Sunday, 14 January 2018

BLOG TOUR! What She Left by Rosie Fiore: Review

The book....

Helen Cooper has a charmed life. She's beautiful, accomplished, organised - the star parent at the school. Until she disappears.

But Helen wasn't abducted or murdered. She's chosen to walk away, abandoning her family, husband Sam, and her home.

Where has Helen gone, and why? What has driven her from her seemingly perfect life? What is she looking for? Sam is tormented by these questions, and gradually begins to lose his grip on work and his family life.

He sees Helen everywhere in the faces of strangers. He's losing control.

But then one day, it really is Helen's face he sees...

My review....

Everyone knows a Helen - she’s the one who’s always at the centre of everything. The school mum who’s turned it into a career. Always perfectly organised, always smiling, always in control, with the most well turned out children, the most immaculately beautiful house, the best cakes and costumes for school events.

Helen has to be the best at everything, so when she disappears - just walks out of her home one day without warning - she does it completely and untraceably. Helen’s the best at disappearing, too.

But what happens to the people she’s left behind?

As the title implies, that’s really what this story is about - husband Sam, children Miranda and Marguerite and fellow school mum Lara are all affected in different ways by the disappearance of Helen. Clearly, her immediate family are the most devastated - and the plight of the children who have experienced so much loss is heartbreaking -  but the ripples from what Helen has done spread further. We hear the story from the points of view of Sam, Lara and also snippets from nine year old Miranda. I was wondering quite a lot if we were going to hear from Helen to shed some light on where she’d gone and, most importantly, why. So do we? - well, I’ll let you find that out for yourself!

This was a wonderful read - it always feels like a slight risk volunteering to review an unfamiliar author, as you’re never sure what you’re going to get, but What She Left is very well written, engaging and often surprising. I was engrossed throughout and really did not know how it was going to end. The main characters, including the children, are fully realised and non-stereotyped. Lara in particular I found a very engaging character. Maybe more minor characters such as Lara’s mum could have been more fleshed out - but I’m only saying that because I really liked Lara’s mum!

All in all a very interesting and thought provoking exploration of an unusual situation: a woman who disappears not due to abduction, not fleeing terrible abuse, but by choice. (The scenario of a man walking out on a family, never to be seen again, is a slightly more familiar one, if no less devastating for those left behind.) While there is certainly a significant element of mystery here surrounding Helen's past and her reasons for disappearing, the main focus is firmly on the consequences of that disappearance, and it makes for a fascinating read.

The author.....

Rosie Fiore was born and grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She studied drama at the University of the Witwatersrand and has worked as a writer for theatre, television, magazines, advertising, comedy and the corporate market.

Her first two novels, This Year's Black and Lame Angel were published by Struik in South Africa. This Year's Black was longlisted for the South African Sunday Times Literary Award and has subsequently been re-released as an e-book. Babies in Waiting, Wonder Women and Holly at Christmas were published by Quercus. She is the author of After Isabella, also published by Allen & Unwin.

Rosie’s next book, The After Wife (written as Cass Hunter), will be published by Trapeze in 2018, and in translation in seven countries around the world.

Rosie lives in London with her husband and two sons.

What She Left is available now in paperback and Kindle formats.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan - Review

I was really looking forward to reading this - while I didn't know a great deal about it, what I did know sounded right up my street. I do love a good courtroom drama, and if there's a current political angle, so much the better. All of that is certainly there, but we also have a nuanced portrait of a marriage and a thoughtful depiction of thorny issues of rape and consent.

In the present day, we follow dedicated barrister Kate, prosecuting sexual offenders but feeling increasingly frustrated at the difficulty in gaining convictions. Meanwhile, there's Conservative junior minister James Whitehouse, handsome, charming and tipped for success -  a close personal friend of the Prime Minister (who's called "Tom" but is hard not to picture as David Cameron). Then there's James's adoring wife Sophie, in some ways a typical Tory wife but with much more depth in her portrayal than that might imply.

