The Cosy Cottage in Ireland – Julie Caplin

What a delight, to be reacquainted with old friends, in sisters Hannah and Mina and a fantastic treat to be given the opportunity to follow Hannah’s story and to get to know her a bit better this time.

I admired Hannah, as someone who didn’t/couldn’t cook – giving up her job, to attend a culinary school in Ireland for 6 weeks. Actually, I either admired her, or was astonished by this uncharacteristic move, in that those who can’t cook tend not to want to cook, and most certainly don’t enjoy cooking. This could turn out to be a VERY long 6 week period of time for Hannah and she could become desperate for the help of her more culinarily inclined Sister, Mina.

Hannah has a bit of an ’incident’ in the hotel where she is staying one evening, but not to worry – its not as though she’ll ever see the guy again?

As you can no doubt tell, I warmed to Hannah, as I had done with her Sister in a previous book. These two young women have turned a tricky childhood into a modern day grown up success story. As I read though, I was having doubts about Hannah – more precisely I was worrying about what has driven her to give up her job and come to Ireland for a cookery course, when she has never, to my knowledge, shown any kind of leaning towards doing that. I felt there was an element of mystery as to how Hannah had ended up in Ireland; hopefully we will get some answers. She does mention ’wanting to butt out if real life’. I do love a bit of intrigue though and it has no doubt added to my enjoyment of this book.

I loved the way that Connor and Hannah interacted with each other. There was tangible chemistry between the pair. A prime example was when they ate out together. It was almost as though they were performing a sexy dance like an Argentine tango together, such were their movements and the way they communicated; each obviously hiding something; both giving out just enough information about themself, but obviously guarded and taking care not to relay too much information. Again I found myself increasingly consumed by this pair and their stories and desperate to get to the bottom of what was going on. The whole story was becoming, in the words of the great Lewis Caroll ’Curiouser and curiouser’ and I was struggling to put the book down.

Picture the scene. A non cook on a 6 week gourmet cookery course, comes face to face with the guy that she has just had a one night stand with (NB not only a one night stand, but a following morning sneak out of shame to boot) when he turns out to be the Son of the cookery school owner). Its uncertain as to whom is most shocked, since neither was particularly open or honest about why they were in Ireland. Still that is surely such a far fetched idea that would never happen……or would it? In so far as Conor is concerned, there is certainly more to him than meets the eye.

Conor came across to me as a likeable, amiable chap, although as I’ve implied, we don’t have a clear picture of his past or present. He had a tendency to be prickly and defensive – but why? Has he been hurt in the past, or is there some kind of dark secret that is making him like he is?

Fate brings the pair closer together – although it seems that they protest a little too much!

This beguiling read had me oozing with questions. I really wanted to know what was going on with Conor and his past and I was intrigued by his oddly behaved neighbour Moss Murphy. What on earth was he up to? As for Hannah, what was the real story behind her coming to Ireland? How will she cope with the new temporary living arrangements? Will she be able to keep her hands off Conor? Will Hannah actually learn to be able to / to love cooking? Will Hannah put her experience of boundary law to use? And last but not least, who, of Conor and Hannah, is the biggest fat eejit?

To find out these answers and more, you will need to read this marvellous book for yourself.

This is a beautiful, eloquent story about unrequited love and love at first sight, that left me enchanted and desperately wanting more.

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Fool Me Twice at Christmas – Camilla Isley

Wow, what a dilemma, when the pair of you have virtually grown up together and your parents are not only best friends, but long term business partners too – how do you go about telling them that after ten years together, you have gone your separate ways? This is the dilemma facing Kate and Chuck, when they go home for the holidays together.

I don’t want to spoil things, but things go from bad to worse for the ’couple’ once they get home, in oh so many ways. In fact, this story would make for a really great farcical romcom movie – everything that can go wrong does, in the most excruciating way, with the two sets of parents being the masters of adding 2+2 and getting 5! The parents are, quite frankly ’plonkers’! (aka pushy/loveable/bonkers).

