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Christmas at Ladywell by Nicola Slade: charming and mysterious

 

A time for spilling secrets…

Having refurbished her inherited house and upcycled her whole life in the process, Freya – now happily married to Patrick, and with a small child – has to transform her tiny stone barn into a romantic hideaway for a mystery guest who is also looking for change. With Christmas only a week away, things don’t go according to plan…

In the past old uncertainties are resolved when an elderly woman seeks the truth of a legend on Christmas Eve and confesses to a deception; a Tudor wife listens to a story that must never be repeated and is given a precious relic that must never be displayed; and in the early nineteenth century an old woman tells a younger one the story of the hares at Ladywell.

Past and present are only a whisper apart when Freya learns of an astonishing discovery that will make Ladywell famous, but meanwhile her house is full of unexpected visitors, she has a turkey to cook – and a very special secret of her own that must be told.

 

My review

Christmas at Ladywell is a quick and charming read. It’s part of a series but you don’t need to have read the preceding books to be able to fully enjoy this one.

It’s a dual-timeline story that focuses on the past and the present at Ladywell. In having to do some rather quick renovations, Freya, who inherited the house, makes some interesting discoveries about former residents and royal connections. We get to travel back in time to witness events and meet some of these people. There’s a wonderful atmosphere of mystery woven into the historical element of the story.

There’s mystery in the present day too. Just what is Patrick’s surprise for Freya, and Freya’s own secret?

This is an uplifting, comforting sort of story, perfect for Christmas.

 

Purchase Links

US – https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-at-Ladywell-Nicola-Slade-ebook/dp/B07YNKPCJW

Author bio

Nicola Slade is an award-winning, bestselling author of historical and contemporary mysteries and romantic fiction, all set in and around Winchester and Romsey in Hampshire – which is where she lives. The House at Ladywell – a contemporary romantic novel with historical echoes – won the Chatelaine Grand Prize for Romantic Fiction at the CIBA awards in April 2019.

She is the author of the mid-Victorian Charlotte Richmond mysteries and the contemporary Harriet Quigley mysteries and The Convalescent Corpse, published November 2018, is the first in a new series, The Fyttleton Mysteries, set in 1918.

 

Social media links
Website:
www.nicolaslade.com

Blog: www.nicolaslade.wordpress.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/nicolasladeuk/

Twitter: @nicolasladeuk

Pinterest: www.pinterest.co.uk/nicola8703

 

Giveaway to Win a .mobi or PDF of The Convalescent Corpse by Nicola Slade (Open INT)

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494301/

 

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A Christmas Kiss by Eliza J Scott: joyful and festive

A Christmas Kiss

A sparkling festive romance that will warm your heart this Christmas.

The week before Christmas, GP Zander Gillespie finds his festive plans in tatters. He’s supposed to be flying out to his parents’ chateau in Carcassonne with his high-maintenance girlfriend, Melissa. But she has other ideas. She wants to spend Christmas in London with her party friends – and he’s not invited. The prospect of facing his family, with their questions and their sympathy – not to mention the ‘I told you so-s’ – just isn’t an option. Instead, Zander decides to head to his holiday cottage in the quaint moorland village of Lytell Stangdale, where he intends to hide away with his faithful rescue Labrador Alf.

Eighty miles away, Livvie’s world has come crashing down. With plans to cook a romantic meal for her boyfriend, she heads home early and walks in on him in a compromising position with their neighbour. Fed-up of his lies and philandering ways, this is the final straw. With her Christmas plans up in smoke, the thought of spending it with her parents and her smug, married sister with her pompous husband in tow, is enough to bring Livvie out in hives. So, when she fires up her laptop and finds the perfect little holiday cottage in Lytell Stangdale available to rent over the festive period, it seems the perfect solution. Or is it…?

Zander didn’t believe in love at first sight until he set eyes on Livvie. Livvie had sworn off men until she met Zander. The pair may be reluctant to give in to temptation, but fate seems to have other ideas…

Join Livvie and Zander – and all the usual characters – for a magical Christmas in Lytell Stangdale.

My review

This is a joyful, festive romcom but there’s a little bit of edge to it too. Both our main protagonists are in damaging relationships which they seek to escape over Christmas. As fate would have it they turn up under the same roof, each thinking they’ve got the rental cottage to themselves.

The plot is clever and interesting, and all the characters we meet are fascinating. Lytell Strangdale, the setting, is a place of warmth and friendship, and it weaves its magic spell over the troubled Livvie and Zander. The atmosphere is tense at times, but mainly festive and uplifting, like the book itself.

This novel is no. 4 in a series but it works perfectly as a standalone. I shall definitely be reading the rest in the series, and I’m sure you’ll want to as well. The author has such an enjoyable and readable style, and creates the most wonderful imagery and relationships.

This is the perfect read for the run-up to Christmas when you’re looking for cosiness and happy endings.

Purchase Links:

US – https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Kiss-Life-Moors-Book-ebook/dp/B07XBSZMQ5/

Author Bio – Eliza lives in a 17th-century cottage on the edge of a village in the North Yorkshire Moors with her husband, their two daughters and two mischievous black Labradors. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found with her nose in a book/glued to her Kindle or working in her garden. Eliza also enjoys bracing walks in the countryside, rounded off by a visit to a teashop where she can indulge in another two of her favourite things: tea and cake.

