I enjoy reading as much as writing, and read books in a variety of genres. Here are some books I’ve recently read and loved.
The Guest Room by Rona Halsall – out January 31st
You think you’re safe in your home. You’re wrong.
Steph used to think her life was perfect. A happy marriage, two wonderful kids, and a home she felt safe in and called her own. But now her husband has walked out after thirty years, her daughter Bea is married and lives miles away, and Steph’s estranged son hasn’t made contact in years. Home doesn’t feel like the safe haven it once did.
When she begins to hear noises in the night, at first she thinks she’s imagining things. But then she finds open windows she knows she left closed, and a strange smell in the kitchen – and she knows none of it feels right.
Then her front window is smashed, and a young man named Noah helps her fix it. He’s fallen on hard times and Steph impulsively offers him a place to stay. He reminds her of her missing son, and as a mother she finds herself wanting to help him. Also, if he is there, she won’t be home alone.
Before long Noah is living in Bea’s old bedroom, paying rent, and getting his life back on track. Steph’s ex-husband and Bea are furious. But Steph feels secure at last, and that’s what matters.
Until the strange things start happening once more.
And Steph realises that someone is out to scare her…
Someone who will stop at nothing to make her never, ever feel safe again.
Rona Halsall really is the master of gripping thrillers. This was a riveting read. Steph’s marriage has fallen apart after thirty years and she is struggling to keep it together. When strange things start happening at home where she now lives alone, Steph wonders if someone is trying to drive her out of her home. Her daughter, Bea, thinks she is imagining things but the situation escalates and soon kind-hearted, trusting Steph doesn’t feel safe in her own home and starts doubting everyone around her, from her soon to be ex-husband, the colleagues in the homeless shelter she works for, to the lodger, Noah from the homeless shelter, who she has just taken in. A fast-paced gripping story with credible characters and lots of twists and turns. It held me right until the end.
The Safe Place by L.A. Larkin
Her heart pounds at the sound of footsteps outside her cabin in the woods. The snap of a twig tells her someone is close by. As she treads lightly towards the back door, she says a silent prayer—don’t let him find me…
Ever since Jessie Lewis reported her boyfriend, fire chief and local hero, for beating her, she’s been an outcast from the small town of Eagle Falls. And when someone sets fire to a house in the woods, killing the entire Troyer family, the locals turn on her again, taking her very public argument with Paul Troyer as proof that she lit the match.
Devastated that anyone could think her capable of murder, Jessie turns to Ruth. New in town, and an ex-FBI agent, Ruth could be the exact person Jessie needs to smoke out the murderer. But can she trust her with her life?
Days later, another house linked to Jessie is set ablaze. Combing the ashes for answers, she catches sight of an inscription she hasn’t seen since her childhood—since she lost someone very close to her. Is the killer is coming for her next?
As local wildfires take hold of the town and everyone is evacuated, Jessie knows she must put herself in unthinkable danger to catch the killer. And when she does, will she have the strength to take them down first?
An incredible ‘edge-of-the-seat read with captivating characters, vivid description and a very real sense of danger. It’s a wonder I have any fingernails left! I literally fled through the pages, anxious to know how it would end. Riveting!
Underneath the Christmas Tree by Heidi Swain
Wynter’s Trees is the home of Christmas. For the people of Wynmouth it’s where they get their family Christmas tree, and where Christmas truly comes to life.
But for Liza Wynter, it’s a millstone around her neck. It was her father’s pride and joy but now he’s gone, she can’t have anything to do with it. Until her father’s business partner decides to retire and she must go back to handle the transition to his son Ned.
When Liza arrives, she discovers a much-loved business that’s flourishing under Ned’s stewardship. And she’s happy to stay and help for the Christmas season, but then she has other plans. But will the place where she grew up make her change her mind? And can it weave its Christmas cheer around her heart…?
Heidi really is the Queen of feelgood fiction. You can guarantee that her books will lift your spirits and leave you with a wonderful glow inside. I loved the setting of this story, the beautiful family Christmas tree business – which does far more than grow and sell Christmas trees – the fabulous characters (especially Liza, Ned, Liam, Maya and Bandit!) and the community spirit. It’s so wonderfully festive you want to read it with a mug of hot chocolate and Christmas carols playing softly in the background. Fantastic.
Christmas in the Scottish Highlands by Donna Ashcroft
Thirty-year-old Belle Albany is feeling lonely this Christmas. Another whole year has passed and her life is… exactly the same as it was last December. She longs for true love and a little bit of winter magic – but she’s almost given up on finding it in the sleepy Scottish community where she lives…
When Belle crashes into elderly Edina on her cherry red bicycle, it’s not the meet-cute she’d been hoping for. But she immediately recognises the lost look in Edina’s watery-blue eyes and resolves to organise a Christmas to remember for them both – brimming with mince pies, mulled wine and lots of sparkle. Although Belle hadn’t counted on Edina’s home being a crumbling Scottish castle and she certainly hadn’t been expecting Edina’s handsome long-lost grandson Jack Hamilton-Kirk to turn up on the doorstep in the middle of a snow storm…
Jack is arrogant, rude and bossy and Belle is convinced he’s about to ruin the seasonal cheer she has worked hard to create. He’s basically the Grinch in human form, so why does her heart race every time they’re in the same room? They disagree on almost everything, from menu choices to music, and yet she starts to glimpse a softer side hidden behind Jack’s clipped words and brooding countenance.
