma of reporting and all it brings. I don’t agree with it, that’s what lets predators continue, but it’s reality and I can see why it went unreported.
In the same way the false allegations against Justin, that happens too, folk wanting revenge, wanting to cause harm, just making allegations for malicious purposes or attention. Sadly, things like that lead to the non reporting data, because people are afraid they won’t be believed.

The connection to the past, the supernatural element is very muted, only appears on a peripheral basis, it’s clear how events are linked re Justin and Lucy, but I’m not entirely sure if Edward is who I think he was, or if there’s some kind of turnabout coming….

Its another great installment, though I did get a bit cross at Lucy’s dithering. I adore Justin and none of what happened was his fault, sure he has a past, but he can’t change that, only change how he is in the future and Lucy needs to accept who is was, and who he is now. I did find it not quite as gripping to read as the first book, a bit slower paced, didn’t quite have me lost in the story the same way but its still a cracking read, especially from a new author.
Luckily I’ve book three on my kindle as an arc, but its out very soon, later this month, and the whole trilogy has been released within six months. I love that, hate waiting a year, eighteen months or more between episodes, its why when I’m buying I wait til story is complete before buying, so I can read all in one go, I find I enjoy the story best that way.

Stars: Four and a half, not quite as good as book one, the story lagged a little at times, but I really did like the reality of the attacks and how they were dealt with.

Arc via author and Netgally

A Place Without You, Jewel E. Ann

A Place Without You, Jewel E. Ann

A Place Without you by [Ann, Jewel E]

Genre: romance

well, my third book by Jewel, loved the first, enjoyed the second but wasn’t a re-reader for me so I was unsure of how I’d feel about this. The description though, the “forbidden” romance aspect all drew me in. An aside: school kids I understand the no relationships between tutors and pupils, but once they’re past 18, legally adults, why not?
So I started reading, absorbed by the story, the setting but Henna. Good Grief she annoyed me at times, real poor little rich girl syndrome. Its easy to be flouting rules when school won’t do anything because of your parents, its easy spending the day drug addled on pot when your parents let you, encourage you almost in the case of Juni, and she has the excuse of “pain”. She had been in a horrific accident which left physical and mental scars, but somehow to me that’s just become an excuse to while through the day high on gummies….
Fortunately underneath that Henna is a really like-able girl, thoughtful and talented. I’m not sure she’d have found success as an artist quite so easily though, I know from my own art and friends that its a very hard world to make a living from, not as easy as just meeting someone who’s instantly able to put your art in front of top buyers, but again maybe the name, the fame, the money all played a part. Weird isn’t it how those with money have others falling over themselves to give them opportunities to make more.

Her mum, Juni, annoyed me. She’s a parent, not a friend and to me Henna needed the discipline a mother brings to the relationship, not another friend. She can find them herself but you only get one mum. Juni means well but for me she wasn’t a great parent, and its Henna’s own nature that stopped her being a horrible spoiled rich girl.
Then there’s Bodhi….gorgeous guy, talented drummer, and they meet at a music festival. I loved that setting, the way they met though even then there were little things about Henna that irritated me, where she’s being all madame of mystery I just got annoyed at it, needless subterfuge, that came over as more of the “look at my connections”.
Then its back to school and ….oops, Bodhi is Mr Malone, school guidance counsellor. In the same way as you need to suspend belief to accept Henna and the art sales you need to just accept that talented drummer, fallen through drugs, drink and other circumstances is now a school counsellor….its unlikely in real life, he’s still under thirty, he’d need a degree and further study to get into that field and with a rehab stint on record it would be hard. Still, fiction, go with the flow. I can do that but TBH I do wish authors would inject a bit more realism into situations, not let characters just swan into top positions.
Bodhi is a lovely man, needs his job, but its Henna and he needs her too….the more we learn about him though the more we see what he can’t afford to risk, and it irritated me that Henna saw that but still pursued him. Why not wait a year? But then there’d be no story 😉 so I have my answer.

Towards the last third of the novel there’s some very serious stuff, more about Bodhi’s past, more about his fractured family, there are some hard choices to be made and plenty of heartbreak and angst. I was thinking “what would I do” and its a tough question, guilty feelings whichever way one decides. Sadly its a situation so many folk find themselves in. Life isn’t always easy.

