Monday, 18 October 2021

The Woman in the Middle - Milly Johnson

About the book… 

From Sunday Times bestselling author Milly Johnson comes a poignant story about family, responsibility and learning to balance it all.

Sandwich generation [noun]: A generation of people, typically in their thirties or forties, responsible both for bringing up their own children and for the care of their ageing parents.

Shay Bastable is the woman in the middle. She is part of the sandwich generation, caring for both her parents and her children as best she can, alongside supporting her husband, Bruce. With her mother’s and father’s health in decline, very little support from her ‘extremely busy’ sister Paula, her son’s wedding just around the corner and her daughter only in touch when she needs money, she’s certainly got a lot on her plate!

Wife, mother, daughter; she has played all her roles dutifully. That is, until a sudden and shocking loss which sends her spiralling to rock bottom. Forced to put herself first for a change, Shay realises that sometimes you have to fall, to find out where you stand.


“A gorgeous, warm novel about friendship and how some people are just meant to be by your side” Adele Parks, Platinum Magazine

“A thought-provoking read that explores what it truly means to love” Woman & Home “Funny, poignant and so uplifting” The Sun

“A heartfelt novel from one of our favourite authors” Bella

“Brimming with Johnson’s usual feelgood factor, this is human nature at its best” My Weekly

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About the author… 

MILLY JOHNSON was born, raised and still lives in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. A Sunday Times bestseller, she is one of the Top 10 Female Fiction authors in the UK with millions of copies of her books sold across the world. In 2020, she was honoured with the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award and was a featured author in the Reading Agency’s Quick Reads and World Book Night campaigns.

A writer who champions women and highlights the importance of friendship and community, Milly’s characters are celebrations of the strength of the human spirit. The Woman in the Middle is her nineteenth novel.

Contact Links: 

Twitter: @millyjohnson

My thoughts…

There is nothing quite like a Milly Johnson book - Milly has perfected the art of portraying real family life with the dynamics and emotions that tie them together in such a way that as a reader you forget you are reading about fictional characters, and not reading about your own friends and family. With each book, from the very first pages I find myself totally hooked and totally invested and immersed in their lives.

I devoured The Woman in the Middle in almost one sitting, I picked it up one evening, read 40 pages and just knew it was going to be brilliant. I settled down the next day to read the remaining 400! The Woman in the Middle is such a heartfelt, relatable story - Milly has the words and analogies that just sums everything up perfectly. Sandwiched between family and work pressures it’s easy to forget to care for yourself too - my emotions yo - yo’d whist reading, she touched so many raw nerves, throughout the book that at times I found myself reading with a lump in my throat that I couldn’t swallow. I think The Woman in the Middle evoked in me every emotion possible from one end of the spectrum to the other. So many aspects of family life tackled in a thought provoking way.

The central character is Shay Bastable, a woman with a backbone of steel, and a heart of gold, her whole life is centred on administering care and support for her whole family. Mostly unnoticed and without thanks. Shay is described as part of the sandwich generation - a term I’d never heard before but totally understood as the story unfolded. She is stuck, sandwiched in the middle, somewhere between caring for her two elderly parents and that of her grown up children who having flown the nest appear to have dropped off her radar. Let’s also not forget Bruce, her husband too.

I absolutely loved Shay, but wanted to give her a push to add ‘herself’ into the equation, she was totally selfless - the needs and lives of her family uttermost in her every thought and action, never asking for anything for herself nor seeking pity for a life of giving - she personified the best mother, daughter, wife role. Caring for her family was uppermost in her mind, she never put herself first, she saw her role in the family and fullfilled it.

Shay visits her mum everyday, providing essential care for her Roberta, left to do it alone by sister Paula, she doesn’t have time in her day. Roberta has dementia and becomes fixated on the arrival of a skip next door, the name on the side triggering memories. This sets off a chain of events that turns both their lives upside down and subsequently the inter-family relationships, irrevocably on their head. Relationships, friendships and family life are reassessed as Shay finds herself going back to her past to understand her present and subsequently shape her future.

As much as this was a heartfelt, emotional read for me it was also hopeful and uplifting at the same time, shining light on the dark moments, life evolves and nothing and no one stays the same forever. Milly tastefully scattered a liberal amount of humour throughout to soften the edges, and as the story ended I was left with a lighter heart and a smile on my face. Thank you Milly Johnson for yet another beautiful story about relationships, family dynamics, love and friendship delivered in your usual open, honest, straight-forward style - just perfect. 