As they hunt down costumes for the annual nativity show and save a donkey from a snowy disaster, Belle can’t ignore their growing attraction. But will a secret from Jack’s past come between them? Or will this finally be the year Belle falls in love?
Such a lovely Christmas story that leaves you feeling all warm and cozy inside. Belle and Jack are such great characters, throw in snow, festive preparations, a donkey and the Christmas message of second chances, love and looking through the other side of the spoon, this one is a festive treat.
Under the Mistletoe by Sue Moorcroft
When Laurel returns to the village of Middledip, she’s looking for a quiet life. Adjusting to her recent divorce, she’s ready to spend some time getting back on her feet amidst the glorious snow-dusted countryside.
Yet, life in Middledip is far from straightforward. Coming to the aid of her sister, Rea, as she navigates her own troubles, Laurel barely has a moment to think about where her own life is going.
However, time stands still when she sees her old flame, Grady Cassidy – and it’s soon as if they’ve never been apart. But through her happiness, Laurel remembers why she left the village all those years ago, as she recalls a dark night and Grady’s once-wayward brother, Mac…
Can Laurel learn to forgive and forget? Or will her chances of Christmas under the mistletoe with Grady remain a dream?
Sue always deals with hard issues so expertly and this story is no exception. Set in gorgeous Middledip Sue weaves the festive preparations alongside strong issue such as bullying, infertility and agoraphobia. When the newly-divorced Laurel returns to the village to help her sister who is suffering from agoraphobia she struggles to forgive the perpetrators whose abuse made her flee the village as a teenager. To make matter worse, her old attraction for Grady, the brother of one of the perpetrators, surface and are reciprocated. It helps that the bullies regret the incident and apologise but they hurt her so much Laurel isn’t sure they deserve forgiveness. Difficult decisions, love, family, friendship and Christmas cheer all combine to make this a compelling read.
My Daughter’s Mistake by Kate Hewitt
I look at my daughter. My darling girl. I remember her tiny hand in mine, her first smile. I recall her tears when she’d tumble over, healed instantly with a band-aid and a little kiss. I have to keep her safe. Even if it means someone else gets hurt…
In the pretty, privileged college town of Milford, New Hampshire, everyone is friendly, everything is safe. And on this cold autumn day, as red and yellow leaves begin to fall from the trees, and everyone wraps up for the first time, it would be easy to believe nothing bad could ever happen here.
Until a screech of tires is heard, a thud, a child’s scream. The crash that sees Jenna’s six-year-old daughter Amy Rose being hit by a car driven by seventeen-year-old Maddie.
Maddie’s mother, Ellen—a college professor with a warm, approachable reputation—insists it must have been an accident. Her daughter is always safe on the road—and she’s vulnerable herself.
But as Amy Rose lies unconscious in hospital, the town begins to take sides. With Ellen, who just wants to defend her daughter. Or with Jenna, a single mother with a past, whose child hovers between life and death…
The truth is that both mothers have secrets they’re trying to keep. And, with Amy Rose’s life hanging in the balance, one of them will stop at nothing to protect the person she loves—her daughter.
An incredible story telling of two mother’s heartbreak following a devasting accident in which Ellen’s teenage daughter Maddie is involved in a car accident injuring Jenna’s daughter Amy Rose. This is an emotional and gripping read told from both mothers’ point of view that draws you in from the very first page. On the face of it both mothers’ circumstances seem entirely different with Jenna being a single mum and Ellen being a college professor, but they are both trying to keep it all together. Kate sympathetically and authentically shows the devastating effect the accident has on both mothers and their families, the strength of their love for their child, and the grief they are both dealing with. A thought-provoking read.
The Dating Game by Sandy Barker
Once upon a time, twelve women joined the hottest reality TV show looking for love. Except one had a secret identity…
Abby Jones is a serious writer. Or at least she will be, one day. Right now, she spends her time writing recaps of reality television under a secret identity.
When a recap for The Stag – the must-watch dating show – goes viral, her editor thinks she should be on set, writing the drama as it happens. The good news: the next season will be filmed in Sydney. Sun, sea and a glamorous trip abroad, this could be Abby’s big break.
The bad news: the producers don’t just want Abby to write the recaps, they want her to be on the show. Abby can’t think of anything worse than being undercover and followed around by cameras. But her career depends on it, and when she meets gorgeous producer Jack, Abby begins to wonder if this job might not be so bad after all…
This is just what I needed right now, a quick easy hilarious read that made me laugh out loud. Loved the relatable characters and the dating show setting is so current, but Sandy put a whole new twist to it by sending journalist Abby undercover. I loved reading her amusing recaps and the friendship between the girls. Fab ending too, rounded up the story nicely. Great read.
