Thursday 28 September 2017

Lily Poole - Jack O'Donnell

Everything about John is off-kilter.

He’s sixteen now, out of school and out of work. It’s the early 1970s: shipyards in Clydebank are no longer hiring and a long stretch on the dole is imminent. But on a day when the town is covered by a deluge of snow, his life is changed by an act of kindness: he helps a wee girl, Lily, get to school on time.

She waits for him to meet her outside the school gates every day, but he seems to be the only one who can see her. This provokes a backlash that ripples out from concerned mothers at school to the parish priest of St Stephen’s and invites institutional responses that involve the police and psychiatric care.

The unspoken hope is that John can be ‘cured’ of what has seduced him. But Lily has bled into other parts of John’s family life, in a novel which is an exploration of the physical and the psychological, of spiritual crises and the occult.

Dark, haunting, and told by alternating narrators, Lily Poole disrupts your assumptions about mental health and who can be trusted when the truth becomes threadbare.

What did I think?

I've really struggled to review Lily Poole; not because I didn't like it, but because I'm not really sure what I've read...and perhaps that is the whole point.  With mental health being the underlying theme, you're never sure what version of reality you're being shown and I was really impressed with Jack O'Donnell's ability to create this purposeful confusion in his debut novel.

The 1970's in Scotland pretty much mirrors the same era in the North East of England as the lifeblood of the region is slowly dying with the imminent closure of the shipyards, leaving men out of work and school leavers with no job prospects.  This is exactly the case for the main character, John, who is at a loose end and has no purpose in life until he notices a young girl, Lily, clinging to the railings afraid to cross the icy road to school.  John befriends Lily and makes sure that he is there every day to see her safely across the road to school, but the mums taking their children to school report John for hanging around the school and watching the children.  John is confused as he is simply helping Lily, and can't understand why the mothers and the police can't see that...but that's because only John can see Lily.  

There seemed to be several different versions of John: the almost child-like innocent John who trudged through the snow to help an invisible girl to school and the volatile teenager whose family are not sure what he is capable of.  This wasn't a book I raced through as it was very dark in places but equally tender in others.  Jack O'Donnell is definitely one to watch out for as he has an amazingly divergent writing style: so dark and vivid, yet so tender and dreamlike.  An impressive debut novel.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Wednesday 27 September 2017

BLOG TOUR: My Mother's Shadow - Nikola Scott

Hartland House has always been a faithful keeper of secrets...

1958. Sent to beautiful Hartland to be sheltered from her mother's illness, Liz spends the summer with the wealthy Shaw family. They treat Liz as one of their own, but their influence could be dangerous...

Now. Addie believes she knows everything about her mother Elizabeth and their difficult relationship until her recent death. When a stranger appears claiming to be Addie's sister, she is stunned. Is everything she's been told about her early life a lie?

How can you find the truth about the past if the one person who could tell you is gone? Addie must go back to that golden summer her mother never spoke of...and the one night that changed a young girl's life for ever.

What did I think?

In her debut novel, My Mother's Shadow, Nikola Scott uses the tried and tested dual timeline to draw readers into the story and it works a treat.  With secrets to uncover, the pages turn effortlessly as we learn the story of Elizabeth Holloway through her diary excerpts.  Her eldest daughter, Addie, never felt as if she was good enough for her mother and her mother's death a year prior means that Addie can never get answers to the questions that still float around in her head.

As the Harrington family gather to remember Elizabeth on the first anniversary of her death, they are disturbed by a stranger at the door. A stranger, Phoebe Roberts, who claims to be Elizabeth's daughter and she has the same date of birth as Addie.  When Addie finally accepts that Phoebe is telling the truth, the newly reconnected sisters try to understand why Elizabeth kept one twin and gave away the other.  Only by understanding what happened in the past, can Addie make sense of the strained relationship she had with her mother, and find the answers that she craves.

My Mother's Shadow is quite an emotional read; 1958 doesn't seem that long ago but it felt like the dark ages when I was reading this book.  It just shows how very far we've come in the treatment of women and it also reminds us all that there are two sides to every story.  I had a lump in my throat as Elizabeth's story was revealed piece by piece and my feelings towards her changed at the same time.  I couldn't understand how Elizabeth treated Addie different to her younger siblings, Venetia and Jas, although she probably didn't even realise she was doing it.  There was no doubt that Elizabeth loved Addie but Addie always got the impression that she disappointed her and she wasn't good we know why.

