book birthday · book blitz · book excerpt · family · historical

Book Birthday Blitz- The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus

Sometimes there are books that come along at a time when, as a book reviewer, I simply can’t squeeze them into my reading schedule. This was one of those, and so I had to get involved in the birthday book blitz in some way, if not as a reader. (I’ve added the book to my Kindle though, and will get to reviewing it just as soon as I can)

The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus

Brothers bound by blood but fated to be enemies. Can their Empire survive or will it crumble into myth?

Istanbul, 1903.


Since his younger brother usurped the Imperial throne, Sultan Murad V has been imprisoned with his family for nearly thirty years.

The new century heralds immense change. Anarchy and revolution threaten the established order. Powerful enemies plot the fall of the once mighty Ottoman Empire. Only death will bring freedom to the enlightened former sultan. But the waters of the Bosphorus run deep: assassins lurk in shadows, intrigue abounds, and scandal in the family threatens to bring destruction of all that he holds dear…

For over six hundred years the history of the Turks and their vast and powerful Empire has been inextricably linked to the Ottoman dynasty. Can this extraordinary family, and the Empire they built, survive into the new century?

Set against the magnificent backdrop of Imperial Istanbul,The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus is a spellbinding tale of love, duty and sacrifice.

Evocative and utterly beguiling,The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus is perfect for fans of Colin Falconer, Kate Morton and Philippa Gregory.

Purchase Links

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Apple

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A message from the author

Lynne, thank you so much for inviting me to share an extract from my book on your Blog, and thank you to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for organising my Virtual Book Tour to celebrate the 1st Birthday of The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus.

Extract

The Gilded Cage on the Bosphorus is the book that I always dreamed of writing. Ever since I was a little girl… Initially I did not intend to publish – it was written to encourage my children’s interest and sense of pride in their heritage, and to teach them forgotten customs and traditions. I wanted to record stories and memories that my grandfather shared with me of his unique life before they are lost forever, and I also hoped to discover more about the characters and personalities hidden behind faded family photographs… Then one day my father persuaded me that others might enjoy this personal story set during the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire, so it was published and today celebrates its first birthday!

The inspiration for this scene comes from two beautiful photographs that I have of my Great Aunts. Both were strong, independent and modern young women, confined by the traditions and conventions of their time. Yet, their spirits were free:

Jean Pascal Bey now sought and received the permission of both princesses to set about creating a suitable photographic composition with the props available to him. First, he lifted the finely-gilded tête-à-tête chair that stood by the window and placed it against a wall at an angle so that one end projected into the room; then he unrolled the small Hereke carpet that he had brought with him and laid it under the back legs of the chair, ensuring that the fringe was arranged in a way that looked haphazard and informal. He was glad that he had decided to bring this carpet: he had been right in thinking that the opulent yalı would not have such a small rug to hand. After that, he picked up a three-legged pedestal table that he had previously spotted in a corner of the room and put it on the opposite side of the rug from the tête-à-tête chair, placing on it a vase full of heavy-headed blooms. Standing back to contemplate the scene, he rubbed his chin, moved forward to remove two or three of the flowers from the vase, and laid them on the table. During the entire process, the princesses had been watching him work with great interest. After a few final tweaks, he appeared to be satisfied with the scene he had created, and turned to address Hadice.

“If your Imperial Highness would be so kind,” he said, “I would ask you to please stand between the seat and the table, and place your right hand on the curved back of the seat … Oh, and maybe your left hand might be placed behind your back.” Hadice did exactly as she was bidden. “Hmm … there is something missing. I wonder …” he mused, scratching his head just above the right ear and making the hair stick out beneath his fez. “A fan! Princess Hadice, do you have a fan? I think it would complete the portrait most satisfactorily if you were to hold a closed fan in your right hand as it rests on the back of the seat.” This was an item that it had not occurred to Hadice to bring with her: she looked across the room at her sister, who opened a narrow rectangular box that was lying on a nearby table – it bore her initials in swirling gold letters – and took out an ivory fan with a beautifully-carved ebony handle. Fehime then handed it triumphantly to her sister, who smiled at her in gratitude. “Perfect!” exclaimed Jean Pascal. “Now we are ready for Aslan Bey.” He placed a richly-embroidered cushion on the seat of the tête-à-tête chair, which was upholstered in red velvet, and Hadice called Aslan to her. The dog obediently jumped up onto the seat and sat on the cushion facing the photographer just as if he knew precisely what was expected of him. Everyone laughed, and this served to lighten the atmosphere in the room even further.

Hadice looked magnificent. Her thick dark hair framed her face in a loose pompadour bun; the simple cream dress she was wearing had a high neck and ruffled sleeves that fell to the top of her white gloves, while its sweeping train lay pooled in front of her. She had decided not to wear much jewellery as she wanted the Imperial Order that hung around her neck, and the Mecidiye Order pinned to her left breast, to stand out. Fehime thought she had never seen her sister looking more lovely or more dignified.