If things hadn’t got bad enough, they get even worse – or do they? Are relations starting to blossom again between the pair?

I must just mention how I envy anyone who lives somewhere in the world where you can guarantee having a carpet of snow outside that is worthy of and reliable enough to hold an annual snowman building contest!

This book is certainly full of laughs and surprises, but I do wholeheartedly recommend it.

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Landlord of Hummingbird House – Jane Harvey

The inhabitants of Hummingbird House are an interesting, if eclectic bunch; almost like university shared accommodation, but for a whole range of ages.

I like a book with a bit of mystery and this book had it ‘in pages’. Why is Dai grieving? Why is he like he is? Why did Paul give up being a chef? What is Joy’s relationship to Rosie? Is Tom seeing another woman?

April seemed to bring fresh air to the group, such was her joi de vivre, even if she did have a tendency to make assumptions about people. Paul and Dai both seem troubled.

Betty just seems hell bent on bringing people together.

The author made a fantastic job of creating an unusual cast of characters, bringing them and their backstories together under one roof. The way each individual was portrayed was both sympathetic and empathetic. I think that anyone suffering from the same kind of issues would take solace from this intelligent writing. I became so engrossed in this book and was just sad that the story ended so soon. Might I suggest a sequel, honing in on some of the back stories not yet touched upon?

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Falling in Florence – Joy Skye

What a treat. I love the idea of being able to afford a first class holiday where cost is no bar and you can live a life of luxury, having and doing anything you like. Since this is not a reality for me, I shall holiday vicariously through the amazing Sublime Retreats, an organisation that is starting to feel like an old friend to me.

I like the humour in Joy Skye’s books and this one did not fail to amuse. I was particularly tickled by the interaction between Peter (who readers of the previous books in this series know, is sublime personified) and Sofia. He matched Sofia’s nervousness with sheer kindness – but as I have implied before, this was not unexpected of Peter.

Could Sofia be at a an immediate disadvantage due to rumours about her family, before she has even started her new role as Peter’s PA? I do hope not, as I found myself immediately warming to Sofia as a character. i must admit, it’s little snippets like this that add hugely to the intrigue (and subsequently my enjoyment) in a book. I found myself wholeheartedly looking forward to more mysterious goings on as the book progressed.

Family means everything to me and I liked that Sofia and her family seemed to have those same family values. I loved that her Father tried to be encouraging about Sofias new job, when it was fairly obvious that he would rather Sofia stayed working in the family restaurant for ever!

All that was left was the hope of a little romance for Sofia; that would make this book complete – romance, travel to sunny climes and elements of mystery. What’s not to love!

I wasn’t sure what to make of Adam; whilst there seemed to be obvious, immediate chemistry between him and Sofia, he seemed determined to fight it, no doubt discouraged by the seeds of doubt about Sofia’s family! planted by his retired police officer Father.

I was left with the hope that Adam’s Father would be proven wrong, or the vain hope that Adam might come to realise that if his Father was right about Sofia’s Father, he didn’t need to paint Sofia with the same brush. The chance of romance between these two beautiful, young creatures just seemed too good to ignore, especially when fate conspires, to send them off on a property reconnoissance trip to Florence together!

Will they, won’t they. I certainly know which camp I’m in, but you will have to read this great book for yourself to find out.

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Matchmaking at Port Willow – Kiley Dunbar

I have said many times that I tend to review books by authors that I like, knowing that I will enjoy those books. Life is undoubtedly too short, to spend reading books that you are not enjoying. I was therefore utterly buoyed to be given the privilege of reviewing Kiley Dunbar’s latest book, Matchmaking at Port Willow. I shall endeavour to savour this invariable treat.

For me, the idea of a hotel offering craft based retreats sound amazing, and in reality, I would love to book myself in. I really liked the way that this book jumped on the the current bandwagon that covers popular arts and crafts, and creates a wonderful read for both craft enthusiasts and Kiley Dunbar fans alike.

