Thursday, 24 August 2017

Blog Tour~ The Way Back to Us by Kay Langdale

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to host today's stop

Kay Langdale’s new novel explores how a marriage can fracture - ‘the conscientious ploughing of furrows and then the lifting of heads to see, with mild surprise, a pathway of completely opposing directions.’

August 2017

What's it all about..

Anna and Tom have two young children, Isaac and Teddy. When Teddy, aged one, is diagnosed with a life limiting illness, Anna devotes herself to caring for him full time while Tom becomes increasingly absorbed in his career.

Motherhood for Anna quickly becomes a state of siege; with Teddy requiring constant vigilance and what seems like an army of health workers scrutinising her every move. Swamped by her responsibilities, and unable to acknowledge the impact that Teddy’s diagnosis has had on her personally, the first casualty of the situation is her marriage. The second is Isaac, who, watchful and sensitive, regards his mother and his brother with an equally solicitous eye.

With Tom increasingly finding himself marginalised and inadequate, he and Anna reach a point when neither of them is able truthfully to say what they think or feel. And, captivated by the sunny vivacity of his work colleague Eliza, Tom begins to question whether having a very ill child makes considering leaving a marriage more morally culpable.

It is only when Anna realises the danger her marriage is in that she is forced to process the impact that Teddy’s diagnosis has had upon her, and Tom has to recognise his share of the blame.

In The Way Back to Us, Anna and Tom are faced with very particular, amplified circumstances in a novel which, at heart, explores the complexities of modern marriage and parenting.

What did I think about it ...

Modern marriage and parenting is the focus for this first person narrative driven novel which explores how living with a child with a profound disability can have a devastating effect on a marriage, especially when that child's life limiting disease completely takes over family life. Meeting with Tom and Anna and their children Isaac and Teddy shines a spotlight on this difficult subject.

Gradually we meet all four characters in the novel, who in their own words explain just what is going on in their lives. I found this way of telling the story particularly interesting and especially looked forward to Teddy's narrative which brought to poignant life the difficulties he experienced, and how he coped with living in his own limited way. I felt really sorry for Tom and Isaac who, so often, seemed to be floundering, no longer the focus of Anna's attention as all her energy went into keeping Teddy safe from harm.

The Way Back to Us highlights in a very readable way the struggles and difficulties families face on a daily basis when all too often they are fighting a system which hinders more than it helps. There is no doubt that Anna is Teddy's champion, battling for him every single step of the way but at what cost to her own well being and that of her marriage. She struggles to cope but feels that she can't back off for a single second because if she does Teddy will suffer. I think for me one of the saddest sentences came towards the end of the novel  when Anna admitted to her husband, Tom, that, "I can no longer see where Teddy stops and I begin..."

The Way back to Us is a powerful and poignant story which tackles a sensitive and difficult subject. It’s a story which will resonate with anyone who has a child with a disability or life limiting disease but, I think that it will also act as a timely reminder to the rest of us to never make assumptions because we never truly know what's going on in other people's lives or indeed of how we would cope in similar circumstances.

©John Cairns
Kay Langdale is the author of five novels: Away From You, Choose Me, Her Giant Octopus Moment, What the Heart Knows (Rowohlt, Germany) and Redemption (Transita; published as If Not Love by Thomas Dunne Books.
She taught twentieth century literature at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford and worked as a copywriter in a brand development consultancy. She is married, has four grown-up children and lives in Oxfordshire

Twitter @kaylangdale #TheWayBackToUs

My thanks to Jasmine at Hodder for her invitation to be part of this blog tour and for my copy of

 The Way Back to Us.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Summer Read 2017 ~ The Girl With the Make Believe Husband by Julia Quinn

Rokesby #2

What's it all about...

With her brother Thomas injured on the battlefront in the Colonies, orphaned Cecilia Harcourt has two unbearable choices: move in with a maiden aunt or marry a scheming cousin. Instead, she chooses option three and travels across the Atlantic, determined to nurse her brother back to health. But after a week of searching, she finds not her brother but his best friend, the handsome officer Edward Rokesby. He's unconscious and in desperate need of her care, and Cecilia vows that she will save this soldier's life, even if staying by his side means telling one little lie...

I told everyone I was your wife..

What did I think about it..

Cecilia Harcourt pretends she is married to the handsome officer who she carefully looks after, not because of any romantic feeling she has for him, you understand, but out of necessity in order to help find her brother, Thomas who is missing. What then follows is a light and easy to read romantic adventure which continues in the same style as Julia Quinn's other historical novels.