Wild Blue Yonder by M W Arnold
Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Doris Winter is accused of stealing a valuable item from a famous Hollywood movie star, now a captain in the US Army Air Corps, after a dance at the air base in England where he’s stationed. Gathering her close friends together, she’s determined to clear her name.
Ruth’s POW son suffers a life-changing injury just as her own cottage takes damage in an air raid and Penny’s estranged little sister unexpectedly turns up, having run away from school. Together with the ongoing thefts of items of clothing and surprise personal revelations, these all threaten to hamper their investigation.
In spite of the worsening war situation, they must band together to rise above their troubles and prove love and friendship is worth fighting for.
This was a really enjoyable read with a great cast of characters. I loved the friendship between the women – Doris was my favourite – and the mystery woven through the book. M. W. Arnold obviously knows his subject matter and has created an authentic and entertaining story.
The Trapped Wife by Samantha Hayes
This is not the happy family you think.
The fire crackles, my son smiles, the man jokes whilst I pour drinks.
But my husband has disappeared. The man is a stranger. My skin crawls every time he brushes my hand.
He says if I don’t play along, he has photos that will destroy my family.
What happened the night before my husband disappeared – the night I don’t remember?
There’s nothing I can do to save my family… is there?
This is a captivating read that had me hooked right until the end. Such a creepy and compelling storyline with great characters. Just when I thought I had figured it all out there was a final twist which blew me away. Highly recommended.
The Liar’s Child by Sheryl Browne
I’ll do anything to protect my daughter…
When I pick my beloved daughter Poppy up from school one afternoon, my mind races when I see the little girl holding Poppy’s hand. With the same heart-shaped face, long brown hair and dark eyes, the two girls look identical. In fact, they look like sisters.
Is the secret I’ve been holding on to for so long about to be revealed?
That night, I cuddle Poppy even harder, desperately trying to decide what to do. And then my husband’s phone vibrates. A message. And then another. And another. All from a number I don’t recognise.
Is someone going to tell my husband what I did? Could I be about to lose everything I have worked so hard to protect?
But I’ve spent so long hiding the truth, I never stopped to wonder if I was the only liar in the family… The only thing I’m sure of is that nobody is going to take my child away from me.
I didn’t want to put this down to go to bed so it was a good job my kindle needed charging or I’d have been up all night! Sheryl Browne certainly knows how to keep you hooked from the very first page to the very last word. This story has a brilliant premise, and portrays so heartbreakingly the trauma of having a sick child, the pressure this puts on a marriage, and the importance of organ donation. The research needed to write this must have been immense but the medical side always felt authentic yet not overwhelming. A tense, emotional rollercoaster full of secrets, twists, lies and blackmail. Who is the liar and why does Olivia look so much like Poppy? I didn’t guess, will you?
Christmas by the Coast by Mandy Baggot
After a terrible heartbreak, Harriet Cookson worked hard to build her life back up. Now she has a dependable boyfriend, a great job and a decent flatshare. But when her beloved grandmother passes away, Harriet drops everything to fly out to the Hamptons to comfort her grieving grandpa.
Christmas is coming and as she arrives on the sandy beaches of her childhood in Montauk, Long Island, Harriet spots someone she never expected to see again – her ‘one that got away’, ex-soldier Mack Wyatt. Now, Mack is determined to win Harriet back and show her that the life she’s been living might be the wrong happily-ever-after.
This Christmas, find out if love letters from the past can pave the way to a brand-new future…
It takes real skill to portray a character with a disability so realistically and well-rounded that the character’s personality becomes foremost and the disability part of that character, not the thing that defines them. Mandy did this fantastically with Hannah in One Christmas Kiss in Notting Hill, and she has done it again with Mack. We feel for Mack, empathise with him, root for him but we don’t pity him despite the loss of his lower leg. And neither does Harri. She loves Mack for the person he is, the person she fell in love with years ago, who pushed her away rather than share the trauma he had been through with her. Mack loves Harri too, but he is so desperate not to have her pity, terrified of tying her to him out of sympathy that he still pushes her away. Mix this with the loss of a beloved grandmother, a long-held family feud, Christmas tradition, a love triangle and a beautiful setting and you’ve got a winner. There’s a lot of humour in this story – as always with Mandy – but a lot of depth, tenderness and nostalgia too. This is such a heart-warming Christmas read and well deserves five stars.
I Let Him In by Jill Childs
I like to keep things simple. I don’t let a lot of people in.
But when I first see Edward, I feel like we’ve met before; that I can trust him. He’s quiet, considerate and – I’m only human – handsome.
Guilt can do funny things to a person. After so many years, I thought I’d never tell, but my secret is suddenly out, hanging in the air between us. And to my surprise, he doesn’t pull away. He doesn’t gasp, or grimace or preach about what I did. And I’m so relieved to finally be free of the burden.