Jean Pascal wheeled his camera forward on the small wheels attached to the tripod legs; noticing how badly they creaked, he made a mental note to have them oiled as soon as he returned to the studio. He then made a slight adjustment to the camera’s angle, tilted the lens, and disappeared for a moment beneath the dark cloth draped over the camera box in order to view the inverted image. He brought the image into focus by adjusting the distance between the lens and the film plate, moving the folding leather bellows as though he was playing an accordion. When he reappeared, he was utterly dumbfounded to see that Hadice was unveiled: during the few seconds it had taken him to re-emerge from under the dark cloth, she had unpinned her yashmak and allowed it to float to the floor. Zeynel Ağa moved forward to pick up the discarded veil, his smooth, finely-chiselled face betraying nothing of what he might be thinking. Jean Pascal, meanwhile, looked thunderstruck, having been thrown completely off guard. Unlike the old eunuch, he was incapable of hiding his mental confusion.

“Jean Pascal Bey, I think you will need to hurry before Aslan tires of the pose,” Hadice said. Fehime giggled behind her hand. How she loved her sister, and how she admired her ready wit!

Jean Pascal now disappeared under the dark cloth for a second time – more to settle his nerves than to double-check the focus. Then, standing to attention beside his camera box, he squeezed the small air-pump ball that operated the shutter system and took the photograph. Neither Hadice nor Aslan had moved even a millimetre. He knew instantly that he had captured a perfect image.

Author Bio

Ayşe Osmanoğlu is a member of the Imperial Ottoman family, being descended from Sultan Murad V through her grandfather and from Sultan Mehmed V (Mehmed Reşad) through her grandmother. After reading History and Politics at the University of Exeter, she then obtained an M.A. in Turkish Studies at SOAS, University of London, specialising in Ottoman History. She lives in the UK with her husband and five children.

Social Media Links

https://www.facebook.com/ayseosmanogluauthor

https://www.instagram.com/aysegulnevsultan/

https://twitter.com/AyseGulnev

As always

blog tour · book review · drama · family · psychological suspense

Blog Tour ‘n’ Book Review – Between You and Me

Between You and Me

Is her new husband really who she thinks he is?

When young doctor Lauren Matheson meets Joe, an older divorced businessman, at a glittering poolside in California, it’s a chance encounter that seems life-changing for them both. Back home in London, their feelings only strengthen. But Lauren soon discovers that building a happy future with Joe is going to be an uphill struggle…

She’s determined to be a good stepmother to his children, four-year-old Toby and complicated teen Grace. But under the watchful eye of Meredith, Joe’s intimidating ex-wife, Lauren can’t seem to do a thing right. Why won’t Joe ever take her side against Grace? And what really happened between him and Meredith?

As her husband retreats into a cold, secretive version of the dashing man she met in California, Lauren starts to wonder if she’s made a costly mistake. Was Joe ever the man she thought she married?

Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/2Pu9BCM

Author Bio

Carol Mason is the Amazon Charts and Kindle #1 bestselling author After You Left (more than 300,000 copies sold), The Secrets of Married Women, The Last Time We Met, The Shadow Between Us, Send Me A Lover and Little White Secrets which hit the Bookstat digital bestsellers list top 3 in the week of its launch. She was born in the North East of England where most of her novels are set. She now lives in Canada with her Canadian husband, a rescue dog from Kuwait and a three-legged cat. When not writing, Carol loves to read, cook and binge watch Netflix.

Social Media Links

https://www.facebook.com/CarolMasonAuthor

https://twitter.com/CarolMasonBooks

https://www.instagram.com/carolmasonauthor

My Review

The last thing junior doctor, Lauren expected when she returned to London was to meet up again with Joe, an older guy she met on vacation in America. Their holiday fling didn’t go anywhere once he told her things were “complicated” for him at that moment. But now things have changed and the couple are free to pursue a relationship.

Within a short space of time, they marry and Lauren becomes step-mother to his two children – teenager Grace and four-year-old Toby. As you might expect, Lauren gets no easy ride from Grace, but does bond with Toby. That is until Joe’s ex-wife, and mother to the two kids, sticks her nose in. OK, so as their mother, Meredith obviously has rights and wants the best for her offspring, but treating Lauren like some unpaid help is not the way to go, especially when Meredith takes every chance to belittle and even mock Lauren’s attempts to build a rapport with the children. And where is Joe in all this? You might well ask! Mr Holiday-romance-turned-hubby is not exactly on his new wife’s side when things begin to go wrong. It seems Lauren can do nothing right, not even treat young Toby after an accident, despite being a medical professional

Frustrated and desperate for some support, Lauren’s checks out a forum for step-parents only to find a lot of hostility and animosity from many in her situation towards their step-kids. She does make one friend, though, but even then things aren’t as straightforward as they might seem.

There’s clearly more to Meredith’s story than we think. It comes to a head when she gets the bit between her teeth and sets out to destroy not only Lauren’s relationship with Joe and his kids, but also her career. Lauren is left fighting for her sanity, her career and her marriage in this twisty tale that makes for compulsive reading. A story of ordinary people living ordinary lives until someone throws a huge spanner in the works. The question is why … and can Lauren pick up the pieces? Will she even want to?

Highly recommended if you enjoy a solid family drama with a sinister edge.

