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One Christmas Star, Mandy Baggot

One Christmas Star, Mandy Baggot

One Christmas Star by [Baggot, Mandy]

Romance, Women’s Fiction

Bah, Humbug. Women’s Fiction – that infuriates me. Why do we insist on having such an outdated category?
Anyway, the book. I’ve enjoyed many of Mandy’s stories now, I know her writing style and my reading tastes generally mesh well so was keen to read this.

I loved Ray, in bad press and once more its media hype to get headlines, nothing like the truth. Its why I don’t buy newspapers any more, fed up of the lies and half truths they publish. Folk like poor him get their lives derailed in the pursuit of headlines. Rant over 😉
Ray has a lot going on in his personal life too, but somehow when he meets Emily, in the school shed, holding a hedgehog, overlooked by Emily’s year six pupils, he’s a goner. Life keeps on bringing them together somehow, and slowly more develops.
I loved Emily too, such a truly good person, adores her job teaching, and is a gem, one of those teachers who really tries to encourage her pupils, to set them on the right path, give them skills they need in life, and keep them doing the right thing. I just adored her class, a typical primary school mixed bunch, full of a mix of innocence and good ideas……and then of course there’s Jonah and Two LL’s 😉

Its a fun read, with some fairly deep emotion in parts, and a surprise in store over the allegations Ray faces from his ex. Its fiction, its entertainment, but this particular thread is true for many folk, and something too often glossed over. It was good to see it brought forward.
Can’t say more without spoiling, but you’ll know when you get to it, and maybe when you hear of something like this in real life you’ll be understanding, not do the usual reaction.

The play: well. Emily and Ray really knocked it out the park with that – it was fabulous, and I loved the songs, humming them to myself as I read.

Stars: Four, a great fun read, didn’t quite have the magic for me that some of Mandy’s books have had though, it took me a little while to appreciate the story, and warm to the characters.

Arc via Netgalley

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The Irish Princess, Her father’s only daughter. Her country’s only hope, Elizabeth Chadwick

The Irish Princess, Her father’s only daughter. Her country’s only hope, Elizabeth Chadwick

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Sometimes I just want to immerse myself in times past, and Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my “go to” authors. She can make me feel as if I’m there with the characters, living life like an unseen part of the cast.
I know only what I’ve read in fiction of this period in UK history. I hated history at school, shame it wasn’t taught this way, I’d have got far more from it. Plus it tended to be prehistoric times or the Tudor period and there’s so much more to read than those two eras.

Its a tough time to be alive, wars are constantly being fought over land and titles, a new king often means they’re removed and given to a favourite or bargained away for the king’s benefit. Into that scene comes Aoife, born a daughter of an Irish King, the traditionally weaker sex when kings wanted sons. Aoife is strong and soon carves her own place into her fathers heart, and does what she can to shape her own destiny. Tough, when ladies were married off at men’s whims, money, position, for political expediency. Fortunately the husband Diamait wants for her is Richard de Claire. Richard is a strong ally to have. One Diamait needs, with the men and arms he controls being a valuable asset much needed after recent losses. If Diamait is to secure his ambitions he needs them, but he’s wily and puts all sorts of constraints on the marriage to ensure he gets what he wants.
Back in England Henry ll has been helping the family ( at a cost of course, nothing ever comes for free in this time), exiled after losing their lands. Henry admires Aoife, and that time spent together forges a bond between then. Henry’s a King and always conscious of that he works ceaselessly to bolster his strength, courting men and always with an eye as to what benefits him and his heritage. He plays a tricky game in Diamait’s plans for Aoife and Richard. There’s never any real rest, the threat of wars are constant, and security is fleeting. Aoife grows up seeing that first hand, and determines that she may be a woman and ultimately not in charge of her own destiny, but she also has her own skills and she works hard using them to secure whatever she can for the benefit of herself and her family.