I loved how Addie jumped to conclusions, the same conclusions as I did, when Phoebe turned up but it transpired to be so very wrong. It's human nature to make such assumptions but if only we would gather all the facts beforehand we could save ourselves some heartache. The family theme is strong in My Mother's Shadow, both past and present, and it kept the story rolling along at just the right pace.

My Mother's Shadow is an emotional story about unearthing well-buried family secrets and how we like to keep things hidden but sometimes a problem shared is a problem halved.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

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Tuesday 26 September 2017

Spanish Crossings - John Simmons

Spanish Crossings is an epic tale of love, politics and conflict, with the yearning but elusive possibility of redemption.

A woman's life has been cast in shadow by her connection to the Spanish Civil War. We meet Lorna in Spain, 1937 as she falls in love with Harry, a member of the International Brigade who had been at Guernica when it was bombed.  Harry is then killed in the fighting and Lorna fears she might have lost her best chance of happiness. Can she fill the void created by Harry's death by helping the child refugees of the conflict? She finds a particular connection to one boy, Pepe, and as he grows up below the radar of the authorities in England their lives become increasingly intertwined. But can Lorna rely on Pepe as he remains deeply pulled towards the homeland and family that have been placed beyond his reach?

Coming through the war, then the post-war rebuilding, Lorna and Pepe's relationship will be tested by their tragic and emotive history.

What did I think?

I have come to the conclusion that John Simmons is a natural storyteller; his books are intricate and meaningful and he continues to amaze me with his latest novel, Spanish Crossings.  His previous novel, Leaves, was one of the first books I reviewed when I first started my blog in 2015 and I consider it to be among my favourite books of the 21st Century.  Spanish Crossings is completely different to Leaves, in that it is based on real events: The Spanish Civil War, however, John Simmons has woven a beautiful and intricate story around this true event.  

When Lorna met Harry it was love at first sight but, before their life together even begins, Harry is cruelly taken away from Lorna when he is killed fighting in Spain for what he believes in.  When England takes in Spanish child refugees, Lorna sponsors a child, Pepe, and she is able to channel her grief for Harry into love for Pepe.  Even from a young age and many miles from home, Pepe has strong political beliefs and he and Lorna seem well matched.

When Lorna and Pepe naturally fell in love, I felt that Pepe changed.  He became secretive, suspicious and jealous and my feelings towards him changed.  I was disappointed in Lorna for not standing up to him, then I remembered that this was pre-war England and men ruled the roost.  When Lorna has their son, Jimmy, to think of she does get a bit tougher and makes a difficult decision that she will have to live with for the rest of her life.

There's something so very special about John Simmons' writing.  Take the passage about the doodlebug attack in London: I had goosebumps, it was so vivid that I could smell smoke in my nose and had a ringing in my ears as the dust settled.  It must have been terrifying and for John Simmons to portray that terror through his writing is no mean feat.  As greedy as I am for books, I don't want John Simmons to churn out a book every year; quality such as this is definitely worth waiting for.

Based on real events, Spanish Crossings, is a wonderful historical novel that both educated and delighted me.  A recommended read.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Monday 25 September 2017

BLOG TOUR: The Woolly Hat Knitting Club - Poppy Dolan

Finding happiness one stitch at a time

When Dee Blackthorn’s brother, JP, breaks both wrists not only is he in need of a helping hand – or two – but the knitting shop he owns can’t function. Sisterly duties take Dee away from her demanding job and she is unceremoniously fired amidst rumours of inappropriate behaviour. Dee is certain that her hot-shot nemesis, Ben, is behind it all but has no proof.

When Dee bumps into an old friend who is new mum to a premature baby she convinces JP to enlist his knitting pals to make lots of tiny woolly hats. Then Ben turns up denying involvement in Dee’s sacking and she ropes him into helping the knitting cause. 

But before long Dee’s good intentions backfire and she risks losing her friends, her family and Ben, who’s turned out to be not so bad after all…

What did I think?