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Reviews on Amazon UK as MeandtheMutts

book review · drama · family · historical · historical fiction · political · social history

Book Review – The Girl Behind The Wall

My favourite Historical Fiction book this year!

A city divided.
When the Berlin Wall goes up, Karin is on the wrong side of the city. Overnight, she’s trapped under Soviet rule in unforgiving East Berlin and separated from her twin sister, Jutta.
Two sisters torn apart.
Karin and Jutta lead parallel lives for years, cut off by the Wall. But Karin finds one reason to keep going: Otto, the man who gives her hope, even amidst the brutal East German regime.
One impossible choice…
When Jutta finds a hidden way through the wall, the twins are reunited. But the Stasi have eyes everywhere, and soon Karin is faced with a terrible decision: to flee to the West and be with her sister, or sacrifice it all to follow her heart?

Purchase link (publication date July 8th 2021)

My Review

Historical Fiction is one of my most favourite genres to read, and I’m a sucker for a WWII story. The Girl Behind The Wall, whilst set in Berlin, is not a war story since it takes place in the 1960s. However, the events of that day in 1961 when the Berlin Wall went up overnight has its roots very firmly set in the aftermath of WWII and the division of Berlin.

Identical twin sisters, Jutta and Karin, share an enviable thread that is about to be tested to its limits when Karin insists on travelling to the Eastern part of Berlin, despite not feeling so great. Normally, Jutta would have gone with her, but this time Karin can’t wait for her sister.

That night, their cousin, Hugo, an upcoming news reporter for the radio, hears rumblings of a story. He drags Jutta out with him to see what is going on, riding on his motorbike past all the checkpoints that mark the dividing line between East and West Berlin. Except the checkpoints are all closed and frenetic activity sees the making of a more permanent division, concrete and barbed wire split the city in two as the Berlin Wall goes up with Karin still in the East, after a ruptured appendix sees her hospitalised.

Jutta and the family in the West aren’t able to visit her but they can see no reason why she wouldn’t be allowed to return home once she recovers. Well, no reason other than the German Democratic Republic not granting her permission to leave – but they wouldn’t be so inflexible, would they? Hell, yeah.

When Karin recovers, her path to the West has been blocked and she has to accept the offer of her kind doctor to move in with him and his wife for the time being. Every step is considered temporary at first … until it not longer is.

Jutta is refused access to visit and Karin is refused permission to leave. The two young women who have never been apart are suddenly plunged into a new reality, never really understanding why their applications consistently fail. (The reason does become known eventually, but all too late for them)

Karin gets a job as a cleaner in the hospital, thanks again to the doctor, and has to come to terms with the fact that her life is now in East Berlin. Initially, she wants to leave, to go home to her family until she meets and falls in love with Otto, whose ambition is to rebuild East Germany from within as an architect. He has no real attachment to the West and only sees a future for him and his family – and Karin – in the East.

Jutta, from the other side of the Wall, is desperate to get her sister home, especially when letters aren’t getting through and telephone lines are down permanently. Her One day, when she is walking the length of the Wall, she hears the mewing of a cat and follows the sound to find a mother cat and her kittens in a deserted building that flanks the Wall. She gives the cat her lunch and explores a labyrinth of doors and rooms and ultimately a window that looks out into East Berlin.

She risks going over the window, checking carefully for any onlookers and lands with dusty knees in East Berlin, whereupon she heads for the hospital in the hope they know where Karin might now be. From here, the pace picks up as there is danger around every corner and Jutta’s paranoia reaches new heights. Even so, she continues, her desire to find her sister worth the risk.

A connection is made … but the reunion is a far cry from what Jutta expects. Karin is more alert to the dangers, but she also aware that her escape from the East could put those who looked out for her in danger too. And, of course, she has grown fond of Otto, too fond to consider a life without him.

Jutta, forlorn and disappointed, begs Karin to convince Otto to leave the East too and the two women meet up more often from then on. Jutta’s determination to bring Karin home knows no bounds, and she cannot understand why her sister might choose to stay with Otto than to return to her family.

It is not until Jutta finds love herself that she begins to understand, and while the two of them continue their very different lives, each time they meet up Jutta still hopes that Karin can persuade Otto to leave too.

The danger intensifies as Jutta is mistaken for Karin, and a familiar face keeps popping up which sets them both on edge. Have they been found out? Are they under surveillance? The mood is tense, and grows more unnerving with each visit. What began as two sisters divided by the Wall has now evolved into them having others in their lives that mean as much – if not more – to them than they do to each other. And for twins who have only really ever relied upon each other, it’s hard to accept, and even harder to admit to the other that other people are important to them too.

The Girl Behind The Wall is a story of decisions and sacrifices that threaten to tear a family apart. It’s emotional, tense, and highly addictive. So many families were broken up at this time, so many lives were lost as people attempted to flee, and so much mistrust and division was sown among communities as neighbours spied on neighbours. Thankfully, the Wall did come down eventually, but for so many it was too late. For Jutta and Karin, however, there was always hope and a thread between them that nothing could destroy.

Many thanks to Netgalley, Avon books and HarperCollins for my advanced copy of this book which I have reviewed voluntarily.

blog tour · book review · dual timeline · family · women's fiction

Blog Tour ‘n’ Book Review – Waiting to Begin

Waiting to Begin

From the bestselling author of The Girl in the Corner comes a story that asks: what would you risk for a shot at happiness?