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Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Home - Penny Parkes

About the book… 

Anna Wilson travels the world as a professional housesitter – stepping into other people’s lives - caring for their homes, pets and sometimes even neighbours. Living vicariously.

But all Anna has ever really wanted is a home of her own – a proper one, filled with family and love and happy memories. If only she knew where to start.

Growing up in foster care, she always envied her friends their secure and carefree lives, their certainty and confidence. And, while those same friends may have become her family of choice, Anna is still stuck in that nomadic cycle, looking for answers, trying to find the courage to put down roots and find a place to call home.

Compelling, rich and evocative, Home is Anna’s journey to discovering that it isn’t where you settle down that matters, but the people you have around you when you do.

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About the author… 

Penny Parkes survived a convent education largely thanks to a ready supply of inappropriate novels and her passion for writ- ing and languages.

She studied International Management in Bath and Germany, before gaining experience with the BBC. She then set up an independent film location agency and spent many happy years organising shoots for film, television and advertis- ing – thereby ensuring that she was never short of travel opportunities, freelance writing projects or entertaining anecdotes.

Penny now lives in the Cotswolds with her husband, two children and an excitable dog with a fondness for Post-its. She will often be found plotting epic train journeys through the Alps, baking gluten-free goodies or attempting to reach an elusive state of organisation.

In 2017, Penny won the RNA Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year Award. This is her fifth novel

Contact Links: 

Follow Penny on Twitter and Instagram: @CotswoldPenny

My thoughts…

If ‘Home’ and Anna Wilson don’t break your heart I don’t know what character and book would!

Penny Parkes drip feeds information and allows us, the reader to gain a gradual insight into the life of the main character Anna, and what makes her tick. How the childhood she knew, moulded her into the adult she’s become. She leads a transient lifestyle, moving from place to place, stepping into a multitude of homes in her capacity as a professional house sitter. Never staying in one place long enough to put down roots, have a social life or get too close to anybody. Living on the periphery of peoples lives, whilst not really living her own.

Early on in the story we learn that as a child Anna had been shunted like an unwanted parcel from foster home to foster home. Her confidence and resilience battered a little more with each move. This explains a lot about character, I truly believe that the life we led as children has a strong bearing upon the adults we become and for Anna this was definitely true. She’s seemingly unable to put down roots and attach herself too strongly to either people or places.

Thank goodness for one of her foster parents Marjorie - what an absolute angel, I loved her as a character so much! She was just beautiful and kind, inside and out - boosting Anna’s confidence and teaching her to reach for the stars, to learn and grow. I really thought that Anna would get to settle here, so it was utterly devastating to read that Anna didn’t get to live her happy ever after life with Marjorie. Their interactions, each giving the other the comfort they needed with the life lessons Marjorie taught her instilled in her a drive to succeed, yet no matter what she achieved she never quite believed in herself. The bar set so high she consistently felt she could never quite sail over it. The mental pressure she put on herself was so hard to read at times, she was always striving for perfection but never quite believing in herself, not allowing anyone to get too close, preferring to keep herself to herself with the exception of best friend Kate.

Kate was the closest thing thing she had to family - she was the family she chose and a better cheer leader she could not have wished for. The sort of friend that is always there for you no matter what but, when needed tells you straight, not afraid to gently pull the punches - I loved her she was funny, resilient and dependable.

I loved watching Anna bloom, find herself and discover what Home meant to her - it isn’t always blood and nature that makes a home but nurture, love and gentle kindness. People who love you for you, not because they’re family and should. With Home Penny Parkes has woven a magical tale laced with honesty, openness, resilience, love and friendship. An uplifting, mentally descriptive read - the words painting vivid pictures that were at times both painful and beautiful. I loved it and loved that without realising it Anna left behind a little bit of herself with each and every house sit, touching the hearts of everyone she met until eventually she emerged like a butterfly and slowly begins to bloom and trust in herself.

This is a book I'll be shouting about for a long time to come - it is humbling, breathe takingly beautiful and a book that I know I shall read again and again. Thank you SJ & Books and the City for introducing me to another amazing author in Penny Parkes.

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Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Both of `You - Adele Parks

About the book… 

Leigh Fletcher: happily married stepmum to two gorgeous boys goes missing on Monday. Her husband Mark says he knows nothing of her whereabouts. She simply went to work and just never came home. Their family is shattered.

Kai Janssen: married to wealthy Dutch businessman, Daan, vanishes the same week. Kai left their luxurious penthouse and glamourous world without a backward glance. She seemingly evaporated into thin air. Daan is distraught.

