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**BLOG TOUR** How Love Actually Ruined Christmas (or Colourful Narcotics) by Gary Raymond

I’m not a huge fan of rom-coms but I’ve always had a soft spot for the film Love Actually. With its stellar cast and feel-good story lines, I went to see it at the cinema, own the DVD and if I see it’s on TV, I find myself settling down to watch it once again. The title of this book, therefore, intrigued me – just how could this film possibly be accused of ruining Christmas?

If you have never seen the film, then this book will not make much sense to you! It is, essentially, a retelling of the plot, taking each aspect and dissecting it with a very critical eye. While my opinion of Love Actually has not been swayed after reading this, I do concede that the author has made some very valid points and I will definitely see parts of the film in a different light.

Gary Raymond definitely hits the nail on the head with regards to Daniel and Karen. This is a man who has recently lost his wife and yet his friend is pushing him towards starting a new relationship, seemingly even before the funeral! Until reading this, I had never given this insensitive behaviour a second thought! Likewise, the author’s comments on the Mark/Juliet/Peter relationship are spot on, although I am still a sucker for Andrew Lincoln’s (Mark) scene with the flashcards. The mention of Boris Johnson in this section may have put me off slightly, though!

If you have ever seen Love Actually, whatever your opinion of it, then I can definitely recommend this book. Well-written, witty and with some astute observations, there will be new thoughts running through my mind the next time I watch it. With Christmas coming up, that’s bound to be soon…

With thanks to Parthian, Gary Raymond and Emma from Damppebbles blog tours for my copy.

**BLOG TOUR** The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas

The Kendrick family own a successful doll making firm, but these are not your run of the mill dolls. Beautifully crafted from a range of materials, these dolls are magical, its creator having bestowed a particular emotion on it which is then felt by its owner. Although the company was founded by a family of sisters two hundred years ago, today, only the men are allowed to perform the sorcery needed to set these dolls apart. This does not sit well with Persephone Kendrick and she is determined to break this tradition, so when a stranger arrives claiming to be a descendant of one of the original sisters, she sees this as the opportunity she needs. One night, however, the family’s most valuable doll is taken. Only someone with a knowledge of their magic could have taken it, only one of the Kendrick family…

This is not my preferred fiction genre, but having loved the author’s previous book, The Psychology of Time Travel, I knew that I would enjoy this one. I was not wrong! This is very much a cross-genre book, with hints of mystery, fantasy, history and romance, but above all, it has a great story, one that kept me engrossed until the very last page.

Set in an eyot near Oxford, I loved how the inhabitants live, almost in their own world, part of modern society yet removed from it at the same time. There were times when I had to remind myself that this was set in the present day as the events could have taken place any time in the past few hundred years. I thought this was very clever as it helped to display the parochial aspect of their life whilst they were also partaking in the same activities as everyone else in the ‘outside world’.

One of the main themes in the book is how we should not underestimate women. Like in her previous book, the author has created a strong female cast with Persephone, in particular, determined to show that she could perform the traditional tasks of a male, if only she were given the opportunity. As the book progressed, we saw how in this seemingly patriarchal society, it was the women who actually held things together and I willed them to get their aim of progressing in the doll-making firm.

This is a clever book with a strong cast and an engaging plot. Kate Mascarenhas is an author whose work I will definitely be looking out for. 

With thanks to Head of Zeus and to Amber Choudhary for organising the blog tour. 

 

**Blog Tour** The Smuggler’s Daughter by Kerry Barrett

1799

One night, young Emily Moon witnesses the brutal murder of her father. Unable to tell anyone what she has seen, her mother thinks that he has simply disappeared, leaving her to find solace in the alcohol that she sells at their clifftop inn in Cornwall. Knowing that the smugglers that operate nearby are the ones responsible for the murder, Emily is not happy that the killers are seemingly getting away with this horrific crime.

Present Day

After a tragic case, police officer Phoebe Bellingham decides that a break in Cornwall would be the ideal way to get some respite. Staying with her friend at The Moon Girl pub, she comes across the story of Emily and is immediately intrigued. Just what did happen to Emily Moon and are we about to see history repeat itself over 200 years later?

As a fan of dual timeline books, The Smuggler’s Daughter ticked all of the boxes for me. The author successfully transported me back to Georgian England, painting a very descriptive picture of the Cornwall coastline, something straight out of du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. I could almost smell the sea air and hear the wind whistling across the cliffs.