Atholl and Beatrice made for a wonderful couple and I warmed to them as immediately as I warmed to the concept of the craft hotel. i still liked Beatrice, despite her apparent desperation to find the Inn’s next great love story.

Nina was certainly thrown a double, simultaneous doozy in both her work and private life and one couldn’t help but feel for her and the circumstances she found herself in, whilst ’L’ was a rat of the finest order, unworthy of a mention by his full name. If I were Nina, I could imagine wanting to sleep through the festive period! The author homed in on how difficult it can be for a woman coming out of a relationship, particularly when the man has been on the controlling side; woman can find themselves neglecting their girlfriends, in order to give their man the attention they crave – only to find oneself somewhat alone, once the relationship ends. A cautionary note to women everywhere, to always find time for your girlfriends.

Beatrice has clearly suffered in the past, and was portrayed most empathetically. A clear reminder that one size most certainly does not fit all. Whilst one woman might find solace in a leaflet detailing her miscarriage, other women might find this far too little to make even a dent in how they are feeling. Regardless, the way Beatrice’s feelings were narrated must surely be of some help to women in the same situation – if only to make them realise that they are not alone and they are not the only one. Despite worries about her past repeating itself, Beatrice seems to be in possession of a certain joi de vivre and it felt as though she would like nothing better than for her matchmaking activities to succeed again.

This a fabulous story of love, family, bereavement, and dealing with loneliness, that will be hard to surpass with its utter charm and air of sensitivity. Whats not to love!

I will however leave it to you to read this great book for yourself, in order to get answers to the many questions posed; will Beatrice’s matchmaking succeed? Will Nina come out of herself? Will we see some happy endings or some heartbreak?

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Falling for a French Dream – Jennifer Bohnet

What a treat, to while away a Sunday afternoon with the latest Jennifer Bohnet novel. Guaranteed to be a winner.

A charming tale crossing the English Channel, spanning a multitude of subjects; family, love, bereavement, selflessness and giving; about being given the chance to let go, about family feuds and about forgiveness.

Above all this book is about new beginnings; forging new and improved relationships with friends and relatives, old and new; neither forgetting about the past, nor dwelling on it.

This tome appealed to me with its sense of mystery – who was Pascal and why is the mention of his name met with an awkward silence? Why is Henri the way he is? What other secrets are the French contingent of the family hiding? Has Henri been totally honest about why he has brought Nicola and Oliver to France? Why on earth do the gendarmes in Paris want to talk to Oliver’s Tante Josephine? A dinner party to celebrate the late Marc’s birthday seems to open up old wounds, but leaves Nicola in the dark as to why. As if to compensate, a romantic interest, of which I had great hopes, was provided in the form of the gorgeous Gilles, and if that didn’t work out, there was always Raoul, Marc’s childhood friend.

I did feel for Nicola. Not only had she lost Marc, the man she had loved (despite their divorce), but she started to struggle with her relationship with Marc’s friend Andrew. He just didn’t seem to want to understand that his and Nicola’s relationship would only ever be platonic. Surely Nicola shouldn’t need to explain that more than once! Being such a gentle soul, she was however conscious of not wanting to hurt Andrew’s feelings. This relationship was notated in such a beautifully empathetic, emotive manner, that one could not help but feel affected by the situation.

I loved the descriptive language in this book, from the scenes of the wild boar invasion, to the flora and fauna on the farm and in the environs, and even the descriptions of the food and wine. What kind of person literally starts to drool, at the marvellous description of a dacquoise desert! Combined, I almost felt that I was living in rural France at times, such was the manner in which this novel drew me in, bewitched by both the scenery and the smells of both the countryside and the local degustation on offer.

I found myself beguiled by Josephine’s colourful past – a torrid 30 year old story of abuse and unrequited love that was just not allowed to be at that time. Frankly it was barbaric. I was devastated that the couple had not been able to be together at that time, yet lifted by the hope that in the present day, their coupling might be deemed acceptable.