There were times when I had to suspend belief, especially when the subterfuge on Cecilia's part got a little too far fetched especially when she continued with the charade for far longer than was really necessary, but hey ho, after all, this is romantic fiction. Edward Rokesby makes a fine romantic hero, dashing, chivalrous and with bags of charisma, that he struggles with his overwhelming attraction to Cecilia is in keeping with the way the author portrays his character. All of which makes the inevitable "can't keep his hands off her " scenario all the more enjoyable to read 😉

Overall, I thought that the story was entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the deliciously romantic frisson of excitement in the "will they, won't they" aspect of Cecilia's and Edward's burgeoning romance, which adds a smidgen of passion.  As escapist romantic historical fiction this story ticks all the boxes and I am sure that fans of Julia Quinn's writing will it snap up along with all the other books in her romantic historical series.

This book is the second in the Rokesby series which started with Because of Miss Bridgerton. It can, of course, be read a standalone novel.

You can find out more about the author on her website by clicking here 

My thanks to Clara at Little Brown Books for my review copy of The Make Believe Husband


Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Summer Read ~ Summer at Hope Meadows by Lucy Daniels


What's it all about...

Based on the globally bestselling Animal Ark series. 

Newly-qualified vet Mandy Hope is leaving Leeds - and her fiancé Simon - to return to the Yorkshire village she grew up in. There, she will help out in her parents' surgery whilst they're short-staffed. Mandy's life has always revolved around her work with rescued animals, and Welford offers an opportunity to work with creatures of all sizes, from hedgehogs and puppies to farm stock and even wild deer.

But rural Yorkshire is very different to the hustle and bustle of a big city. Mandy must work hard to be accepted by the close-knit village community, and convince them of her abilities as a vet - especially Jimmy Marsh, the gruff owner of the local Outward Bound business, with whom she just can't seem to get along.

When some long-neglected animals are discovered in a critical state on a nearby farm, Mandy is determined to prove herself as a confident and fearless vet. When it comes to protecting animals in need, she's prepared to do whatever it takes..

What did I think about it ...

As a young teenager I was fascinated by the James Herriot series on TV and went on to read some of James Herriot's books which delightfully recall his lively adventures as a young vet in Yorkshire.

Summer at Hope Meadows follows this tradition and gives us a lovely story of what it's like to be working with animals and travelling around the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. I have to admit to not being familiar with the Animal Ark series of children's books, so I come to this new adult series with no preconceptions of what I want the characters to be like.

I think that the author has done a great job of bringing the stories up to date and felt completely at ease with the way the story unfolded. I enjoyed getting to know newly qualified vet, Mandy Hope, as she returns to the small Yorkshire village of her childhood. But leaving behind a progressive city veterinary practice and returning to rural work is both difficult and challenging for Mandy, especially as her boyfriend, Simon, isn't very supportive.

I really enjoyed this lovely romp through the glorious Yorkshire countryside and enjoyed reading of the challenges that Amanda faced as she set about helping her parents, both vets, who are struggling to cope with the demands of their aptly named, Animal Ark veterinary business. I thought that the medical aspects of the story were particularly well done, which reflects on the author's own experiences as a qualified vet herself.

I especially loved the interaction between Mandy and her best friend, James, who is facing heartache of a very different kind and of course, the animals themselves tug away at your heartstrings, especially the gentle shire horse, Bill and the damaged collie, Sky.

Summer at Hope Meadows is a really lovely summer read and the start of a promising new series of books which I am sure will delight readers.

Best Read with...Tea and scones from James' tea shop in York

About the Author

Lucy Daniels is the collective name for the writing team that created the bestselling children's book series Animal Ark. Hope Meadows is a brand new Lucy Daniels series for adult readers, featuring the characters and locations that were so beloved of the original series.

This new title, Summer at Hope Meadows has been written by a new author called Sarah McGurk who has the advantage of being passionate about the animal ark series and also a fully qualified vet.

My thank to Jenni  and the team at Hodder for my review copy of Summer at Hope Meadows


Monday, 21 August 2017

Review ~ The Monster's Daughter by Michelle Pretorius

MPH Books 2017
Mellville House
Paperback now released 27 July 2017

What's it all about..

Somewhere on the South African veldt, 1901: At the height of the Boer War, a doctor at a British concentration camp conducts a series of grim experiments on Boer prisoners. His work ends in chaos, but two children survive: a boy named Benjamin, and a girl named Tessa.

One hundred years later, a disgraced young police constable is reassigned to the sleepy South African town of Unie, where she makes a terrifying discovery: the body of a young woman, burned beyond recognition.

