I’m delighted to be bringing up the rear in the blog tour for this wonderful novel!

Synopsis

When Hattie Green pops to the shop one afternoon, she never expects her life to flash before her eyes between the tins of baked beans and a special offer on sliced white. One minute she’s loading her trolley and thinking about what to give her son for dinner, and the next she’s speaking to a gorgeous man in a glowing white suit about what her life could have been…

If you had the chance to go back and relive it all, what would you do differently? Go on that date, take that promotion… eat that second biscuit? Hattie is about to discover where she went wrong, but will her mystery second chance reveal some STONKING secrets in her past that probably should have stayed hidden?

A gorgeous romantic comedy from the bestselling author of What Holly’s Husband Did. Perfect for fans of Tracy Bloom, Marian Keyes and Dawn French.

 

My review

In her forties with a divorce behind her, Hattie is resigned to just keeping on keeping on. She makes enough from her dog-walking business to get by, and enjoys time with her son Fin. However, he’s a teen now and increasingly independent. Her mother is determined to get Hattie to remarry and is doing all she can to push a certain man her way so Hattie prefers to avoid her. Fortunately she has a good friend Jo, and it’s when she’s out buying korma for a girls night in with Jo that something life-changing happens in the baked beans aisle…

This is a very clever and upbeat novel. The fantasy element works really well amidst the very realistic setting of the rest of the story. The point of this experience is to allow Hattie to learn three things: trust, believe the unbelievable and fall in love. She’s quick to catch on to the first two – as are we readers with regards to the author and this story – but that last one might prove to be too much for jaded Hattie. She has to revisit key moments in her life to see if there’s hope for her future. I think we’d all cringe if we had to go back to those times we’re much happier to forget about so we can sympathise with our likeable heroine as she faces this ordeal. Mind you, she’s getting guidance and support from the handsome Josh, so it’s not all bad news by a long shot.

The characters we meet are varied, fun and fascinating. And in a few cases cautionary – I’m now determined not to turn into Hattie’s mother, even though, like every mum, would love to see their children happily settled!

The plot, simple but very effective, works extremely well, with plenty of humour to keep it lively.

In summary, this is an extremely enjoyable feel-good read and divine romantic comedy!

 

Author bio:

Prior to turning her attention to writing, Debbie Viggiano was, for more years than she cares to remember, a legal secretary. She lives with her Italian husband, a rescued pooch from Crete, and a very disgruntled cat. Occasionally her adult children return home bringing her much joy… apart from when they want to raid the fridge, or eat her secret stash of chocolate. Follow Debbie’s (intermittent!) blog: www.debbieviggiano.blogspot.com Tweet @DebbieViggiano or look her up on Facebook!

 

 

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for this exciting thriller set in the world of the pharmaceutical industry.

Synopsis

Out of fear. Out of greed. Out of evil. Corruption springs from many roots.
Teenagers fall prey to a deadly new drug craze sweeping across Russia. Pharmaceuticals destined for Africa turn up on the backstreets of Moscow, St Petersburg and Vladivostok. Regulator Suzanne Jones and her sister, Charlie, fight to stop the pushers before more kids die.
But will their discoveries mean a friend goes to prison? And are they putting their loved ones in danger?
With old adversaries and surprising new allies, the Jones sisters face their toughest challenge to date. The heart-stopping final episode in the Suzanne Jones series of thrillers set in the sometimes murky world of international pharmaceuticals

My review

This is the third book in a series, but the first I’d read. It works absolutely fine as a standalone but probably, like me, after reading this exciting book you’ll want to read the preceding novels too: Counterfeit and Deception.
Suzanne and her sister Charlie, who together make up Jones Technical Partnership, are on the trail of a lethal drug that appears to be coming from Russia. To complicate matters, their friend Francine Matheson, recently widowed, has become close to a Russian man, Anatoly Dimitriov, Anton for short, who has a pharmaceutical company. Francine has concerns about the involvement in Anton’s business of Boris Lechkov, a somewhat menacing figure. The sisters thus have two investigations to handle. They also have a lot going on in their personal lives as we have Charlie facing parenthood as her partner Annie is pregnant, and Suzanne gets married to Steve. The sisters are a good team: their strengths complement each other, and the bond between them contributes towards their commitment and success.
The story is told in the third person but the focus shifts between the various characters, a technique that works very well in this author’s hands. It allows for character development and adds freshness. There’s some movement back and forth in time too, providing background where necessary which again makes for a richer experience.
Settings for the action, which include Martinique and Russia, are beautifully described and atmospheric. The people we meet are distinctive and rounded, all interesting and convincingly portrayed. Mama D, Anton’s mother, is one of my favourites!
There are four parts to the novel, and as each progresses the tension and excitement mount, and the plot thickens and the strands intertwine. There are excellent twists and turns, and the author really does keep us guessing all the way through this thriller.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Corruption. It captured my attention fully from the very start, and kept me riveted to the spectacular denouement.