Although the time frames are two very different eras, we get to see a parallel in the plots due to the place the story is set, with smuggling being the common link. We also see some similarities between the two lead characters, both of them with an eye for justice and a desire to do the right thing. My heart went out to Phoebe who is torturing herself due to what she perceives as a failure on her part to do her job properly on her last case. It was easy to see why she needed something to occupy her mind, her investigation into Emily Moon being the perfect distraction.

Emily Moon is a fantastic character. Dismissed by locals as a simple young girl, she was actually an incredibly strong young woman, brave beyond her years. I loved every scene she was in and had my fingers crossed throughout the book that she would go on to live a happy life. I admired her tenacity, even when faced with extreme danger, and understood her need to revenge the death of her father, whatever the cost.

The Smuggler’s Daughter is one of those books that draws you in straight away and I found it difficult to put down, reading it in a few sittings. This is the perfect book for someone wanting a mix of history and mystery and I will definitely be looking out for more books by this author.

With thanks to HQ and Net Galley for my ARC and to Sian Baldwin for organising the blog tour.

 

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh

The year is 1603 and the reign of the Tudors has come to an end. The Scottish king James, now James I of England, has taken the throne, much to the anger of those who believe that there is another rightful monarch residing in the country. Back in the present day, Dr Perdita Rivers and her sister Piper are still taken aback at the changes that have happened in the past year, but know that even more is ahead. If they can find the one thing that has been eluding them, could they have the evidence that could alter the course of British history forever? With old enemies set to resurface, how much more blood will be shed to prevent secrets from emerging?

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy is the final book of the Marquess House trilogy and I would advise that you read the previous two (The Catherine Howard Conspiracy and The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy) before starting this one in order to develop a full understanding of the plot. Briefly, and without spoilers, in the previous books we discover that the sisters have inherited their family home, Marquess House, an impressive building containing a wealth of history. They soon discover that the house is hiding numerous secrets that could potentially change everything we thought we knew about Tudor history, and that there are people who would happily kill to keep us all in the dark. 

As someone interested in this era of British history, I’ve loved the journey that Alexandra Walsh has taken me on, merging fact with fiction to the point where it is impossible to see the joins! I enjoy books that challenge my thinking and, as I read this, I found myself researching characters and aspects of the plot in order to get a better understanding of this turbulent time in Britain’s past. By referencing real events such as the Main and Gunpowder Plots, there is an air of authenticity about the book, and the amount of research undertaken by the author is apparent. I admit to not knowing a great deal about Arbella Stuart, but after reading this, I will definitely be finding out more about her.

In the present day part of the story, there are plenty of loose ends left from previous books that I hoped would be tied up by the end and I was pleased to see that they were. I must say that I am very envious of Perdita’s life: living in such a historic building with access to all of that research material sounds like my idea of heaven! 

While I have thoroughly enjoyed the Marquess House trilogy, I am sad that it has come to an end. I hope that Alexandra Walsh has a similar idea in the pipeline as I’d love to read her take on another aspect of history – I’m sure there is plenty of scope for a few more conspiracy theories!

With thanks to Sapere Books for my copy of The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy. 

**BLOG TOUR** The Glass House by Eve Chase

After a traumatic event, children’s nanny, Rita, has gone with the family she works for to stay in a remote house in the middle of the woods. Secrets lurk within the family and when a baby is found among the trees, Jeannie, the mother, feels that this could be the start of something good. Soon, however, the discovery of a body changes everything and the Harrington family will never be the same again.

My interest was piqued right at the start of The Glass House when we are told that a body has been found at Foxcote Manor, the home of the troubled Harrington family. The story then transports us back to the time leading up to the discovery of the unnamed body, giving us a peek into the lives of the Harringtons and their nanny, Rita, known affectionately as ‘Big Rita’ by Hera and Teddy, the children she looks after. There was a very strange atmosphere surrounding the family, partly due to the fact that all was not well between Jeannie and Walter, the parents. I really felt for Rita, who found herself caught between the two while trying to provide love and care for the two children who she clearly had a lot of affection for.

We are also brought into the modern day where we meet Sylvie, a woman who has just separated from her husband after years of marriage. I found myself immediately warming to Sylvie and was devastated when tragedy struck her family. Although I enjoyed reading about this character, I did find myself wondering how she was going to fit into the story of the Harringtons so was pleased when all was revealed. I particularly liked how the connection felt very natural, not contrived in any way. Too many books like this rely upon coincidences to link two plots together, but this was not the case here. 