I loved Aoife, a strong lady, intelligent and able to plan for her family, something much needed in these times when life can change daily, when one can be landed gentry one day and have nothing the next. She shows just how ridiculous this notion of men as the only ones capable of planning, organising etc, and we see just how much work she’s doing in her clever way, to get what she wants but in such a way as the giver doesn’t realise its not their own idea. Its a dangerous path, but Aoife is determined to protect her family, and fortunately in Richard she has a husband who values her brain. It takes a strong man to have a successful, happy marriage with a woman like Aoife, but they each value the others intelligence, and the love and respect between them is deep.

There are so many great characters here, so many battles, times when its all changed by another loss or win, and we can see just how hard life was, not just for those at the lower end, but for those who rule too. They have problems too, different to those of the common people but harsh non the less.

There are many surprises in this story, a look at a period in UK history which was red with blood from never ending battles. I really enjoyed reading about the characters – must admit I skimmed the battle details, I wanted to see the result and what happens after, not the actual battle. That’s a personal issue, and for others those battle scenes are important. Its interesting reading the author notes about the story v what actually happened, how closely she has stuck to known facts whilst weaving an enthralling story.
Close to the end I was very emotional, things happened that were heartbreaking, but for the times all too common.
I really enjoyed Aoife’s machinations, her sharp brain always planning for the “what if” scenario. I loved Richard, a man loyal to his wife when few were at those times. What he and Aoife had was special, and I think something Henry envied. He may have been King, with sons, with land, riches, whatever woman he wanted ( though Aoife cleverly avoided getting caught in that trap) but he didn’t have the love, the closeness, the respect Aoife and Richard had for each other.

Stars: Five, a fascinating read, bringing life and reality to a period of history I know only vaguely from stilted texts until now.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

The Night You Left, Emma Curtis

The Night You Left, Emma Curtis

The Night You Left: The tense and shocking thriller that readers can’t put down by [Curtis, Emma]

Genre: Mystery and Thrillers, Women’s Fiction

Moan: women’s fiction – why alienate potential readers? Men write books enjoyed by women and men alike, and they read the same.
I was on the fence about this, I love books about missing people, makes me wonder what happened, why, what were they thinking etc but there were a few reviews that made it sound not my kind of read. Still, took the plunge and really enjoyed it.
Unusually for me the majority of the people in this were irredeemably awful, and usually I need to like the majority, though enjoy a few bad to the bone folk. The only one’s I liked ( apart from Lottie and Kai) were Nick and Grace.
The book flits from past to present, at varying times and occasionally I needed to backtrack to see just what time we were in. I felt for Nick as a teen, his parents even then were self obsessed. Taisie, typical kid in her actions and if any of the parenst had looked beyond what she wanted them to see they’d have put a stop to things. Fact is none of the parents were really bothered what the kids did so long as it didn’t interfere with their fun. Pretty rough, and of course had some terrible consequences, not just immediate but long term.
Where the story fell down for me was the timing, with everything from years back coming together over just a few days. there’s a saying that truth is stranger than fiction, so to a degree I can deal with what seems like just too much co-incidence but in this book there really was a bit more than I could believe in. Still, I wanted to see what happened to Nick, couldn’t believe he’d just walked out but that’s what it looked like and I wanted to know why, and if not, what had happened. Its actually something that happens very often in real life, people do just walk out, start another life, but I didn’t feel Nick would do that. He seemed to adore Grace and Lottie, and even when Grace began to find out the secrets he hid I still don’t feel he’d just walk out. As things come to a head more and more long held secrets come to light, bringing in some very real dangers.
Its a nicely paced story, letting things come to light slowly, and though I’d guessed some of the things that happened, there were others that came as a real surprise.

Stars: Four, a story that had me reading “just a bit more” needing to know what happened. I do feel some events stretched credulity too far and that’s what stopped the five rating.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

The Love Child, Rachel Hore

The Love Child, Rachel Hore

The Love Child by [Hore, Rachel]

Genre:Women’s Fiction

Moan: women’s fiction – why alienate potential readers? Men write books enjoyed by women and men alike, and they read the same.