DC Clements knows that people disappear all the time – far too frequently. Most run away from things, some run towards, others are taken but find their way back. A sad few never return. These two women are from very different worlds, their disappearances are unlikely to be connected. And yet, at a gut level, the DC believes they are.

How could these women walk away from their families, husbands and homes willingly? Clements is determined to unearth the truth, no matter how shocking and devastating it may be

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About the author… 

Adele Parks was born in Teesside, NE England. Since graduating from Leicester University, where she studied English Language and Literature, she’s worked in advertising and as a management consultant. In 2010 she was proud to be awarded an honorary doctorate of Letters from Teesside University.

She’d always dreamed of being a writer and her first novel - Playing Away - was published in 2000; that year the Evening Standard identified her as one of London’s ‘Twenty Faces to Watch’, which was very nice of them!

She likes to keep busy and is pretty flattered when she’s described as one of the most-loved and biggest-selling women’s fiction writers in the UK, (who wouldn’t like that?!) 4 million copies of her UK editions have been sold and have been translated into more than 30 different languages. This is her 21st novel, previous include the number one bestsellers Lies Lies Lies and Just My Luck. All her novels examines issues that are important to us all. She likes to scrutinize our concepts of family, our theories on love, parenting and fidelity with (I hope) honesty and humour. Whatever period she sets her novels she’s known for examining the thorny issues of the lives people lead with my trademark, up-front, tell-it-as-it-is style.

During her career she’s lived in Italy, Botswana and London. Now lives happily in Guildford, Surrey with her husband, teenage son and cat.

Read more about her life and books on her website.

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My thoughts…

Both of You is a novel that is dark, chilling, claustrophobic and unnerving in equal measures.  We join the story as an unknown woman wakes chained to a radiator in an airless, concrete floored  room. Her anxiety and confusion set the tone for the subsequent encounters with her, but who is she and why is she there? What an opener, who is she? Within days we find not one but two local women have been reported missing bu their husbands.

The author introduces us to Leigh and her family, the reader very quickly learning that Leigh, second wife of Mark and step-mum to Seb and Oli was having a hard time of it at home, the boys who she had nurtured and loved for the past ten years since marrying their father after a whirlwind romance are growing away from her.  Elder son Oli in particular had become withdrawn and quite mean in his comments - she was sad and the aching hole their withdrawal had created was palpable, her sadness peeled off the page. Her sadness was evident especially as she was clearly happy to send them off for a week visiting Mark’s family, happy for the time and space to just be.  However, when the trio returned there was no sign of Leigh and my brain instantly went into overdrive, had she left them or was she the woman chained and confused, had she been abducted, if so why and by whom?

Mark was at a loss, his equilibrium clearly shattered without Leigh in the place she should be, dependable by his side when he and the boys returned home.  He reported her missing, his pain and helplessness at odds with his mindset that she was just away working - not able to fully accept that she really could be missing.  Within days we hear that a second person Kai Jannsen has also gone missing.  The two women are polar opposites in character, style and wealth - there doesn’t appear to be anything to link the two other than when they disappeared.  Everything feels a bit odd, not helped by the police officers attitude and demeanour - they were detached and remote, distant and didn’t seem to be taking their disappearances overly seriously.

I was hooked, I needed to mentally find them, turning the pages at a rate of knots to try and get some traction on the thoughts swimming through my mind.  Clues hung tantalisingly out of reach, moving just that little bit further away as I grabbed for them. For every small clue I thought I’d un-covered I had dozens of questions - it was like trying to do a jigsaw that someone had hidden away half the pieces. I just couldn’t find the link or connection.

The story was expertly layered with multi-faceted characters that all had the potential to be at the heart of the women’s disappearance, I second guessed every word, and played back each scenario in my mind, second guessing and doubting everything both written and imagined. The pacing, measured and steady building until the clues started slotting into place.  I found myself muttering and explaining out loud, exclaiming “why did I not see that” when I realised just how many clues were hiding in plain sight. They were so subtle and obvious when I realised but they didn’t even come close to hitting my radar. 

This really was a book that was gripping to the very end, Adele Parks turns family life and dynamics on it’s head - I’m so happy and relieved to be living my quiet, suburban life but so was Leigh - wasn’t she?  An intricately woven tale that is so far removed from every day life but so very very plausible, yet shocking and beyond belief.  A totally compelling and addictive read.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

And Now You’re Back - Jill Mansell

About the book… 

The most heart-warming novel you'll read this year ... from the Sunday Times bestselling author of IT STARTED WITH A SECRET

One magical winter's night in Venice, Didi fell in love. But it ended - and he left without even saying goodbye.