I do have an affinity for knitting and I certainly don't get my needles out often enough, but I was drawn to The Woolly Hat Knitting Club like a granny to a woolshop.  I expected it to be a bit of a chicklit book, with a bit of knitting in it, so I was really surprised to find myself taking note of some life lessons along the way.  I love a book that gives me something to think about at the end, and I think it's rather apt that I am starting a new job on the day that I am releasing my review of The Woolly Hat Knitting Club for the blog tour.  You will see why if you read on...

Delilah and her brother, Julian, (Dee and JP to their friends) co-own a haberdashery in the picturesque village of Fenwild.  Not one to be sexist, but you would expect Dee to be the knitting enthusiast but instead it is her brother JP.  JP has made quite a name for himself on social media as About a (Knitting) Boy so he is distraught when he breaks both his wrists and has to call on his sister for help.  Luckily for JP, Dee has just been fired from her high-powered job in the city so she is around to help out...or take over and PR the hell out of his knitting business, more like!  When she's not seething about her arch-rival, Ben, who she thinks got her fired, Dee is trying to secure investment in JP's business...but is that what JP wants or is it all that Dee knows?

When Dee runs into an old friend, Becky, in the local supermarket a new business plan is born.  Becky has just prematurely given birth to her son, Chester, but she hasn't even been able to hold him yet, never mind find clothes to fit him.  Although JP is unable to knit in his current predicament, Dee asks him to give a shout out to his followers to knit tiny baby hats and they are overwhelmed by the response. The idea snowballs into a knitathon and JP really gets to see who his friends are...with Dee finally seeing that there's more to life than work.

What a thought-provoking story this was, both about paying it forward by being charitable and about the work/life balance.  I've heard all the 'work to live not live to work' sayings many times and at the beginning I really didn't see what was wrong with Dee throwing herself into her work 24/7 - after all that's all she had.  EXACTLY!!!  That's all she had but she could have so much more!  Family, friends and love are all waiting to be plucked from the tree of life but you have to take a walk into the forest to see this as you can't see it from your desk at work.  As soon as Dee felt the warm glow of happiness, I had a bit of an epiphany and saw where I had been going wrong for the last however many years.  So like I say, I expected to settle down to some warm glow hot chocolate sipping chicklit but got a lot more out of The Woolly Hat Knitting Club than I expected.

The Woolly Hat Knitting Club ticked all the boxes for me with family and friendship playing a huge part, but also thinking of others as well as yourself.  There really is something extra special about giving a gift you have made yourself as there's a little bit of love and happiness woven into the item along with every stitch.  The Woolly Hat Knitting Club is what I would call an onion book; it has so many layers and it's a delight to see them being peeled away to reveal a shiny new core or whatever an onion has in its middle.  Maybe an onion doesn't have a kernel, but there's definitely a kernel of wisdom in this book should you choose to see it.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.  I am releasing my review as part of the blog tour.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

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Thursday 21 September 2017

COVER REVEAL: Only One Woman - Christina Jones & Jane Risdon

I am thrilled to be able to reveal the swinging 60's inspired cover for Only One Woman by Christina Jones and Jane Risdon.  As you may already know, Christina Jones has written many fabulous books but this is Jane Risdon's debut.

The paperback is published on 24 May 2018 but if you can't wait until then, the ebook comes out on 23 November 2017 accompanied by a blog tour.'s the cover!

About the book

Two women, one love story. 

June 1968.  Renza falls head over heels for heartthrob guitarist Scott.  But after a romantic summer together they are torn apart when Renza's family moves away.

December 1968.  On the night she believes to be her last, Stella meets Scott at a local dance.  He's the most beautiful boy she's ever seen and if this one night is all they have, she'll take it.

As the final colourful year of the sixties dawns, the question is: can there be only one woman for Scott?

You can preorder from Amazon now by clicking here.

Follow both authors and publisher, Accent Press on Twitter to keep up to date with news:
Christina Jones @bucolicfrolics
Jane Risdon @Jane_Risdon
Accent Press @AccentPress

The Doll House - Phoebe Morgan

You never know who’s watching…
Corinne’s life might look perfect on the outside, but after three failed IVF attempts it’s her last chance to have a baby. And when she finds a tiny part of a doll house outside her flat, it feels as if it’s a sign.
But as more pieces begin to turn up, Corinne realises that they are far too familiar. Someone knows about the miniature rocking horse and the little doll with its red velvet dress. Someone has been inside her house…
How does the stranger know so much about her life? How long have they been watching? And what are they waiting for…?