The crime soon leads her into her country's violent past a past that includes her father, a high-ranking police official under the apartheid regime, and the children left behind in that long ago concentration camp.

What did I think about it..

The novel opens in 2010 where we meet one of our protagonists. Alet is a young police officer who has been sent to the small South African town of Unie following a professional misdemeanour. Suspicious of a woman police officer the locals don't take kindly to Alet and she faces small town prejudice which hampers her investigation into the death of a young woman.

Travelling back in time to the early 1900s, we meet Tessa Morgan who senses that she is different but who lives a fairly sheltered existence with her father Andrew Morgan who was once a soldier caught up in the Boer War conflict.

On the surface neither of these stories should have any real connection but gradually as the jigsaw puzzle starts to slot together, we begin to understand the links between a modern day South African police officer and a series of uncomfortable experiments which happened over a hundred years ago during the Boer War.

Initially, I found the novel difficult to get into until I had found some emotional connection to the characters which took a little while to sit easy with me. However, by about a third of the way into the story I found that the finer points of the plot became easier to follow. In many ways this is a slow burner of a story and one which requires concentration and an ability to just go along with the story wherever it leads.

The author writes well and explains the South African history and landscape as only a true South African can. Combining dark historical fiction with a chilling modern day murder mystery is an inspired idea which, in The Monster’s Daughter, comes together in a shattering conclusion.

About the Author

Michelle Pretorius was born and raised in South Africa. She received an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago and is currently a PhD candidate at Ohio University. She has written for a number of publications, including Bookslut, Word Riot, and the Copperfield Review. She is a recipient of the John Schultz and Betty Shiflett prize and lives in Athens, Ohio.

My thanks to Nikki at Melville House books for my review copy of The Monster's Daughter


Sunday, 20 August 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered..

I enjoy reading books set during WW1 which cover as wide a range as possible. 

In August I will share more of my favourites


Set before and during the Great War, BIRDSONG captures the drama of that era on both a national and personal scale. It is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. His life goes through a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experience of the war itself.

Birdsong is s deeply moving and beautifully written account of Stephen Wraysford's journey from his first arrival, in 1910, to the industrial French town of Amiens, to his meeting with the beautiful wife of his host, Azaire, and to his later involvement in the conflict that would rip Europe apart.

Birdsong forms part of Sebastian Faulk's French trilogy 

1743996 7902726


Saturday, 19 August 2017

Close to Home ~ Thank you

In October 2016, I started my Close to Home feature in order to highlight authors who are based in the north of England, literally close to home. Since then I've been privileged to work with 44 amazing authors who have embraced the idea of sharing what's so special about the north of England and have shown this love in an array of eloquent guest posts and enlightening interviews.

I am immensely grateful to them all for their enthusiasm and for sharing their love of the north and for explaining just how this marvellous northern landscape shapes their writing.

Click on the author to discover what makes the north such a special place for them...

Karl Drinkwater
Liz Bower
Jo Hollywood
Deborah Swift
Marie Laval

A D Garrett and Helen Pepper
John R McKay
Kate Field
Lyn G Farrell

Cath Cole
J Carmen Smith
Ian Skillicorn

Paula Martin 
Martin Edwards
Paula Daly
Cath Staincliffe

Sarah Jasmon
Caroline James
Debbie Johnson
June Taylor

Nicci Rae
Kate Rigby
Pauline Barclay
Claire Brown

Barbara Copperthwaite
Gina Kirkham
Claire Coombes
Carys Bray
Sue Featherstone

Amanda Brooke
Caroline Wallace
Beth Underdown
Kirsty Ferry

Jan Ruth
Helena Fairfax
Melinda Hammond
June Francis

Rebecca Mascull
Sharon Booth
Elizabeth Ashworth
Susan Pape
Susanna Bavin

Helen Steadman
Alyson Rhodes

 A whopping big  to everyone who has taken part in Close to Home 

Jaffareadstoo couldn't have done this without you all.

Close to Home will be back sometime in the future bringing you lots more fabulous Northern Writers


Friday, 18 August 2017

First Remembered Read ~ Historical Novel

Those of us who read, and who are influenced by books, tend to squirrel away our memories of all the stories we have read over the years. 

And yet, there is always that one special book tucked away in the far corner of your mind which reminds you just why you love reading so much…

During July and August I've invited a few friends to share their First Remembered Read..