Eliza is inspired by her beautiful surroundings and loves to write heart-warming stories with happy endings.

 

Social Media Links –

Twitter: Eliza J Scott@ElizaJScott1

Instagram: Eliza J Scott@elizajscott

Facebook: Eliza J Scott@elizajscottauthor

Blog: www.elizajscott.com

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/ElizaJScott

 

Bookbub: www.bookbub.com/authors/eliza-j-scott

Amazon Author Page: UK: www.amazon.co.uk/Eliza-J-Scott/e/B07DMQWPMH

                                          US: www.amazon.com/Eliza-J-Scott/e/B07DMQWPMH

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XYZ by William Knight: sharp, funny and brilliant

XYZ

Jack Cooper is a depressed, analogue throwback; a cynical, alcoholic Gen-Xer whose glory days are behind him. He’s unemployed, his marriage has broken down, he’s addicted to internet hook-ups, and is deeply ashamed of his son Geronimo, who lives life dressed as a bear.

When Jack’s daughter engineers a job for him at totally-lit tech firm Sweet, he’s confronted by a Millennial and Zoomer culture he can’t relate to. He loathes every detail – every IM, gif and emoji – apart from Freya, twenty years his junior and addicted to broadcasting her life on social media.

Can Jack evolve to fit in at Sweet, or will he remain a dinosaur stuck in the 1980s? And will he halt his slide into loneliness and repair his family relationships?

XYZ is for every Gen-Xer who ever struggled with a device, and for everyone else who loves emojis … said no one ever.

 

My review

This book is sharp and funny, and it really resonated with me. Like Jack Cooper, our antihero, I’m someone who would prefer a mobile phone to just be a phone and not the receptacle for a zillion apps that you really can get successfully through a day without. Are we dinosaurs? Maybe, but bear in mind that dinosaur fossils have survived for tens of millions of years. We’re not that easy to ignore.

Jack isn’t just fighting technology – he’s fighting himself. He can be his own worst enemy at times, which serves to make him more endearing as our central character, although admittedly only in the way that your bad-tempered cat can occasionally sit on your lap and purr to stop you despairing of it completely.

There’s so much humour and cleverness packed into this novel. The pace is swift and, like the assaults of modern-day living on Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, relentless. With Jack we are swept along from blunder to mishap to misunderstanding to annoyance to occasional triumph. The shining light throughout is Jack’s love for his daughter.

If that will prove enough to stop Jack sinking into a muttering, antic-social wreck, well, you’ll just have to read this fabulous book for yourself to find out!

 

Purchase Link


Author bio

William Knight is British born writer and technologist currently living and working in Wellington, New Zealand. He’s chased a portfolio career which began in acting, progressed to music, flirted with handbag manufacturing and was eventually wired into technology in the late nineties.

“I had my first feature published in Computing magazine back in 2003 and subsequently wrote about the many successes and failings of high-tech for the Guardian, Financial Times and the BBC among many others publications. I now work as an IT consultant, and write blistering content for technology firms :-)” says William

The Donated (formerly Generation), his debut novel and a Sci-tech Thriller, started in 2001 and was ten years in development. XYZ, “A mid-life crisis with a comic vein”, took far less time. “But I think it’s funnier and better. Yay. Jazz hands!”

 

Social Media Links –

https://www.facebook.com/WilliamKnightAuthor

http://www.williamknight.info

https://twitter.com/_William_Knight

 

Giveaway to Win $10 Amazon voucher and a signed copy of XYZ (Open INT)

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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Chapter 1 of my festive romcom ‘A Christmas Hamster’

It’s ironic. For years my sister claimed I’d ruined her life by being born. Eight years as an only child meant she’d rather got used to being the centre of attention and having her own room, so suddenly having to share her parents and space with me didn’t go down very well. In reality I didn’t pose any sort of threat to her as she was the bright, pretty, high-achieving one, but she stuck resolutely to her assertion until she left to go to university. For whatever reason, that resulted in a softening of her attitude towards me and we became very close.

And then she ruined my life.

Well, totally derailed it and turned it upside down, at the very least. Her momentary lapse of attention when she stepped in front of that bus, nose buried in her phone, had dramatic consequences. Not only were Mum, Dad and I devastated at the death of a wonderful human being and the untimely shattering of our little family, but I became the guardian of three-year-old Rowan.

The only slip-up, until that fatal one, that my sister ever made was a one-night stand with a fellow delegate at a banking conference in New York. Rowan was the charming outcome nine months later. I doted on him, and regularly house- and baby-sat during my university holidays so that my sister could jet off to this important meeting and that crucial seminar, and give the live-in nanny some time off.

Then, after completing my Master’s degree in Conservation of Fine Art, I landed my dream job as a junior conservator at a small but prestigious art museum in The Netherlands. I loved every minute of it. My fledgling career, however, came to a crashing halt at Zinnia’s death when I had to return to the UK to bring up Rowan. Zin’s will named me as guardian and trustee until Rowan turned eighteen. She’d never breathed a whisper of this to me, not that I’d have refused her request, of course. I’d never have expected I’d actually have to take up the reins. I’d just have been flattered at her considering me capable of bringing up her beloved son. Mum and Dad might have been a more obvious choice, but possibly Zinnia had detected a few warning signs of the early-onset dementia that was spitefully beginning to sink its claws into dear old Dad. Mum had her hands increasingly full coping with him.