Purchase Links

Amazon: http://geni.us/Corruption
Link to other ebook platforms: https://www.books2read.com/u/38rGxO

Author bio
When Elizabeth Ducie had been working in the international pharmaceutical industry for nearly thirty years, she decided she’d like to take a break from technical writing—text books, articles and training modules—and write about some of her travel experiences instead. She took some courses in Creative Writing and discovered to her surprise that she was happier, and more successful, writing fiction than memoirs or life-writing. In 2012, she gave up the day job, and started writing full-time. She has published three novels, three collections of short stories and a series of manuals on business skills for writers.

Social Media Links
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Elizabeth-Ducie-Author-312553422131146/
Twitter- https://twitter.com/ElizabethDucie
Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/educie/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/elizabeth_ducie_author/

Synopsis

Resigned to another lifetime of being a witch’s familiar, Caitlyn has found a degree of peace in her role as the Duke of Normandy’s protector and spy.

But that peace is shattered when she returns to her native land only to come face-to-face with her past, and fall in love with a man who she desperately hopes will become her future.

 

Here’s the cover:

 

Pre-Order Link: http://books2read.com/StainOnTheSoul

 

Author bio

Elizabeth Davies is a paranormal author, whose books have a romantic flavour with more than a hint of suspense. And death. There’s usually death…

Social Media Links –

Website – www.elizabethdaviesauthor.co.uk

Twitter  – @bethsbooks

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ElizabethDaviesAuthor/

Instagram – @elizabethdavies.author

Isolation Junction

Rose is the mother of two young children, and finds herself living a robotic life with an abusive and controlling husband. While she struggles to maintain a calm front for the sake of her children, inside Rose is dying and trapped in ‘Isolation Junction’.

She runs an online business from home, because Darren won’t let her work outside the house. Through this, she meets other mums and finds courage to attend networking events, while Darren is at work, to promote her business.

It’s at one of these events that Rose meets Tim, a sympathetic, dark-haired stranger who unwittingly becomes an important part of her survival.

After years of emotional abuse, of doubting her future and losing all self-confidence, Rose takes a stand. Finding herself distraught, alone and helpless, Rose wonders how she’ll ever escape with her sanity and her children. With 100 reasons to leave and 1,000 reasons she can’t, will she be able to do it?

Will Tim help her? Will Rose find peace and the happiness she deserves? Can Rose break free from this spiraling life she so desperately wants to change?

Pre-order Links:

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Isolation-Junction-Breaking-isolation-emotional-ebook/dp/B01LX4HLT0/

Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/Isolation-Junction-Breaking-isolation-emotional-ebook/dp/B01LX4HLT0/

This  new edition of Isolation Junction publishes on 22nd October, and Jennifer Gilmour would love to invite you to the online launch party on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/events/699087493784429/

Author Bio

Born in the North East, I am a young, married mum with three children. I assist in running a family business from my home-base and I have a large readership of other young mums in business for my blog posts.

From an early age I have had a passion for writing and have been gathering ideas and plot lines from my teenage years. A passionate advocate for women in abusive relationships, I have amalgamated and fictionalised other survivors experiences alongside my own to write my first novel detailing the journey of a young woman from the despair of an emotionally abusive and unhappy marriage to develop the confidence to challenge and change her life and to love again. I hope that in reading my debut novel, I will raise awareness of this often hidden and unseen behaviour and empower women in abusive relationships to seek help for themselves and find the confidence to change their lives.

My turn today to review this wonderful book.

 

BLURB: A quiet life for Aubrey?

After spending several months banged up in Sunny Banks rescue centre, Aubrey, a large tabby cat, has finally found his forever home with Molly and Jeremy Goodman, and life is looking good.