There was lots of angst in this novel, and I adore that in a story, but Henna let it down for me, I found it so hard to actually respect her. She’s not horribly obnoxious or anything, just been brought up by very indulgent parents and has no real understanding of other people issues, what a lack of job, money, means to them. She’d undergone something pretty horrific a couple of years previously and I think her parents let her down in not getting her more help, in letting her waste her days on a high, popping gummies for pain instead of sorting it another way. That’s not a long term answer, but goes along with the parenting that left her this lack of understanding of others, and made her a bit selfish.
Perfect ending though, I love an epilogue that isn’t long, just fills in how things work down the line. Those few pages were exactly what I want.

Stars: Three and a half. There were parts I loved, parts I felt were stretching credibility a little too much, and then Henna herself, the way she was didn’t make her a great lead for me. As always though she and the story are perfect for others and that’s OK, we all enjoy different things.

Arc via author and social butterfly PR

Don’t You Forget About Me, Mhairi McFarlane

Don’t You Forget About Me, Mhairi McFarlane

Genre: General Fiction (Adult)

I’ve really enjoyed some of Mhairi’s past works and fully expected to adore this one. But…I liked it, just didn’t love it.

Its got some great humour, allied with some very genuine “today” issues about women, sexism, expectations that made it feel very real, very contemporary.
We start with Georgina getting fired, not her fault, not the best job to have but its money and the rent is due. She then decides to call on her boyfriend for commiseration, and finds him in bed with someone else…. He’s a real charmer BTW, her friends have it spot on when they describe him as the worst boyfriend. I just couldn’t see why she was with him really, why she made excuses, maybe its because he seems to find her funny, and she wants to be seen that way, entertaining, popular and perhaps that’s how he makes her feel? Well, how she interprets his reactions anyhow. He’s actually selfish, annoying, sexist and she deserves better. That’s a huge part of her issues though, she’s always struggling to be seen as the fun girl, the popular one and its something that stems from issues at a really young age.
That part of her is why she acted the way she did in the Big Event, the one that’s tantalised throughout, and made me really sad for her when we saw what happened. Heartbreaking, but what does happen so very often.
I was astonished at Lucas, given their history, that he simply didn’t remember her. He makes the excuse later that everything between 18 and 25 is a blur, though never actually says why. I kept wanting him to see her as the girl he loved, who loved him, even if they hadn’t fully acknowledged that back then. He’s got his own issues though and reasons for his actions.

It all sounds just what I love to read, but somehow it felt so very slow, so padded out and full of inaction. Its not billed as Romance, but from the description I did expect romance to develop far sooner. I guess its a case of actual book v my expectations that made this just an OK read for me, where others of Mhairi’s have been 5star re-readers. I’m sure its perfect for others, but for me this wasn’t one I really enjoyed.

Stars: Three, some really topical and important issues contained here, but overall the story just fell short for me

ARC via Netgalley and publishers

Bad Breakup, Billionaire’s Club Book 2, Elise Faber

Bad Breakup, Billionaire’s Club Book 2, Elise Faber

Bad Breakup (Billionaire's Club Book 2) by [Faber, Elise]

Genre: romance

I liked the sound of this, wasn’t expecting intense, but sometimes though I love drama, angst, intensity I want something a little softer and this sounded great for that.

Sadly it wasn’t a good fit for me, nothing wrong with the writing, the characters or the story in itself, it was the characters actions that spoiled the story for me.
I don’t like the way two “so in love” characters wouldn’t even speak to each other after a major event like that, especially after they’ve already had one bad break-up. Having got past that would they really not talk about what happened? Most of us would want to know why at least, its human nature to want to know why we weren’t good enough.
That let the story down from both characters, I really liked them but didn’t feel that behaviour was reflective of the people they were – or seemed to be.

The past/present format is one I quite like, it lets me see the past as it plays out, not via a POV of someone who may have slanted opinions.
The Present in this novel covers so little time though that I just didn’t really get a sense of reality, of the seriousness of what was happening. It felt like events were very lust driven when both characters were the strong type that I felt would have wanted to know they whys of the past first.
I couldn’t see that Cecelia would have caved so quickly given what she thought would happen, and likewise Colin. Would he really have pursued her believing what he did? I know it was a pretty convincing lie that was set up, but to so easily be duped when you supposedly love someone enough to share the rest of your life with them?