So there I was, a full-time aunt-slash-mum. Initially I’d devoted myself entirely to the orphaned toddler. The interest from the trust that I was given access to was enough to support the pair of us, but only if we lived frugally and it certainly didn’t stretch to covering hired help too. But anyway, the nanny had handed her notice in the day after the funeral. I guessed she’d foreseen an abrupt end to the cushy conditions she’d enjoyed up to that point.

I’d begun fretting at being housebound, even in our pleasant home on the edge of a small, bustling market town. Not that I was, really, since Rowan and I were out and about as much as we could be, either on our trailer bike, or on foot with Goliath the Chihuahua in tow. (More about him presently.) And thank goodness for there being so many toddler groups in Westeringfield. I think I enjoyed those even more than Rowan and they helped me keep a grip on my sanity.

Zin had only recently bought the house. She’d lived in London for years but, country girl that she was at heart, never really enjoyed being cooped up in a flat, however elegant, with noise all day and all night long. I know I couldn’t have stood it if I’d have had to have lived there with little Rowan. So she’d decided to move out to the sticks and cope with a twice-weekly commute to the city. Her job and the internet allowed her to work from home the other three. She’d chosen Westeringfield as it was on a direct rail line to London, and was only ten miles from our family home in Much Dowdon. Not too far, but far enough.

When Rowan started school, I touted around for a part-time job locally. A bit of extra money would always come in handy, and besides, I needed to start putting some aside for the day when my nephew reached his majority and neither needed nor wanted me under his roof any longer. I landed a part-time position at Nailed It!, a hardware store, as you probably guessed. I’m convinced the manager must have thought I said, during my begging phone call to him, that I had experience in “painting conservatories” rather than “painting conservation” because he offered me a job on the spot.

I was at work now, daydreaming during a lull in activity in the paint and varnish department, to which I’d been assigned. I was glad of the temporary respite as I’d been stacking pots of paint most of the morning so far. The smaller ones are no problem, but a ten-litre pot is a hefty item, especially for someone on the small side, like me. I’ve honed a fine set of biceps during my two years of doing this job, but I still find lugging the large, glugging containers around a tiring business.

I became of aware of someone studying the colour cards displaying the bewildering array of hues my paint-mixing machine could allegedly produce. I’d been standing at my station, gazing out into the middle distance in the direction of the tiles and shower section and had not originally noticed this potential client sidle up to the display board behind me.

My sales training, all half an hour of it, cut in.

“Hi there!” I said in a cheery voice from where I stood. “Can I help at all?”

The man swung round to face me. He was average height and build, thankfully with hair longer than what seemed to be the obligatory scalp stubble for men these days, and an intelligent, kind, good-looking face. He pushed his glasses up his nose a couple of millimetres then returned my smile, revealing a matching pair of dimples just visible beneath his neatly trimmed beard.

“I hope so. What would be good for covering grey?” he asked.

“What shade of grey are we talking about?” I enquired, coming over to join him at the board. “Something like any of these?”

I indicated the colour card that carried seven sample shades of pale grey, each varying by only a few degrees in darkness.

“No,” he shook his head, “much darker than that. You don’t have anything close,” he added, scanning the display. He turned to me. “The grey I’m talking about is somewhere between elephant and gunmetal.”

“Seriously?” I was so surprised I couldn’t stop myself blurting that out. Who on earth would use something that grim to decorate a room with? Aware I’d probably insulted the guy, I quickly added, by way of damage limitation, “Goodness, how very… unusual.”

“How very ghastly, more like.” He pulled a face. “My girlfriend – ex-girlfriend – moved in, redecorated my flat to resemble a coalmine, sucked my soul dry, and then left to do the same to some other poor sap.”

It was funny what confidences customers would share with the harmless-looking paint department girl. I used to be a bit shocked, but by now I was well used to tales of marital or relationship woe, or other personal hardships being nobly but vociferously borne. I could run a lucrative side-line in blackmail should I ever feel inclined.

“Oh dear, I’m very sorry to hear that,” I sympathised.

I was. My own love-life, which had never been the stuff of romance novels, had taken a turn for the worst after I assumed the responsibility of bringing up a little human being. No, more than that: it had nose-dived, crashed and burned. The merest mention that I was guardian to my nephew sent men, interested until that point, scuttling away. I couldn’t quite get my head round it: I mean, divorcees and single mums with children seemed to form new relationships with ease. Now, I admit I’m no oil-painting, but neither do I cause horses to rear nor babies to cry. I’m told I have a nice smile and a cute, freckly nose. By myself, true, but I’m not being biased, honestly. I’m petite, have slightly wild, copper-coloured hair, dress fashionably (within reason and budget) and have an upbeat personality. I enjoying chatting, and since I take an interest in more than just celeb gossip I like to think I make for an informed and stimulating companion.

But, maybe I don’t.

“Only be sorry about the paint,” the man suddenly chuckled, his face brightening. “I’m well over her now.”

I brightened too. “So, the soul is fully rehydrated?” I enquired.

“Mainly by alcohol at first,” he admitted ruefully, “but these days by a nice cup of tea and restored contentment with the world.”

Ah, so he probably had a lovely, new girlfriend. Shame. I was finding him more attractive by the minute.