In a further strand, intelligent but under-confident Holly starts at Oxford in 1993, fresh from her Liverpool state school and feeling out of place among the mainly privately educated students who have no conception of life outside their privileged bubble. Among the most privileged of all is James, who belongs to a group of equally arrogant, entitled and frankly obnoxious young men called the Libertines: a not even thinly disguised Bullingdon Club, even down to that notorious photograph on the steps. And while thankfully no pigs are involved, what they do get up to is no great improvement.

As the strands intertwine and sometimes collide, this is a fascinating, enthralling and often thought-provoking read.

The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor: Review

"History itself is only ever a story, told by those who survive it."

The Chalk Man opens shockingly, with a grisly discovery in the woods. The subsequent story moves between 1986 - when narrator Eddie is twelve years old - and the present day. In 1986, Eddie and his friends - Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and Nicky - roam around the town and countryside of Anderbury on their bikes. When the  idea of secretly communicating with each other via stick people, drawn in chalk, is suggested to them they embrace it with alacrity. But the chalk men will lead them to a sinister discovery.

In the present day, Eddie - now a 42-year-old teacher, single and still living in the same house he grew up in, still socialising with the same friends - has in many ways not moved on that much from his childhood self. The past will never quite stay buried and when Eddie receives a letter with a picture of a stick man and a piece of chalk, it's clear that whatever happened then is not yet over.

Although this is categorised as a thriller there is a definite vein of horror running through it. At certain points I was strongly reminded, in a good way, of Stephen King - having read some other reviews subsequently, I see I'm far from the only one to make that comparison. I'd like to explore this further but that's difficult to do while avoiding spoilers! Certain aspects of setting (the fairground, the woods), character (Mr Halloran, Sean and others), plot and style were at times very reminiscent and this was especially so in some "dream" sequences.  The concept of the chalk men as a central theme is brilliantly effective.

The characterisation is very strong. Eddie and his little gang of friends have their own distinct personalities which clearly emerge, and other townspeople are similarly convincing. The unusual character of Mr Halloran, the faintly sinister "Pale Man" from whom the idea of the chalk men originally came, was wonderfully depicted and I could visualise him so clearly. (The David Bowie comparison didn't hurt.) Eddie himself I found to be a largely sympathetic character, even if there was always a certain element of doubt about his reliability as a narrator...

This was a terrific read: hauntingly dark, deceptive and unpredictable yet with moments of humour and humanity. I think it will be deservedly successful.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Daughter by Lucy Dawson: Review

Thanks to NetGalley, I’ve read a lot of books lately which I know next to nothing about. I read the synopsis, request the book, then by the time I get approved and get around to reading it, I’ve generally forgotten what the synopsis said. This has been quite refreshing as I’m a lot more unspoiled than I would otherwise be, not knowing even the basics of what a story is going to be about.

This was perhaps a mixed blessing in the case of The Daughter, as I was unprepared for the very emotionally distressing first part of the book. It’s very well written and really quite devastating. Readers should be aware that the story hinges on a very difficult topic, the death of a young child. This could have gone badly wrong but thankfully is portrayed with sensitivity and compassion.

I liked the character of Jessica, who at the start of the story is a young mother who feels somewhat out of place among the affluent, mainly older parents at her daughter’s private school. Jess is a devoted mum who wants nothing more than to keep her little girl safe. When something terrible happens to Beth, the consequences not only for Jess and her husband Ben but for others too will echo down the years... Seventeen years later Jess has rebuilt her life to some extent, but while the past will never go away, it’s now coming back to haunt her in ways she could never have expected.

I certainly didn’t predict the ending - though in true psychological thriller tradition, I had suspected absolutely everyone at some point - as the author no doubt intended. Lucy Dawson has constructed her plot very ingeniously and it really does keep you guessing. When the reveal came it was one of those “Oh, I should have guessed” moments.... but I didn’t.

There are some troubled people in this book who can act in bizarre ways, and I did find some of the behaviour of one character in particular hard to understand. Actually more than one when I think about it! 

A great read which I would highly recommend, but do be prepared for some emotionally distressing moments.

Review will also be posted on NetGalley and on my blog. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Published on 24 January 2018 by Bookouture.