What did I think?

Yikes!  What a total creep-fest.  When I was younger, I used to really dislike people watching me.  Not that I was ever interesting enough to look at, but I just didn't like the idea of someone watching me eat, drink or read when I was completely unaware.  So the strapline of The Doll House attracted my attention immediately as you really don't know who's watching you.

Corinne and Ashley are sisters who are both grieving for their father and struggling with troubles of their own.  Corinne is desperate for a baby whereas Ashley has 3 children and, although she loves Ashley's children, it's getting harder for Corinne to cope being around them. Corinne is naturally very fragile and her partner, Dominic, is a reporter so he never seems to be around to support her.  When Corinne finds a piece of a doll house at her front door, she doesn't feel threatened...but she should.  As more pieces start to arrive: at her work and inside her home, the already fragile Corinne feels as if she's falling apart...and that puts her just where her tormentor wants her.

I literally couldn't put it down, so I read The Doll House in a day as I was immediately drawn into the web of intrigue that Phoebe Morgan has created.  Seriously?  Is this a debut?  I had to double check as it is such a top quality psychological thriller.  There is so much tension is all relationships that I suspected everyone of tormenting Corinne.  After all who would have access to the old doll house?  We are also shown glimpses into a story from the past, but whose story is it? 

I read most of The Doll House covered in goosebumps and if that's not a sure sign of a five star book, I don't know what is!  A highly recommended read - it will definitely get under your skin, play with your mind and creep you out.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Undercurrent - J.A. Baker

Phoebe and her disabled husband, Martyn, move into a new house in a village on the edge of County Durham. They plan to lead a quiet existence, a set up that suits them both.

Then Anna, who lives over the road and is bored of spending her days alone, seeks friendship with Phoebe and events take a dark turn.

Phoebe has secrets and is haunted by her past and Anna’s arrival in her life may prove to be the catalyst for her undoing.

What is Phoebe hiding and why are she and her husband so reclusive?

When Anna gets caught in a storm and is rescued by Phoebe the truth becomes apparent and Anna is thrown into danger.

Is there a difference between madness and evil?

Some friendships can be murder.

What did I think?

Crikey!  What a scorching debut from J.A. Baker.  I saw lots of excitement on social media about Undercurrent on its release, so I didn't think twice about buying a copy for myself, although it is the curse of the blogger that books you buy tend to sit on your TBR pile a lot longer than they should.  So I finally got round to picking up Undercurrent and couldn't put it down!  I positively whizzed through it and loved every minute of it.

The prologue is one of those where you are shown a glimpse of the ending so you race through the rest of the book to find out what events led here.  A woman is found stumbling beaten and bloody through the streets of York with no idea how she got there.  Who is she and what happened to her?  The story then starts with Phoebe and her disabled husband, Martyn, moving into their new home in a small village in County Durham.  Their new home sounds perfect, apart from the public right of way running alongside the river and right through their garden.  With Martyn's volatile moods (due to his medication) and strangers crossing their path, I had the terrible feeling that anything could happen.

With it being a small village, one of the neighbours, Anna, tries to befriend Phoebe but doesn't get the welcome she expected.  Phoebe seems very on edge and unfriendly but what Anna doesn't know is that she bears a striking resemblance to Phoebe's sister, Suzie, who drowned when she was a child.  Despite the shaky start, Anna and Phoebe strike up a tentative friendship but then Anna goes missing...and she's not the first local woman to go missing whilst walking along the banks of the river.  Has the river claimed yet another victim?

For quite a short book at 262 pages, Undercurrent sure packs a big punch with plenty of surprises in store.  It's packed with tension and intrigue from start to finish as the icy tendrils of the river reach out to claim its victims.  Looking back on it now, I really felt as if I could see inside the minds of some of the characters and it was a bit like going down the rabbit hole - we're all mad here!  When madness meets obsession, the result can be deadly.