My mind went through various different emotions with this book. happiness for Josephine, and her happy ending, yet not so happy for Andrew. Nicola seemed to have made a good move though, in uprooting her life and coming to live near her French family. I felt that Nicola did an amazing job, dealing with Olivier’s moments of teenage angst; she proved what an amazing Mother she was, and quelled his worries about things proverbially coming in threes.

In all, this was a superb novel, full of Gallic charm. The things that stood out to me most of all, were the sense of family throughout the book. The way that those who might be considered set in their ways, made adjustments for the sake of that family bond. Unequivocal proof that you’re never to old to change; and love – evidence that that you’re never too old for love.

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The Juggle – Ellie Barker

When Dan Whitehead, a local news reporter, commits career suicide on-screen, isn’t it the most natural thing for him and his part-time producer Wife Molly, to swap roles for a month? Will this see the make or break of their ailing marriage? What could possibly go wrong?

Molly isn’t at all keen, until she is given the alternative, which would see them both fired. Dan has no idea what Molly does with her time, only working one day per week; it sounds as though he never took ‘childcare and housekeeping-101’; what could possibly go right!?

If the truth be known, Mollie doesn’t think she is up to the job and her unhelpful inner voice keeps reassuring her that this is the case. Molly is actually doing really well, but what is her success doing to her already struggling marriage? Can Dan cope with her doing his job so successfully? His inner voices aren’t really helping either.

Both parties are harbouring hidden secrets; Dan has got his finances in a mess – again – he ended up in hospital, last time and Molly has never told Dan the truth about the old flame that she has gone to America to interview. How can their relationship survive this secrecy?

Dan seemed an unpalatable character with a big ego, who couldn’t accept that his wife could do a better job than him. He seems jealous of the fact that everyone who knows Molly loves and respects her.

I really felt for Molly, the way that she had no confidence in herself; the way she was portrayed was so realistic – the way so many women allow themselves to be undermined by their partners. it was sad to read, in that it was such an accurate portrayal. I found myself aching for Molly to believe in herself and to see herself how others see her.

When Molly goes away to America for the interview, more to it than meets the eye? Is Molly and Dan’s relationship based on lies and omissions? Do they both rely too much on a self-help podcast? Can their relationship overcome a blast from Molly’s past? To answer this and many more questions, you will have to read this book for yourself.

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The Dating Game – Sandy Barker

Abby makes a living writing reviews for a dating game show; her editor wants her to be at the heart of the action, which results in Abby being shipped of to Australia to actually take part in the next season of StagManor’, which seems to be a kind of Love Island/Big Brother hybrid. What can possibly go wrong!

Abby’s first impressions of her fellow ‘Does’ waiting for the Stag’ to show up, are much as I would expect, ranging from über bitch to fairly normal. Those at the über end of the scale seem particularly unpleasant. In fact they seemed so unpleasant that I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not they too were ‘plants’? After all, surely no one can genuinely be that odious? I don’t think for a moment that the author knows what it’s like to be on a prime time reality/dating show, but the way that the show was portrayed came across as very realistic to an oblivious bystander like me!

The ‘Stag’, Daniel came across as pretty shallow – constantly thinking about how what he does or says will look on camera. I felt that the more unpleasant characters amongst the women, were welcome to him.

This is a quirky book, with elements of humour, for example for Abby, having to go on a horse riding date, despite being scared of horses. Oops – her back story painted her as an accomplished horsewoman!

The author did a fantastic job of telling this story as though she really did have a mole inside a dating show. Abby came across as thoroughly likeable and an all round decent person, not prepared to compromise her personal values.

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From Ireland With Love – Liz Hurley

What a privilege to be given the opportunity to review the next instalment in the Hiverton series; at long last, we get the chance to delve a little further into Nick’s life especially and once again glimpse into the lives of the other Byrne Sisters.