Anyway, having enjoyed many of Rachel’s stories before I knew I’d love this. Its an intense read, very emotional at times, and shows just how much ladies struggled back in the early-mid twentieth century.

Alice is nursing in WW1, at time when no-one knew if they’d see tomorrow, and many seized the chances they had. She was nursing Jack, they fell in love and like many, intended to marry after the war. Sadly for Jack there was no After, and Alice was left pregnant and unmarried, a scandal in her – and most – family.
Shipped off by her stepmother she was made to have Stella adopted. After all, though ostensibly she had a choice, loved her baby, wanted to keep this small piece of Jack, at 19 with no parental support for that course of action, she wouldn’t have been able to make a life for the two of them. Hobson’s choice as they say.
Stella becomes Irene, adored by her dad but never quite feeling wanted in the family, when it was clear that her mum favored her biological child Clayton. Its a lonely childhood, kids can be cruel, and she finds respite with Tom and his mum, a village oddity too, as an artist and unmarried mother.
Fast forward to the future, Alice becomes a devoted doctor, married and has children, but all the while there’s the secret of Irene. Irene is grown, works in an art gallery, loves Tom but he’s oblivious, as men often are ;-). She finds things that make her question the story of her birth and starts to search for her mum, someone kept secret so far. As the stories of Alice and Irene begin to connect those secrets start to come to light.

Its a lovely story, ends well, though for a while I feared Alice was in for yet more heartbreak. Its ever the way, men are expected, encouraged even to “sow their oats” but women must remain chaste, and if caught, the blame lays unfairly on them.

Stars: Four, its a lovely story, very real feeling, had me emotional at times, feeling as if I was there back in time with the characters.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

Lie with me Philippe Besson

Lie With Me, Philippe Besson

Genre: LGBTQIA, Literary Fiction

When I started this I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, the description is pretty short on info, but its not a long read and something just drew me to it.
I thought for maybe the first 25% I’d made a mistake, I didn’t really like the way it read, mostly long monologues by the author interspersed with short snippets of dialogue between him and Thomas.
I struggle with that kind of read, for me dialogue telling the story works best, the show not tell approach, and yet as I continued I became engrossed in what was happening, worried for the boys, emotionally invested in the story. First Love is hard, and what they had and the need for secrecy made it harder.
I appreciated as I read more that actually this approach was the best way to tell the story and by the end I was in tears, its so incredibly sad.

I wasn’t – still aren’t – sure if this was really an autobiography, the book is dedicated to Thomas Andrieu, the name of Phillipe’s lover, and set in the village where he grew up. Someone on goodreads says its actually autofiction, short for autobiographical fiction, or fictional memoir. Apparently that’s very popular in french fiction.
If even a bit of it is true then what a sad tale, I’m so incredibly sorry for what the characters went through.

Whatever, its an amazing story, very moving and I’m so glad I did read it. Even if it made me cry at the end.
Its a story that could be mirrored today, but back in the 1980’s homosexuality was still very much hidden by far too many people, too scared to live their lives the way they wanted, and sometimes I’m not certain we’ve really progressed that much.
Though we like to think we are liberal minded just think of the furor when a footballer, or someone in another popular “mans” sport comes out. Think of the homophobic chants on the terraces, the people facing abuse every day. If you live in a small village or town think of how hard it is to be different, how just maybe its easier to live a lie, rather than face daily contempt and bigotry, possibly within ones own family….One day.
Anyway, I understood why there was all the secrecy but at the end all I could feel was how sad, the loss of potential happiness, the lives that could have been lived, the happiness Thomas and Phillipe could have had, and that’s kind of why it made me so choked, so sad. Just the waste of lives that never had a chance.

Stars: Five, despite my misgivings its an incredible read.