Until I learn that Edward has a secret of his own. One that changes everything…
This is a unique story that had me hooked from the start and led me up a totally different path to how I thought it would end. Cleverly written with relatable characters who both had skeletons in their cupboards, it opened up a realm of possibilities then ended with an unexpected, amazing twist.
A Home in the Sun by Sue Moorcroft
A gorgeous summer read about new beginnings from the Sunday Times bestseller.
Home is where the heart is…but what if your heart is broken?
When Judith loses her partner, she loses her life in Malta too – including the beautiful view from her sun-warmed balcony of the sparkling blue waters of Sliema Creek.
Back in England, Judith finds a spare room in her sister’s house where she grew up – but with it comes a whole host of family dramas.
Nursing a broken heart, Judith knows she must find happiness again – and rebuild her life on her own terms. Could an island in the sun be the answer she is looking for?
This is a wonderful story written with great emotion and skill. It features heartbreak and loss against the gorgeous setting of Malta, which Sue brings to life so skilfully. But in true Sue Moorcroft style there are plenty of uplifting moments and this story was also about strength, determination and love. Both Judith and Adam have their own obstacles to overcome, and there are times when Judith’s grief overwhelms her and Sue reels the reader in so that we feel the loss and heartbreak with her. There are several sub-plots, and a couple of social issues woven in which add pace and depth to the characters and the story. Hard to believe that this was Sue’s first novel, but reading it I can clearly see why she has become the International Bestseller she is today. A perfect read for anyone who wants more than a ‘will they, won’t they’ romance.
Other People’s Marriages by Kerry Fisher
As I stood at my own birthday party, listening to my husband’s speech about me, I could no longer silence the thought that had started as a low-level hum five years ago and built until I could no longer ignore it… did I want to leave him?
Steph has spent decades building a family with her husband Mal, and putting that family first. She is the glue that holds them all together and she has convinced herself that she’s been happy… most of the time. But as she stands at her birthday party watching her husband talking about a wonderful marriage she doesn’t fully recognise, the doubts that she has been pushing down for so long begin to grow…
After the party, as Steph tries to gather her courage to leave Mal, she receives a letter from her old friend Evie. Steph hasn’t spoken to Evie since a sunny weekend on a holiday beach twenty years earlier, when the two friends said things to each other that could never be unsaid. And now, Evie is seeking a reunion and a way to repair the friendship. But this reunion threatens to reveal a secret that could destroy two families.
I enjoyed reading this family drama about three women, Steph, Evie and Theresa. who met at toddler group and went on to have a long-standing friendship. We follow their journey from their twenties to their sixties, enjoying the ups and downs of their relationships and friendship, seeing how their characters change and grow over the years. We learn the secret of why Evie and Steph fell out for years, and why Theresa didn’t try harder to get them to make friends again. As we read the story we see that other people’s marriages aren’t always how they seem, and even strong women like Steph can feel trapped in their marriage and turn a blind eye to some things for peace and the greater good of the family. All the characters were so relatable and it was an interesting read.
In My Mother’s Footstepts by Mona Hajjar Halaby
1948, Jerusalem. Zakia is forced to flee the only home she’s ever known as war rips through the leafy streets and the bustling spice-filled souqs. Taking just one suitcase, Zakia thinks she’ll be able to return soon. But within weeks, she realises she won’t be allowed back to her beloved homeland.
2007, California. Mona grew up with her mother Zakia’s memories of Palestine, imagining the muezzin’s call for prayer and the medley of church bells her mother so vividly described to her. So, when Mona gets the opportunity to teach conflict resolution in Ramallah, she also embarks on a personal pilgrimage to find her mother’s home in militarized and occupied Jerusalem.
With cherished letters from her mother who writes to Mona regularly, sharing her story of Jerusalem, Mona dreams of one day being guided by her through the winding cobblestone alleys of the Old City. Yet it is Mona who instead holds her mother’s hand as they finally visit Jerusalem together. After fifty-nine years of exile, her mother is returning to the place she once called home – but can a lifetime of loss ever be healed?
This is a beautifully written, emotional and enlightening true story. I loved reading about Mona’s year in Palestine, teaching conflict resolution in a school, and following her mother’s footsteps hoping to find the home she had to flee. Her mother’s letters telling her story showed her resilience as well as sadness. I really felt for the families forced to flee Palestine, leaving their homes behind. The author expressed their grief and sorrow so eloquently. The phrase ‘Refugees are like seeds that scatter in the wind, and land in different soils that become their reluctant homes’ is so poignant and expressive. A must read, if, like me, you want to understand the Israeli/Gazza conflict a little more.
The Liar’s Daughter by Rona Halsall
The call comes on an ordinary Sunday afternoon to say your sister has been admitted to hospital with a serious head injury. But you don’t have a sister… do you?
You’ve never doubted your parents. You’ve loved them without question your whole life. But your stepmother is uncharacteristically speechless, and your father isn’t well enough to understand.
So you get in your car.
Turn the key in the ignition.