1984. Bessie is a confident sixteen-year-old girl with the world at her feet, dreaming of what life will bring and what she’ll bring to this life. Then everything comes crashing down. Her bright and trusting smile is lost, banished by shame—and a secret she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life.

2021. The last thirty-seven years have not been easy for Bess. At fifty-three she is visibly weary, and her marriage to Mario is in tatters. Watching her son in newlywed bliss—the hope, the trust, the joy—Bess knows it is time to face her own demons, and try to save her relationship. But she’ll have to throw off the burden of shame if she is to honour that sixteen-year-old girl whose dreams lie frozen in time.

Can Bess face her past, finally come clean to Mario, and claim the love she has longed to fully experience all these years?

Purchase Linkhttp://bit.ly/WaitingToBegin_UK

Author Bio

Amanda Prowse is an International Bestselling author whose twenty seven novels and seven novellas have been published in dozens of languages around the world. Published by Lake Union, Amanda is the most prolific writer of bestselling contemporary fiction in the UK today; her titles also consistently score the highest online review approval ratings across several genres. Her books, including the chart topping No.1 titles ‘What Have I Done?’, ‘Perfect Daughter’, ‘My Husband’s Wife’, ‘The Girl in the Corner’, ‘The Things I Know’ and ‘The Day She Came Back’ have sold millions of copies across the globe.

A popular TV and radio personality, Amanda is a regular panellist on Channel 5’s ‘The Jeremy Vine Show’ and numerous daytime ITV programmes. She also makes countless guest appearances on BBC national independent Radio stations including LBC and Talk FM, where she is well known for her insightful observations and her infectious humour. Described by the Daily Mail as ‘The queen of family drama’ Amanda’s novel, ‘A Mother’s Story’ won the coveted Sainsbury’s eBook of the year Award while ‘Perfect Daughter’ was selected as a World Book Night title in 2016.

Amanda’s ambition is to create stories that keep people from turning the bedside lamp off at night, great characters that ensure you take every step with them and tales that fill your head so you can’t possibly read another book until the memory fades…

Praise for Amanda Prowse:


‘A powerful and emotional work of fiction’ – Piers Morgan
‘Deeply moving and emotional, Amanda Prowse handles her explosive subjects with delicate skill’ – Daily Mail
‘Uplifting and positive, but you will still need a box of tissues’ – Hello!
‘A gut-wrenching and absolutely brilliant read’ – The Irish Sun
‘You’ll fall in love with this…’ – Cosmopolitan
‘Deeply moving and eye opening. Powerful and emotional drama that packs a real punch.’ – Heat
‘Magical’ – Now magazine

Social Media Links –

Say hello on Twitter:  @MrsAmandaProwse

Friend me on Facebook:  www.facebook.com/AmandaProwseAuthor

Tag me on Instagram:  www.instagram.com/MrsAmandaProwse

Visit my Amazon Author Page:  Amanda Prowse Author  

Check out my website: www.amandaprowse.com

My Review

As a 16-year-old, Bessie has high hopes of a future travelling the world as an air stewardess. On the day she goes to collect her exam results, her world falls apart. It’s made even worse when she discovers she’s pregnant too. That’s it – her future is over. Or is it?

Some 37 years later, Bess is a mother of two with a secret. And that secret is threatening to blow her world apart for a second time … unless she can come to terms with what she did.

Waiting to Begin focuses on family relationships and, if I’m honest, I didn’t really gel with Bess. She struck me as someone with a chip on her shoulder and a little bit snobbish, which given that everything that happened to her was of her own making, meant she came across as not hugely likeable.

Her family, however, are just the nicest people. Her dad, in particular, brought tears to my eyes with just how lovely and normal and down-to-earth … and embarrassing 🙂 … he was. I guess this is the author’s great skill to portray a warts and all view of family life from many viewpoints.

The story moves between 1984 and the present day, with an excited Bessie looking forward to life. Then in the present day, Bess is less enthusiastic about her lot, she is no longer close to her brother (who kept her secret) and nor is she in touch with her one-time best friend, Michelle. Fortunately, the ending is wonderfully positive, tying up those loose ends and restoring calm in those erst-troubled waters.

I did feel for young Bessie but I also felt, at times, that she accepted no responsibility for her actions. Unaware of what had happened to their daughter, her parents continued to be the goofy, loving people they’d always been. Yes, they were flawed, but those flaws came with warmth and unconditional love.

The story tugs at the heartstrings many a times, but is equally funny and heartwarming. It shows how everything we go through makes us who we are, and that from failure and rejection comes strength and growth.

A story that evokes the whole range of emotions. You’ll laugh, cry, cheer and despair … but you’ll close the book feeling satisfied that all is well with the world. Sort of 😉

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book review · family · psychological suspense · thriller

Book Review – Baby Dear

Caro and Jeff Horne seem to have it all until they learn that Jeff is infertile. Caro married Jeff because her biggest wish was to be a mother, and he had the means to give their children a better life than she’d had. Jeff, who is besotted with Caro, is terrified he will lose her now they can’t have a baby.