However, all that changes when a serial killer begins to target elderly victims in the neighbourhood.

Aubrey wasn’t particularly upset by the death of some of the previous victims, including Miss Jenkins whom Aubrey recalls as a vinegar-lipped bitch of an old woman who enjoyed throwing stones at cats, but Mr Telling was different.

Mr Telling was a mate…

 

My review

This is definitely a cosy with a difference. Actually, several differences. Not only do we have an unassuming feline sleuth, instead of the usual redoubtable female human, but this is a cosy with a definite hard edge to it. Through Aubrey and his investigations, with assistance from cats and humans alike, we are brought fact to face with some pretty tough social issues, such as poverty, discrimination, murder, naturally given the genre, illegal immigration and bullying. However, the author doesn’t get bogged down in them, merely brings them to our attention in a succinct and telling way as part of the story. Aubrey himself is a rescue cat and as such is himself a comment on people’s tendency to see animals as throwaway items. But at last it seems like he has found his forever home with Jeremy and Molly.

Mr Telling was his back-up plan, however, should things ever go pear-shaped with the Goodmans. Aubrey is nothing if not a realist who has no illusions about how cruel life can be. But he remains upbeat and wryly humorous, and always take the pragmatic view of things. Thus his decision to keep a possible home in reserve should the Goodmans change their minds about him. So when Mr Telling is the next in a series of murders, it’s time for him to stick his whiskered nose in with his characteristic cattitude. He’s quite a force to be reckoned with when he gets going. We just have to hope that curiosity won’t kill this cat!

The author has a lively, witty style that’s hugely entertaining. It’s an ambitious book, since writing for adults from the point of view of an animal isn’t an easy thing to do. Such a project could easily become twee or childish, but not here. Absolutely not. At times you almost forget Aubrey’s a cat as he’s portrayed with such conviction and detail. He quickly becomes our friend and we’re with him all the way as he attempts to get the bottom of this murderous skulduggery. His feline colleagues are a varied and fascinating bunch, all distinctly different with foibles, good and bad. We discover that there’s a lot more to life as a cat than me might imagine.

The human characters are superbly portrayed too, from the gentle Goodmans to the brash Maria. There are some interesting and, I suspect, heartfelt insights into the world of teaching which seems quite the quagmire at times!

I really enjoyed this original, clever story with its challenging depth and broad outlook. An excellent read and one I highly recommend.

 

Book info

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Crooked Cat Books
  • Language: English

 https://www.crookedcatbooks.com/product/street-cat-blues/

 

About the author:  Alison was born in London and spent her teenage years in Hertfordshire.

She has also lived in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

After studying Law she decided to teach rather than go into practice and for many years taught Criminal Law to adults and young people.

Since moving to the south coast, Alison has been involved in qualification and assessment development for major awarding bodies.

When not writing, she enjoys crosswords, walking by the sea and playing Scrabble on her iPad – which she always sets to beginner level because, hey, why take chances?

Alison lives with her husband John and cat Archie.

 

Twitter @alisonoleary81

 

 

 

 

 

An exciting cover reveal for you today at Books Are Cool!

About ‘Strand of Faith’

When the choice is between love and life, how can anyone decide?

A girl and a monk, both with extraordinary mental powers, have compelling reasons not to fall in love.  But those from whom they expect support are manipulating them both because their choices will have consequences for the rest of the world.

After a stormy youth, Brother Prospero has found comfort and fulfilment in the monastery.  That is, until he discovers something that forces him to reconsider his whole vocation.  To follow his heart, he’ll have to face his demons again, outside the security of the monastery. Is it worth the risk?  Can he beat them this time? Or will they finally destroy him?

Orphaned and mistreated, Leonie has found sanctuary and safety at the abbey.  All she wants is to learn how to manage her unusual abilities so that she is not a danger to those around her.  When she comes into contact with Prospero everything threatens to spiral out of her control.  Whether she leaves or whether she stays, how can she possibly avoid destroying – yet again – those she has come to care about?

Abbot Gabriel is faced with an impossible choice.  He can do nothing and watch the world descend into war.  Or he can manipulate events and ensure peace – at the cost of two lives that he is responsible for.  He knows what he has to do but is he strong enough to sacrifice those he loves?