The Glass House is a beautifully written tale about secrets and how they always have a habit of resurfacing when you least expect it. This is not by any means an action-packed story, despite there being a dead body and other exciting parts along the way, but it doesn’t need to be. The characterisation is perfect, and you really feel that you know these people by the end of the story. The setting is also ideal with Foxcote Manor and the surrounding area providing a claustrophobic atmosphere where danger lurks around the corner. 

The story comes to a very satisfying conclusion and, although some of the details of the plot can be worked out earlier in the book, I was still gripped until the end as more revelations are made.

If you want to become completely immersed in a character-driven plot with an air of mystery and intrigue, then I can highly recommend The Glass House as this was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.

With thanks to Penguin/Michael Joseph Books and Net Galley for my ARC and to Gaby Young for organising the blog tour.

 

**BLOG TOUR** The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl

It is the end of the 18th century and Pierre and Catherine Aubert, the Comte and Comtesse de Verais, have fled the privileged life they lead at the court of Versailles to set up home at a chateau, the ancestral home of Pierre. With attitudes towards the aristocracy changing rapidly, will the couple manage to start a new, more bourgeois life or will their aristocratic life catch up with them?

In the present, Lu and her husband, along with three of their friends have upped sticks to France to start a new life as joint owners of French property – the chateau Aubert. When people start to talk about the ghost that is known to live there, Lu’s interest is piqued and she begins to research the history of their house, revealing a secret that has remained hidden for centuries…

As always, it is a privilege to be part of the blog tour for one of Kathleen McGurl’s books as this is an author whose work I always eagerly anticipate. As in previous books, the story is told in two time frames: the present and, in this case, the lead up to and the aftermath of the French Revolution. It soon became apparent how much research the author has done into this turbulent time, not only with her historically accurate account of the events In France but also with the descriptions of the Alpes Maritimes. It was easy to visualise the setting such was the description, Kathleen McGurl painting a very picturesque view of this area of south east France. (If you want to see some pictures that inspired the book, take a look at https://www.pinterest.co.uk/kathmcgurl/future-novel/) .

In the two main characters, we see contrasting personalities. Lu is someone who is in need of a purpose in life after retiring from work to care for her mother. The death of her mother has left her at a loose end and so the opportunity to relocate to a chateau in France with her husband and friends seems like an ideal opportunity. Her uncertainty about the venture, however, is the complete opposite to Catherine, a woman who, despite her tender years, knows her own mind, even though her desire to emulate Marie Antoinette could end up being her downfall.

As someone who researches my family history, I liked reading about the discoveries made by Lu as she attempted to find out about the previous occupants in the chateau. This was where the two story lines converged, leading to a harrowing revelation about what actually happened to Pierre and Catherine Aubert. I found this very moving and, although I won’t give any spoilers, I was pleased that there could be closure for characters in both time frames.

As expected, I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret of the Chateau and loved the slow, mysterious build-up leading to a heart-breaking yet satisfying conclusion. This is a standalone, but I can definitely recommend all of Kathleen McGurl’s previous dual time frame books:

The Emerald Comb

The Pearl Locket

The Daughters of Red Hill Hall

The Girl From Ballymor

The Drowned Village

The Forgotten Secret

The Stationmaster’s Daughter

With thanks to HQ Digital, Net Galley and Rachel’s Random Resources for my ARC and for my spot on the blog tour.

 

**BLOG TOUR** The Stationmaster’s Daughter by Kathleen McGurl

The year is 1935 and stationmaster Ted loves working on the railway in Dorset to the point where he never takes any time off. All changes, however, when he meets one of the passengers, Annie Galbraith, and falls head over heels in love. Unfortunately, with the railway due to close and a terrible accident occurring at the station, his life is about to change forever.

In the present day, recovering from recent heartbreak, Tilly leaves London to stay with her railway volunteer father in Dorset. Finding a diary hidden in the old stationmaster’s house, she soon becomes engrossed in Ted’s story and makes it her mission to find out exactly what happened on the day the railway closed and why it had repercussions for so many people…

Kathleen McGurl is one of those authors where, as soon as I know there is a new book coming out, I have to have it! I was so pleased, therefore, to be one of the blogs opening the blog tour for her latest dual timeline novel. I love how the two stories in her books gradually come together, giving you a complete picture of what happened, and this was definitely the case in The Stationmaster’s Daughter.

If I had to choose, I would say that the part of the story set in the past was my favourite. Ted is one of those instantly likeable characters and I found myself rooting for him from the start even though you just know that things are not going to turn out well for him. I was transported back to a completely different time where circumstances prevented him from being with the woman he loved, even if I did feel that the woman of his dreams, Annie, didn’t help his cause a great deal! This part of the story was a direct contrast to what was happening in the present day with Tilly, who, although going through a tough time, was able to deal with her situation in a much more practical way.