Knowing everything behind you is a lie.
Not knowing what lies ahead: the truth… or something far darker?
Whenever I pick up one of Rona’s books I know that I’m going to get a gripping tale that will keep me turning the pages and this one didn’t disappoint. An unputdownable family drama with dark secrets, complicated characters and plenty of twists and turns, also an original take on coercive control and the depths some people go to manipulate someone to do what they want. The story starts with Eva’s mother getting a phone call to say that her older sister has been injured. But Eva didn’t know she had an older sister, and her mother’s explanation as to why she wasn’t told makes her curious enough to drive the few hundred miles to pick up her sister from hospital and look after her when she is better. Her home turns out to be in a very remote farmhouse and the story gets creepier and creepier. Told from different viewpoints this book held my attention right to the unexpected punch at the end. Highly recommended.
My Husband’s Girlfriend by Sheryl Browne
She told my little boy a secret and now he’s gone…
Tucking her little boy Ollie into bed one night, Sarah notices his beloved teddy bear, which she bought him when he was born, is missing and in its place is a new toy given to him by her ex-husband’s new girlfriend, Laura. When she asks Ollie about it, he begins to shift uncomfortably, before whispering ‘Laura told me a big secret and she said I can never tell you’.
Sarah’s heart sinks. But when she raises her concerns, nobody wants to listen. To everyone else, Laura is the perfect stepmother and Sarah is just the jealous ex-wife. But Sarah knew the moment she met Laura she couldn’t trust her, from her overly perfect stepmother act to the way she evaded questions about her own history.
Soon Ollie is asking to spend more time with his dad and Laura, and shrinking away from Sarah. Then, when she calls to him in the garden one day, Ollie doesn’t answer back. The garden is silent. Ollie’s sandpit is empty. Ollie has disappeared.
Oh my goodness, Sheryl Browne certainly knows how to tell a story that grips and holds you right to the last page. I really felt for Sarah, trying to fight her basic maternal instincts that were screaming at her that something was wrong with her husband’s new girlfriend, Laura, then doubting her gut when she was offered reasonable explanations for her strange behaviour. The story is told in multiple viewpoints so we get to know all the characters and sympathise with most of them although there are a couple of horrors. There are plenty of twists, turns and secrets in the story, and Sheryl’s pacey writing style carries you along and keeps up the tension. I didn’t guess the ending at all, it completely surprised me, so clever. Sheryl is one of my favourite authors and I literally couldn’t put this book down. A recommended read for anyone who likes a fast-paced, twisty thriller with an OMG ending.
The Nurse by J.A. Corrigan
When you hear her story, will you believe her?
Rose Marlowe is a hard-working nurse, a loving wife, and a merciless killer. Or so she says. Despite her confession, it is hard to believe that this beautiful, kind woman could have killed her vulnerable patient in cold blood.
Down-on-his-luck true crime author, Theo Hazel, is convinced that there’s more to what happened than Rose is telling, and so decides to visit her behind bars to write her story. His first surprise comes when Rose reveals that the victim was not a stranger to her.
As time goes on, it seems that Rose is letting Theo see behind her perfect mask. With each new visit, he learns terrible new things about her heart-breaking past. With each new visit, he becomes more and more convinced that she can’t be a killer. But is he trying to free an innocent woman, or falling prey to a calculating murderer?
A gripping and unputdownable thriller that will keep you guessing into the early hours of the morning. Perfect for fans of The Silent Patient, Shari Lapena and JP Delaney.
I was drawn into this twisty, haunting thriller from the very first page. The vivid description of the characters, the dark twists of the story and the pacey narrative kept me captivated until the end. I was intrigued by Rose’s story and couldn’t make up my mind whether she was innocent or a cold blooded-murderess. Theo and Rose were both complex characters and that ending took me completely by surprise! A dark but compelling read.
Staying Out for the Summer by Mandy Baggot
This is one summer that won’t end in tiers!
For NHS nurse, Lucie Burrows, it’s time to put the past behind her and embrace Greek life.
Finally free from the UK restrictions, Lucie is excited for the summer of 2021. When her best friend, Gavin, finds the perfect Greek island getaway, Lucie is sure that this holiday to Corfu is going to be one to remember.
But when a landslide puts the village into a local lockdown, Lucie is thrown together with Michalis Andino, the super sexy village doctor. It’s not quite the escape she had planned, but things could certainly be worse.
As Lucie relaxes into the Greek way of life, she begins to wonder whether this lockdown might just end in a new beginning – and a new love…
Mandy’s books are always fun and this one is no exception, but there is also a depth to the story. Lucie and Gavin are nurses, and the Greek hero, Michalis, a doctor and in this heartwarming story Mandy brings out how hard the Covid epidemic was for the health care staff and the pressure they were under, but laces it with fun, gorgeous Greek scenery and delicious food. A feelgood read that made me laugh out loud many times, but one that also makes you think. Highly recommended.