Now, thirteen years on, Shay Mason is back.

The old spark is still there, but Didi's determined to ignore it. As manager of a stunning Cotswolds hotel, she's happy at last, and soon to be married. Anyway, Shay isn't staying. He's made a promise to his father. He's going to keep it. And then he'll be gone.

But Shay's return stirs up long-forgotten emotions, and the scandal that led him to leave raises its head once again. It's time for buried secrets to come to light. And it seems that this was someone's intention all along . . .

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About the author… 

Jill Mansell is the author of over twenty Sunday Times bestsellers including The One You Really Want and Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay. Take a Chance on Me won the RNA’s Romantic Comedy Prize, and in 2015 the RNA presented Jill with an outstanding achievement award.

Jill’s personal favourite amongst her novels is Three Amazing Things About You, which is about cystic fibrosis and organ donation; to her great delight, many people have joined the organ donor register as a direct result of reading this novel.

Jill started writing fiction while working in the field of Clinical Neurophysiology in the NHS, but now writes full time. She lives in Bristol with her family.

Contact Links: 

My thoughts…

I've always loved books by Jill Mansell - she's one of a stock few authors that I can rely on to give me a book that hits the spot every time. A feel good book that's not all hearts and flowers, there is always a deeper story to discover that will leaving me smiling.

We meet Didi and Shay as teenagers in Venice. Both there as guests, to celebrate friend Layla’s 18th birthday. A more romantic start to a book you couldn’t imagine. It’s the early hours of the morning, it’s snowing and Didi unable to sleep, goes out into the snow, finding herself in St Marks Square where she sees Shay building a snowman. They’re friends by association, from polar opposite backgrounds yet are drawn to each other, she helps him with the snowman, they end up playing in the snow, sharing a bottle of Prosecco and sharing a magical moment that kickstarts their short lived romance. A romance that was doomed from the start, Didi’s family are wealthy, owners of a luxury hotel, Shay only has his dad, a dad that lives the life of a criminal, in and out of jail - Shay has had to fend for himself, is hard working but not 100% trusted. An incident occurs and when his name is put in the frame as ‘like father like son’, their fledgling relationship crumbles.

Fast forward 13 years and Didi is now the manager of her parents hotel when she comes face to face with her past. Shay is back in town, his father’s seriously ill, his dying wish is to end his days in the home Shay grew up in. To say Didi is shocked to see him would be an understatement - she’s engaged to be married but her equilibrium is seriously rocked on its axis. She never expected to see him again and definitely not in her parents hotel! The chemistry is evident and as a reader you knew there would be more to this tale - the inner turmoil and obvious attraction leapt off the pages but I loved the fact that there was respect that life had moved on for both of them - oh but I crossed my fingers that they would reignite what was kindled in Venice.

As in any Jill Mansell book there is a plethora of characters that add depth to the story. In this case their stories don’t just add depth but are integral to the plot. Their stories beautifully stitched together and in enough detail too - Rosa, widowed mother of Didi’s best friend Layla was one of the most beautiful, kind hearted characters I’ve encountered in a long while. Her heart was breaking, yet she still found a place in it to show friendship, kindness and empathy to Red, Shay’s dad - a hardened criminal that despite being ill most other people would have shunned.

Then there was best friend Layla, Rosa’s daughter.  She was adorable, such a trusting, gorgeous character, I absolutely loved reading about her on line dating and budding romance.  However, I was shouting from the sidelines for her to see what was under her nose though. 

The virtual tango of Didi and Shay was at the heart of And Now You’re Back obviously, both honourable in their present lives, but clearly still attracted to each other, drawn like magnets, then repelling each other as life had moved on for both of them - after all, they’re no longer 18 and have their lives mapped out - their story pulled at my heart strings.  There had to be a way to come back together.  Their past and present colliding, had to be fate, secrets from the past are revealed that highlight you shouldn’t make assumptions - not everything or everyone is who they seem.

I loved how Jill counter balanced the more serious, sad parts with humour, romance and wit. Once again I finished a Jill Mansell book with a satisfied sigh, glad that almost everyone seemed to get their happy ending. This is a compelling read, for anybody who loves contemporary, romantic novels, with some serious elements to add depth and bones to the story. It's gentle enough for a quiet Saturday afternoon but with enough plot twists and surprises to keep the pages turning, you'll want to get to the bottom of the many inter woven stories.

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Monday, 14 June 2021

Waiting to Begin - Amanda Prowse

About the book… 

From the bestselling author of The Girl in the Corner comes a story that asks: what would you risk for a shot at happiness?