I'm thrilled to welcome to Jaffareadstoo

The Passionate Brood by Margaret Campbell Barnes

As a young reader, in that difficult transition between child and adult - no YA in those days - I picked up a book in my local library called The Passionate Brood. It was the cover that took my eye: two knight jousting with all the colour of heraldry, of banners and pavilions and ladies watching their knights fight for the glory of victory in the tournament. I doubt it was very accurate but the image appealed. I also remember my mother looking askance at the title - we were far more innocent in those distant days - but the book came home with me.


It is a Plantagenet story of the family of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, particularly of King Richard I, packed with all the romantic elements of high chivalry. It is also unashamedly romantic in bringing Berengaria onto the scene, as well as the character of Robin Hood. And I loved it. The elegant style and marvellous detail brought these characters to life, even though they lived more than six hundred years ago. They were real and engaged my emotions, living with me in all their passion, their loyalties and betrayals, as I devoured the book. Their conversations drew me in to their joys and their sorrows. I wept with Berengaria when King Richard met his death at the end. 

At that time it did not matter to me that there was no evidence for the romance, or for these particular origins of Robin Hood. The world that The Passionate Brood opened for me was simply magical. It has never lost its fascination.


The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

I have no doubt at all that this book ignited my love of hiding away in the past, and I quickly graduated to Goudge’s historical fiction for adults – a full collection of which I was thrilled to find on my mother’s bookshelves. My mother died when I was ten, and having this shared love of a particular novelist means a great deal to me.

I re-read “The Little White Horse” every year, and also at times of stress as I find it reliably calming and reassuring. I made the mistake of recommending it to a book club, and they tore it to shreds, pointing out the clumsy religious imagery which had gone – indeed, still goes – right over my head. I learnt from this and have avoided both the “Moonacre” television series and the film “The Secret of Moonacre”, which are based on the novel, in case things are not as I have always pictured them in my imagination. I once saw a very handsome hardcover edition in a bookshop, but nothing would tempt me away from my much-sellotaped, worm-eaten little paperback.


Huge thanks to Anne and Susan for sharing the memories 

of their First Historical Read with me today.

Next week : My First Horror Novel


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Blog Tour ~ Any Dream Will Do by Debbie Macomber

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting today's first stop on the 

Any Dream Will Do Blog Tour

Arrow Publishing
10 August 2017

What's it all about..

Shay Benson adored her younger brother. She did all she could to keep Caden on the straight and narrow. But one day her best intentions got Shay into the worst trouble of her life. By protecting Caden, Shay sacrificed herself.

Drew Douglas adored his wife. But since losing Katie, all he could do was focus on their two beautiful children; everything else came a distant second.

Shay and Drew are each in need a fresh start, and when they meet by chance it’s an unexpected blessing for them both. Drew helps Shay to get back on her feet, and she reignites his sense of purpose. 

But when a devastating secret is uncovered, Shay and Drew’s new lives are threatened. It will take all of their strength, faith and trust to protect the bright future they dream of.

What did I think about it..

There's something about a Debbie Macomber story which guarantees a delightful read and which is infused with wonderful characters who get right into your heart and soul.

Meeting Shay Benson is like discovering a decent and trustworthy friend who is down on her luck and who you immediately want to see set back on the righteous path that she so well deserves. When Shay meets with Drew Douglas for the first time you get a sense of how the story will pan out but the journey they each take is filled with this author's trademark skill in drawing the best out of her characters.

I really enjoyed getting to know both Shay and Drew and followed their relationship with great interest and felt an emotional connection to them as each struggled to come to terms with how the community around them viewed their burgeoning relationship.

Filled with quirky characters who add light and shade Any Dream will Do is about the bonds of friendship, the prejudices of a small town who are resentful of strangers, and of the danger of family commitments when those obligations go beyond propriety.

Beautifully written with a fine eye for detail and a good dollop of sweet romance, Any Dream will Do is a delightful read by an author who has the unique ability of holding the reader in the palm of her hand. Infused within the pages is such a warm and wonderful story that you can't help but keep turning the pages, always wanting to read just a little bit more about those characters who very soon become as familiar as friends.