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Strand-Faith-Choices-Consequences-Book-ebook/dp/B07GKZT8LF

http://www.books2read.com/strandoffaith

 

And here’s the remarkable cover:

 

Author Bio

Rachel J Bonner is the author of the four book Choices and Consequences series, the first of which, ‘Strand of Faith’, is due out in November 2018.

Getting a degree in engineering, followed by a career in accountancy is probably not a conventional path to becoming an author, particularly in paranormal romance.  Rachel says that, although accountancy isn’t anything like as boring as everyone thinks, writing is a lot more fun.  When not writing, she can be found walking in the beautiful countryside near where she lives, which has influenced much of the scenery in her books, or shooting things with her local archery club.  Target shooting only, honest.  Nothing to worry about.

She also enjoys swimming, eating chocolate chip cookies and growing aromatic herbs, especially thyme and rosemary.  It’s no coincidence that her heroine likes the same things.

You can find out more about her books and sign up for Rachel’s newsletters at www.racheljbonner.co.uk.

https://twitter.com/RachelJBonner1

Cover Designer’s Social Media

www.oliverpengilley.co.uk

www.facebook.com/pengilleyart

@oliverpengilley  

www.patreon.com/oliverpengilley

www.etsy.com/uk/shop/oliverpengilley

 

An extract from ‘Deck the Halles’, which is coming very soon, promise! It’s the sequel to Fa-La-Llama-La. 

Noelle’s pre-Christmas preparations aren’t going as planned. She’s been called in at the last moment to find a venue for a national llama show, and has already had to deal with two family crises. And now here’s a third: 

I had just turned the heat under the pan right down to leave our meal keeping warm until Mum reappeared when the phone rang. I automatically turned to grab my phone off the table, where I usually left it. But of course, we’d tidied up in honour of Mum’s visit. The table was forlornly bare of everything except three empty mugs. Where had I put my phone? I couldn’t for the life of me remember. However, the ring tone was coming from somewhere close by, and sounding slightly muffled. Of course, I’d shoved it in my handbag, along with three notebooks (I’m a notebook junkie), several pens, two pegs, a clean sock and a packet of tissues as part of the cleaning process. I rummaged through these and the bag’s other contents and found the phone. I squinted at the number. It was a call from the UK, but from exactly which one of its residents I had no idea.

Only one way to find out.

“Hello?”

“Hi, sweetheart,” came Dad’s voice in reply.

I was so stunned at hearing his voice that I had to sit down. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d spoken to my father on the phone. Mum handled that side of things, and merely relayed messages to and from my other parent. I wasn’t even aware he had his own mobile.

Dad’s voice was faked breeziness.

“Sorry to bother you, dear, but I, er, can’t seem to find your mother.” Not ‘my wife’, note, but ‘your mother’. Like Mum he was good at unfairly apportioning blame. “You don’t happen to know where she might be, do you?”

You’d have thought we were talking about a mislaid pair of glasses.

I decided to torment him a bit. Well, he did deserve it.

“When did you last see her?” I asked.

“Hmm, I’m not entirely sure.” I began to feel lots more sympathy for Mum. “Either Thursday night or Friday morning. Before I left for a weekend with Pop.”

“One of your war re-enactment events?” I suggested, knowing darn well it was.

“Yes.” Dad’s tone suddenly became all enthusiasm. “It was really excellent. Pop and I loved it. We went—”

“But about Mum,” I interrupted firmly.

“Oh yes.” The eagerness left his voice. “Well, she wasn’t here when I got back. Only an unfinished note.”

“Unfinished?” That sounded odd, even for my annoyed mother.

“Yes. She’s just written ‘George, I’ve left you’.” That sounded fairly complete to me, but obviously my parent thought otherwise. “No accompanying ‘some dinner in the oven’ or ‘clean socks in the top drawer’ or ‘a shopping list pinned to the fridge’ like there usually is,” Dad continued his explanation. “I’m worried her memory’s going, Noelle. Looks like she wandered off halfway through writing this note. Do you think I should call the police?” Before I could answer, he did so himself. “I should, shouldn’t I. Yes, I’ll do it at once. I’ll call you back in a moment and—”

“Dad, don’t call the fuzz,” I told him sharply. “Mum’s fine. She’s here. With me.”

“What, in France?” Dad sounded shocked. “Whatever is she doing there? Did you invite her?” He sounded slightly peeved at being left out.