Across town, Sharon is eight months pregnant and unsure if she really wants to be a mother. Soon her world will collide with Jeff’s. He wants to keep Caro happy and decides that getting a baby is the only way.   

Then Caro is accidently drawn into an underworld of drugs…

Meanwhile, Jeff is increasingly desperate to find a baby – but what lengths is he prepared to go to?

Is Sharon in danger, and will Caro ever have the family she’s always dreamed of?

Add to Goodreads

My Review

Baby Dear is a story that takes a few chapters to grab your attention, by virtue of getting to know all the characters, but then it draws you into a fast-paced roller-coaster of emotions and uncertainty.

The story starts with Caro and Jeff attending an appointment at the hospital in the hope of understanding what it’ll take for them to conceive a child. The news isn’t good: Jeff is infertile. Of course, there are options, IVF for one, but the consultant doubts that will be successful. Caro rules out adoption as she wants to be pregnant and give birth to her own child; Jeff rules out a sperm donor. The two of them are at odds, and this even brings into question the state of their marriage.

Caro questions her future with Jeff now he can’t fulfil her dream of being a mother. Jeff questions his future with Caro if he can’t give her a baby.

The lines are drawn, and since neither of them actually seem capable of conversation, they both retreat into their own worlds, assessing how they can resolve the gaping hole in their lives.

Unlike Caro and Jeff, Sharon and Craig Morrison are nowhere near ready for the new baby that is about to change their lives forever. It’s not that they never discussed having kids, just not now. As the due date falls ever closer, Sharon tries to consider a life with a baby and manages to convince herself that maybe she can still have it all. Craig, however, is not even willing to talk about it and buries his head in the sand.

Single mother of two, Julie Mayhew adores her kids, they’re the light of her life and she can’t imagine being without them. After work at the library, she finds Sharon out of breath outside, and sits with her awhile to check the mother-to-be is OK. The two women strike up a friendship. Sharon’s friends aren’t parents, so she latches on to Julie, encouraged that this other woman manages two children and a job on her own.

These three families find themselves connected when Jeff takes matters into his own hands. That he is able to take things as far as he does is frightening and tragic. His wife is unaware of his behaviour until it’s too late. (To be honest, Caro dismissed him easily once she learnt he’d not be able to father a child, and her own obsession is what triggers Jeff into doing the unthinkable).

The story develops in those three viewpoints.

Sharon warms to the idea of being a mother and, once the child is born all her concerns fade away … until a creepy man brings her flowers.

Julie helps Sharon out when Craig is nowhere to be found, and their friendship blossoms. Julie’s own life seems to be taking a turn for the better with the promise of romance in the air, and her little boy, Sam, is just a delight.

And Caro, well she just seems to think of herself until a young teen is found dead in Julie’s library, overdosed on ecstasy and then she worries if she might have been responsible somehow. It might seem like an odd divergence from the main plot, but it allows her to reunite with her nephew, who has a pivotal part in the story as things escalate.

Their lives change forever as the reality of what Jeff does hits home. His dramatic breakdown stems from the moment he learnt of his infertility, and his wife’s indifference to him sends him into an abyss of dark thoughts and ultimately even darker actions as he tries to “fix” everything.

Emotions run high here, as tragedy strikes. But who will get their happy ending?

Enjoy!

As always,

Amazon Reviewer Name

book review · family · suspense · thriller & crime

Book Review – The Vacation

The Vacation

by M.M. Chouinard

One of them is missing… One of them did it…

The Thanksgiving retreat was meant to be a time for them to get away from it all, miles from the secrets that threaten to tear their family apart. But they’re each hiding something:

Rose hopes the pretty house overlooking the sea is just the break her family needs. But as she gazes at the water and remembers her own childhood, she is utterly terrified.

Brandon knows his wife Rose has barely forgiven him for his affair. He’s started drinking again, a road that led him to disaster once before.

Brianna, Rose’s sister-in-law, is recovering from her fifth miscarriage, and when she looks at her adorable niece, she can’t help but see the daughter she deserves.

Then three-year-old Lily disappears from her bed in the villa. Isolated in what should have been paradise, it quickly becomes clear that one of them took her.

As one by one their secrets are uncovered, who will be destroyed next?

A completely addictive thriller about every parent’s worst nightmare that will keep you guessing into the early hours of the morning. Perfect for fans of The Guest List, One by One and The Sister-in-Law.

Add to Goodreads

My Review

I’d seen so many great reviews about this book on Goodreads and Twitter starting with “WOW!” or “OMG!”, I had to check it out for myself. Billed as “utterly gripping”, The Vacation had a lot of hype to live up to … and, boy did it meet all those expectations and more.

From the first chapter, I was hooked and the pace didn’t let up. What was meant to be a fun and relaxing way to spend thanksgiving with family and close friends quickly unravelled to expose a plethora of secrets and resentments.

Rose had been worried about going to Jamaica with her two children, but her husband Brandon assured her it would be just the break they needed. And it seemed as though he was right, until midway through the holiday, after an evening of rum cocktails under a balmy breeze, Rose went to check on her sleeping kids. Jackson was snoring softly, his arm over his head when she checked on Lily, only to find the curtain billowing across the little girl’s bed.