Lucy Dawson lives in Devon with her husband and children. The Daughter is her seventh book.

Monday, 1 January 2018

The Birthday Girl by Sue Fortin: Review

When Joanne invites her three friends - Andrea, Zoe and Carys - to help celebrate her fortieth birthday, she promises “an adventure weekend, full of mysteries and surprises, the like of which you can’t imagine”. She’s not lying.

The three women are whisked away in fairly cloak-and-dagger fashion to a remote croft in the Scottish Highlands, where Joanne has carefully laid plans for a weekend none of them will ever forget. But no one could have predicted how it would eventually turn out...

It’s difficult to say much more without spoilers, which would be unfair as this book is really best approached knowing next to nothing.

This was a really gripping and enjoyable read right from the off, with - at least for a while - a distinct flavour of the Agatha Christie classic And Then There Were None. A group of people, all with something to hide, all brought together for reasons unknown.

But who is the hidden hand orchestrating events? I considered everyone it could possibly be, and constantly changed my mind and my theories, but never had any real conclusive idea regarding who was ultimately responsible - and why. The denouement is both surprising and disturbing. Indeed the whole thing is really quite dark.

The story is narrated by Carys, who gives her account of events, but again it’s never entirely clear how reliable her narrative is - she has her own secrets. I enjoyed the “outdoor adventures” element of the plot which added a refreshingly original dimension to a tale of four women on a birthday weekend.

Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Sue Fortin is the author of four books. She was born in Hertfordshire but had a nomadic childhood, moving often with her family, before eventually settling in West Sussex. She is married with four children, all of whom patiently give her the time to write, but when not behind her keyboard she likes to spend time with them, enjoying both the coast and the South Downs between which they are nestled. Sue is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd: Review

Dennis Danson is a convicted killer on Death Row - the Red River murderer - but widely and increasingly believed to be innocent. Documentaries are made about him, books written, celebrities espouse his cause. For Sam, a needy young woman in England,the case details and Dennis himself exert a deep fascination, and when she contacts him and subsequently travels to the US to visit him in prison, a relationship develops between them.

But is Dennis as innocent as Sam and many others believe him to be? What really happened to the girls of Red River?

This is a tense and compelling psychological thriller - Amy Lloyd builds up the tension extremely well. While few of the characters are particularly likeable - out of everyone, I was most concerned about the cats - I was still desperate to find out what was going to happen. The deeply dysfunctional relationship between Dennis and Sam is very well drawn, wince-inducingly so at times, as things do not progress between them quite as Sam had expected or hoped.

For me the name Dennis Danson immediately evoked the serial killer Dennis Nilsen - I don’t know whether this similarity was deliberate on the part of the author (there are certain other similarities too... so maybe) but it meant I was instinctively slightly predisposed against him! Whether guilty or not, Dennis is a difficult and complex character; the real man often at odds with the image of him created by others. The character of Sam, a somewhat obsessive and vulnerable young woman whose actions are often painfully misguided and whose insecurities can at times overwhelm her - is very believable.

There are some insightful observations here on the social media landscape, particularly as experienced for the first time by Dennis - the strange world of Twitter is especially well depicted as Dennis - and Sam’s - story is served up for public consumption and, of course, everyone has an opinion...

An often disturbing but always readable journey into some dark places.... recommended.

Review also published on NetGalley and on Amazon. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood: Review

“Because I’m not reliant on anyone emotionally or financially, I can’t be hurt. That’s how a feminist is: iron-willed, Teflon-coated, in total control of every aspect of her life.”

At forty-five, Susan Green shares certain characteristics with the cactus plants she keeps on her desk - prickly and self-sufficient. She has her life arranged precisely how she wants it - her flat, her job, her personal life - and certainly has no intention of changing it. But when her mother dies - and leaves a will favouring her feckless brother Ed, causing Susan to immediately launch herself into battle - and at the same time Susan is confronted with the hitherto unimagined prospect of becoming a mother herself, her life starts changing in some very unexpected ways. What does it take for a cactus to finally bloom?