“No, she invited herself,” I informed him. Then I took a deep breath. “And… and that note isn’t unfinished.”

“What do you mean?”

Had Dad always been this slow on the uptake?

“I mean, she’s left you, as in… left.” Bother it, where was my usual command of language when I needed it?

“Left?” Dad echoed faintly and still puzzled.

My patience ran out and at last my brain flipped into gear. “Left as in deserted, absconded, gone away, exited, vamoosed, departed, run off. Also as in not coming back.”

“Not coming back?”

“Well, just to get her stuff at some point I expect,” I shrugged, “but not to stay.”

“Not to stay?”

There was a long pause.

“She’s left me?” Dad sounded pathetic. “But why?” Now he sounded indignant.

I sighed. Why was I having to do Mum’s dirty work for her?

“Dad, all I know is that she’s fed up of you disappearing off with Pop all the time.”

“Well, why didn’t you say something before?” he challenged.

“Me? I didn’t know!” I riposted, and mostly truthfully. I’d only known a few days ago. “And it’s not my job to sort out your marital issues,” I pointed out, now very annoyed.

“Leaving me is going a bit over the top,” muttered Dad.

“Is it, Dad? You’re quite happy to swan off with Pop over Christmas and sit in a muddy trench and pretend to be a soldier—”

“Stetcher bearer,” Dad corrected me, priggishly.

“Whatever,” I snapped. “You’ll do that and leave Mum all on her own for Christmas when you know she loves family Christmases. And you wonder why she’s mad at  you?”

“I thought she’d appreciate not having to do all the usual cooking and stuff for a change,” Dad attempted to defend himself, feebly and rather sexistly. “Put her feet up instead.”

“Oh, give me strength” I exploded. “You know as well as I do that Mum isn’t a ‘put her feet up’ sort of person. You’re being a selfish old git, plain and simple. Bye Dad. I’ll tell Mum you rang.”

It’s a shame you can’t slam receivers down on mobile phones, because that’s what I felt like doing. I had to make do with jabbing the end call button ferociously instead. Not nearly as satisfying. Still loaded with adrenalin, I tossed my phone furiously into my handbag, forgetting it was stuffed full. It bounced straight back out and landed glass first down on the floor with a loud thunk and an unmistakeable cracking sound.

“Drat!” I swore.

I retrieved my phone with its now shattered screen and stared at it dumbly.

“At least I know what to get your for Christmas now!” quipped Nick, coming up behind me and slipping his arms round my waist.

I leaned back against him. “I think I hate my family,” I sighed. I was only half-joking.

 

There are many more muddles to come but everything will work out fine for Noelle, Nick and the others, as you’ll soon see!

My cosy mystery / romcom ‘Haircuts, Hens and Homicide’ is currently on tour. For seven days various wonderful book bloggers will be hosting my novel. Do please call by and see what they have to say about my novel.

Here’s the running order:

It’s got off to a great start with some lovely reviews today 🙂 Books, Life and Everything says: “With plenty of humour and laugh out loud moments, the story proves to be an entertaining read and is nicely set up for a sequel.”

Katie’s Book Cave says: “Haircuts, Hens and Homicide is a fun and entertaining riot of a read that will have you laughing away as you follow the adventures of Megan and co. It’s well-written and set in a gorgeous place, I loved my trip to France via this book! I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.”

And Julie Palooza says: “Although the mystery aspect of the book is relatively light, its main joy is seeing Megan settle into small-town French life – avec des poulets – and meeting its cast of, variously, huge, handsome, haughty, homicidal, charming, clumsy and coiffure-ly-challenged residents.”

I hope those reviews have tempted you. If so, call by getbook.at/HHH to get your copy!

Synopsis

As if it weren’t enough to be cheated on by her husband of ten years, Yorkshire lass Hannah Davis is losing her beauty salon business too. Luckily, her big sister is there to pick up the pieces, but Hannah is desperate to find some independence.

Impulsively, Hannah applies for a spa job…on a cruise ship! Christmas in the Caribbean, springtime in the Mediterranean, what’s not to like? But, despite being in her thirties, Hannah has never done anything on her own before, and she’s terrified.

As the ship sets sail, Hannah has never been further from home…or closer to discovering who she is and who she wants to be.