1984. Bessie is a confident sixteen-year-old girl with the world at her feet, dreaming of what life will bring and what she’ll bring to this life. Then everything comes crashing down. Her bright and trusting smile is lost, banished by shame—and a secret she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life.

2021. The last thirty-seven years have not been easy for Bess. At fifty-three she is visibly weary, and her marriage to Mario is in tatters. Watching her son in newlywed bliss—the hope, the trust, the joy—Bess knows it is time to face her own demons, and try to save her relationship. But she’ll have to throw off the burden of shame if she is to honour that sixteen-year-old girl whose dreams lie frozen in time.

Can Bess face her past, finally come clean to Mario, and claim the love she has longed to fully experience all these years?

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About the author… 

Amanda Prowse is an International Bestselling author whose twenty seven novels and seven novellas have been published in dozens of languages around the world. Published by Lake Union, Amanda is the most prolific writer of bestselling contemporary fiction in the UK today; her titles also consistently score the highest online review approval ratings across several genres. Her books, including the chart topping No.1 titles 'What Have I Done?', 'Perfect Daughter', 'My Husband's Wife', 'The Girl in the Corner', 'The Things I Know' and ‘The Day She Came Back’ have sold millions of copies across the globe.

A popular TV and radio personality, Amanda is a regular panellist on Channel 5's 'The Jeremy Vine Show' and numerous daytime ITV programmes. She also makes countless guest appearances on BBC national independent Radio stations including LBC and Talk FM, where she is well known for her insightful observations and her infectious humour. Described by the Daily Mail as 'The queen of family drama' Amanda's novel, 'A Mother's Story' won the coveted Sainsbury's eBook of the year Award while 'Perfect Daughter' was selected as a World Book Night title in 2016.

Amanda's ambition is to create stories that keep people from turning the bedside lamp off at night, great characters that ensure you take every step with them and tales that fill your head so you can't possibly read another book until the memory fades...

Contact Links: 

Say hello on Twitter:  @MrsAmandaProwse

Friend me on Facebook:

Tag me on Instagram:

Visit my Amazon Author Page:  Amanda Prowse Author  

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My thoughts…

Waiting to Begin centres around Bessie’s life, yo-yo’ing back and forth between 1984 and 2021.  Her life as a happy, innocent 16 year old, with plans for the future in and the reality of today aged 53.

This was such a nostalgic read.  I loved reading of Bess and best friend Michelle’s hopes and dreams - the music, the clothes, the food, the innocence, a time of simple pleasures and big plans - it took me right back to when I was 16 in 1984. 

Fast forward to 2021 and life for Bess should be bliss, she’s married to devoted husband Mario, has two beautiful children but she’s not living her best life.  She’s internalised her feelings and is floating through life, existing but not living.

Several things happened in her past that shaped her future and her life comes crashing down on her 53rd birthday.  Her birthday should be a day to be celebrated, but a voice from the past unlocks a torrent of emotion that pushes her to a place she’s not sure she can return from.

The characterisations and raw emotion of Bess’s interactions with her family on the day of her 53rd birthday were intense and amplified the story, it was like the words we as readers read were written in another unidentifiable language for Bess  - as a reader I felt she was walking a thin line, I felt anxious for her and wondered which way the story would go.  Her husband, children, best friend and parents all there for her on the day, wishing her happy birthday but Bessie was so broken transported back to 1984 in her mind that their kind words and wishes fell on deaf ears - the inner voice in her head telling her she wasn’t good enough, wasn’t enough - she was a failure louder. She’d lived the best part of three decades going through the motions, existing not living and had become quite bitter, mean and dismissive with it.

As the story unravelled my opinions and thoughts of Bess spanned every emotion possible.  I pitied her, felt sad for her, felt her pain and anguish but at times didn’t really like the person she had become, small minded and at times quite mean and unfeeling - particularly where her parents were concerned. I loved them, their life pretty much stuck in the past, enjoying the simple pleasures of life - their love of their family shone from the pages, outwardly proud of them all no matter what.  With knowledge and the full story I came to a greater understanding of Bess’s character and my heart broke at the years wasted, how she’d lived with the consequences of both her own and her peers words and actions of that summers day back in 1984.

Waiting to Begin was both painful and endearing to read in equal measures book. Highlighting the importance of family, trust, communication and the power of words and actions.  They can shatter or lift a person depending on that persons state of mind at the time.  How decisions made at times of high emotion can shape and impact our lives without us ever realising quite how much.