About the Author

Debbie Macomber is a No. 1 New York Times bestselling author and one of today’s most popular writers.In addition to fiction, Debbie has also published two bestselling cookbooks; numerous inspirational and nonfiction works; and two acclaimed children’s books. The beloved and bestselling Cedar Cove series became Hallmark Channel’s first dramatic scripted television series,Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove, which was ranked as the top program on US cable TV when it debuted in summer 2013. Hallmark has also produced many successful films based on Debbie’s bestselling Christmas novels. Debbie Macomber owns her own tea room, and a yarn store, A Good Yarn, named after the shop featured in her popular Blossom Street novels. She and her husband, Wayne, serve on the Guideposts National Advisory Cabinet, and she is World Vision’s international spokesperson for their Knit for Kids charity initiative. A devoted grandmother, Debbie and her husband Wayne live in Port Orchard, Washington (the town on which her Cedar Cove novels are based) and winter in Florida.
More about the author can be found on her website by clicking here 

Twitter @debbiemacomber

Buying links:

Amazon UK 

Amazon US

My thanks to Becky at Cornerstone, Penguin Random House for the invitation to be part of this tour and for my review copy of Any Dream will Do


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Summer Read 2017 ~ The Big Dreams Beach Hotel by Lilly Bartlett

I am delighted to be able to feature this latest book by Lilly Bartlett and to share the first chapter of The Big Dreams Beach Hotel

Harper Impulse

* Published 18th August*

Start reading the romcom that Debbie Johnson calls “absolutely gorgeous!”

Three years after ditching her career in New York City, Rosie never thought she’d still be managing the quaint faded Victorian hotel in her seaside hometown.

What’s worse, the hotel’s new owners are turning it into a copy of their Florida properties. Flamingos and all. Cultures are clashing and the hotel’s residents stand in the way of the developers’ plans. The hotel is both their home and their family.

That’s going to make Rory’s job difficult when he arrives to enforce the changes. And Rosie isn’t exactly on his side, even though it’s the chance to finally restart her career. Rory might be charming, but he’s still there to evict her friends.

How can she follow her dreams if it means ending everyone else’s?

The Big Dreams Beach Hotel

Chapter 1

New York is where I fell head over heels for a bloke named Chuck. I know: Chuck. But don’t judge him just because he sounds like he should be sipping ice-cream floats at the drive-in or starring in the homecoming football game. Rah rah, sis boom bah, yay, Chuck!

Believe me, I didn’t plan for a Chuck in my life. But that’s how it happens, isn’t it? One minute you’ve got plans for your career and a future that doesn’t involve the inconvenience of being in love, and the next you’re floating around in full dozy-mare mode. 

I won’t lie to you. When Chuck walked into our hotel reception one afternoon in late October, it wasn’t love at first sight. It was lust. 

Be still, my fluttering nethers.

Talk about unprofessional. I could hardly focus on what he was saying. Something about organising Christmas parties. 

‘To be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing,’ he confided as he leaned against the reception desk. His face was uncomfortably close to mine, but by then I’d lived in New York for eighteen months. I was used to American space invaders. They’re not being rude, just friendly. And Chuck was definitely friendly. 

‘I only started my job about a month ago,’ he told me. ‘It’s my first big assignment, so I really can’t fuck it up. Sorry, I mean mess it up.’ His blue (so dark blue) eyes bore into mine. ‘I’m hoping someone here can help me.’

It took all my willpower not to spring over the desk to his aid. Not that I’m at all athletic. I’d probably have torn my dress, climbed awkwardly over and landed face-first at his feet. 

Keep him talking, I thought, so that I could keep staring. He looked quintessentially American, with his square jawline and big straight teeth and air of confidence, even though he’d just confessed to being hopeless at his new job. His brown hair wasn’t too long but also wasn’t too short, wavy and artfully messed up with gel, and his neatly trimmed stubble made me think of lazy Sunday mornings in bed. 

See what I mean? Lust. 

‘I noticed you on my way back from Starbucks,’ he said. 

At first, I thought he meant he’d noticed me. That made me glance in the big mirror on the pillar behind him, where I could just see my reflection from where I was standing. At five-foot four, I was boob-height behind the desk in the gunmetal-grey fitted dress uniform all the front-desk staff had to wear. My wavy dark-red hair was as neat as it ever got. I flashed myself a reflected smile just to check my teeth. Of course, I couldn’t see any detail from where I stood. Only my big horsy mouth. Mum says giant teeth make my face interesting. I think I look a bit like one of the Muppets. 

‘Do you have the space for a big party?’ he said. ‘For around four hundred people?’

He didn’t mean he’d noticed me; only the hotel. ‘We’ve got the Grand Ballroom and the whole top floor, which used to be the restaurant and bar. I think it’s even prettier than the ballroom, but it depends on your style and your budget and what you want to do with it.’ 

Based on his smile, you’d have thought I’d just told him we’d found a donor kidney for his operation. ‘I’ve been looking online, but there are too many choices,’ he said. ‘Plus, my company expects the world.’ He grimaced. ‘They didn’t like the hotel they used last year, or the year before that. I’m in over my head, to be honest. I think I need a guiding hand.’