Summer in the Scottish Highlands by Donna Ashcroft
Escape to the gorgeous little village of Lockton in the Scottish Highlands, where you’ll discover sunshine, secrets and an unforgettable romance. It’s the perfect place to be this summer…
Thirty-year-old Paige Dougall’s life is a mess. Only a year ago she was smashing all of her life goals: handsome husband, high-flying job, cute kid. But in just under twelve months everything has gone wrong. Nursing a broken heart, single mother Paige returns to her childhood home in a picture-perfect Scottish village to try and get her life together.
Paige is too wrapped up in her worries to embrace the beautiful rolling hills and lavender-scented air of the highlands. That is until Johnny Becker, the infuriatingly cheerful chef, with his twinkling eyes and dimpled smile, steps onto the scene and provides Paige with some much-needed distraction…
Johnny challenges Paige to step outside her comfort zone and focus on the things that really matter. From food tasting, to puppy training, to mountain climbing, in every moment she spends with Johnny, Paige finds herself remembering how to live again… will she be able to love again too?
Across long sunshine-filled days, Paige and Johnny grow closer and she’s tempted to open her heart to him. But is happy-go-lucky Johnny hiding secrets of his own?
And can Paige learn to let go of her past and find happiness in the highlands?
Such a lovely book. I adored the setting and the characters. The story was heartwarming and engaging, It really pulled you in. A perfect summer read.
The Woman at 72 Derry Lane by Carmel Harrington
On a leafy suburban street in Dublin, beautiful, poised Stella Greene lives with her successful husband, Matt. The perfect couple in every way, Stella appears to have it all. Next door, at number 72 however, lives Rea Brady. Gruff, bad-tempered and rarely seen besides the twitching of her net curtains, rumour has it she’s lost it all…including her marbles if you believe the neighbourhood gossip.
But appearances can be deceiving and when Stella and Rea’s worlds collide they realise they have much in common. Both are trapped in a prison of their own making.
Has help been next door without them realising it?
With the warmth and wit of Maeve Binchy and the secrets and twists of Liane Moriarty, this is the utterly original and compelling new novel from Irish Times bestseller Carmel Harrington.
I totally loved this book. Heart-breaking, emotional but ultimately uplifting. I was completely immersed in it, the characters were fabulous, I really related to them. I’ll certainly be looking out for more of Carmel’s books.
Coconut by Florence Olajide
Why am I not white like everybody else?’ Nan came and sat on the edge of my bed. ‘What do you mean?’ A tender finger brushed against my cheek. ‘Well, everyone in this house is white. Why am I Black?’
A generation of Nigerian children were born in Britain in the fifties and sixties, privately fostered by white families, then taken to Nigeria by their parents.
Coconut is the story of one of those children.
1963, North London. Nan fosters one-year-old Florence Ọlájídé and calls her ‘Ann.’ Florence adores her foster mother more than anything but Nan, and the children around her, all have white skin and she can’t help but feel different. Then, four years later, after a weekend visit to her birth parents, Florence never returns to Nan. Two months after, sandwiched between her mother and father plus her three siblings, six-year-old Florence steps off a ship in Lagos to the fierce heat of the African sun.
Swapping the lovely, comfortable bed in her room at Nan’s for a mat on the floor of the living room in her new home, Florence finds herself struggling to adjust. She wants to embrace her cultural heritage but doesn’t speak Yoruba and knows nothing of the customs. Clashes with her grandmother, Mama, the matriarch of the family, result in frequent beatings. Torn between her early childhood experiences and the expectations of her African culture, she begins to question who she is. Nigerian, British, both?
Florence’s story is an unputdownable tale of loss and loneliness, surviving poverty, maltreatment and fighting to get an education. Most of all, it’s a moving, uplifting and inspiring account of one woman’s self-determination to discover who she is and find her way to a place she can call home. Perfect for fans of Lemn Sissay’s My Name is Why and Tara Westover’s Educated.
Florence Ọlájídé has written a fascinating, emotional and enlightening memoir of her life as a young black child growing up in Britain in the 1960s and the conflicts she faced when she returned with her family to Nigeria, then again when she returned to England as an adult. A feisty, intelligent and outspoken child she struggled with the cultural differences, especially with how women and children are treated. Her portrayal of life in Africa and the Yoruba culture was absorbing and I felt myself rooting for Florence all the way, although the strong family love was evident throughout the story. It was interesting also to read of Florence’s struggle as an adult and mother with the difference in childrearing and educating when she became a teacher, then headteacher in London. A captivating read. Highly recommended.
A Mother Forever by Elaine Everest
1905: Ruby Caselton may only be twenty-five years old but she already has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Heavily pregnant with her second child, penniless and exhausted, she is moving her family into a new home. The Caseltons left their last place when they couldn’t pay the rent, but Ruby’s husband Eddie has promised this will be a fresh start for them all. And Ruby desperately hopes that this time he will keep his word.