Don't wait as long as I did to read Undercurrent; if you have it in your TBR, bump it up the queue and if you don't have it in your queue, make sure you buy a copy - you really won't regret it.  I can't wait for J.A. Baker's second novel, Her Dark Retreat, and I know for sure that it won't be hanging around in my TBR too long!

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Sunday 17 September 2017

The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club: Part One: Diving In - Katie May

'Warm, wise and funny' Rachael Lucas. 
Part One of a brand new summery story about sea, sunshine and second chances
In the gorgeous seaside town of Whitstable, brokenhearted Deb begins to swim each day and gathers a new group of friends around her. But can the magic of sea heal the hurt of the past? Or will family ties drag her underwater again?
A heart-warming, funny and poignant story of romance, friendship and second chances. It's also a song to the author's home town of Whitstable, where the sea is smooth, the shingle is painful on bare feet, and the air is full of possibilities.

What did I think?

Although I would never even consider dipping my toe in the freezing North Sea, it was lovely to take a trip to Whitstable courtesy of Katie May.  Whitstable is a real place on the North coast of Kent and you can read more here about places to see in Whitstable in the guest post that Katie May wrote for my stop on the blog tour.  

Deb has just split up with her husband, Derek, after she stopped turning a blind eye to his drinking and affairs.  Deb finds herself looking forward to the twice daily high tide so she can forget her troubles and go for a swim in the sea.  For a while, she has the beach to herself then one day she notices that she has company in the form of ex-corporate lawyer and recent divorcee, Maisie.  Due to their shared love of swimming, the pair strike up an unlikely friendship as they both come from different worlds: Deb is struggling to make ends meet living in a pokey bedsit and Maisie is affluent enough to be able to start again with a dozen new everything.  When a few more people start visiting the beach at high tide, The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club is born, but the new club has barely got off the ground when developers threaten to move in.

The town of Whitstable is almost a character in itself; it sounds so quaint and picturesque, and Katie May's love for her home town is very apparent.  I loved the blossoming friendship between Deb and Maisie, both women are in their 50's and find themselves having to embrace single life again with Deb doing a bit more of the embracing (and good for her)!  I also thought the storyline about the developers was excellent - developers always seem so cold and callous as they bulldoze their way in and change our beautiful landscape.  Having something to fight for brought the members of the swimming club closer together and I actually felt as if I was an honorary member of the club by reading along as events were unfolding.

This is only part one, so I am delighted that Katie May has more visits to Whitstable planned for us readers.  I think we have only scratched the surface of some of the characters and I'm really looking forward to reading more about them.  With some laugh out loud moments and some serious issues, The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club: Part One: Diving In is a super start to a series set in a beautiful location and filled with colourful characters we can all relate to.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Saturday 16 September 2017

Cold Feet: The Lost Years - Carmel Harrington

All the love. All the drama. All you missed.


Reeling from the sudden death of Rachel, his beloved wife, Adam has no time to grieve. He has to keep going, for the sake of their baby son.

Jenny moves back in with ex-husband Pete, eight and a half months pregnant with another man's child. Can their relationship overcome past jealousies?

Karen and David agree to an amicable divorce - but that's before he sleeps with the divorce lawyer . . .

THE LOST YEARS reveals what happened to your favourite characters between series five and six of the award-winning TV series written by Mike Bullen. It's an irresistible chance to catch up on all the laughter, the tears, the life lessons we missed while they were gone.

What did I think?

Oh my goodness, this book is AMAZING!  Cold Feet fans, stop reading right now and click here to buy your very own copy of this fabulous book!  You probably don't have to be a fan of the TV show to enjoy this book, but who hasn't watched Cold Feet?  I don't think I will ever recover from THAT episode and just thinking of it now brings tears to my eyes.  Carmel Harrington is clearly a huge fan of Cold Feet as she has written the book that every Cold Feet fan has been waiting for - what happened in the thirteen years between the traumatic end of series 5 and the start of series 6?

We join Adam and his baby son, Matthew, as they are trying to remember to breathe after the death of the love of their life, Rachel.  I was crying from the very first page, just remembering losing Rachel as if it was yesterday, and as if I knew her - yes, I know it's fictional TV, but it still brings raw emotion to the surface over a decade later.  I suppose because it is based on TV, you can hear the characters talking to you, but it is also due to the talented writing of Carmel Harrington that enables us to get so very much under the skin of each character. Carmel Harrington is clearly a huge Cold Feet fan, but also a super-talented writer, to be able to tap into their personas so brilliantly.