I loved the sound of this book, but it was a bit of a slow burner for me initially. Susan is not obviously very likeable, at least to start with. She comes over as judgemental, intolerant of others’ failings and apparently lacking in any warmth or humour, though I did like her independence and determination. As the story continued, though, I was drawn in and found it ultimately to be a very compelling and enjoyable read, and Susan a very engaging character.

The basic premise is not, in itself, that original - a woman who shuns any kind of vulnerability as a defence mechanism against being hurt, who gradually becomes more open to new experiences and connections with other people. However the story is very well executed and I grew to really care about Susan - my heart broke for her at times.

One advance reviewer described Susan as a cross between Don Tillman (The Rosie Project) and Bridget Jones. I can certainly see where the former comparison comes from - both highly rational, uncomprehending of others’ less rational choices, and lacking in social graces - but I’m afraid any similarities with the latter are completely lost on me. (And Susan would undoubtedly be appalled at the comparison.) To this reader, Susan is more reminiscent of Eleanor Oliphant.

Not all the characters are believable: Susan’s jolly-hockey-sticks friend Brigid is a caricature, though an amusing one - I don’t believe any modern forty-five year old woman routinely addresses another as “old girl”! I did like neighbour Kate, and Ed’s friend Rob. Aunt Sylvia and her fairly awful daughters are very convincingly drawn. I’ve definitely known Sylvias...

Although it was, as I’ve said, initially a bit of a slow burner, ultimately I loved this just as much as I’d hoped, and didn’t want it to end! (It’s perhaps unlikely, but a sequel would be lovely... I really do want to know what happens next.)

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris: Review

This book kept popping up in my recommendations for an awfully long time before I finally got around to reading it. I think the unoriginal title put me off a bit... there must be hundreds of books called Behind Closed Doors. I’m sure I’ve read a few of them. I must admit, though, it’s an appropriate title here, because this book is all about the horrors (not an exaggeration) that occur in apparent domestic bliss.

It’s obvious from the start that all is not well in the marriage of Grace and Jack Angel, and that Mr Angel hardly lives up to his name. That’s putting it mildly - he’s an actual monster, one of those arch-villains with literally no redeeming features. He’s also, of course, handsome, charming and rich, because they always are, in fiction if not in life. And all-powerful, with almost everyone in his pocket, even the police. There’s a bit of suspension of disbelief required, but Jack’s clever....his heinous actions are always carefully planned and there’s little to be held against him, apart from Grace’s word, which he ensures counts for little.

It’s a real page turner, there’s no doubt about that. I had to keep reading, desperate to find out what happened and for the monster to (hopefully) get his comeuppance, even while in a constant state of slight anxiety about what horrendous thing was going to happen next. The full extent of Jack’s depravity is only gradually revealed and this generates a lot of tension.

Grace is quite an engaging character - she goes from a successful professional woman (with a rather unlikely sounding job) to someone with no power at all but she never gives up fighting. Her sister Millie - a young woman with Down’s syndrome - isn’t entirely convincingly drawn but is a likeable character. There are very few if any laughs in this book - the tone is unremittingly dark and grim - but “George Clooney” did raise a smile.

Ultimately this is a compelling read but I’m not sure I actually liked it. It’s basically a simple story of good vs evil with little nuance, and just a bit too unpleasant for me. I did like the very end, though, where a thread which has run through the novel has a satisfying payoff.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

White Bodies by Jane Robins: Review

Felix is so handsome and clever and romantic. I just wished he hadn’t forced Tilda under the water and held her there so long.’

Callie and Tilda are twins, but it seems they couldn’t be more different - Tilda is the doer, the attention getter, forging a successful acting career; Callie the observer, the quieter one, drifting into a job at a bookshop, existing around the edges of her sister’s life.

When Tilda enters a relationship with the wealthy and controlling Felix (he’s something to do with hedge funds... I don’t think I’ll ever understand what a hedge fund actually is), Callie’s anxieties for her sister’s safety cause her to be lured down some dark and dangerous paths.