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Tuesday, 8 June 2021

A Family Affair - Julie Houston

About the book… 

Joining the family business was never going to be easy...

Frankie Piccione is done running away from her responsibilities, well for now anyway. Having escaped Westenbury after suffering a shattered heart, it's time to take up her place on the family board. Piccione's Pickles and Preserves needs Frankie. Frankie knows she can make the business work. But with her brother Luca and the new, rather attractive, Cameron Mancini watching her every move, she's going to have to come up with something special to get them off her back and recognising she belongs on the board just as much as they do.

With the help of her Aunt Pam and best friend, Daisy, Frankie is thriving with her new sense of purpose. Until someone from her past walks right back into it...

Perfect for fans of Heidi Swain, Milly Johnson and Marian Keyes.

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About the author… 

Julie Houston is Yorkshire born and bred. She lives in Huddersfield where her novels are set and her only claims to fame are that she taught at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old school, her neighbour is ‘Chocolat’ author Joanne Harris and her friend is about to marry Tracy Emin’s cousin! Oh, and she was rescued by Frank Bough when, many years ago, she was ‘working as a waitress in a cocktail bar’ at the Kensington Hilton in London.

After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country.

She now teaches part time, and still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the last thirteen years, and, when not distracted by ebay, genealogy (so time consuming but so interesting - she recently discovered her husband is descended from the poet Shelley and the Duke of Milan!!) and crosswords, she spends much of her time writing.

Julie is married, has a nineteen-year-old son and sixteen-year-old daughter and a mad cockapoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book.

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My thoughts…

A Family Affair is typical of a Julie Houston novel - it sucked me in and enveloped me straight into the story, and into the lives of Pam and Frankie, aunt and niece, it had me oohing, ahhing, muttering and awwing in equal measures from the very beginning.

The story centres around both their lives. Pam’s life see-saws back and to over a 50 year period, whilst Frankie's spans just a few - both of them part of the Piccione Pickles and Preserves family. Both meet the man of their dreams only for fate to twist its cruel knife and leave them following a different path in life, the ‘one that got away’ leaving a hole that time has been impossible to fill.

I loved that the story centred around a family of Italian, or should I say Sicilian descent, I virtually travelled with them, the descriptions of the food - ohhhhhh I literally drooled, it really was delicious. Once again Julie Houston has created characters that were relatable and warranted the time I invested, cheerleading them through the story of their lives. Pam and Frankie’s stories told 50 years apart but almost parallel, the similarities and bumps in the road so very similar. I loved that despite everything, underneath it all, the strong women they were shone through. I so wish I had an auntie Pam cheerleading and guiding from the sides.

As ever, Julie relayed their stories, surrounding them with a supporting cast of family, friends and neighbours - everyone seemingly connected to each other in some way - so and so's brother's, sister's, mother's, uncle that married .... You get the picture? I thought I'd never keep up but it all slotted together, I'm glad to say and there wasn't a single one that I thought was un-necessary to the plot. Some I liked more than others, but that's real life isn't it?

It's a story with more than a little romance, a story steeped in mystery and secrets that were revealed slowly throughout the book. There's more than one love interest, lots of heartbreak and sadness, but for me Pam is the star of the show. Julie’s ability to create multi-faceted characters is second to none - polishing them just a little more with each chapter until they shine and can stand alone - I totally loved this book. The fact that topics that were taboo in the 70’s are at the heart of the back story yet despite their importance to the plot didn’t dullen the lustre of the present is testament to Julie Houston’s skill as a writer.

if you haven't discovered this for yourself yet you are seriously missing out. Head to Amazon and indulge yourself in this beautiful read - A Family Affair, you won't be disappointed.

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Saturday, 5 June 2021

The Forever Home - Sue Watson

About the book… 

Carly had thought they’d always live there. The beautiful Cornish cliffside house they’d taken on as a wreck, that Mark had obsessively re-designed and renovated – a project that had made him famous. It was where they’d raised their children, where they’d sat cosily on the sofa watching storms raging over the sea below. It was where they’d promised to keep each other’s secrets…

Until now. Because Mark has fallen in love. With someone he definitely shouldn’t have. Someone who isn’t Carly. And suddenly their family home doesn’t feel like so much of a safe haven.

Carly thinks forever should mean forever though: it’s her home and she’ll stay there. Even the dark family secrets it contains feel like they belong to her. But someone disagrees. And, as threats start to arrive at her front door, it becomes clear, someone will stop at nothing. Because someone wants to demolish every last thing that makes Carly feel safe. Forever.