All of our favourite characters are here and I felt as if I knew them even better than before after reading Cold Feet The Lost Years.  I found myself watching series 7 and knowing, before it became clear, how a certain character was feeling.  Rachel is clearly a huge gap to fill but she is remembered in every chapter as we join Adam & Matthew, Jenny & Pete and Karen & David on their life journey.

You really don't want to miss this one, Cold Feet fans!  Cold Feet is a timeless series that I could watch over and over again, which is why Cold Feet The Lost Years is also a book to read over and over again!  It's not so much a series companion as a series enhancing book, and I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone!  This is one book that definitely gets under your skin without you even having to think about placing a rose between your naked bum cheeks!  ♫ I've Got You Under My Skin ♬

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Friday 15 September 2017

BLOG TOUR: The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club: Part One: Diving In - Katie May

Now that we're taking our first tentative steps into Autumn, we can hold on to a little bit of Summer by visiting Whitstable with pretty coloured beach huts and crystal clear seas.  As part of the Blog Tour for The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club: Part One: Diving In I have a guest post for you today about the real places you can find in Whitstable and tips if you fancy trying a bit of sea swimming, although I haven't so much as dipped my toe in the icy North Sea for many years.

The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club on location

Inspired to visit Whitstable after reading the book? Here are five places you may recognise in real life.

1. West Beach
First things first: West Beach – and its lovely row of beach huts – is as glorious as it sounds in the book. Head west along the coast from the town centre, go past the sea-front houses, and you’ll come to it: quiet, beautiful, and covered in wild flowers from spring to autumn. Not everyone loves shingle beaches, but it’s easily solved with a pair of sea shoes and it sure keeps the sand out of your picnic. Don’t forget to check the tide tables if you want to swim like Maisie and Deb. When the tide’s out, you’ll be lucky if you can get more than ankle-deep.

2. The Neptune
Sitting directly on the beach, The Neppy is a Whitstable institution, beloved of locals and visitors alike. With its white weatherboard exterior and picnic sets outside, it’s a magnet for summer drinkers, but it’s cosy in the winter, too, when sea-storms lash against the windows. If the crowds get too much for you, seek out some of Whitstable’s wonderful backstreet pubs, like the New Inn or the Smack. True locals drink in the Yacht Club, but you have to be a member.

3. The Windy Corner Stores & Café
Set on a residential street not far from West Beach, the Windy Stores is the café you always dream of finding: great coffee, art on the walls, and the world’s most perfect mushrooms on toast for breakfast. Whenever you turn up, it’s always full of people tapping on laptops, giggling with friends over coffee or indulging in a slice of carrot cake while their kids queue for sweets. Whitstable is awash with wonderful cafés, from the classic Tea & Times to the new-fangled Blueprint Coffee and Whitstable Produce Store, and this book was written in most of them!

4. The Harbour
Whitstable has a way of reminding you that it’s still a working fishing town. You only need to take a stroll into the harbour to see all the fishing boats lined up, and to buy shellfish – including the famous oysters – from the black sheds on the quay. Many tourists leave out the looming towers of the aggregates plant from their holiday snaps, but for me, this is part of what makes Whitstable so special: the collision of longstanding industry with arty ‘down from London’ culture. There’s now a permanent market on the harbour where you can buy anything from bric-a-brac to sushi, as well as crabbing nets to dangle off the end of West Quay. Take a tip from a local: to catch the big ones, you’ll need to use bacon as bait.

5. Trendy gin bars
Okay, I invented the pop-up gin bar where Julie gives Deb some unwanted career advice, but Whitstable’s drinking scene is getting an awful lot cooler, and unlike Deb, I think this is a great thing. If I had to call a favourite, it would have to be the Twelve Taps with its magnificent range of gins (sorry, Deb), craft beer and prosecco on tap. But I’m also deeply fond of goth micropub The Black Dog, the chic little bar attached to the David Brown Deli for a superb wine list, and, over in Tankerton, the wonderful Jo Jos at the top of the Slopes. Wherever takes your fancy, you’ll always be able to spot the locals: we’re the ones in striped shirts with wind-blown hair. To blend in, you’d better dress down.  