ARC via netgalley

We Met in December, Rosie Curtis

We Met in December, Rosie Curtis

We Met in December: The most romantic, uplifting book you’ll read this Christmas by [Curtis, Rosie]

Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Women’s Fiction – ah no, not again, why do we keep adding this outdated category. Who says men won’t read this? Men write romance, men read romance…..

So, this was a fun read, full of characters and situations that happen in real life. I felt I knew Jess and the gang, they were a typical mix of characters we see everywhere. With their own issues, their own preferences, doing different occupations. House sharing isn’t just the preserve of students, but how many people have to manage to afford to live where they want. Even so this house share is special, where they are all paying much below market rent, and house owner has chosen them all carefully.

I love the way Alex and Jess have a spark at that first meeting, but so felt for her when she came back to see Emma slipping out of Alex’ room in the early hours. Theirs is a strange relationship, no one other than Jess seems aware of it, and Alex spends lots of his free time out and around London with Jess.
I loved the descriptions of where they went, it made a huge part of the book enjoyable, I felt I was there with them. Alex confides in Jess about his part relationship, how close he got to marrying, and how he’s concentrating on his career, where he’s changed from lawyer to nursing.
I so wanted them to get together but for various reasons, despite the fact everyone can see they are so suited they seem to keep missing, and then there’s that old fear, do you risk a good friendship for a relationship that may not work out?
Its not a romance where the couple are together early on, and they story charts the development of the relationship, its more a story of a good friendship, where we’re rooting for one of them to take the plunge, where we can see they’d be perfect together, but where nothing actually develops for most of the novel.

Its a perfect summer read, for those days like yesterday when I read it, where its way too hot for reading anything intense, where what I wanted was an easy to read, relaxing, feelgood story.

Stars: Four, perfect beach or holiday read, one to relax with and enjoy.

ARC via netgalley

Versions of her. Andrea Lochen 

Versions of Her by [Lochen, Andrea]

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

I was intrigued by this, who wouldn’t want to find a portal to the past in their home? Of course there’s the danger of seeing and hearing things we really don’t want to see, so its kind of a mixed bag. The ethics too – is it really spying? Can it be compared to reading someones diary?

Melanie and Kelsey are sisters, but very different in nature from each other. On the surface Melanie is Mrs Successful, with her job, husband, and perfect home, but underneath she’s grieving a miscarriage after she and Ben have been struggling to become parents for a while. Kelsey knows none of this, just feels that Melanie is always critical of the way her life runs, her love life sucks, her job isn’t exactly going places and she feels fiercely that her life and Melanie’s are very different.

Then out of the blue Kelsey gets a call from Melanie about selling the lakeside home they inherited, now the tenants have moved out. They both visit the house, find it needs work, and Melanie decides to stay and oversee it, needing a break after the miscarriage, just wanting to get away from her lovely husband. She just can’t take his well meaning ideas any more…Emotions can be like that, we all take a loss, disappointments differently, and though she loves Ben and he loves her, they could so easily drift apart after their loss. It happens to many couples, the constant stress of timing, ovulation charts, sex at prescribed times, somehow among all that the love gets lost, and I feel that Ben sees that as potentially happening to them, and that’s why he wants a break of a few months before trying again. To Melanie though it feels like giving up, she feels a failure as a woman, and though of course we can see another side, when you’re in the thick of a problem its all you can see.

Kelsey loves her sister but they’re not exactly close, Melanie is more careful, measured in her actions, thinks things through, while Kelsey just blunders in regardless and that’s how she’s found herself in her early thirties trapped, no great career, no loving partner, its just her and Sprocket her rescue dog. And I loved Sprocket, he was a great addition to the story. Its little touches like that which make a story feel real.
Then Melanie finds the hidden door, and, well, at first its fun, but then it becomes such that they both want to see more and yet don’t always like what they see. It does make them think about their family, see themselves, from another angle, lets them see different sides to some problems, helps them cope with events they hadn’t realised had such an impact on their lives. Sometimes though secrets are just that for a reason, and there comes a time when the two are divided about what to do next.