It shouldn’t have been billowing though; the window had been shut last time she checked … but now it was open and Lily’s bed was empty. The nightmare scenario that had usurped her thoughts prior to them arriving in Jamaica had suddenly become a reality. Her three-year-old daughter was gone, just like those other little girls she’d spent hours reading about. Lily was missing. (It would be impossible not to draw comparisons here with the true story of Madeleine McCann, which made what happened all the more heartbreakingly believable)

After raising the alarm, Rose, Brandon and the others scoured the villa but there was no sign of her. When the police finally arrived, they assumed a ransom call would soon follow. It didn’t.

Accusations of lazy policing followed as there was no news of Lily’s whereabouts. Scrawlings on the wall outside Lily’s room suggested she’d been kidnapped, so why weren’t the police pulling out all of the stops to find her? Of course, Rose’s thoughts were blinded by fear for Lily’s wellbeing, so maybe blaming the police for inaction was understandable. Yet, the others in her party seemed to be doing the same. It made me wonder if that would prove to be a convenient smokescreen for someone)

When the police did find clues to what might have happened that night, they gathered all the adults together before sharing their information, watching each of them keenly for a reaction. It was voyeuristically addictive and had me biting my nails.

The story is told across multiple viewpoints – each of the adults had their own chapters – and from both the run-up to Lily’s disappearance and the investigation thereafter. This constant swapping kept the pace up; just as I thought I might read just one more chapter, the next viewpoint character’s chapter became more compelling. Inevitably, as each character’s backstory became known, so did they seem to have a motive. But surely none of them could have harmed Lily? Or could they?

As my suspicions bounced from one character to another, so did doubts form in their minds as they started to suspect each other. Though, mainly thanks to some clever manipulation, they soon began to question one of their group more than any other.

Jeez, writing this review without giving any spoilers is super hard 😉

Just when I thought I couldn’t be more on the side of the family, in came a curveball that had me praying for the police to turn up with all the answers. Was it too late? Would the truth be covered up forever? Oh my, the ending was frantic and sublime in equal measures. The clues were all there, but the way in which the author delivered those crumbs meant it was easy to miss them.

The Vacation was a book in which everyone came under suspicion. Full of page-turning suspense and very cleverly executed, this has to be one of my favourite book of the year so far.

As always,

Amazon Reviewer Name
blog tour · book review · family · historical fiction · Italy · saga · WWII

Blog Tour ‘n’ Book Review – Paradiso

Paradiso

Italy, 1937. In a tiny village in rural Lombardy, Graziella Ponti is born into a loving family.

Though they are not rich and life is full of challenges, they are content and safe, surrounded by the tightly-knit community of Pieve Santa Clara.

But when the shadow of World War Two falls across the village with the arrival of Nazi soldiers, nothing in young Graziella’s life will ever be the same again.

Paradiso is Graziella’s story. It charts her loves, losses and triumphs as she grows up in post-war Italy, a country in transformation, freed from the shackles of dictatorship yet still gripped by the restraints of the Catholic church.

Paradiso is inspired by true stories told to Francesca Scanacapra by her Italian family and set in locations where she spent much of her childhood. It is a deeply affecting novel which sheds light on the complexity and trauma of Italy’s past and weaves it into the epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live in extraordinary times.

This stunning historical read is perfect for fans of Dinah Jeffries, Rhys Bowen, Victoria Hislop, Angela Petch and Heather Morris.

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Paradiso-Utterly-gripping-emotional-historical-ebook/dp/B08X1B15P8/

US – https://www.amazon.com/Paradiso-Utterly-gripping-emotional-historical-ebook/dp/B08X1B15P8/

Author Bio

Francesca Scanacapra was born in Italy to an English mother and Italian father, and her childhood was spent living between England and Italy. Her adult life has been somewhat nomadic and she has pursued an eclectic mixture of career paths, including working as a technical translator between Italian, English, Spanish and French, a gym owner in Spain, an estate agent in France, a property developer in France and Senegal, and a teacher. Francesca lives in Dorset and currently works as a builder with her husband. She has two children.

My Review

An enthralling story representing a side not often seen in WWII historical fiction novels: that of a child in Italy, evacuated to a convent and later returned to her family in a village much changed from the place she left.

Sworn to keep a secret about the death of a couple of German officers, Graziella protects her family … but at what cost? Life in post-war Lombardy has its ups and downs, and we see both sides through the young girl’s eyes as she grows up and into adulthood. For me, the story had a similar vibe to “Anne of Avonlea” (Green Gables) as the reader is drawn into life there, with all the family members and neighbours having their part to play.

I found it interesting how the mothers in the story changed after losing their husbands, how they stood up to be counted in their own very subtle way. Zia Mina’s story would make a great spin-off with the Marcesini family. I would gladly read more about Graziella and her family. Had she found her true love in Gianfrancesco? Would she go on to be a teacher?

A true family drama, both emotionally engaging and historically compelling.
If there is to be a sequel, then count me in. More, please 🙂

Update: as I post my review on Amazon, I spy book 2 – Return to Paradiso!