Its a shame I couldn’t empathise with the couples’ actions as the story plot and set up was excellent. I could see that others actions may well lead to That Event, in just the way its described. Its the shock factor, the sense of betrayal that governs immediate reactions, not the side of our brain that says “this person loves you, would they really do that?” so a short breakup is understandable. I don’t feel either lead behaved in the way I’d have expected them to, by letting it go on not just months but years. Its hard to believe either would just let all that time pass without trying to find out what, why and how, for a couple so in Love to just let it drop, fade away without challenge.
Maybe a much shorter separation, a few weeks say, and more reality in the present actions, and this would have been a perfect read for me. Still, as always what I want isn’t what everyone wants, and this will be perfect for other readers as it is.

Stars: Two and a half. I didn’t dislike all the book, loved the characters, and the cause of breakup number two was so cleverly done. Sadly the actions, or rather the inactions, of the couple let to it being a story that didn’t work for me.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

Love under fire collection. Review of Chasing Secrets, Alyssa Richards

I’m reviewing one book from this series, Alyssa Richard’s Chasing Secrets. Anthologies are a terrific way to try out new-to- you authors for a small price, 21 stories here for under four quid.

Chasing Secrets, Alyssa Richards

Love Under Fire by [Lucci, Judith, Tullis, Stephany, Quinn, Fiona, Burke, Anna Celeste, Daly, Margaret A, Watkins, Linda, Ferguson, Tamara, Jenkins, Suzanne, Goss, Inge-Lise, Mallery, S.R., Jinx Schwartz , Uvi Poznansky, Kathryn Knight, Stephanie Queen, Casi McLean, Valerie J. Clarizio, Chris Patchell, Aaron Paul Lazar, Alyssa Richards, K.M. Hodge, Pamela Fagan Hutchins ]

Genre: fantasy and paranormal, romance

I’ve loved Alyssa’s other stories but this one didn’t seem to work well for me. Its well written as usual, its one of those “just not the right fit” times, not that there’s anything wrong with the story. It could be personal circumstances, I’m a bit stressed, having sold my house and the one I’m buying has been delayed, so I’m staying with daughter, living in her conservatory, and its not best place for getting lost in a story.

Anyway, Barbara has an unusual gift – she’s able to “read” people from their name, doesn’t need to meet them, just needs their first name. She can tell one Steven from another, doesn’t need any extra info but is able to tap into the right person.
She’s married to David, who adores her, and they’re expecting their first child. David’s been a little stressed though, and suddenly he’s gone, murdered in front of her. In the resulting chaos she miscarries, and its taken her time to try to move forward.
She’s beginning to make a new life, albeit very staid, when the past rushes up to her with David’s killers attacking her, demanding she return stolen diamonds. She knows nothing about them, but they aren’t convinced and it becomes dangerous for her and her family.
Hiding out from them she meets Griffin, an archaeologist, and there’s a spark between them they can’t ignore. As always though romance comes with problems and Griffin is due to start an new search through history far away from Barbara.

Barbara’s gift was interesting and Griffin’s project and reasons for moving to Greece very real. Its the kind of thing that happens in real life, couples meet but one is about to move, and its a question of move and abandon possible relationship or try long distance one, or stay and possibly regret lost opportunities. Hard choice either way.
There were some excellent characters in the book, and a very real plot but….overall its wasn’t a story I was gripped by. I’d guessed early on one big “secret”, and the way the killers tracked her seemed like something I’d have expected police to check. There were clues that seemed so unfathomable, and yet Barbara and Griffin found the meanings behind them so easily. Then there’s the way they were able to just walk up to someone’s home, and chip a brick out of the front in their search! They were spotted and had to run, but who does that, damages a strangers home in broad daylight? I’d have expected them to come prepared at night, when unlikely to be seen.
I just felt the problems were tough, but the way they found solutions just too slick, too easy.

Stars: Three, a well written story but one that didn’t work for me right now.

Arc via author

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