The Stationmaster’s Daughter has a fantastic setting and Kathleen McGurl really takes you back to a time when life moved at a slower pace than what we are used to. A perfect summer read with an emotional backdrop, the author has, yet again, written another intriguing, entertaining story. I look forward to the next one!

With thanks to Net Galley and HQ Digital and also to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for organising the blog tour.

Take a look at my reviews of some of Kathleen McGurl’s other books here:

The Emerald Comb

The Pearl Locket

The Daughters of Red Hill Hall

The Girl From Ballymor

The Drowned Village

The Forgotten Secret

 

One Year Later by Sanjida Kay

A year ago, Amy lost her daughter Ruby-May in a terrible accident. With the anniversary of her death looming, the family decide to go on holiday, away from the scene of the incident, to a place where, they hope, they can begin to heal the rifts that have happened since their loss. It soon becomes apparent, however, that all is not quite what it seems and there is at least one person hiding something that could change their perception of what exactly happened one year ago. Just exactly who caused Ruby-May’s death and what other secrets have been concealed over the years?

The tone is set from the very start when what seems to be the body of a woman is discovered. For the majority of the book, this is not mentioned, leaving me wondering who is was and how it fit in with the tragic death of Ruby-May one year earlier. By the time this is, again, referenced, we are aware that there is, indeed, a lot more to Ruby-May’s death than we realised and there has been a huge cover up to stop the real guilty party from coming to light.

We read the story from the perspectives of Amy, Ruby-May’s mum, and Nick, the dead girl’s uncle. Their grief is portrayed in different ways and was definitely one of the strengths of the book. In Amy, we see real visceral grief, struggling to come to terms with the death of her youngest child while trying to keep going for the sake of her two other children. The scene where she realises how much she neglected them in the weeks following the death was truly heartbreaking, more so because of the way the children dealt with the terrible situation.

Nick displayed his grief in a different way as he has been carrying around the guilt of not being there when Ruby-May died. His head full of ‘what ifs’, it is understandable why he is intent on trying to heal his family’s rifts, even if his good intentions often result in more unrest.

While it is obvious that the official version of the accident is not correct, and that there has definitely been a conspiracy of silence, I did not predict the ending. This is one of those books where you realise that you have been drip fed information throughout the plot, and the ending is completely in-keeping with what you have read. The several references to Dante’s The Divine Comedy are also very apt, with salvation and repentance being running themes in both texts.

I really enjoyed One Year Later and I thank Readers First and Corvus Books for my copy.

Take a look at my review of My Mother’s Secret, one of Sanjida Kay’s earlier books.

 

The Sinclair Betrayal by M J Lee

There is one family that genealogist Jayne Sinclair has been reluctant to investigate – her own. After discovering that the father she thought had died when she was a child is, in fact, still alive, old wounds are opened up. To compound the issue even further, she finds out that he is currently residing in prison after killing a civil servant in cold blood. Claiming that the life he took was an act of revenge for his mother’s betrayal during World War Two, Jayne must try to uncover the truth about her grandmother’s past in order to solve an age-old mystery.

From the beginning of the series, it has always been apparent that there was something interesting lurking in Jayne’s family history. Spurred on by her stepfather, who urges Jayne to find out about her past before it is too late, we are taken on an emotive journey back to World War Two where we discover the secret life of her French grandmother, Monique.

The action flips between two time frames – Jayne’s modern-day research and Monique’s life in World War Two as a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The dual time frames work well together and I particularly like how we see Jayne discovering something during her research and then reading about the actual event during the war. Both time frames were as enjoyable to read as each other, and I found myself flying through the book, desperate to know what was going to happen next.

One of the things I enjoy most about books like this is the historical aspect and the chance to learn new things. Although I had previously read about the SOE, M J Lee paints a vivid picture of life for the operatives and there were some genuine ‘heart in the mouth’ moments when reading about the dangers these brave people put themselves in. The story was, at times, heartbreaking, especially when the fate of Monique was revealed and was made even more poignant when reading about the real-life women of the SOE and their tragic ends.

I have read all of the other books in this series but I think that this my favourite so far. If you have never read any of the Jayne Sinclair books before, I can heartily recommend them, although you do not need to have read them before reading this one – it can be read as a standalone.

Take a look at my reviews of the rest of the series:

The Irish Inheritance

The Somme Legacy

The American Candidate

The Vanished Child

The Silent Christmas

 

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