Five tips for wild swimmers

Inspired to take up sea-swimming after reading The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club? Here are some tips for getting started.

1. Know your beach
Every beach is different. Spend some time paddling first, and get a feel for how the sea is behaving. Is the tide coming in, or going out? Are there any rocks to avoid, or shelves where the waves break suddenly? If it’s a monitored beach, find the safe swimming area marked by red and yellow flags, and ask the lifeguard about any tides or currents you should take into consideration. Don’t be afraid to ask local swimmers for advice.

2. Assess your ability
Put simply, it’s harder to swim in the sea than in a pool. If you’re a weak swimmer, spend some time in the local baths first, developing your strokes and building up strength and distance. You could even work with a coach or take adult lessons to build confidence.

3. Bring the right kit
Whether you’re a bikini swimmer like Deb, or a wetsuit swimmer like Maisie, will be a matter of preference - and the time of year you plan to swim. But it’s worth making sure you have everything you need before you get in the water. Here’s a checklist:
  • Swimming shoes if the beach is stony
  • Goggles if you plan to put your face underwater
  • A neoprene glasses retainer if, like me, you’re lost without your specs
  • A light towel to dry off – I’m devoted to cloth hammam towels
  • Waterproof sun cream
  • A bottle of water to rehydrate
  • I hate to say it, but a bright bathing cap like Maisie’s really can help you to stay visible.
4. Acclimatise
The best way to get used to cold seawater is to start swimming in the summer, and then keep going into autumn as the sea gradually cools. Winter is up to you. If you don’t have this option, it’s sensible to cool down gradually rather than shocking your body. If I’m swimming in cold weather, I stand on the beach in my cossie for a few minutes before getting in. Get into the water slowly, and stay shallow so that you can get out quickly if you need to. Have warm clothing ready for when you get out, even if it’s the summer. A cup of tea helps if you get really chilly.

5. Safety first
Sea-swimming is one of the great pleasures of my life, and it gives me an instant hit of happiness. However, I know my limits and carefully assess the sea every time I swim. If I’m in any doubt about safety, I don’t go in; it’s as simple as that. You can read up on basic survival techniques on the RNLI’s excellent website, There are also some useful (and inspiring) articles for beginners on the Outdoor Swimming Society’s website: go to and select ‘survive’ in the top menu.

Follow the tour:

Thursday 14 September 2017

What Was Left - Various, edited by Amanda Saint and Jane Elmor

A past that comes back to haunt a woman when she feels she has no future. A man with no mind of his own living a life of clichés. A teenage girl band that maybe never was. A dying millionaire’s bizarre tasks for the family hoping to get his money. A granddaughter losing the grandfather she loves. A list of things about Abraham Lincoln that reveal both sadness and ambition for a modern day schoolgirl. 

These stories and more make up this anthology from the winning and shortlisted writers in the 2016 Retreat West Short Story Prize and Flash Fiction Prize. From moving and poignant, to creepy and laugh out loud funny, these stories showcase the talented voices writing short fiction today.

What did I think?

What a fabulous collection of short stories.  I don't read a lot of short stories as sometimes I find that they feel incomplete; just when they start to get going the end appears all too suddenly.  This collection has shown me another side to short story writing as clearly if the quality is there, a story can be both compact and complete.

There are some amazing stories in this anthology; I was completely blown away by the first story, which is also the title of the anthology: What Was Left by Joanna Campbell.  To start a collection with a story of this calibre had my heart racing in anticipation of what was to come next, as this story wasn't even the winner of the Retreat West competition!  The variety is astounding, in contrast to this first poignant tale is the hilarious Honeysuckle Happiness Hospice by Ian Tucker that is simply a collection of email correspondence and the deserving winner that gave me goosebumps, On Crosby Beach by Judith Wilson.

