frenchguesthouseReturn to the Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard (Bookouture) is the second book in the La Cour des Roses series. I hadn’t read the first book in the series, but it didn’t take long to work out who was who and what was going on. (However, a quick ‘story so far’ by way of introduction would have saved a bit of head scratching! But that’s only a minor thing.)

This books weaves together engaging personal relationships with the details and atmosphere of life in France. As someone who’s run a gîte for ten years, this appealed very strongly to me. The author shows what this way of making a living is actually like i.e. not the bed (or cours!) of roses so many think it is. Exactly as in this book, there are demanding guests, unfounded expectations and one-sided reviews to contend with. And that’s on a good day…

The characters are many and varied in the novel, all of them fascinating and rounded. Our heroine, Emmie, is very attractive and realistic: she’s strong but has her vulnerabilities, is kind and caring, and is friendly and enthusiastic but sometimes tries too hard. We’re quickly on her side and want to see her succeed in the hospitality/hostility trade she’s attempting to make her way in. But when you’re up against the likes of Geoffrey Turner, the blogger/reviewer, and Julia Cooper, the guest who wants everything and then a whole lot more, well, it’s not an easy ride.

The novel announces on the title page that it is ‘A feel good read to make you smile’ and it certainly does that. It’s a beautifully written, thoroughly readable and entertaining book.

knitted-toys-coverKnitted toys tend to get rather a bad press. People think old fashioned and twee, but they can be every bit as good as any other toy, and often much longer-lasting. More than twenty years on, toys I knitted for my two eldest kids are still going strong, and still get the odd cuddle!

This collection, Knitted Toys: 20 cute and colourful projects, by Jody Long is modern and fun, and illustrates everything that’s good about knitted toys. Namely, they’re child friendly, they’re versatile in that you can use your own or the recipient’s favourite combinations of colours for them, they’re appealing and (mostly) washable, and they’re timeless.

Jody Long gives us a wonderful selection: transport (aeroplane and fire truck), creepy crawlies (caterpillar, ladybug, bee), animals and birds (duck, hedgehog, bear, mouse, rabbit, pig, puppy, snake), sea creatures (octopus, fish, starfish), teddy bears, dolls and some squishy balls. If that isn’t an impressive array of patterns, then I don’t know what is! And you get more than that in that the author gives a range of accessories for many of the patterns. For example, Henry the Hedgehog comes along with a patch of grass and flowers, a toadstool and a ladybug, and Percy the Pig has a bib, a spoon and a cherry-covered cake to eat. There are also food bowls, a bucket of flowers and a hot water bottle, to name but a few more. I think these are a wonderful fun feature.

One of my favourite toys in Knitted Toys is Ruby the Russian Doll. She’s beautiful and unusual, and such a clever idea. I also particularly like Rio the Fish with the very effective scales.

The instructions are clear and easy to follow, and the illustrations are inspiring and helpful. The book comes with all the basic know-how you need to create and put the toys together. This gem of a book will be a great addition to every knitter’s shelf.

eventide beazleyThe Sepherene Chronicles show a very different side to this talented indie author. Daniel Beazley’s previous books have been comical fantasy – Goblins Know Best and The Rotten Roots, both of which you really should read – and whilst we’re still in the reamlm of the paranormal with his new series, there is a serious, spiritual theme to these books. We’re in metaphysical and visionary territory.

Lucius is possessed by an angel, Sepherene, who is on a mission to find and destroy her fallen brethren. She is convinced she is on a righteous quest, but things are not always what they appear. She has chosen a somewhat flawed human to inhabit: Lucius has a very troubled past. They have a rather difficult and slightly dubious task ahead.

This book is one of contrasts and seeming contradictions. It unites sci-fi with Christian ideals, gives us a vengeful angel, an anti-hero, a future world that surely should have striven to be better but seems to have become more corrupt and divided than before. And yet somehow right and wrong, good and bad, become blurred.

Daniel Beazley is sharply observant and gives us plenty to think about in this novella, the first in a very promising series.

Available at all Amazon stores.

Oh dear, my Advent Calendar of Christmas books is proving to be somewhat sporadic. I’m in the middle of moving house, so bear with me.