I had just the hand he was looking for, and some ideas about where to guide it.

But instead of jumping up and down shouting ‘Pick Me, Pick Me!’, I put on my professional hat and gave him our events brochure and the team’s contact details. Because normal hotel receptionists don’t launch themselves into the arms of prospective clients. 

When he reached over the desk to shake my hand, I had to resist the urge to bob a curtsy. ‘I’m Chuck Williamson. It was great to meet you, Rosie.’ 

He knew my name!

‘And thank you for being so nice. You might have saved my ass on this one. I’ll talk to your events people.’ He glanced again at my chest. 

He didn’t know my name. He’d simply read my name badge.

No sooner had Chuck exited through the revolving door than my colleague, Digby, said, ‘My God, any more sparks and I’d have had to call the fire department.’

Digby was my best friend at the hotel and also a foreign transplant in Manhattan – where anyone without a 212 area code was foreign. Home for him was some little town in Kansas or Nebraska or somewhere with lots of tornadoes. Hearing Digby speak always made me think of The Wizard of Oz, but despite sounding like he was born on a combine harvester, Digby was clever. He did his degree at Cornell. That’s the Holy Grail for aspiring hotelies (as we’re known). 

Digby didn’t let his pedigree go to his head, though, like I probably would have. 

‘Just doing my job,’ I told him. But I knew I was blushing. 

Our manager, Andi, swore under her breath. ‘That’s the last thing we need right now – some novice with another Christmas party to plan.’

‘That is our job,’ Digby pointed out.

‘Your job is to man the reception desk, Digby.’

‘Ya vol, Commandant.’ He saluted, before going to the other end of the desk. 

‘But we do have room in the schedule, don’t we?’ I asked. Having just come off a rotation in the events department the month before, I knew they were looking for more business in that area. Our room occupancy hadn’t been all the company hoped for over the summer. 

‘Plenty of room, no time,’ Andi snapped. 

I’d love to tell you that I didn’t think any more about Chuck, that I was a cool twenty-five-year-old living her dream in New York. And it was my dream posting. I still couldn’t believe my luck. Well, luck and about a million hours earning my stripes in the hospitality industry. I’d already done stints in England and one in Sharm El Sheikh – though not in one of those fancy five-star resorts where people clean your sunglasses on the beach. It was a reasonable four-star one. 

There’s a big misconception about hotelies that I should probably clear up. People assume that because we spend our days surrounded by luxury, we must live in the same glamour. The reality is 4a.m. wake-ups, meals eaten standing up, cheap living accommodation and, invariably, rain on our day off. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it?

But I loved it. I loved that I was actually being paid to work in the industry where I did my degree. I loved the satisfied feeling I got every time a guest thanked me for solving a problem. And I loved that I could go anywhere in the world for work. 

I especially loved that last part.

But back to Chuck, who’d been stuck in my head since the minute he’d walked through the hotel door. 

I guess it was natural, given that I hadn’t had a boyfriend the whole time I’d been in the city. Flirting and a bit of snogging, yes, but nothing you could call a serious relationship.

There wasn’t any time, really, for a social life. That’s why hotelies hang out so much with each other. No one else has the same hours free. So, in the absence of other options, Digby and I were each other’s platonic date. He sounds like the perfect gay best friend, right? Only he wasn’t gay. He just had no interest in me. Nor I in him, which made him the ideal companion – hot enough in that freckle-faced farm-boy way to get into the nightclubs when we finished work at 1 or 2a.m., but not the type to go off shagging and leave me to find my way home on the subway alone. 

‘I hope you’re happy,’ Andi said to me one morning a few days later. The thing about Andi is that she looks annoyed even when she’s not, so you’ve got to pay attention to her words rather than the severe expression on her narrow face. Nothing annoyed Andi like other people’s happiness.

But I had just taken my first morning sip of caramel latte. Who wouldn’t be happy?

‘You’ve got another assignment,’ she said. ‘That Christmas party. You’re on it.’

‘But I’m on reception.’ My heart was beating faster. She could only be talking about one Christmas party. 

‘Yes, and you’re not going to get any extra time for the party, so don’t even think about it. I can’t spare anyone right now. You’ll have to juggle. He’s coming in at eleven to see the spaces and hopefully write a big fat cheque, but I want you back here as soon as you’re finished. Consider it an early lunch break.’