Would I like to see into my past? See my mum again? Part of me says yes, but part of me knows it wouldn’t change the fact she’s long gone, and the person I’d be seeing isn’t the one I know as mum. Still, there are always two sides to a story and it would be interesting to see how she viewed certain events from my childhood, and perhaps know more about hers.

Its a fun read, interesting and made me think about what I would do in the same circumstances, ( I guess I’m overly curious, I’d have to take a peek at least). Kelsey and Melanie and the problems from past and present felt very real, and even knowing the doorway into the past can’t exist the story made me feel it was genuine, that I could believe in it. Its not a story I’d reread, but one I’m glad I did read, made me think about myself and my life too.

Stars: Three, a fun read, fantasy and yet believable fantasy, with some questions that made me wonder, what would I do?

ARC via author

The Long Way Home, Kate Sherwood

The Long Way Home, Kate Sherwood.

The Long Way Home: (sequel to Mark of Cain) by [Sherwood, Kate]

Genre: LBGTQIA, Romance

I’ve enjoyed several of Kate’s novels and loved the prequel to this one, The Mark of Cain, so was delighted to be offered this for review.

Sean is an incredibly bitter individual after the accident, which caused him to lose both legs. He was pretty awful before the accident, homophobic, angry, racist and one of those folk most people try to avoid. His best friend Luke ( from Mark of Cain) is in a relationship with Mark, an ex priest, and Sean finds that difficult to accept, but he has respect for Luke, one of the few people he listens to, and Luke knows how to handle Sean.

Sadly for Paul, he’s gay, he’s coloured and he has Sean as a patient. Sean is full of anger, full of bile, he hates what his life has become, dependent on others for so much and as he sees it, no future, he’s got nothing to live for. I’m an amputee, though thankfully only one leg, and I wasn’t like Sean pre-amputation. Still, that change from being independent, working full time, looking after my family to losing a whole leg, losing my job, being so dependent came as a shock, and like Sean I felt at times death was a welcome way out.
I remember the first night after the op being in tears because I couldn’t even do a simple thing like turning over in bed anymore, had to be helped. So even though Sean seems irredeemably awful I have a little sympathy for him. He should have a future of possibilities stretched out as he’s in his early twenties, and yet he feels he has nothing left to live for. When he’s as horrible as he was to Paul though even my sympathy was stretched.
Of course Kate seems to excel at making the most unlikely people fall in love, but this seemed one that I thought even she couldn’t do successfully. I was wrong 😉 somehow she brings out the best in Sean, doesn’t turn him overnight into a saint, but with the help of Paul and Luke he finds life is still worth living, that he hasn’t lost everything, and whilst learning that he finds another side of himself that he likes better.
He’s still angry, still lashes out without thinking at times, still misses a fight, but the good things in his life balance it. I was glad she didn’t change his basic nature, that wouldn’t have felt real, the Sean we get to know through the end of the book is still the same guy, but re-balanced, the best in him was there all along but hidden, now its the worst bits that are still there but hidden.
Then there’s Paul, a dutiful son, very much in the family mould, his only rebellion was his career, he just couldn’t face life in the family business, successful though it is, and he wanted to choose his own future. He’s in what his family see as a good relationship with Bobby, seems to have life set out for a happy future, but is feeling as though Bobby doesn’t really understand him, but his family are so happy about his rich, successful boyfriend and their relationship he’s not sure what to do, is it easier to just go with the flow?
And then there’s the kittens…..who are the catalyst (that was unintentional!) for a host of changes.