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Today’s Christmassy book is A Very Coco Christmas by Robert Bryndza. It’s a prequella (i.e. a prequel novella) to Robert’s wonderful Coco Pinchard series. If you haven’ts discovered Coco yet, then you’re missing out. She’s brilliant! (Follow her adventures in The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard, Coco Pinchard’s Big Fat Tipsy Wedding and Coco Pinchard, the Consequences of Love and Sex – all feel-good rom-coms but meat to their bones).

In A Very Coco Christmas, we meet the young Coco (Karen) Pinchard in the early days of her relationship with musician Danny. She has to part with him to head home for a family Christmas – and what a family, and what a Christmas! Those of you who have come across Coco will know that she has the most challenging of mother-in-laws in Ethel, but we discover in this novel that she had some good training for dealing with her through having to cope with her own rather awful mother.

Anything that can go wrong pretty much does, but it’s not over-the-top, just a typical less-than-perfect Christmas with the people you’re un/fortunate enough to be related to, perhaps a tad more action-packed than normal.

The story is set in 1985 and it’s like stepping back in time for any of us who were there during what has to be one of the most lively, quirky and happening decades. There’s clouds of hairspray and cigarette smoke, punks, shoulder pads, Laura Ashley fabrics and wallpaper, Joan Collins… it’s fabulous. As ever, the author’s powers of observation and attention to detail are razor-sharp and he takes us through the full gamut of our emotions.

This is Christmas book that is hilarious, touching, riveting and totally absorbing.

Rob together with Jan Bryndza has also written Lost in Crazytown, which is a humorous yet edgy novel set in Hollywood and has a wonderful, rounded, empathetic hero, Filip, whom I’d love to see in more novels. Hint!

You’ll find Rob’s books at all Amazon stores. Go on – treat yourself!

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Frederique Molay’s first Nico Sirsky novel, The 7th Woman, won the prize for Best Crime Novel in France in 2007, so you’re quite justified going into this book with high expectations. And you won’t be disappointed. This is an intriquing, polished murder mystery featuring the very likeable Police Commissioner Nico Sirsky.

Sirsky has now recovered from his gunshot wound, and his divorce, and life is good again. He has a new woman in his life and some interesting cases to get his teeth into. And one of these actually involves teeth. A student dentist doing a dissection as part of his training comes across something in a tooth. It turns out to be a tiny bit of paper stuck in a makeshift filling that says, ‘I was murdered’. Not that’s got to catch your attention! Of course, it could be a sick joke but soon Sirsky and his team uncover more macabre murders. Something is crossing the line of acceptability at a hospital renowned for its progress in cancer treatment. And at the heart of it all is a little girl.

The author
The author

The French edition of this book was titled Dent pour Dent – A Tooth for a Tooth. I had misgivings about the English title mainly because there are already so many books called ‘Crossing the Line’ out there. Amazon.com gives you 22,589 to choose from under the category ‘Books’. The worry with using a popular title is that a book can get lost. That may not be quite such a worry with such a prestigious, prize-winning author as Fréderique Molay, but generally a unique, distinctive title helps a book in terms of discoverability. However, Crossing the Line is certainly an apt title for this novel, since several lines are crossed – in terms of relationships, personal accomplishments and what’s ethically acceptable in the fight against disease. So yes, the title has won me over.

Crossing the Line cover

There is one thing about the very eye-catching cover that I don’t like. It’s not the Eiffel Tower, that iconic symbol of France, which at once portrays the setting of this novel and acts as a beacon of attraction. It may be horribly overused as meaning France, but it works brilliantly on this cover. And the title crossing the ‘Do Not Cross’ line is a very clever, creative touch.  No, it’s the inclusion of that ugly, glaring red label: ‘She is the French Michael Connelly’. Possibly in the mind of whoever wrote this, Molay is, but I personally can’t see any particular similarity other than they’re both authors. To me Molay is by far the better author of the two, with the depth and dimension of her writing. Too many crime writers get caught up in overdoing the dry details of terminology and technology used in forensics departments, but here we have descriptive, beautiful details about settings, personalities, relationships – everything. The publisher should let readers make up their own minds. I imagine its purpose is to boost sales but that presupposes everyone knows Connelly’s books and automatically likes them, and personally I think it will deter as many readers as it attracts. I imagine I’m not the only one who doesn’t like being told what to think! The cover would look much better without it.