“Whatever colour you go for, you’d be best off applying a few layers of white undercoat first,” I advised. “And go for Lakepool paint as the mixing base for your topcoat, rather than our own brand. It’s more expensive but it’s much better quality. Despite its name, the company hasn’t nailed it as far as their paint is concerned.”

He smiled, repeating the charming dimple display.

“And are these,” he gestured at the sheets of colour cards, “accurate?”

I trotted out the official line. “Minor colour differences between the printed colour sample and your final selected paint product may result.”

“How minor exactly?” he probed.

“Barely noticeable… in some cases. In others, the differences are a tad more major,” I confessed.

He raised an eyebrow. “And what cases would those be?”

“All of the blues and pinks,” I admitted with a sigh. “And the greens and yellows. Oh yes, and the beiges.”

I saw a shadow of a smile as he digested this information.

“The secret is to choose the colour you like, but order it at least two shades lighter.” I didn’t add that I would then go two shades lighter still when I set up the machine. Both Maggie and Ahmed, the other part-timers in the paint section, did the same thing. We’d all asked many times for the machine to be recalibrated or, preferably, replaced as there was definitely something off in its settings, but nothing had been done as yet, and, we knew full well, most likely never would.

“So would I be fairly safe with this magnolia?” He indicated a pale, insipid version of the colour.

“Yes,” I confirmed. “You can’t go too far wrong with magnolia.”

I couldn’t help feeling rather disappointed. I’d hoped he might be a little more adventurous. He gave off a livelier vibe. But maybe he was thinking of his new girlfriend.

He stared at the square centimetre of insipidness for a moment then shook his head. “Nah, need more oomph.”

Thank goodness for that.

“And maybe a different colour for every room?” he mused. He then immediately answered his own question with, “Yes, why not.”

“Excellent,” I beamed. “How many rooms?”

“Kitchen, bathroom, lounge, bedroom, spare bedroom – five.”

“Any hallway?” I prompted, knowing that many people tended to overlook this essential part of the house.

“Oh yes, that too. Six.” He smiled gratefully.

Should I push home the total sale now and send him home staggering under a pile of paint pots? Or should I encourage him to return as often as possible? It would be nice to see him again, but darn, there was that girlfriend – probably. Almost certainly. But not absolutely definitely…

I came up with a cunning plan.

“So,” I suggested with a smile, “how about you take that undercoat for now to get busy with, and a selection of these colour cards to talk over with any co-habitees.” There, how subtle was that? “Now, what square meterage of wall are we talking about?”

Most clients never had a clue so it made for a very refreshing, impressive change when this particular one informed me, “A total of two hundred and twenty-six square metres. Plus the hall, which I’d say will need, oh, thirty square metres maybe? But,” he added, interrupting my mental arithmetic process which was cranking into action to work out how many litres of undercoat he’d need, “there’s no need for consultation over colours. I’m confident that Fionnuala will be more than happy with my choices.”

My heart sank. Fionnuala. An Irish girlfriend, all luscious red hair, green eyes, seductive, lilting accent and perfect skin from all that rain. I hated her. Then, realising that this handsome man was also rather arrogant in assuming his beloved from the Emerald Isle would approve whole-heartedly of his selections, my heart sank a little further. I’d had a couple of boyfriends who’d been way too full of themselves like that. Not a nice feature.

“You see,” he went on, those dimples still issuing a silent siren call to me, “now that she’s fourteen, which is approximately seventy-two in cat years, she sleeps a lot of the time. And besides, cats don’t see colours like we do. They perceive a much more muted version on the whole.”

My heart leapt back up to its proper place. No girlfriend but a cat. And he was a knowledgeable guy. I liked smart, animal-loving men. Especially when they had dimples.

“I didn’t know that,” I admitted. “Which is shameful, since I have a cat too.”

And also a dog, a guinea-pig, two rats, a rabbit, a budgie, a tortoise, four turtles and three goldfish, but I thought I’d hold on to that other information for now. I didn’t want to come over as a frustrated zookeeper.

The reason I had these creatures was because Dolores, who worked at the customer services desk where she exuded calming charm over irate customers, was a volunteer at the town’s animal shelter. She’d quickly assessed me as a soft touch when I began work at Nailed It! and thus I’d rapidly accumulated these formerly abandoned, and in some cases abused, animals. I frequently fostered kittens or puppies too for a week or so if space was running short at the shelter.

“Lovely animals, aren’t they. Very companionable,” he summarised.

That wasn’t the word I’d use for poor dear Fluffles. My one-eared, half-tailed cat had suffered horribly at someone’s hands and was still extremely nervous, even after two years with me. She lurked in corners most of the time, but every now and again my one-sided devotion was rewarded by a purring presence materialising on my lap. Whenever that rare event happened I hardly dared move, apart from to gently stroke her head. A cough or sudden movement on my part would send her skittering away in an instant. It might be one week or several before she got her confidence back.

Goliath, the Chihuahua, was missing an eye and any sort of beauty but was the most loving pet you could wish for, despite enduring total neglect for years. Lettie, the tortoise, had a misshapen shell as evidence of brutal treatment that had left it badly cracked, but all my other waifs and strays were intact physically, just discarded.

“I’m very fond of my cat,” I eventually answered evasively. “She’s a dear.”