Wishes do come true! 😉

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As always,

Amazon Reviewer Name
Reviewed on Amazon UK as Meandthemutts

book review · drama · family · thriller

Blog Tour ‘n’ Book Review – The Legacy

The Legacy

An unexpected inheritance. A web of deceit. A desperate escape. 

London, 1969.

James has his dreams of an easy life shattered when his aunt disinherits him, leaving her fortune to her god-daughter, Charlotte. He turns to his friend, Percy, to help him reclaim his inheritance – and to pay off his creditors. But when their plans backfire, James becomes the pawn of Percy and his criminal associates.

Charlotte is stunned when she is told of her windfall. After an attempt at cheating her out of her inheritance fails, James tries to intimidate her. But she is stronger than he thinks, having secrets of her own to guard, and sends him away with a bloody nose and no choice but to retreat for now.

Resigned, James and his spoilt, pampered girlfriend, Fliss, Percy’s sister, travel across France on a mission that promises to free James from the criminals for good. But James isn’t convinced he can trust Fliss, so he makes his own plans to start a new life.

Will James be able to get away, or will his past catch up with him? Will Charlotte’s secrets turn the legacy into a curse?

Purchase Link – mybook.to/legacy

Author Bio

Alison has been a legal executive, a registered childminder, a professional fund-raiser and a teacher. She has travelled the world – from spending a year as an exchange student in the US in the 1970s and trekking the Great Wall of China to celebrate her fortieth year and lots of other interesting places in between.

In her mid-forties Alison went to university part-time and gained a first-class degree in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and an MA in the same subject from Oxford Brookes University, both while still working full-time. Her first book was published a year after she completed her master’s degree.

The Legacy is a drama set in 1960s London. Like her previous book, Mine, it explores themes of class, ambition and sexual politics, showing how ordinary people can make choices that lead them into extraordinary situations.

Alison teaches creative and life-writing, runs workshops and retreats with Imagine Creative Writing Workshops(www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk) as well as working as a freelance editor. She is a member of the Society of Authors and the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

She lives in Somerset, within sight of Glastonbury Tor.

Social Media Links

www.facebook.com/alison.knight.942

https://twitter.com/Alison_Knight59

www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk

www.darkstroke.com/dark-stroke/alison-knight/

My Review

Having read and enjoyed Alison Knight’s previous novel Mine, I had to pick this one up. I wasn’t disappointed.

Jane doesn’t have long to live, but she knows that she doesn’t want her nephew James to inherit her estate, especially as he has rarely visited her over the years, preferring to spend his time and rack up debts in gambling dens. Instead she changes her will to leave the bulk of her estate to her god-daughter, Charlotte, who has been a regular visitor and confidant to the old lady.

Even so, Charlotte is not expecting the windfall any more than James is prepared to be excluded. While Charlotte takes her time to grieve for her godmother, and to let the news settle in, James is already planning to contest the will.

James is in so much debt to all the wrong people and has been counting on his aunt’s money to dig him out of a hole; her change of mind devastates him. He is more upset about losing the money than about his aunt’s passing.

Charlotte, on the other hand, has always lived within her means and cannot imagine how she might spend the money or make use of Jane’s flat in an upmarket part of London.

For James, desperate times call for desperate measures, and “aided” by his friend and lawyer, Percy, he considers his options, not ruling out any nefarious means if the end result sees him getting his “much-deserved” inheritance back.

The Legacy is a short read, a novella in length, but is made even shorter by its fast pace and addictive qualities that had me racing through it to see how it all ended. Both main characters were beautifully depicted: James as the evil, greedy, unscrupulous villain versus Charlotte, the honest, loyal and innocent heroine who was even prepared to help James before he turned nasty.

But both of them were in for a huge shock! Trust me, the twist is excellent.

Highly recommended. Can be read as a standalone, but I felt having read Mine first gave the story extra “juice”.

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As always,

Amazon Reviewer Name
Reviewed on Amazon UK as Meandthemutts

book review · family · NetGalley · psychological suspense

Book Review – The Happy Family

My family has just been reunited. So who is trying to tear it apart?

A mother who disappeared…
When Beth was 10 years old, her beautiful, wild mother Alice walked out and never came back. Beth’s life since hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but now she is happy and settled, with a successful career, a loving family and a beautiful home.

An unexpected visitor…
Then one day there’s a knock at the door. Alice has returned. Overjoyed to have the chance to rebuild their relationship, Beth invites her mother to move in.

A life that comes crashing down…
At first, everything seems wonderful. But then Beth’s friends begin to drift away, strange things start to happen at home, and rumours begin to circle about her past. As the mysterious events around Beth become darker and more dangerous, she is forced to question everything. Is somebody in her life trying to destroy her happiness? And how far will they go? 

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My Review

Clever! What a cool storyline … and that twist!

Practice manager, Beth has a happy life, two children she adores, a great job she loves and good friends (although all her best friends are much older than she is, around the same age as her mother – 😉 read into that what you will). And, talking of mothers, Beth’s mum walked out on her and her father some thirty years ago when Beth was ten.