This novel, the second in a series, works very well as a standalone, but you get more from it having read the precursor. Sirsky’s Russian heritage can be a little baffling at first if you dive into this second novel, although you have a strong hint with the son being called Dimitri. Plus you get the added element of seeing the characters develop.

In conclusion, Crossing the Line is an extremely enjoyable, thought-provoking read.

Follow the book on it’s book tour here:

And join in the giveaway here:

You can buy the book:

Via Le French Book’s website

All the Amazon websites and Barnes and Noble.

 

bigfattipsyCoco Pinchard is getting her life back together. She’s divorced from dopey philandering first husband Daniel, son Rosencrantz is moving out and gorgeous Adam, Coco’s boyfriend, is about to move in. Even Ethel, Coco’s ex-mother-in-law, if you can have one of those, seems to be rather nice to her these days.
But then Adam starts behaving strangely and Coco’s happiness begins to unravel… despite two more adorable men, Rocco and Xavier, and Rosencrantz’s outrageous housemates entering her life.
Robert Bryndza manages to combine side-splitting humour with some pretty serious issues, without trivialising them or making the book’s atmosphere too heavy. Coco faces some very big challenges but she’s nothing if not indomitable and creative, and she takes them head on. She gets a little bit of supernatural help along the way, which fits perfectly into Coco’s somewhat chaotic life.
The book consists of a series of emails and this works extremely well. Each one conveys the personality of its writer and keeps the story flowing from various points of view, but all reflect the talent and humour of this wonderful author.
Coco Pinchard’s Big Fat Tipsy Wedding is comedy fiction at its very, very best.
Warning: not to be read in public. Your chuckles, snorts of laughter, gasps and occasional tears may cause consternation.

Buy the book here.

fawn picI’m thrilled to feature new author Fawn Atondo on Books Are Cool today. Fawn has just published her first book, Chosen Darkness. It’s contemporary paranormal, with some very original twists and turns along the way. The main characters are Falyn, a lone werewolf, and Alex, a vampire bounty hunter. When they meet, there’s instant attraction, but werewolves and vampires aren’t allowed to become partners, on pain of death. And Falyn soon learns she has a crucially important role to play in uniting the fractured werewolf society. It could be too much for a nineteen-year-old but Falyn has buckets of attitude and stamina.

Fawn Atondo creates some unusual and wonderful characters. She puts them into testing and entertaining situations, and you’re never sure what’s coming next. Chosen Darkness is exciting and different, sexy and imaginative.

I asked Fawn some questions about Chosen Darkness and her experiences as a self-published author.

What inspired you to write Chosen Darkness?

I have always loved vampires and werewolves. I wanted to make them something other than just bad or monsters. Yet not go Twilight with it either. Something for adults, something full of all kinds of immortal beings. A world inside a world.

Please describe it in 100 words.

Falyn is a lone werewolf whose work leads her to Alex Rave, a vampire bounty hunter. They quickly find out she is the bounty. After she escapes from the man who hired Alex to find her, Alex teams up with her to help her find out about the strange power locked inside her. She is meant to lead her race. It won’t be easy, but she finds a way to do it: she must become a shadow wolf. The only problem is she will have to give up the one thing she wants more than uniting her people: Alex.

What’s the appeal of paranormal as a genre?

The fact you can do so much with it! The endless ideas you could make out of the same creatures everyone knows about and writes about. I like how quickly things can go wrong in a paranormal world, making for great plots and story lines. Plus – it’s fun to write!

Which character did you enjoy creating the most and why?

I love my main leads, but the character I enjoyed creating the most was Lark. There’s just so much he can get across without saying very much. And I can’t wait for his love story, which will finish up the series.

Which character are you most like?

Um, this is a tough one! I think I am somewhere in the middle of Falyn and Break. Like Falyn, I had a rough start to life but I made something out of what I had. Always moving on and never looking back. And like Break I am very short and enjoy my tea!

Would you rather be a vampire or a werewolf?

There is something sensual about a vampire, I can’t lie I would love to have that effortless confidence and power. However, the whole blood drinking thing just wouldn’t work for me. I would be one hungry vampire! I would much rather be a werewolf!

Chosen Darkness has a really great cover. Did you design it yourself?

chosenfinal2I am very lucky in the fact I did get a lot of say on my cover. I needed the people on the front to be as close to the people whose story is inside as possible!

Do you have any strange or quirky writing habits?