“And so’s your blooming varnish,” muttered an old guy stomping past. He’d been browsing the shelves of varnish while we’d been chatting. I admired his wit but not his judgement: Nailed It!’s own-brand varnish was the cheapest on the market. Also the worst, but that was beside the point.

His crabby interruption broke our sharing moment and got me back into business mode. I returned to that mental arithmetic.

“You’ll need twenty-five litres of undercoat for two nice, thick layers. And will you take any topcoat today as well?”

“I’ll take everything,” he replied decisively.

“Everything?” I echoed, a little plaintively. That would mean he wouldn’t need to come back and that would be a shame.

He evidently, and probably fortunately, misinterpreted my disappointment as mild surprise. “Well, if I buy it all in, then I’ll have to get on with the job. There’s a danger my enthusiasm might run out otherwise. I’ll need brushes too, or are rollers better, in your professional opinion?”

“Professional, yes, but personal no,” I replied, with honesty and resignation. “Rollers give an even spread but they tend to splatter paint everywhere, especially on the painter. And you need paint trays and they’re a pain to clean afterwards. Painting takes longer with a brush but it’s more rewarding, I find, and muchless messy.”

“Hmm.” He graciously digested my not very helpful comments. “Thank you. I’ll go with brushes. But presumably not your own-brand ones?”

“You presume correctly,” I smiled.

And so did he.

I would have to keep the quips coming. If I wasn’t going to see him again, then I’d have to extract maximum dimplage from him here and now. Who I was kidding? It wasn’t just the dimples, it was all of him which was alluring: his looks, his gentle humour, his shy-but-confident air.

“So, what shall we—” I began, but was rudely interrupted by the loud thudding of a ten-litre pot of paint crashing onto the counter behind me.

I swung round to see a short, round, red-faced woman glaring at me. I correctly surmised that she was red-faced from lugging the paint all the way through the shop to my department as well as from anger. Behind her was a breathless Dolores, running an agitated hand over her cornrow plaits. She threw me an apologetic eye-roll.

“I tried to explain to this customer that we deal with problems at the reception desk,” she said out loud, “but she insisted on seeing you herself.”

Great. I plastered on a sickly, insincere smile. “Now what seems to be—”

“The problem is that I sent my husband in for a tin of duck egg blue and he comes home with this!” the woman shrieked and shoved the paint can towards me, rather more energetically than necessary. I only just caught it in time to stop it sailing off the edge of the counter and onto the floor. “I marked the colour I wanted on the card but you gave me the wrong one.”

She meant ‘you’ as in any one of the massed ranks of Nailed It!’s employees. I certainly hadn’t seen her before.

“Do you have your—”

“Receipt? Yes.” She slammed that on the counter too.

I reached over and picked it up. The paint purchase had been made at 4.51 pm last Friday. I frowned. That was Ahmed’s shift. He knew how to handle our temperamental paint-mixing machine. Then my frown lifted as I recalled that he’d told me, when we’d overlapped briefly at one o’clock, that he’d had to make an urgent dentist’s appointment for later that day due to a chunk of molar breaking off during supper the previous night and leaving him with raging toothache. Mr Lawson, the assistant manager, stepped in to fill the breach at times of absent staff. He had always refused to believe our claims that the paint machine was off-kilter. So if someone asked for shade A10239 then that’s what he programmed into the machine when what it needed was actually A10235.

I could see from a few splotches on the outside of the tin that it contained paint of a pleasant shade of pale turquoise. Until about a year ago, we’d used lids that incorporated a circle of see-through plastic in the middle so that clients could see what shade of paint they’d purchased. These lids were fractionally more expensive than the ordinary all-metal, opaque ones and it was this same Mr Lawson who’d deemed them unnecessary. He’d instituted a slough of similar cost-cutting practices that were either client- or staff-unfriendly across the shop. None of us failed to notice that this had taken place just before he got his latest company car, an even more upmarket BMW than the previous one, which was only a couple of years old.

The woman kept up a grumbling monologue that I switched off to as I located the department’s stout screw-driver that served to prise paint pots open. I worked my way around the lid, loosening its tight clasp, and finally eased it off to reveal a glistening small sea of a really quite exquisite colour. A lone paintbrush bristle sat on the surface as witness to the fact that a cursory blob of this renegade shade had been smeared on the wall to prove just how wrong it was.

“What a lovely colour!” came a voice.

I’d temporarily forgotten about Mr Dimples.

“It is rather nice, isn’t it?” I agreed, temporarily forgetting about Mrs Red-Face.

“Nice? It’s hideous! Have you ever seen duck’s eggs this colour?”

I hadn’t knowingly ever seen a duck’s egg at all. However, I didn’t get the time to admit this.

“I want my money back,” she went on.

“How much was the paint?” asked Mr Dimples.

“Sixty-four quid,” snapped Mrs Red-Face. “Daylight robbery.”

“I’ll buy it off you,” offered Mr Dimple.

I stared at him. “But what about a different colour for every room?” I reminded him.

“I have to handle the transaction through my till,” chimed in Dolores, who was still lurking.

“Nonsense,” said Mrs Red-Face, seeing Mr Dimples extracting his wallet. “I’m quite happy to let this nice young man buy my paint from me.”

Dolores and I looked at each other. She shrugged.

“Okay, just this once,” she conceded.