I could go on and write about some of the other stories, and I'm sorry to have only selected a few, but I think this is a collection from which everyone will pick a different favourite.  I read the whole collection so fast that I wouldn't be surprised if I see something new and choose new favourites when I re-read it.  From heart-achingly poignant to laugh out loud craziness and, with more variety than Heinz, there really is something for everyone in this cracking collection.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Retreat West was founded by novelist and short story writer, Amanda Saint, in 2012.  You can find out more about Retreat West by visiting the website 

Wednesday 13 September 2017

BLOG TOUR: Too Damn Nice - Kathryn Freeman

I love Kathryn Freeman's books so I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for her new novel, Too Damn Nice.  I am releasing my review for my stop on the tour and there is also a fabulous giveaway where you can win a signed copy of Kathryn's previous novel, Before You.  As a big F1 (and Jenson Button) fan I absolutely LOVED Before You and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, and you definitely don't need to be a motor racing fan to enjoy it.  You can read my review of Before You here but do make sure that you come back to enter the giveaway at the end of my post - you don't want to miss this one!

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: 1st August 2017
Publisher: Choc Lit

Nice guys don't kiss like that ...

Do nice guys stand a chance? 

Lizzie Donavue went from being the sister of his best friend to the girl Nick Templeton most wants to kiss. On her birthday, he finally summons up the courage to make his move. But it looks like Nick’s missed his chance when he discovers that Lizzie has been offered a modelling contract, which will take her away to the glamorous fashion scenes of New York and Los Angeles.

Nick is forced to watch from the sidelines as the gawky teenager he knew is transformed into Elizabeth Donavue: top model and ultimate English rose pin-up, forever caught in a whirlwind of celebrity parties with the next up-and-coming Hollywood bad boy by her side. 

But then Lizzie’s star-studded life comes crashing down around her, and a guy like Nick could be just what she needs. Will she take a chance on him? Or is he just too damn nice?

What did I think?

I do love Kathryn Freeman's books, they are so easy to read with characters that you can both identify with and care about.  Nobody can ever be sure of what someone else is thinking and Kathryn Freeman has absolutely nailed the insecurities and misunderstandings that surround fledgling relationships in her new novel, Too Damn Nice.

Nick Templeton has been in love with Lizzie Donavue for as long as he can remember, but she is the sister of his best friend, Robert, and Nick is like a member of the Donavue family himself.  Nick has kept his feelings well buried but, on the day of her 18th birthday, Nick plans to tell Lizzie how he feels about her.  He is beaten to the punch by an announcement that Lizzie has secured a modelling contract and she is going to New York to make all her dreams come true.

Lizzie becomes a successful model and it looks like all her dreams have indeed come true but then her world comes crashing down.  Nick is on the first flight over to pick up the pieces but they are both so afraid of letting their feelings show and ruining their long-standing friendship.  As the pair struggle with their attraction to each other, Nick feels like he is taking advantage of Lizzie in her weakened state, and Lizzie thinks that Nick doesn't look at her as anything other than Robert's little sister.  Both of them are trying to guess what the other is thinking and naturally, they are both ultimately assuming the wrong thing.

Despite her high flying modelling career, Lizzie is quite insecure and doesn't think she is worthy of anyone as 'nice' as Nick.  Nick doesn't think he is good enough for someone as stunning as Lizzie to even look twice at.  It is clear that they are both meant for each other and, although I wanted to bang their heads together and tell them to get on with it, they need to work that out for themselves and be honest about their feelings.  It was sobering to see that someone as beautiful as Lizzie struggled with the same insecurities as every other girl. It's so hard to open your heart and tell someone your feelings: the fear of your heart being broken always seems to win but the reward is limitless if the other person feels the same way.

Too Damn Nice is a book filled with love, laughter, tears and misunderstandings.  It reminds us that, although we may look different on the outside, we are ultimately all the same underneath.  I love books that make me think about things like this - it just goes to prove that Kathryn Freeman doesn't write superficial chicklit, it's as deep and thought-provoking as you want it to be.  I'll leave you with one final thought: although it sounds like such a bland word, there's nothing wrong with being 'nice', because when you consider the opposite is 'nasty', I know which one I'd rather be.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Choc Lit -

About the author:

A former pharmacist, I’m now a medical writer who also writes romance. Some days a racing heart is a medical condition, others it’s the reaction to a hunky hero.
With two teenage boys and a husband who asks every Valentine’s Day whether he has to buy a card (yes, he does), any romance is all in my head. Then again, his unstinting support of my career change proves love isn't always about hearts and flowers - and heroes come in many disguises.