From early on there are doubts as to Callie’s reliability as a narrator - she appears to have an unhealthy and certainly abnormal obsession with her golden girl sister. The relationship between the twins is complex and really rather twisted. Though intelligent, Callie has a naïveté and inexperience about her which render it doubtful as to how accurately she might interpret things at times; the author keeps us skilfully on the back foot, uncertain as to how well founded Callie’s fears about Felix are.

This is an incredibly addictive, often unsettling and very cleverly constructed read which constantly keeps the reader guessing as to where it is going; I really had no idea until very near the end, although with hindsight clues were there. The narrative voice of Callie is a triumph - she is an unusual but at the same time very believable character and you’re never quite sure what she’s going to do next. What this book kept reminding me of, and I’m not even sure why as they are very different, was the equally excellent Behind Her Eyes by Sarah  Pinborough - something about the tone, perhaps. 

Elegantly written and tightly plotted... highly recommended. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

Jane Robins began her career as a journalist with The EconomistThe Independent, and the BBC. She has made a specialty of writing historical true crime and has a particular interest in the history of forensics. She has published three books of nonfiction in the UK, Rebel Queen, The Magnificent Spilsbury, and The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams. White Bodies is her first novel.

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Secret Child by Kerry Fisher: Review

I loved Kerry Fisher’s first novel, The School Gate Survival Guide - it was fresh and funny, even if the title was a bit meh (apparently it’s now been retitled The Not So Perfect Mum, which is even worse). Anyway the book was great and made me an instant fan of the author. I’ve read and enjoyed her subsequent books too but none proved quite as memorable as the first; however I think The Secret Child just might.

It opens in heartbreaking fashion with Suzanne Duarte giving her six-week-old baby boy away for adoption in 1968. (The year I was born!) Susie’s not an unwed teenager though - she’s a young married woman with a child already and a husband away at sea. Knowing she can never explain the existence of baby Edward and at risk of losing everything, Susie has to make the devastating choice to give him up and pretend nothing has happened. But the corrosive effects of grief and deceit will tarnish everything for her.

This has the feel of a sprawling family saga, following Susie’s life and family from 1968 to the present day, examining how all her relationships - with her loving husband Danny, daughters Louise and Grace - are changed and damaged by the huge secret she can never reveal. Can Susie ever reconnect with the baby she lost, without destroying everything?

This was a very emotional read which had me gripped from the first page, desperate to find out how things would turn out, particularly towards the end. It’s narrated first by Susie and then in the second half by her rebellious younger daughter Grace, which works very well in showing us first why Susie is the way she is, then how that is perceived by others. It’s  quite a long book and I can imagine that some people might find it too drawn out at times but it worked perfectly for me. 

A powerful and frankly heartbreaking story with believable, nuanced characters.... highly recommended.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan: Review

Late at night two teenage boys scuffle at the water’s edge. One ends up in the canal. It looks straightforward, but there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

The boy in the water, Noah, is terminally ill. The other boy, Abdi - his best friend - isn’t talking.

As Noah lies in hospital in an induced coma, DI Jim Clemo is called upon to investigate the incident. In the wake of a recent anti-immigration neo-Nazi march in Bristol, there are racial sensitivities surrounding the case, because Noah is white and from a privileged background, and Abdi is from a Somali refugee family. 

And Abdi still isn’t talking.

I loved Gilly Macmillan’s previous novel featuring Jim Clemo, What She Knew (previously published as Burnt Paper Sky - a title I prefer, to be honest). So I was excited to read this, and it didn’t disappoint.

The story is told partly by DI Clemo, partly by Noah himself and partly in the third person following other characters such as Abdi’s sister Sofia, his parents Maryam and Nur, and Noah’s parents Fiona and Ed Sadler - the latter an acclaimed photographer who has made his name through his often painful depictions of the experience of refugees. (An interesting element of the story considers some of the ethical issues around such photographs via Sofia’s response to them.)

As Clemo tries to unravel what has occurred the story takes in both modern day Bristol and the frightening world of the huge Hartisheik refugee camp in the late 1990s.