Dolores was normally a stickler for the rules. I could only imagine she’d had more shirty customers to deal with than usual today and so her trademark feisty robustness had been ground down to a shadow of its usual self.

“Great.” My handsome, cat-owning client had already laid three twenties on the counter and was delving in his jeans pocket – his snugly-fitting jeans pocket – for the balance in coins.

“Excellent,” beamed his new best friend.

“Would you like me to mix you ten litres of the correct shade?” I offered Mrs Red-Face, although I already knew what the answer would be.

Sure enough I got a haughty snort in response and something along the lines of “I’ll never set foot in this dump again,” although both Dolores and I knew she’d be back. Nailed It! was so very cheap compared with other hardware stores, and people generally were so very tight-fisted.

Stuffing the money into her handbag, Mrs Red-Face flounced off. Dolores trailed back to her desk and a growing queue of grieved and now even grumpier customers. I turned to my turquoise-loving client.

“Sorry for the rude interruption,” I smiled. “Now, I’d better get you that undercoat. And brushes. And you’ll need another twelve and a half litres of topcoat in total. The same shade or some different colours?”

“Actually,” he began. Oh no, that little incident had put him off buying any more of our tinted paints. “Actually, I’ll just take the undercoat and a brush or two. Thinking about it, it would be a bit much to buy it all now.”

He had a slightly devious look as he said that. Was he coming round to my way of thinking that it would be a shame if our paths were never to cross again?

“Yes, it would,” I said firmly, in reply to his voiced observation and my own silent one. “And each time you call in, you can give me progress reports and let me know what Fionnuala thinks of it all.”

“Maybe,” he hesitated, then seemed to pluck up courage, “maybe you could even come round and see the finished result?”

“Maybe I could.” My smile morphed into a cheesy grin.

He cheesed back at me.

We chatted some more as I bustled around, making the brush selection procedure last as long as possible since he did smell so beautifully of manly shower gel and deo. I felt more than a slight pang of disappointment when my most gorgeous client ever eventually staggered off with a ten-litre pot of paint in each hand and brushes tucked under one arm. I’d written a quick note for whoever was on checkout to not charge for the turquoise paint, and if they wanted more details to go to Dolores about it. I knew that whoever it was wouldn’t.

I hoped I’d see Fionnuala’s owner again. I really did.

Interlude

“I’m home!” he calls coming into the hallway, as if I haven’t already heard the car draw up, a door and then the boot open and slam shut, him crunching up the gravel drive and opening the front door. “Did you miss me?”

Not really, truth be told. Still, I do my thing and go and greet him, winding round his legs and liberally coating his jeans with long white and ginger hairs. He tickles my head. That really is rather nice. I can’t help purring.

Then I notice he’s grinning like an idiot. Uh-oh, I’ve seen that look before. He’s in love.

“I’m in love,” he announces.

Told you so.

I’d have thought the awful, evil Tamara was enough to put him off women for life. But evidently not. The man’s a fool.

I stalk off, tail ramrod straight in the air, to show my disapproval. But despite myself, I can’t help stopping and sniffing the two big container-things he brought in with him and dumped, loudly, on the floor.

“It’s paint,” he tells me. “I’m going to brighten this place up.”

Thank goodness. It’s like living in a cave in here.

“And then I shall ask the most beautiful girl in the world to come and admire it,” he calls after me.

Ugh.

I trot off to wipe that silly smile off his face by doing something nasty, and not necessarily in my litter tray.

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Christmas Secrets at Villa Limoncello by Daisy James

Escape to Villa Limoncello… where dreams come true in the most unexpected ways.

With Christmas around the corner, Izzie Jenkins is ready to kickstart the new ‘Snowflakes and Christmas Cakes’ course at Villa Limoncello with chef and business partner, Luca Castelotti.

However, secrets are stirring with their latest guests and when nasty accidents keep befalling the group it looks like Izzie will have to turn detective once more to protect the Villa’s fledgling reputation. On top of all this, Izzie’s been offered the job of a lifetime – back home in Cornwall. Will she be coming home for Christmas, or will Tuscany work its magic to keep her at Villa Limoncello with Luca?

My review

This is a winning combination of festivity, fabulous food, romance and mystery. Add in fascinating characters, a beautiful setting and a clever, captivating plot and you just can’t ask for more.

The book is the third in a series but it works fine as a standalone as we’re quickly given all the information we need to know what’s what.

The author writes beautifully. The words dance off the page and sweep you along. There’s humour, tension, mystery and romance, all superbly handled.

This is a Christmas parcel of perfection.

Purchase Link

Author Bio

Daisy James is a Yorkshire girl transplanted to the north east of England. She loves writing stories with strong heroines and swift-flowing plotlines. When not scribbling away in her peppermint-and-green summerhouse (garden shed), she spends her time sifting flour and sprinkling sugar and edible glitter. She loves gossiping with friends over a glass of something pink and fizzy or indulging in a spot of afternoon tea – china plates and teacups are a must.
Daisy would love to hear from readers via her Facebook page or you can follow her on Twitter @daisyjamesbooks or on Instagram @daisyjamesstories.