Even though my mind warned me to stop questioning, in case she changed her mind, I couldn’t resist. ‘Why isn’t Events handling it?’ 

‘They would have if he hadn’t asked for you especially. It’s just my luck that it’s a huge party. We can’t exactly say no.’

‘I’m sorry.’ 

‘Then wipe that stupid grin off your face and next time try not to be so frickin’ nice.’

‘I need to use the loo,’ I told her.

‘Pee on your own time,’ she said. 

I didn’t really have to go, despite the industrial-size caramel latte. I just wanted to put on some make-up before Chuck arrived. Instead he’d see my green eyes unhighlighted by the mascara and flicky eyeliner that I rarely remembered to use. Pinching my cheeks did bring up a bit of colour behind my freckles, at least. 

Every time the revolving doors swung round, I looked up to see if it was Chuck. 

‘You’re going to get repetitive strain in your neck,’ Digby pointed out. ‘And you know our workmen’s comp sucks, so save yourself the injury. Besides, you look too eager when you stare at the door like that.’

‘I’m putting on a convivial welcome for our guests,’ I said. ‘Just like it says in the Employee’s Manual.’

He shook his head. ‘There’s no way that what you’re thinking is in the manual.’

The weather had turned cold, which was the perfect excuse for woolly tights and cosy knits or, if you were Chuck, a navy pea coat with the collar turned up that made him look like he’d been at sea. In a suit and dress shoes. 

‘I’m so sorry I’m late,’ he said. ‘I hate wasting people’s time.’

‘It’s not a waste,’ I told him. ‘I’m just working.’ I caught Andi’s glare. ‘I mean, I’m on reception. I can show you the rooms any time you want.’

Anytime you want, Digby mimicked behind Chuck’s back. Luckily Andi didn’t catch him.

‘Thanks for agreeing to take on the party,’ he said as we shared the lift to the top floor. ‘Not that I gave your colleagues much of a choice. I told them I’d book the party if you were the one organising it. I hope you don’t mind. It’s just that you seemed … I don’t know, I got a good feeling about you.’

‘No, that’s fine,’ I said, willing my voice to sound calmer than I felt. Which meant anything short of stark raving mad. ‘Once you decide which room is most suitable, we can start talking about everything else.’ 

‘I knew you’d get it,’ he said. 

The lift doors opened on the top floor into the wide entrance to the former restaurant. ‘As you can see, there’s still a lot of the original nineteen thirties decor,’ I said. ‘Especially these art deco wall sconces. I love them. Ooh, and look at that bar.’

I’d only been up there a few times, so I was as excited as Chuck as we ran around the room pointing out each interesting feature, from the geometrically mirrored pillars to the sexy-flapper-lady light fixtures. 

‘I’m such a sucker for this old stuff,’ he said. ‘I grew up in a house full of antiques. Older than this, actually, in Chicago.’ Then he considered me. ‘You probably grew up in a castle from the middle ages or something, being English.’

‘That sounds draughty. No, my parents live in a nineteen fifties semi-detached with pebble-dash.’

‘I don’t know what any of that means except for the nineteen fifties, but it sounds exotic.’

‘Hardly. Let’s just say it looks nothing like this. Will this be big enough, though? You said up to four hundred. That might be a squeeze if we want to seat them all.’

‘My guest list has halved, actually,’ he said, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. ‘The company isn’t letting spouses and partners come. Isn’t that weird, to exclude them from a formal social event like that? It’s going to be black tie with dinner and dancing. They were always invited wherever I’ve worked before.’

The painful penny dropped with a clang. Of course he’d have the perfect girlfriend to bring along. A bloke that cute and nice wasn’t single. 

‘Which company?’ I asked, covering my disappointment. ‘Your company now, I mean.’

‘Flable and Mead. The asset managers? Sorry, I should have said before.’

Of course I’d heard of them. They were only one of the biggest firms on Wall Street. No wonder Andi had to say yes when Chuck made his request. We were talking big money. 

And big egos. ‘I’m not surprised that other halves aren’t invited,’ I told him. Surely he’d worked out why for himself. ‘They usually aren’t invited in the UK either. The Christmas do is your chance to get pissed and snog a colleague.’

Chuck laughed. ‘I’m really glad I’ve seen all those Hugh Grant movies so I know what you’re talking about. So maybe it’ll be everyone’s chance at Flable and Mead to snog a colleague too.’ When he smiled, a dimple appeared on his left side. Just the one. ‘And as you’re working with me to organise the party, I guess that makes you my colleague, right?’