I really enjoyed this story, seeing how Sean came to terms with his loss, how Paul learned to stand up for what was important to him, and of course meeting Luke and Mark again, knowing that they have made a life together successfully, meeting Elise again and seeing her sanctuary still going well. And the kittens, stars of the show, I fell in love with them.
At the start I was pretty convinced Kate wasn’t going t have me believing in this love story, it seemed a step too far, and yet by the end I was convinced, what seemed an impossible challenge wasn’t.
I felt too that the feelings Sean had and the struggles he faced with life after amputation were so very real. I’ve been down the road, albeit I am fortunate in still having one leg, and Sean’s emotions and physical problems were ones I’ve also faced.
I can’t really pin down why this isn’t a five star read for me, could be my subconscious feelings over mine and Sean’s shared issues – though it was all written perfectly, there are still days when life is a struggle for me, and I think unconsciously that bias has affected how I feel over this story. One of those Its me not the story issues others won’t face but I do.

Stars: Four and a half, not quite as gripping as Kate’s other stories but a solid, engrossing read once more.

ARC via author

Flawless, Fearsome Series Book 4, S.A. Wolfe

Flawless, Fearsome Series Book 4, S.A. Wolfe

Flawless: (Fearsome Series Book 4) by [Wolfe, S. A.]

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance

Gah, women’s fiction: c’mon publishers, this category has no place in 2019. Men read romance, men write romance, stop trying to alienate a potential reader base.

So, the story appealed to me and I really admired Talia. Peyton was sex on legs too, and I should have been glued to the page but….I just wasn’t.
Its a long read, usually I’m all over that, really lets me get lost in a novel, gives time to get to know the characters but here, well, I just didn’t connect with the story.
I put it aside in case it was just my mood – that happens, but on second read it still wasn’t great for me. After the halfway mark I skim read the rest, just wanting to see how it finished rather than enjoying the journey through the story.
There are some terrific characters, I hadn’t read earlier stories but each are stand alone and I don’t think that had anything to do with me not really gelling with this book.

Its well written, has lots of detail, side plots, and characters feel very real. Somehow though for me it just lacked intensity, I’m all about the nasty characters, the angst, the drama, and though there were suggestions of it here for me it just wasn’t enough.

Stars: three, it was fun in parts, had some great characters but overall it wasn’t a great read for me.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers

Discretion, The Dumonts Book 1, Karina Halle

Discretion, The Dumonts Book 1, Karina Halle

Discretion (The Dumonts Book 1) by [Halle, Karina]

Genre: romance, general fiction (adult)

Karina is one of my must-read authors, ever since I stumbled upon the wonderful experiment in terror series, and then of course her contemporary romances. Lately though, I seem to be on a different wavelength, I started but abandoned Maverick, and if this hadn’t been a review book I’d have done the same.

I wasn’t convinced in the insta-love Olivier had for Sadie, though its the kind of start I usually love. Then there’s the way she throws all caution to the wind and stays with him. Would you? I know some folk would, I just didn’t get that vibe from Sadie though, that she’d risk all on a stranger. Gorgeous, seems kind and filthy rich but a stranger non-the-less.
Throw in Olivier’s family, the sort of nasty characters I usually adore, and this should have been perfect for me. I just didn’t really understand why his mistake, his big secret, still affected him so much. Its played that letting it out would hurt his father and his sister, but his actions in abandoning that side of the family business seem to be hurting them more. Plus, he’s rolling in cash, folk like that are usually rolling in lawyers too 😉 and I’m sure one of them could have found a way out of the Big Secret. Frankly, I didn’t think it was something that would particularly shock his family anyway….Throw in that towards the end the drama, the secrets, the whole story line goes a bit OTT, and this just wasn’t a book for me.

The romance between Olivier and Sadie does wrap up, sort of, though it takes til nearly the end. However I still didn’t really think the dangers had gone, it was a bit call-my-bluff, OK bluff-called, but the threats and risks were still there IMO, folk like his family don’t just give up.
I guess that’s for the later books, I’m not sure if the next book(s) detail more of their story, or go on to another family member. I don’t like the kind of ambiguous ending of this one, so think there’s more to come from them, but I could be wrong and their story finished.

Stars: Two and a half, there were bits I enjoyed, Karina’s writing style works well for me but this book seemed a little OTT and choppy somehow. Much depends I guess on the next book, that may make me feel differently about this one, depending on what it contains.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

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