 

My review

This book makes for lovely, lively reading. The opening is quite brutal though, as we find Hannah just recovering from what’s pretty much a total breakdown after her husband of many years suddenly leaves her. She’s neglected her business for too long to save it so things look very bleak. Her stalwart of a sister, Jen, is there for her and helps her start to find her feet her again.

An expected nail-mending job introduces Hannah to the idea of working in a cruise ship, which Jen encourages her to do. So Hannah courageously decides to take this career leap, and with her we travel to many locations, deal with frustrations and tribulations, and possible heartache.

Hannah is a great character. She’s fun and feisty, but flawed in that, as her sister says, it’s a crisis if she misses her favourite TV soap. In this novel she faces a real crisis, and while it floors her to start with, she does cope, and with humour and fortitude. You can’t help but like and admire her.

The author has a lively sense of fun too, and creates some great people, places and happenings to entertain us. She gives both sides of the coin when it comes to the cruise ship – it’s not all excitement and glamour, in fact, there’s a lot more drudgery and rule-following.

This is an easy and enjoyable read, light but not without sharp comment here and there, and a super book to while away a few hours.

 

Purchase linksmybook.to/TheHolidayCruise

Author bio

Victoria Cooke grew up in the city of Manchester before crossing the Pennines in pursuit of a career in education. She now lives in Huddersfield with her husband and two young daughters and when she’s not at home writing by the fire with a cup of coffee in hand, she loves working out in the gym and travelling. Victoria was first published at the tender age of eight by her classroom teacher who saw potential in a six-page story about an invisible man. Since then she’s always had a passion for reading and writing, undertaking several writers’ courses before completing her first novel, ‘The Secret to Falling in Love,’ in 2016

Social Media Links –

https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaCookeAuthor/

https://twitter.com/VictoriaCooke10

https://www.instagram.com/victoriacookewriter/

 

My sequel to ‘Fa-La-Llama-La: Christmas at the Little French Llama Farm’ will soon be ready.

‘Deck the Halles: Next Christmas at the Little French Llama’ sees our heroine Noelle called on at the last minute to help organise a national llama show in the local agricultural halles, so her partner, famous Australian author Nick, decides to profit from this by launching his latest book there. With just days to go, a stream of visitors turn up on their doorstep with assorted tales of woe and all needing somewhere to stay.

Here’s the latest arrival, an early morning one. (Ivy and Franklin, referred to here, turned up yesterday and are staying in the tiny guest cottage, which Noelle’s mum was in but has vacated for a couple of days. She’ll be coming back, though. Truffle is the stray dog Nick and Noelle have given a home to.)

 

We decided we deserved a half-hour lie-in this morning. But ten minutes in there was a knock on the door. Truffle, who’d slept on a rug I’d put down for him just outside our bedroom door, gave a little growl. So did Nick.

“I thought we’d given Ivy and Franklin everything they needed for breakfast,” he grumbled.

“We did,” I confirmed. “But I think Franklin’s still asleep.”

“How on earth can you know that?” asked Nick.

“I can hear him snoring.” It was true. Even though the cottage was a good ten metres from the house, and both buildings had thick stone walls and double-glazed windows, we could hear an intermittent rumbling sound. I’d been aware it during the night at odd moments when I’d been awake. “Or maybe that’s Ivy?”

“Nah, she’s not big enough to make that colossal racket. Streuth, how can the poor woman sleep through that?”

“It’s probably her at the door then,” I deduced. “Wanting earmuffs, or refuge.” I reluctantly sat up, pushed back the covers and swung my legs out of bed. “I did tell them just to come on into the house any time they needed to. I said we didn’t lock the door.”

“Maybe they’re a bit wary of Truffle. Or me,” grinned Nick.

I grinned back. “Yes, they might be worried you’d think they were intruders and batter them with a boomerang.” There was a conveniently-placed, oversized one hanging in our hallway. “Time to get up anyway.”

I shrugged into my dressing gown and stuffed my feet into my slippers and shuffled off, closely followed by Truffle. He overtook me on the stairs, but waited dutifully until I was head of him again in the hallway. I don’t think he was convinced this was officially his territory yet, or maybe he was a bit of a coward and preferred me to confront strangers on the doorstep. That was fine, as I didn’t want an aggressive animal, all bared teeth and raised hackles. I was perfectly capable of playing that part if necessary.