As in her previous novel, Gilly Macmillan also examines the media response to the case, and this takes on a personal dimension for DI Clemo as his ex-girlfriend Emma Zhang, now a journalist seeking to make her name, is in the thick of it. Clearly there are those keen to use the incident in order to attack the city’s Somali community, the police, or both.

This could be issue-heavy subject matter but Gilly Macmillan tells the story with a delicate touch which puts the complex, often flawed characters at the centre and never relies on easy stereotype.

There’s also a twist in the tale which I certainly wasn’t expecting, though in hindsight it almost seems obvious (those twists are always the best kind).

I loved this story - it’s compelling, insightful, humane and ultimately very moving, and deserves a very wide readership. Highly recommended.

Review also posted on NetGalley and Amazon.

Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew and The Perfect Girl. She trained as an art historian and worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a lecturer in photography, and now writes full-time. She resides in Bristol, England.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Ours is the Winter by Laurie Ellingham: Review

The blurb....

Journeying across the Arctic, their pasts are about to catch up with them.

Erica, Molly and Noah are embarking on the challenge of a lifetime, driving Siberian huskies across the frozen wilderness of the Arctic. Cut off from the world and their loved ones and thrown together under gruelling conditions, it isn't long before the cracks start to show.

Erica has it all. A loving husband, a successful career and the most adorable baby daughter. But Erica has been living a double life, and as she nears her fortieth birthday her lies threaten to come crashing down.

Molly was on her way to stardom. But when her brother died, so did her dreams of becoming an Olympic champion. Consumed by rage and grief, she has shut out everyone around her, but now she's about to learn that comfort can come from the most unexpected places.

Noah has a darkness inside him and is hounded by nightmares from his past. Tortured, trapped and struggling to save his fractured relationship, he knows this journey is not going to help, but try telling his girlfriend that.

As their lives and lies become ever more entwined, it becomes clear that in the frozen wilds there is nowhere to hide.

The review...

Are you ready for the challenge of a lifetime? Drive your own team of elite Siberian huskies 260km across the frozen wilderness of the Arctic in an experience you'll never forget!

Three people come together as part of a larger group to undertake this Arctic challenge. Molly, fizzing with barely suppressed anger and grief after the untimely death of her beloved brother, her Olympic aspirations having died along with him. Erica, hoping to use the trip as an opportunity to rebuild her relationship with her young half-sister - while also concealing some awkward truths about her own life. And Noah, deeply traumatised after a terrible event, resorting to desperate measures just to function from day to day.

As the challenge progresses, along with testing their own limits these three people find unimagined connections between them and face up to difficult realities as relationships form and fracture, and secrets emerge.

I loved the fascinating, unusual setting, and Laurie Ellingham does a great job of building up the atmosphere. It was easy to picture the frozen landscape, and the exhausting, exhilarating, challenging experience of sledding was vividly drawn. I could almost feel the biting cold and see and hear (and smell!) the dogs. I loved the dogs!

The human (and canine) characters all emerge clearly... I liked all the characters, apart from the ones you're not meant to (looking at you, Rachel). I could relate to Erica's conflicts between home and work, having experienced similar, though not when my child was so young. And as a runner myself, albeit very far from Olympic standard, I enjoyed that strand of the story too. (Minor niggle: the "last few laps" of an 800m race? Usually there's only two!)

A special mention for the cover, which is just gorgeous and represents the story nicely.

This is the first book I have read by Laurie Ellingham. It was initially something of a slow burner for me (ironic given the setting!) but once I got into the story I enjoyed it very much and will definitely keep an eye out for this author. A recommended read which almost made me want to sign up for a similar Arctic challenge! Maybe one day...

The author...

Laurie Ellingham lives on the Suffolk/Essex border with her two children, husband, and cockerpoo Rodney. She has a First Class honours degree in Psychology and a background in Public Relations, but her main love is writing and disappearing into the fictional world of her characters, preferably with a large coffee and a Twix (or two) to hand.

Follow Laurie Ellingham on:

Monday, 13 November 2017

BLOG TOUR! The Best Little Christmas Shop by Maxine Morrey: Review

The blurb...