Social Media Links – Facebook https://www.facebook.com/daisyjamesbooks/

Twitter @daisyjamesbooks

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/daisyjamesstories/

 

 

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Anything for Love by Gracie Bond: fun, frantic and touching

Synopsis

Leah Jensen, Yorkshire lass born and bred, needs money and she’ll do anything – yes, anything – to get it. Her Grandad Thomas is in pain and the cost of an operation on his bad knee is way beyond the family’s means. Leah tries everything to earn the fee – but in the end, and like so many before her, she turns to the world’s oldest profession.
Madam Butterfly’s exclusive escort agency in London is a different world to where Leah comes from. In Whitby, the sea air is sweet, and legends of Dracula jostle with jet-mining and whaling history; it’s a place where dog lovers meet and tourists come to marvel at the views.
Leah may be out of her comfort zone, but one daring, brief encounter will bring many surprises in this memorable romantic comedy full of pithy Yorkshire humour.

 

My review

This is a slightly madcap but touching novel! It’s packed full of energy and larger than life, exuberant characters.

Front of stage are Leah and her camp cousin Joey, who are devoted to each other and their grandfather. They need to raise money, and fast, to pay for his operation as the NHS waiting list is far too long. They try a few crazy and increasingly unlikely things, from dog walking to wing walking, before Leah turns to the oldest profession as a way to make money.

Wealthy, rather-full-of-himself Dan is the man of the hour. His encounter with Leah has unforeseen consequences, due to some sneaky skulduggery. And has our fair-haired, energetic heroine has the willpower and determination to cope with the unexpected…

It’s a fast-paced novel, with lots of humour and twists and turns. However, it touches on gritty issues – the failure of the NHS to look after vulnerable people properly, prostitution – but these are skilfully dealt with so that they don’t jar in this comic novel.

Fun and frantic, and definitely worth a read.

Purchase Link:

 

Gracie Bond loves a good romantic comedy, either to read or to watch on Netflix. Her favourite go-to novel is (Pride and Prejudice)- and she’s always happy to watch (Bridget Jonesany time of the dayAmong Gracie’s interests are Newfoundland dogs, horses, and handsome Yorkshire men. Her idea of fun would be to ride a spirited horse along a Northumberland beach, followed by a pack of her favourite dogs.

Gracie lives in Yorkshire with her partner John and she has close connections with Whitby, the setting for this novel.

Social Media Links –

https://www.facebook.com/graciebondauthor/

https://twitter.com/gracie_author

https://www.instagram.com/graciebondauthor22/

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Sacrificing Starlight by David Pipe: a dark, thrilling novel

Sacrificing Starlight

Time’s running out for DCI Hunter. His wife and child are missing, perhaps even dead. Unable to pursue those responsible he’s transferred to the wild landscape of Cornwall where another child has disappeared.

Alice Trevelyan’s father has his own agenda and wants retribution for the loss of his little girl and metes out his own violent justice.

Will Trevelyan help or hinder?

Hunter has to make his move if he wants to save Starlight.

But can anyone in this remote location be trusted?

 

My review

First up, I must apologise to the author for running late with this review. I’d marked down the wrong date in my diary for who knows what reason.

This is a challenging, disturbing novel dealing with the tough issue of child abuse. There’s graphic violence so this is very much a dark thriller, quite horrific at some points. But it certainly makes you sit up and take notice.

We have a good pair of lead characters in DCI Hunter and Iraqi war veteran Trevelyan They’re opposites in many ways, namely personality and their approaches to solving these heinous crimes, but united in their desire to put an end to an organised paedophile ring.

The action moves at a brisk pace and the plot is well thought-out. We are given different points of view on the action. The author keeps us guessing as to who the perpetrators are all the way to the exciting conclusion.

Bleak but realistic, this is a novel for anyone who enjoys a read that will shake them up and give them plenty to think about.

David Pipe is a talented and versatile writer.

 

Purchase Link

Author Bio –

David Pipe was born in 1949 in a small Essex village. He attended a local grammar school then the University of Hull where he took a B.Sc in chemistry. He worked in the pharmaceutical industry in England and South Africa before studying for a PhD in organic chemistry at Imperial College. After spells at universities in Geneva and Mulhouse he joined the oil industry in Germany where, aged 53, he gratefully took a redundancy package. Following a period of self-employment he wound down his business, eventually giving it up to scratch the writing itch which has produced Sacrificing Starlight, a timely reminder of the risks our children face and Henry’s Tale, where ghostwriting for his furry friend he describes the emotional growth of a puppy on the rollercoaster of life, compressed into a few weeks because puppies learn faster than their staff.

 

When he’s not writing David spends his time travelling, reading, swimming and jogging. He is married and lives in Hamburg with his wife and their Border terrier Henry.

 

Social Media Links –

Twitter @dfpwriter

FB https://www.facebook.com/DavidPipeBooks/

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Cover reveal: Anything For Love by Gracie Bond

Anything For Love

Leah Jensen, Yorkshire lass born and bred, needs money and she’ll do anything – yes, anything – to get it. Her Grandad Thomas is in pain and the cost of an operation on his bad knee is way beyond the family’s means. Leah tries everything to earn the fee – but in the end, and like so many before her, she turns to the world’s oldest profession.
Madam Butterfly’s exclusive escort agency in London is a different world to where Leah comes from. In Whitby, the sea air is sweet, and legends of Dracula jostle with jet-mining and whaling history; it’s a place where dog lovers meet and tourists come to marvel at the views.
Leah may be out of her comfort zone, but one daring, brief encounter will bring many surprises in this memorable romantic comedy full of pithy Yorkshire humour.