Yes, a few. One of them is that I always start with a title. I will hear a song or see a title of a TV show and something in the wording will stand out. I think, “Man, that would make a great title!” This is what happened with Chosen Darkness: I was watching an episode of One Tree Hill that was called ‘As for me, I have Chosen Darkness’. And the phrase ‘Chosen Darkness’ stood out. After that the world started building and the story was born.

Tell us briefly about what you’re writing at the moment.

Along with Chosen Shadows, book two in the Chosen Series, I am working on a contemporary novella series. Book one, Office Hours, should be out by the end of this summer.

What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write. And write often! If you want to be an author you need to keep at it. You’re only going to get better with each story!

What do your family and friends think of you being an author?

No one is surprised I am writing as I started young. I won so many awards for my short stories and poems in school that no one is shocked I am still at it. My sisters and girl cousins use to beg for me to finish my stories I told them at night! Yes, even then I started a series of stories that I spun out over long summers for them.

And finally, in Chosen Darkness, one of the characters, Break, loves a nice cup of tea! What’s your favorite food and drink?

Glazed pork chops with strawberry salsa. Yum! As for drink, tea. I have so much tea, it’s insane! I love to collect it! I drink it with milk which my hubby thought was the oddest thing when we first got married. He never heard of putting milk in your tea! I couldn’t picture it any other way. Coffee is a close second – I’m not sure I could function without it most days!

Find out more about Fawn at her blog here.

And do treat yourself to Chosen Darkness which you can buy here.

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Melina’s back. You may remember I reviewed the first book in this culinary cozy mystery series, A Crusty Murder, here recently. Now it’s time to look at the second book.

Blurb

When Franklin Seever, the father of Melina’s best friend BettyJo, is poisoned from eating Melina’s fresh baked croutons at a dinner party, a police investigation once again targets Melina.

But Melina has learned her lesson after finding her landlady lying in a pool of blood, and with a crusty piece of bread protruding from her mouth, just a few months ago. If there is one thing Melina is aware of, it’s that you never really know people until you break bread with them.

BettyJo’s dad, a wealthy banker, already disliked Melina before the crouton calamity. What’s he going to think of her now that his life is hanging in the balance? Out of the bread pan and into the fire for Melina as she tries to keep BettyJo from freaking out about her dad, and engages in keeping her safe from a weirdo stalker.

And wouldn’t you know it? Just when Melina’s life couldn’t get more twisted than a loaf of braided bread, the sexy Scotsman, Aidan Sinclair, once again arrives on her doorstep with a smile on his face and an offer that could change Melina’s life forever.

Review

This is another very entertaining novella that makes you hungry as you enjoy the mystery. It’s a well-constructed whodunnit, with very real tension and suspense. But there’s also comedy, hints of romance, friendship, loyalty, patience, impatience and, well, real life. The characters are people you could meet on the street, they’re so very human and convincing. The mystery itself is tightly written and plausible, so all in all, this is an easy-read, easy-enjoy story. J M Griffin has a sharp eye for detail and a sure way of grabbing the reader’s attention.

A perfectly baked piece of fiction – attractive looking, crispily written and ultimately very satisfying and more-ish!

About the author:

J.M. Griffin/Dana Stone grew up in rural Maine. She relocated to Rhode Island and lives in the north western part of the state with her husband and two cats. J.M.’s first published novel For Love of Livvy, began a series of humorous mysteries featuring Lavinia “Vinnie” Esposito. J.M. has also written a romance under the pseudonym Dana Stone.

ONLINE LINKS:

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Grand Cru Heist by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen is best summed up, I think, as a cozy mystery for men set in the ostentatiously wealthy world of winemakers and connoisseurs. There is a definite feeling of Gentlemen’s Club in the novel with erudite discussions and witty wordplay amidst a haze of cigar smoke. The characters we meet would definitely never confuse “a Bordeaux with a Burgundy”, and I’m not sure the same could be said for a lot of its readers. (I know I’d be struggling!) However, the book gives us a fascinating glimpse into this exclusive world.