Come home for Christmas to the Best Little Christmas Shop – the snowiest, cosiest place you can be!

Home for the holidays…  

Icing gingerbread men, arranging handmade toys and making up countless Christmas wreaths in her family’s cosy little Christmas shop isn’t usually globe-trotter Lexi’s idea of fun. But it’s all that’s keeping her mind off romance. And, with a broken engagement under her belt, she’s planning to stay well clear of that for the foreseeable future…until gorgeous single dad Cal Martin walks through the door!  

Christmas takes on a whole new meaning as Lexi begins to see it through Cal’s adorable five-year-old son’s eyes. But, finding herself getting dangerously close to the mistletoe with Cal, Lexi knows she needs to back off. She’s sworn off love, and little George needs a stability she can’t provide. One day she’ll decide whether to settle down again – just not yet.  

But the best little Christmas shop in this sleepy, snow-covered village has another surprise in store…  

The review...

The whole settling down thing wasn’t for me. I’d tried once before and it had ended painfully, not to mention publicly. What made me think this time would be any different? It wasn’t meant for me. It was meant for people like Giselle and Xander, Mum and Dad, and Dan and Claire. But the universe had other ideas for me apparently. Stick to what you’re best at, Lexi, it said. PS: this isn’t it.

An engineer for a top Formula One team, Lexi’s much more at home fixing a car in her overalls than glitzing it up with the rich and famous. It’s her dream job, though, and she even has a glamorous fiancé to match.

Now she’s back home with her large and affectionate family, minus both job and fiancé, and working temporarily in the family business - the best little Christmas shop of the title. It’s not just a Christmas shop though - the quirky village gift shop, called The Four Seasons, sells merchandise themed around the seasons of the year, changing along with them. It’s a lovely idea and certainly sounds like it would be hard to resist popping in for a browse around. 

When handsome single dad Cal and his adorable five-year-old son, George, walk into the shop one day, Lexi’s life is about to take an unexpected turn, via a spot of impromptu teddy-bear surgery and some narrowly averted swearing. There’s more than a spark between them, but is Lexi really the right person to provide the love and stability this little family needs?

I’m not personally a fan of Formula One - the noise puts me off for a start, it always sounds to me like a load of demented wasps on the attack - but I know plenty of people who love it so it obviously does have a broad appeal. Anyway you certainly don’t need to like or even know anything about Formula One to enjoy the story as it doesn’t really play a big role.

The supporting characters are fun - Lexi’s noisy, loving family, her best friend Xander and his wife Giselle, and of course little George.

Cal really was the perfect man: handsome, caring and evidently besotted with Lexi. Call me cynical but I don’t think you get too many of them to the dozen in real life! There are no big surprises about the eventual outcome but then you wouldn’t want there to be...

I think the number one word I would use to describe this book is “cosy”. It’s warm, comforting and best suited to curling up with beside a roaring fire. Preferably while it’s snowing outside.

Order on Amazon here.

The author...

Maxine Morrey has wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember and wrote her first (very short) book for school when she was ten. Coming in first, she won a handful of book tokens - perfect for a bookworm!  As years went by, she continued to write, but 'normal' work often got in the way. She has written articles on a variety of subjects, aswell as a book on Brighton for a Local History publisher. However, novels are what she loves writing the most. After self publishing her first novel when a contract fell through, thanks to the recession, she continued to look for opportunities.  In August 2015, she won Harper Collins/Carina UK's 'Write Christmas' competition with her romantic comedy, 'Winter's Fairytale'.  Maxine lives on the south coast of England, and when not wrangling with words loves to read sew and listen to podcasts. As she also likes cake she can also be found either walking or doing something vaguely physical at the gym

Twitter @scribbler_maxi
Instagram @scribbler_maxi
Pinterest  Scribbler Maxi

The giveaway... (UK only)

Win -
Signed copy of The Christmas Project
The Best Little Christmas Shop notebook
Box of mini gingerbread men
Chocolate teddy bear

Enter here!