I feel compelled at this stage to mention the continuity with this series of books. They shine out both as individual reads, and as a series, but full credit to Liz Hurley for maintaining such continuity between the books; it is a remarkable feat even to just remember what has previously occurred between the characters, let alone develop them further. I must confess however, to being thrilled at the mention of characters from previous instalments, such as the eclectic Otto and Louis. It feels a little like hearing about how old friends are getting on. As I mentioned previously, each of the books in this series can be read as a standalone piece, but when I read little snippets that relate back to other tomes, I experience a sense of delight at my loyalty being rewarded, with news of characters past, that only hardened fans will fully appreciate.

What I do love is the dynamic between the Sisters. The love and affection they have for each other is palpable; indeed it feels so real, that as a reader you find yourself wishing that you could be part of this amazing family of beautiful, strong women. Furthermore one feels that they deserve every single gram of their success and good fortune, having hailed from very humble beginnings. The Sisters that have partners all now seem to be in glorious relationships with very eligible young men and I can’t help but wish that Nick would find a special ‘someone’ to spend her days with.

All the Sisters are such likeable characters, and Nick is especially likeable; an honest, hardworking, respectable business woman. I felt disproportionally affronted at the idea of the Harrington Brothers trying to exact revenge on Nick, when she had done nothing wrong. I felt as though Nick was the most straightforward of the Sisters and the notion that she would be involved in any fraud was ludicrous. I did so feel for her though, as you don’t need to be found guilty of anything, to be tainted with the suggestion of scandal. I just hoped the truth would out, although I did feel slightly bonkers for caring so much; Liz Hurley just makes her characters seem so real, that you find yourself genuinely caring about their welfare! The only saving Grace was that Nick had a supportive family and supportive friends, like George.

The Byrne Sisters are a feel good family, and the book was also full of humour, for example when Nick buys a new bag for Miss Gableforth, and when Nick is invaded by cows! The feel good factor was kind of catching and despite what Nick was going through, her strength and character shone through like cats eyes at dusk. I was so bought into Nick’s character that I just knew she had done nothing wrong and I felt personally affronted that such a thing might even have been suggested – and it seemed fairly obvious where that suggestion had come from.

The situation with Gabe was just cringeworthy; awful. However he seemed so much nicer than his dreadful Brothers – Nick’s unknown nemeses – one could only hope that good would prevail; perhaps Nick could even follow in the familiar tradition amongst her Sisters; managing to forge a relationship with a thoroughly decent, eligible fella. Nick truly left herself vulnerable to Gabe though, when she exposed some of her more sensitive side, when she got upset about the past. (‘Upset’ is somewhat an understatement).

Things are never, of course, quite what they seem. Amongst other burning questions:

– Who has set Nick up so spectacularly?
– Who gifted Nick the puppy, and why?
– Why did Nick get so upset over a Disney film?

This was, yet again a thoroughly feel-good tale of triumphing over adversity and good old fashioned fun and romance, although it was utterly heartbreaking at times. I defy you to find a more novel-worthy family (oops, yet again I forget that these amazing Sisters aren’t real)! I simply feel sad that there aren’t more Sisters to portray! I sincerely hope that this is by no means the last we hear of the Byrne Sisters.

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Hot Desk – Zara Stonely

I could immediately empathise with Alice, having currently been working from home for the past seventeen months due to COVID, and indeed having been told we will never be going back to working in the office like we did before.

Alice was a great character and her dynamic with Jamie in the office was great fun. There was plenty of humour in this book, which I liked, the best moment for me being when Dave’s Mum turns up with her ‘special package’. She was almost too nice, and struggled to be assertive enough with Dave, who struggled to u Derby’s do the status of their relationship!

The relationship between Alice and Jamie developed at a really nice pace, with a slight hiccup in the middle, which Jamie could be forgiven for. I loved the sense of family in this book; Alice came from a wonderful, close family, from the Sister who liked to share, to the Sister with the terrible scarring; you could tell how close Alice was to them all, but could see why she valued her own space!

A really great novel, keeping up with the current state of affairs in the world, guaranteed to make you laugh and smile.

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