Winemaker Benjamin Cooker is the victim of a carjacking in Paris. To recover from the unpleasant ordeal, he takes himself off to a rather nice hotel in Touraine to convalesce. Here he meets the British version of himself – Robert Morton, another man who likes his fancy motors and vintage wines. He’s also pulled into a murder when Morton’s young female companion is found dead, and shortly afterwards Cooker stumbles on another body. While this is going on, his friend Hubert de Boüard, owner of the Château Angélus, is suffering from burglaries and receiving clever, cryptic messages from the thieves. Cooker throws his returning energy and intelligence into working out what’s going on in both cases. He certainly does seem more clued up than the investigator from the gendarmes, especially when it comes to European car registration numbers. With the help from his assistant, Virgile, Crooker sets to.

The book is partly set in Bordeaux, without doubt the most beautiful city in France. (With my daughter at university there, I get to visit it every now and again.) If you know the city, but actually even if you don’t, you can really appreciate the descriptions of various parts of it that we find in the book. There are a few mentions of its history too. There is some lyrical writing (“The two pilgrims braved the west wind and the light rain that seeped into their bones, and for a while, they forgot their ages, their health, their ambitions, and perhaps even their own convictions”), and sharp observation (“Restaurants always seemed to be full of bored couples who enjoyed eavesdropping”). It’s tightly written, moves steadily and always with dignity, like Cooker himself, and is an intriguing mystery.

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I’ve mentioned the Gentlemen’s Club atmosphere, and this is a predominantly male book. There are some women amongst its pages, although they do stay in the background. There’s Cooker’s wife, Elisabeth, patient and loving, also a bossy nurse, a moody prostitute and an eye-catching waitress. They’re succinctly portrayed and, whilst minor characters, they’re certainly not shadowy.

Time for a very quick, gentle grumble. We get a ‘discretely’, meaning separately, where we need a ‘discreetly’, meaning stealthily, and teetotaler preceded by ‘an’ amongst the, admittedly, very few typos in this very well presented novel. However, to make up for that we get the lovely touch of the made-up term ‘Saint-Emillionnaire’ to describe someone who’s made a fortune from that type of wine. And I was delighted to see that Cooker’s dog is called Bacchus – I mean, what else! And to return briefly to our ‘an teetotaler’, the definition is wonderful and gives us a good idea of what our hero Benjamin Cooker is about. To him teetotalers are “A race of individuals not to be recommended…”, and the same can be said of the criminals Cooker helps to root out. (I’ve since been informed that I had an ARC – advanced review copy – of the book and that these and other typos will be sorted out in the final version.)

This is an enjoyable read. It’s quite a short book but, since it’s only the second of a promised series of twenty-two, then we can be consoled with knowing that there is plenty more entertainment coming our way from these two authors.

grandcru authorsPhoto is copyright of David Nakache

Follow the rest of this enchanting book’s virtual tour by visiting the France Book Tour  website.

 

 

sevenminutesWill has recently been made redundant so he’s taking care of the farm and family while his wife commutes abroad to work for the mother she’s never got on with. There’s not much demand for history of art graduates and job hunting isn’t going well. So when Will finds an untitled book on his doorstep, he’s more than happy to let it distract it from what he should be doing. It’s a mysterious manuscript, presenting him with snippets from the lives of various people – Angelica, Sabina, the inappropriately named Clemence (he’s a boy), Helen, Louise and Mangikas – at key moments in their lives. These are their most powerful memories. They give Will fascinating insights into these memorable characters, but gradually he begins to see that their lives are connected to each other.

But what has all this got to do with him? Why has this book ended up on his doorstep? Did his wife, Sarah, write it? The mysteries in his life only deepen when he’s invited to what has to be the most bizarre interview he – and possibly anyone else – has ever had. And increasingly he finds himself drawn ever more deeply into the pages of the book. It’s almost as though a web is closing around him.

This is a fantastically imaginative novel from debut author Jessica Stritch. She has taken this idea of us each having our seven minutes of crucial memories, which is intriguing itself, and turned it into a fast paced, absorbing, highly original story. Every aspect of her writing is sharp and honed, but her strength undeniably lies in her creation of characters. She gives us people from not only different walks of life, but also of different nationalities and at various ages. Whether interacting with others, or wrestling with their own beliefs, they are persuasive and empathetic. Given the diversity of the people we meet in the book, the settings vary from sunny Greek beaches to a car race track to boarding school to wartime Germany, to give a few examples. Like Will, the reader can’t help but be drawn into their lives. There’s an unexpected but welcome twist as the novel reaches its climax making this a rewarding and very polished piece of fiction indeed.

You can buy the book here at Amazon.com and at all Amazon branches.