Purchase Links

And now – here’s that cover!

Author Bio – Gracie Bond loves a good romantic comedy, either to read or to watch on Netflix. Her favourite go-to novel is (Pride and Prejudice)- and she’s always happy to watch ( Bridgett Jones) any time of the day. Among Gracie’s interests are Newfoundland dogs, horses, and handsome Yorkshire men. Her idea of fun would be to ride a spirited horse along a Northumberland beach, followed by a pack of her favourite dogs.

Gracie lives in Yorkshire with her partner John and she has close connections with Whitby, the setting for this novel.

Social Media Links –

https://www.facebook.com/graciebondauthor/

https://twitter.com/gracie_author

https://www.instagram.com/graciebondauthor22/

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Pride, Prejudice and Poison by Elizabeth Blake: a clever, understated cosy mystery

Synopsis

In this Austen-tatious debut, antiquarian bookstore proprietor Erin Coleridge uses her sense and sensibility to deduce who killed the president of the local Jane Austen Society.

Erin Coleridge’s used bookstore in Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire, England is a meeting place for the villagers and, in particular, for the local Jane Austen Society. At the Society’s monthly meeting, matters come to a head between the old guard and its young turks. After the meeting breaks for tea, persuasion gives way to murder—with extreme prejudice—when president Sylvia Pemberthy falls dead to the floor. Poisoned? Presumably…but by whom? And was Sylvia the only target?

Handsome—but shy—Detective Inspector Peter Hadley and charismatic Sergeant Rashid Jarral arrive at the scene. The long suspect list includes Sylvia’s lover Kurt Becker and his tightly wound wife Suzanne. Or, perhaps, the killer was Sylvia’s own cuckolded husband, Jerome. Among the many Society members who may have had her in their sights is dashing Jonathan Alder, who was heard having a royal battle of words with the late president the night before.

Then, when Jonathan Alder narrowly avoids becoming the next victim, Farnsworth (the town’s “cat lady”) persuades a seriously time-crunched Erin to help DI Hadley. But the killer is more devious than anyone imagines.

 

My review

This is a very clever, understated cosy mystery. And I mean understated as a compliment in that, as with Jane Austen’s own books, everything is subtle and underplayed which just makes it all the more effective. For example, this book is gently humorous. It’s not a ‘laugh out loud’ type read, but more of a ‘frequent quiet smile’, which I actually prefer and which is harder to sustain since it doesn’t rely on slapstick or cheesy situations for comedy .

The characters are equally subtle. Their personalities gradually emerge as they book progresses, rather than being described in full to us at the beginning. We get strong hints as to what they’re like – Farnsworth is a cat lady and Sylvia is bossy, for example – but there’s a lot more to them than that and we watch them all develop nicely. Erin is an interesting heroine, very much a Jane Austen heroine in that she’s not the sort that’s cut out to play a lead role. She’s an intelligent, thoughtful woman who prefers the quiet life. She’s likeable and we enjoy following the events that unwind around her.

Interactions are great. As in any group of people, within the very dedicated Jane Austen Society there are friendships and animosities, organisers and followers-along, ambition and apathy. The bickering and niggling is extremely life-like – well, it is for me living in a small French village where committee meetings see the full gamut of emotions being run through!

The use of quotes from Austen’s novels is a witty touch. As always the author has a light hand with this and doesn’t overdo it, just throwing in an appropriate quote to add a little richness.

Well worth a read, whether you’re a Jane Austen fan or not.

Purchase Link

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Murder in Capital Letters by Peter Bartram: lively and humorous 1960s mystery

Synopsis

SHOT TWICE! Brighton antiques dealer Freddie Hollingbourne-Smith is murdered in his workshop – and crime reporter Colin Crampton is first on the scene.

TOO MANY SUSPECTS: Colin discovers plenty had reason to kill Freddie… like thwarted beauty queen Julie Appleyard, his jilted mistress… snooty toff Sir Tunnicliffe Hogg, his persecuted neighbour… devious hard-man Harry Spittlefield, his cheated partner… not to mention fiery and passionate Isabella, his betrayed ex-wife.

CRYPTIC CLUE: Colin must puzzle out the mystery left by a small pile of printers’ type – all in capital letters – before he can finger the killer.

THE CLIMAX EXPLODES on the famous train, the Brighton Belle. With Colin’s feisty Australian girlfriend Shirley at his side, the laughs are never far from the clues as the pair hunt down the murderer

My review

This is a lively, humorous book set in 1960s Brighton. Our hero Colin Crampton is a journalist for the local paper. He enjoys his job, most of the time, and is as hardworking as any of the others at the office.
In this story he’s running an errand for a dodgy friend, and in doing so is first at a murder scene. He’s determined to get to the bottom of the crime, and this brings into contact with some fascinating, and occasionally scary, people and into some dicey situations. But Colin is determined and clever, and lucky, and it looks like he should survive the ordeal.
The setting is wonderfully portrayed and is a blast from the past for some of us readers who remember the 1960s. Colin and his companions are flawed and entirely human, and they get up to some very entertaining activities.
This is a very enjoyable, clever book that’s a delight to read.

 

This is a free Crampton of the Chronicle novella available from colincrampton.com.