I plastered a smile on my face and pulled the door open to let Ivy and Franklin in. Only it wasn’t them. Two very tall men were on my doorstep, in matching Tommy Hilfiger skiing jackets that oozed class. They also sported those fur-lined earflap hats, and scarves. It therefore took my as yet uncaffeinated brain a few seconds to crank into gear. Then, from the few facial features I could discern, I worked out this overdressed pair was my cousin Joe and his partner Caspar. Talk about surprise. I thought they were at home in New York city.

I launched myself at Joe and hugged him as best I could through all his bulky layers. Truffle took upon himself to be welcome committee to Caspar and looked up at him adoringly, wagging his tail. Any friend of my new family is a friend of mine, he was saying.

“Come on in,” I invited, after hugging Caspar too. “But what on earth are you guys doing here?”

“Long story short, rats,” summarised Joe, peeling off his jacket, and, after looking around the hallway and not seeing anywhere to hang it up since all hooks on the coat rack were already occupied, handing it to me to deal with as appropriate. And the hat.

“Yes, rats,” agreed Caspar, doing the same with his hat and coat.

I saw now that the boys were wearing matching stylish, as in designer label, yet tasteless Christmas jumpers with lurid designs in garish colours.

“Rats?” I echoed, slightly muffled by the heap of tog rating now filling my arms.

“Hundreds of them. No, more like thousands,” declared Caspar.

“Thousands?” That was me. Being a parrot was all I could do until I could make sense of what was going on. I dumped the jackets and hats on Nick’s chair as we entered the kitchen.

“Definitely thousands,” confirmed Joe, plonking himself down at the table. Caspar followed suit.

“Definitely?”

Both men nodded, so I nodded too.

“But where?” I demanded, still none the wiser.

“Paris,” Joe informed me.

“Ghastly place,” added Caspar.

Well, I could have told them that. True, it had the world’s most stunning architecture, but it was just a city – noisy, polluted, frantic, expensive, full of sour faces, lonely souls, pickpockets and, distressingly, every other phone box sheltering homeless, hopeless people.

At this point Nick padded into the room. Three pairs of eyes regarded him appreciatively; unshaved and with tousled, bedroom hair he did look gorgeous. The still-lingering, post-flu pallor brought his dark hair and eyes into sharper focus and gave him the air of a tragic, unsuccessful poet or starving artist.

“G’day gents,” he said genially, unaware he was being openly ogled by everyone else in the room, apart from Truffle, and managing not to wince at the overdose of Christmas jumper that assailed him. “You must be Noelle’s cousin Joe.” He identified him from the many photos of Joe I’d shown him on Facebook. He duly shook his hand. “And you’re Caspar. Good to finally meet you. Coffee?”

Joe and Caspar nodded eagerly.

“Oh my goodness, you’re probably starving too!” I realised, jumping up. “Breakfast?”

More eager nodding. “Oh, yes please. We were going to stop at a café somewhere for coffee and croissant, but nowhere was open,” said Joe mournfully.

Given the hour, that wasn’t surprising. It was barely eight o’clock now.

I busied myself shoving slices of bread into the toaster. “So, what happened exactly?” I asked.

Nick placed coffees in front of everyone, moved the jackets onto the sofa and sat down in his place, all ears.

“Well,” began Caspar dramatically, “this was meant to be our fairytale Christmas.”

“Fairytale,” verified Joe.

“A week in the City of Light, walking along the Champs Élysées, visiting Versailles, Notre Dame, Montmatre, all those iconic places.”

“Iconic,” agreed Joe.

“So we booked what we thought was a nice hotel, but oh my gosh.” Caspar pulled a face. “It was terrible.”

Nick and I couldn’t stop ourselves glancing at Joe for the inevitable “Terrible.”

“Rats everywhere.”

“Everywhere.”

“Everywhere? Streuth.” That was Nick, if you hadn’t guessed.

“Well, outside, but still everywhere,” clarified Caspar.

“We saw at least three,” nodded Joe.

I frowned. Only moments ago it had been ‘thousands’.

“The fact we spotted some means there are actually loads and loads and loads, even though you can’t see them all,” explained Joe quickly, seeing my scepticism.

“Thousands?” I suggested.

“Probably,” he said darkly.