An utterly unputdownable psychological thriller about what lies are hidden in the most beautiful homes. Perfect for fans of Date Night, Gone Girl and The Woman in the Window

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About the author… 

Sue Watson was a journalist on national magazines and newspapers before becoming a TV producer with the BBC.

Now a USA Today bestselling author, Sue explores the darker side of life, writing psychological thrillers with big twists.

Originally from Manchester, she now lives with her family in leafy Worcestershire where much of her day is spent writing – and procrastinating. Her hobby is eating cake while watching diet and exercise programmes from the sofa, a skill she’s perfected after many years of practice.

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My thoughts…

I’ll don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading Sue Watson’s books. With each they get that little bit darker, push my imagination to the edge of comfortable, are utterly compelling and leave me stuck for words.

The setting for The Forever Home resonated as I read it whilst sitting outside my caravan on a Cornish cliff top. Thankfully it was sunny and bright where I sat as the clouds darkened over Carly’s life.

When Carly married architect, husband Mark she inherited what she was to think of as her Forever Home from her mother. It was perfectly set, with cliff top views of the Cornish Coast and was to be the catalyst for a partnership both romantically and financially for her and Mark. As Mark set about renovating and transforming the house into a showpiece home, Carly filmed and documented the process, sharing it on-line - which inadvertently catapulted them into the spotlight and a TV career spanning 25 years showcasing Mark’s work. As a reader I could feel the buzz, and could visualise the setting but I also got the feeling of an unbalanced relationship, Mark was living the glamourises high life and Carly was definitely the foundations that propped him up.

At a time when they should be riding high as a pair it was obvious Carly and family life was coming a poor second to Mark, he was more bothered about his public profile. It was the evening of their silver wedding anniversary party, and turned out to be the night that Carly’s life shattered into a million pieces. It wasn’t the intimate family and close friend occasion Carly yearned for but more a lavish networking event with a guest list full of media and business contacts known only to Mark. A night that was to see the life they’d created disintegrate before their eyes.

Oh my goodness, the bombshell that dropped couldn’t have been any worse - I felt every second of Carly’s public humiliation. The ensuing chapters focus on Carly and her determination to salvage her life and her Forever Home. I think I lived every second of Carly’s life with her as she navigated the reality of her shattered life, dreams and trust - the emotions caught in my throat when Carly’s is subject to anonymous threats - someone wanted her out of her home at all costs!

The story, gripped and totally engaged - I played mental tennis as thoughts, ideas and scenarios about the plot bounced around, landing tantalisingly just out of reach. There are so many plausible red herrings, motives and scenarios that had me second guessing and surmising completely wrongly every time. “Is anyone who they seem” I asked myself? Everyone seems to have a back story and a hidden agenda, with individual stories so separate yet joined like the links on a bracelet. I didn’t know who Carly should trust or believe but I was firmly in her corner. I’m sure I almost died when the plot was finally unravelled in a shock ending I never once even came close to guessing, I sat mouth wide open as I held my breath - lockdown has clearly given Sue Watson too much time to hatch and plot - I can’t say anything other than the whole premise was totally plausible and just utterly brilliant!!!

Sue thank you for yet another page turning thriller that hooked me in and gripped me so tightly I felt captive, breathless and broken as I walked in Carly’s footsteps. An outstanding read that will stay with me forever, a read I have already recommended to so many friends.

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Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Three Wedings and a Proposal - Sheila O’Flanaghan

About the book… 

At the first wedding, there's a shock

The second wedding is unexpected

By the third, Delphie thinks nothing could surprise her. But she's wrong . . .

Delphie is enjoying her brother's wedding. Her surprise last-minute Plus One has stunned her family - and it's also stopped any of them asking again why she's still single. But when she sees all the missed calls that evening, she knows it can't be good news. And she's right.

Delphie has been living her best life, loving her job, her friends, her no-strings relationships and her dream house by the sea. Now she has to question everything she believed about who she is and what she wants. Is her mum right - is it time to settle down? Or does she want to keep on trying to have it all?

Each wedding of a glorious summer brings a new surprise. And as everything Delphie thought she had is threatened, she has the chance to reshape her future . . .

Buy Links: 

About the author… 

As you can see, a Dubliner all my life. My parents owned a grocery shop in the Iveagh Markets, in the Liberties area of the city and I guess city blood runs through my veins.

As a child I enjoyed reading and telling stories and everyone thought that I end up in a job which had something to do with books and literature. But though I applied for a job in the library all of the job offers I got were in commerce.

I turned down lots of them before my mother accepted one for me (I was on holiday at the time). It was in the Central Bank of Ireland and that’s how my career in financial services began.