Did he mean what I thought he meant? The cheeky sod. ‘Come on, I’ll show you the ballroom.’

But the ballroom had nowhere near the ambiance of the top floor, and I knew before Chuck said anything that it didn’t have the right feel. Whereas upstairs had character and charm, the ballroom had bling. I’d only known Chuck for a matter of hours, but already I knew he wasn’t the blingy type. 

‘Definitely upstairs,’ he said. ‘So it’s done. We’ll book it. Now we just need to plan all the decorations, the food, the band, DJ. I guess the fee goes up depending on how much in-house stuff we use.’ He laughed. ‘I’m sorry, I really am in too deep here. I talked my way into my job. I have no idea how. My boss is a Northwestern alum like me and that must have swung it for me. Before I only worked organising conferences and a few parties at the local VFW hall. This is the big time.’

I knew exactly how he felt. When I first started at the hotel I had to pinch myself. There I was, about to live a life I’d only seen on telly. All I had to do was not muck things up. Digby had been on hand to show me the ropes when I needed it. So the least I could do for Chuck was to help him as much as I could. 

That’s what I told myself. I was paying it forward.

‘We’ve got a range of decorations we can do,’ I told him, thinking about how much I was going to get to see him in the upcoming weeks. I could really stretch things out by showing him one tablecloth per visit. ‘And we work with a few good catering companies, who I’m sure can arrange anything from a sit-down meal to a buffet. One even does burger bars, if you want something more quirky.’

‘What I’ll want is for you to help me, Rosie. You will be able to do that, right?’

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Whatever you need. It’s a whopping great fee your company is paying. That buys a lot of hand-holding.’

‘I was hoping you’d say that,’ he said. ‘The second I came in and saw you, I knew this was the right choice. We’re going to be great together, Rosie.’

I was thinking the exact same thing.

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Huge thanks to the author for permission to share this extract in advance of the book's publication


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Summer Read 2017 ~ Felicity at the Cross Hotel by Helena Fairfax

Helena Fairfax
July 2017

What's it all about...

A quaint hotel in a romantic location. The Lake District is the perfect getaway. Or is it?

Felicity Everdene needs a break from the family business. Driving through the Lake District to the Cross Hotel, past the shining lake and the mountains, everything seems perfect. But Felicity soon discovers all is not well at the Cross Hotel …

Patrick Cross left the village of Emmside years ago never intending to return, but his father has left him the family’s hotel in his will, and now he's forced to come back. With a missing barmaid, a grumpy chef, and the hotel losing money, the arrival of Felicity Everdene from the notorious Everdene family only adds to Patrick’s troubles.

With so much to overcome, can Felicity and Patrick bring happiness to the Cross Hotel … and find happiness for themselves.

What did I think about it ..

When Felicity Everdene arrives at the Cross Hotel in the Lake District she is viewed with suspicion because she is part of the hugely successful Everdene hotel chain who are known for their ruthless takeovers of struggling hotels. That the Cross Hotel is struggling is evident in its shabby decor and in its dejected air of just about managing to survive in a competitive business world.

Felicity really isn't there to take over the hotel for her family but trying to convince the hotel employees of this proves to be difficult and yet, Felicity's warm nature and expertise soon starts to win over people's affections. However, the hardest person to convince of her honourable intentions is Patrick Cross who has had to leave his successful business in the Caribbean in order to come home to run the hotel after the death of his father.

What then follows is a delightful tale of how Felicity and Patrick's rocky relationship develops and of how the gradual building of trust between them helps to set the hotel on a very different path.

I really enjoyed travelling to the Lake District with Felicity as she discovered for herself the unique charm of this very special place. The author has captured the place and its people so well that it is a joy to see the area come alive so vibrantly. With clever description we can see how the light glimmers on the waters of the lake and how the constantly changing weather patterns allow the stunning landscape to become an important part of the novel. The author has captured the very essence of the Lake District's special characteristics and has interwoven a delightful story of love and loss and of the importance of family commitments.

Felicity at the Cross Hotel is the perfect antidote to a rainy summer as the story fills you with sunshine. From the quirkiness of Felicity's character, through to Patrick's grumpiness, the shabby charm of the Cross Hotel, the eccentricities of the hotel employees, all combine to make a delightful summer read. A story which is just perfect for an afternoon in the garden, or better still somewhere in the English Lake District, with a view of a lake shimmering before you, regardless of the weather.

Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she's secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global eBook Awards, and the I Heart Indie Awards. Her first novel was a contender for the UK's Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme Award.

Helena is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She's grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

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My thanks to the author for sharing her story with me