I’d heard that the floods the city had experienced in the spring had caused a surge in rat sightings and that lots was being done to get the numbers down. But rats are resourceful and people are dirty, discarding litter all over the place, a lot of it with edible scraps attached. Of course they’ll move in if there’s a food source.

“We’ve got rats in our barn,” said Nick brightly but not massively helpfully.

“That’s different,” said Caspar dismissively, to my astonishment. “You expect that on a farm. And they’re not running down the drive or over your garden, are they?”

“No, they’re not,” I said firmly. “Our cats would be too ashamed to allow that to happen.”

“Well, we couldn’t stay at that hotel,” Joe went on. “Not with rats so close by.”

“No. I mean, one might have come up the toilet or something,” added Caspar, and shuddered.

Nick caught my eye and raised an eyebrow. I managed not to smile.

“I’d have thought that would be pretty unlikely,” I said carefully, “but it wouldn’t have been much of a fairytale holiday if you were constantly worrying about it.”

Nick was more direct. “Yup, getting bitten on the butt while sitting on the crapper would really suck.”

Joe and Caspar nodded seriously.

“Didn’t you think of going to a different hotel?” I asked.

“Oh no, not after that. We’ve gone right off Paris,” said Caspar.

“Yes, right off.”

“Not only the rats, but people there said horrible things,” Caspar went on.

“Horrible,” ratified Joe.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” I exclaimed, genuinely upset. Why couldn’t people just live and let live? My cousin had been at the receiving end of a lot of ignorant hatred over the years simply because of his sexuality.

“Oh, I don’t mean gay bashing,” Joe explained quickly.

“Worse than that.” Caspar looked mortally offended. “I overhead some snooty couple saying our jackets were cheap knock-offs.”

“So cruel,” tutted Joe.

I just sat there.

“So I suggested we pop here, to see my favourite cousin,” Joe smiled sycophantically. “Can you squeeze us in somewhere?”

“We-ell,” I replied cautiously. “Mum’s here for Christmas.”

“Oh, how is Aunt Mary?” gushed Joe.

“She’s…” I couldn’t go blabbing about her having ditched Dad. “She’s dyed her hair,” I said evasively.

“Good for her,” approved Joe.

Dying their hair clearly meant someone was in good form.

“She’s popped over to see Eve for a couple of days,” I continued.

“Oh, is your sister living in France too?” asked Joe. “Goodness, I’m out of touch.”

“She’s on holiday here at the moment, that’s all,” I explained concisely. “And some friends of ours, Ivy and Franklin, turned up out of the blue last night. They plan to be here at least a few days.” I hoped the boys would get the hint, but no.

“Not Ivy of the pet-sitting booking?” exclaimed Joe, referring to the events of last Christmas. My wily cousin had led me to believe I’d be minding guinea-pigs, not eleven normal llamas and one hugely pregnant one. Good job he had, though, as I might not have taken on the job and thus never met Nick. But you’ll know all this if you’ve read ‘Fa-La-Llama-La’.

“My goodness, what a houseful!” enthused Caspar. “I love big gatherings, don’t you?”

Not when we didn’t have enough space for everyone.

Or enough food. We’d done what we thought was our final Christmas food shop a week ago, before it started getting crazily busy at the supermarket. With all these extra mouths to feed that kept materialising, we’d have to make another trip, today or tomorrow. That was the last thing we needed on top of all the llama show and book launch-related activities already scheduled in.

I responded to Caspar with a non-committal, strangled sort of noise.

“So, what are your plans between now and Christmas?” asked Joe.

I stared at him. I was sure I’d told him about the forthcoming camelid show and my key involvement in it, but maybe not. So I quickly filled him in.

“Oh, how marvellous!” cried Caspar. “I know I shall love every minute. Do you need any extra judges or anything?”

I was touched by his enthusiasm, especially as I wasn’t sure if he knew the front end from the back end of a llama.

“That’s all covered by the association running the show,” I assured him. “But an extra pair of hands will be useful here in the preparations. Sir Winter will need lots of grooming.”

“I’ll be brilliant at that,” promised Caspar, unhampered as ever by modesty.

“Brilliant,” nodded Joe.

“Help yourself to more coffee and food,” I told them, getting up. “I need to go and get dressed.”

“Me too,” smiled Nick. “See you in a few.”

We hurried upstairs. I shut the bedroom door behind us then leant against it and groaned.

“What are we going to do?”