With five-year-old George at her feet and her mother having a cross word for everyone and everything, life is never dull at number thirteen Alexandra Road. It doesn’t take long before Eddie loses another job and once again hits the bottle. It’s up to Ruby to hold them all together, through thick and thin. She remembers the kind, caring man Eddie once was and just can’t give up on him entirely. What she doesn’t know is that Eddie has a secret, one so dark that he can’t bear to tell even Ruby . . .
Through Ruby’s grit and determination, she keeps food on the table and finds herself a community of neighbours on Alexandra Road. Stella, the matriarch from across the way, soon becomes a friend and confidante. She even dreams that Ruby will ditch the useless Eddie and take up with her eldest son, Frank. But when war breaks out in 1914, the heartbreaks and losses that follow will fracture their community, driving both Stella and Ruby to breaking point. Will their men ever return to them?
A compelling, heart-warming story. I read this as a stand-alone as despite my best intentions I haven’t yet read The Woolworth Girls. It follows the adventures of Ruby Caselton as she arrives in Alexandra Rd in 1905 with her five year old son George, her husband Eddie, her mother and another baby on the way. Ruby loves Eddie but he certainly leads her a bit of a life and her loyalty and love are really put to the test. Her warm, loyal character soon endears her to others and her friendship with the Green family helps her through, although this too is tested. A story of warmth, love, loyalty amidst tragedy and hardship, Ruby’s stories spreads over the first World War and beyond. A wonderful family saga that I couldn’t put down.
The Girl Who Escaped from Auswitch by Ellie Midwood
Millions of people walked through Auschwitz’s gates, but she was the first woman who escaped. This powerful novel tells the inspiring true story of Mala Zimetbaum, whose heroism will never be forgotten, and whose fate altered the course of history…
Nobody leaves Auschwitz alive.
Mala, inmate 19880, understood that the moment she stepped off the cattle train into the depths of hell. As an interpreter for the SS, she uses her position to save as many lives as she can, smuggling scraps of bread to those desperate with hunger.
Edward, inmate 531, is a camp veteran and a political prisoner. Though he looks like everyone else, with a shaved head and striped uniform, he’s a fighter in the underground Resistance. And he has an escape plan.
They are locked up for no other sin than simply existing. But when they meet, the dark shadow of Auschwitz is lit by a glimmer of hope. Edward makes Mala believe in the impossible. That despite being surrounded by electric wire, machine guns topping endless watchtowers and searchlights roaming the ground, they will leave this death camp.
A promise is made––they will escape together or they will die together. What follows is one of the greatest love stories in history…
A powerful, heartbreaking and well-written story based on real life events which I found incredibly difficult to read at times. Mala, the first Jewish woman to escape Auschwitz, and Edward’s love story was even more poignant and inspiring for evolving against the backdrop of a concentration camp where horror, torture and depravity was a daily occurrence. Elllie Midwood doesn’t shy away from the difficult scenes, yet still weaves an enduring love story and brings warmth and truth to a story that will stay with me for a long time. A recommended read.
His Hidden Wife by Wendy Clarke
The first time you see them, out for an evening walk on the cliffs, you’ll think they’re the perfect family. You’ll see a wife who looks so happy, strolling peacefully beside her husband in his dark winter coat, holding her daughter’s hand. But you have no idea what’s really happening in their house…
If you come a little closer you might hear the way the man speaks to his wife.
You might notice that the woman doesn’t have any close friends. That sometimes her husband doesn’t want her to leave the house. You might wonder if that’s a scar her beautiful daughter is hiding on her neck.
When you read the local newspaper and hear the news that the wife has fallen from the cliffs, you’ll question whether it was really an accident at all.
And when the husband starts dating someone new – a woman with the same long dark hair and big blue eyes as his wife – will you say something this time?
Because someone has to protect the little girl and stop history from repeating itself. And it may already be too late.
This story had me gripped right from the beginning and held me there until the brilliant twist at the end. The setting, Dorset’s Jurassic Coast was described so well that I felt that I was there, and was a perfect backdrop to the story. Telling the story from the dual viewpoint of both Maya and Therese was really effective in keeping up the suspense, and I really didn’t know what to believe. Recommended if you like an intriguing read.
Under the Italian Sun by Sue Moorcroft
A warm, sun-baked terrace.
The rustle of verdant green vines.
The sun slowly dipping behind the Umbrian mountains.
And the chink of wine glasses as the first cork of the evening is popped…
Welcome to Italy. A place that holds the answer to Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers’ many questions. Not least, how she ended up with such a mouthful of a name.
When Zia discovers that her mother wasn’t who she thought she was, she realises the time has come to search out the Italian family she’s never known.
However, as she delves into the secrets of her past, she doesn’t bargain on having to think about her future too. But with local vineyard owner, Piero, living next door, Zia knows she has a serious distraction who may prove difficult to ignore…
This summer, join Zia as she sets out to uncover her past. But can she find the future she’s always dreamed of along the way?