I started out in administration and then moved jobs until finally I was working as a dealer in a commercial bank. Eventually I was promoted to Chief Dealer (the first female CD in the country). I traded lots of different things – foreign exchange, swaps, options, bonds…all of the kind of things you read about in the papers and that sound very technical and difficult. Of course once you’re doing it, it’s not half as technical as it sounds.

But I still loved reading and writing (which I did in my spare time) and I desperately wanted to write my own book. I guess I never quite got over the fact that I was never offered the library job! In my thirties I decided that it was now or never and I sat down, stuck Chapter 1 on a page, and started. I wrote the whole thing before sending it off.

I was offered a publishing deal (with no advance) by an Irish company but only if I wrote a different book! So back to the drawing board, I started again. It was another two years before it was published. It wasn’t until I’d written a few books and was offered a contract (this time with an advance!) from another publisher that I felt able to give up my trading job and write full time. So, even though it took a long time, I eventually realised my dream of being a full-time writer.

And now I also write a business column for the Irish Times.

When I’m writing a book I want to do three things:

* Tell a good story
* Make the reader feel like they know the characters
* Make each book better than the last

I don’t write for any particular audience but I suppose I must have people like me in mind – people who have busy lives and who like to escape into someone else’s for a while.

I love writing books. I hope you enjoy reading them

Contact Links: 

or follow on twitter @sheilaoflanagan

My thoughts…

I've always been a fan of chic lit / women’s fiction, using it as an antidote to my other favourite genre - psychological thrillers or for reading at times when there's too much going on in my life and I'm looking for a comfort read. Sheila O'Flanagan has always been included in what I call my 'comfort blanket' authors. I know whenever I pick up one of her novels I'm going to get a read that touches on real life issues, sucks you into family dynamics, will have me muttering out loud and then cheering from the sidelines in equal measures but, invariably turns out to have a happy ending. I love that Sheila writes - a real feel good book thats not all pink and fluffy - there’s some genuine family life, heartaches and twists thrown in, just like in real life.

Three Weddings and a Proposal centres on Delphie as she lives her best life, happy, single and where she wants to be - the opposite of where her entire family think she should be. The story begins as Delphie’s brother is due to get married and her family are pressuring her to name her plus one for the weekend - her usual male friends are all either married, moved away or not available, she’s thinking of going alone when she makes a chance reconnection with an ex- boyfriend Ed, on a flight home from a work meeting with her boss in Spain.  He’s the one that got away, but he was a good friend once.

The family are ecstatic to hear about her choice of plus one and welcome him back into the fold as if he’s never been away, as if he wasn’t the cause of Delhie’s heartache so many years before.  No matter how much she tells them he’s only a friend they see more.  A call during the wedding reception telling Delphie of the sudden death of her boss sees her go into free fall and her whole life pivot on its axis.

This book focuses on family dynamics, sibling rivalry along with honesty, trust and communication and taking chances. Delphie needs her friends and family more than ever, and when Conrad dies she’s unwittingly finds herself the central focus of a family that has never really understood her attachment to work and single life. The bantering and opinions of the family thrust upon her from all angles was so typical of any large family, each vying for airspace when what Delphie needed and wanted was quiet and space to think - she’d lost not just a good friend in her boss but her job and her life. I think Sheila's descriptions are particularly vivid. I could visualise each of the family as clearly as if she was describing people I knew and could see that Delphie just needed time to come to terms to her situation and assess her options - she’s a strong, bold character and no walkover but her edges are not all sharp and angular, she has a very caring side and is loyal to those around her to the end.

This story demonstrates how at certain times in our life, when we’re dealt a poor hand we have a choice. sink or swim, thinking with your head or heart is not enough, usually your gut instinct is the right one and that it’s ok to accept support and friendship whilst you pick yourself up but should then be given the space to make your own decisions. As in this book, time, quiet and space will usually allow for balanced decisions - none of us benefit from being told what to do. I felt an emotional attachment to Delphie and rooted for her throughout, her voice wasn’t loud enough to fight for her life choices at times, drowned out by the white noise around her but she is a strong character and I willed her to take back control which she does with panache. I particularly loved that the lead character wasn’t a damsel in distress type but was comfortable in herself and prepared to stand by her convictions.

An absolutely wonderful read, that is uplifting, heart warming and hopeful - Sheila O’Flanaghan never disappoints - the bar is raised a little higher with each new book and she sails across it every time.  The romance is heartfelt, the friendships strong and the family loyal to the last.

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