This book has it all: gorgeous scenery, heartwarming friendships, secrets, twist and turns and a scorching romance. I really enjoyed Zia’s story set in beautiful Italy (I want to go there NOW!) and following her journey as she starts to unravel her family secrets. Sue expertly crafts a page-turning plot while weaving in a very important issue – postpartum depression – in a sympathetic and credible way. The relationship between her and Piero positively sizzles. Highly recommended.
The Girl in the Missing Poster by Barbara Copperthwaite
24 June, 1994 – Nineteen-year-old Leila Hawkins runs from her father’s birthday party into the stormy night wearing her sister Stella’s long red coat. Some say she was crying, others swear they saw her get into a passing car. Nobody ever saw her again.
Present – This time every year, on the anniversary of that fateful night, Stella decorates the small seaside town she grew up in with pictures of her beautiful missing sister. But after twenty-five years, is it even worth hoping someone will come forward? Perhaps the upcoming documentary will spark people’s memories by reuniting all the guests who were there the night Leila went missing.
As old friends gather and long-buried secrets begin to surface, the last thing Stella ever expects is a direct response from someone claiming they took Leila. They want private details of Stella’s life in return for answers. But as the true events of the night of the party play out once again, who is lying? And who is next?
My goodness this book had me totally hooked. The concept of a woman whose twin sister went missing was intriguing, Barbara portrayed Stella’s grief so well, the pain of losing ‘the other half of her’, of seeing her missing sister Leila every time she looked in the mirror, the compulsion to find out what had happened to her sister at any cost,and to put her to rest. The writing was strong, thought-provoking, compelling and kept me guessing right up until the riveting end. Highly recommended.
The Girl at the Back of the Bus by Suzette D Harrison
I watched in awe as Miz Rosa stopped those men on the bus with her clear, calm “no” and I thought about that word. What if I said no? What if I refused to follow the path these White folks wanted for us? What if I kept this precious baby?
Montgomery, Alabama, 1955
On a cold December evening, Mattie Banks packs a suitcase and leaves her family home. Sixteen years old and pregnant, she has already made the mistake that will ruin her life and disgrace her widowed mother. Boarding the 2857 bus, she sits with her case on her lap, hoping that the driver will take her away from disaster. Instead, Mattie witnesses an act of bravery by a woman named Rosa Parks that changes everything. But as Mattie strives to turn her life around, the dangers that first led her to run are never far away. Forging a new life in a harsh world at constant risk of exposure, Mattie will need to fight to keep her baby safe.
Atlanta, Georgia, present day
Ashlee Turner is going home. Her relationship in ruins, her career held back by prejudice, she is returning to the family who have always been her rock. But Ashlee’s home is not the safe haven she remembers. Her beloved grandmother is dying and is determined to share her story before she leaves… When Ashlee finds a stack of yellowing letters hidden in her nana’s closet, she can’t help the curiosity that compels her to read, and she uncovers an old secret that could wreak havoc on her already grieving family. As she tries to make sense of what she has learned, Ashlee faces a devastating choice: to protect her loved ones from the revelations, or honor her grandmother’s wishes and follow the path to the truth, no matter where it may lead.
This is an emotional and engaging story, showing how the actions of others can affect our lives, told through the viewpoints of two strong black women Mattie and Ashlee, a grandmother and granddaughter, the two stories running alongside each other. Mattie Banks thought she had no choice in the path she was taking until she sat on the back of a bus one day and witnessed Rose Parkes’ refusal to give up her seat. This made Mattie realise that she didn’t always have to do what was expected of her and question whether the choice she was about to make was really the only road for her. Rosie Parke’s stand gave Mattie the courage to change her path. Ashlee grew up in a different world, where black women had more choices and is a young, successful lawyer until the day she is overlooked for promotion and returns to her family home to visit her dying grandmother, Mattie. Mattie is desperate for Ashlee to read her story, and as she does Ashlee realises that it isn’t fiction but the story of her grandmother’s life. Her grandmother’s story has a big impact on Ashlee’s life and decisions. Beautifully told, with strong, warm characters.
Sunshine and Second Chances by Kim Nash
Liv wants her friends to think she has the perfect life. But honestly? She’s running on empty. Desperate for a break from her needy family, Liv is determined that as she and her three life-long friends turn fifty they will honour their promise to each other – made on a beach at sunrise twenty-nine years before – to celebrate this milestone together.
And what better place to celebrate than a gorgeous villa in the Algarve? They’ll enjoy the stunning beaches, picturesque fishing towns and glorious climate, and maybe be spoiled by the gorgeous Eduardo, who’s making one particular heart unexpectedly flutter…
Liv’s friends can’t wait to escape with her: Debs is newly single, Fiona is caring for her mum, and Samantha is grieving. But does time away make the heart grow fonder? Is the thought of returning to reality too hard to bear? Is what they have really all there is to life?
It begins as a reunion in the sunshine, but little do the four friends know what life-changing decisions they’ll all be making before their flight home…
This is such a wonderful, uplifting story of friendship, women supporting each other and always being ready to take a second chance at life. It left me with a warm glow in my heart and smile on my face. Just the sort of read we all need right now.