After divorcing her husband, Beth not only has a good relationship with him but also with his new wife. Her dad is in a fabulous care home and enjoys being there, and Beth visits him often. She works hard, but has help from Robin to do the school run and keep the house clean. Everything is peachy.

And then, a knock at her door turns her life around, upside down and inside out. The woman who says her name is Alice is none other than her mother, complete with the three hearts tattoo on her neck. Beth is stunned, delighted, loss for words one minute and gibbering like an idiot the next. Her mother has returned.

After inviting her mother to stay a few days (at first), Beth can’t wait to tell her friends and family – even her dad – that Alice is back in her life. Everyone is thrilled for her, and totally accepting of Alice.

Weirdly, almost instantly strange things start to happen. Beth loses her keys a lot, the heating system goes bezerk, “accidents” happen and tempers start to fray as Beth seems to be losing her grip on everything, alienating loved ones … and drinking too much. When everything seems to be going wrong, Beth is glad to have her mum around for support.

There are lots of twists in this story, and just when you think things can’t get any worse for Beth, they do. A long-held secret – something which, since their move to Cheltenham after the childhood incident, only Beth and her father are aware of – suddenly has reared its very ugly head. Beth looks in danger of losing everything and everyone close to her until someone totally unexpected comes to her rescue – yet another fabulous twist. Who is Beth’s saviour? Well, while the twist is hugely surprising, it’s not too difficult to join the dots and find her guardian angel, though Beth does make a meal out of that task!

Overall, a compelling and addictive read that I raced through. Admittedly, it sagged a little in the middle as Beth’s paranoia spiralled out of control repeatedly, but the ending more than makes up for that. As does the witty dialogue and hilarious “menopause” chats she and her friends have at the beginning. As the title says, Beth really did have the happy family.

If you enjoy psychological or domestic suspense, then this book is for you. Give it a shot. You won’t regret it.

Thanks to the author, One More Chapter & Netgalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As always,

Amazon Reviewer Name
Reviewed on Amazon UK as Meandthemutts

book review · family · there's a dog · women's fiction

Book Review – Seven Perfect Things

by Catherine Ryan Hyde

You just know this is going to be good!

A heart-stirring novel about the joy that comes from finding love in unexpected places by the New York Times and #1 Amazon Charts bestselling author.

Thirteen-year-old Abby Hubble lives in an unhappy home in the Sierra Nevada foothills where her father makes life miserable for her and her mother, Mary. One day Abby witnesses a man dump a litter of puppies into the nearby river. Diving in to rescue all seven, she knows she won’t be able to bring them home. Afraid for their fate at the pound, she takes them to an abandoned cabin, where all she can offer is a promise that she’ll be back the next day.

To grieving widower Elliot Colvin, life has lost meaning. Looking for solace, he retreats to the hunting cabin he last visited years ago, before his wife’s illness. What he discovers is not at all what he expected: seven puppies and one determined girl with an indomitable heart.

As Abby and Elliot’s friendship deepens, Abby imagines how much better her life—and the puppies’ lives—would be if her mother were married to Elliot instead of her father. But when Abby’s father moves the family hundreds of miles away, Abby and her mother must decide how long they’re willing to defer happiness.

Seven Perfect Things is a story about joy, where to find it, how to know it when you see it, and the courage it takes to hang on to it once you have it.

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My Review

Can you guess where this is going? I mean, it has not one dog but seven delightful, cute as a button puppies in it – which makes it a must-read in my eyes.

4 paws from me!

If the current pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our pets are as much part of the family as their human counterparts, and as this story shows, the dogs are a great deal better behaved! The blurb tells us from the start that the puppies have been dumped in a sack in the river (can I get a boo hiss for the hoomans that did this!!!), so we have to be prepared for a tale of survival, a battle against the odds and a whole lot of love, bemusement and shenanigans to follow.

So, to the story …

After rescuing seven puppies from the river, refusing to leave them at the pound where their future is more than uncertain, and knowing her father will not allow her to take them home, Abby traipses up to a unoccupied cabin nearby to care for them. Buying food and water for them with what little money she has, Abby is determined her puppies will survive. She rushes out of the house each morning to check on them, and again after school, keeping them secret from her dad, although she did tell her mum about them … just maybe not all the facts.

Since school is about to break for summer, she reckons she can spend more time with them while looking for new homes to take them in (she does this with the best of intentions not realising how much she has already grown to love the puppers).

For a couple of days, she copes – helped by some money from her mum (who has guessed from the paw prints on her clothes and her late hours that Abby still has the dogs somewhere). Abby and her mother live in fear of upsetting her father, which makes her mum all the more determined to let Abby have her secret knowing that she is of an age where being responsible for something other than herself will be a valuable lesson.

But, then the owner of the cabin arrives …

Recently widowed, Elliot arrives at his cabin for some alone time, only to find the cabin has been broken into and much of his stuff stolen( not by Abby, I hasten to add). Added to that, when checking out his generator – no longer there – in the shed, he finds Abby’s puppies and a pile of smelly newspaper.

When he takes the same trip as Abby to the pound, the staff member recognises the pups and is sorry to see them again. Elliot cannot leave them to their fate, so he returns to his cabin to find a distressed Abby looking for her dogs. And so begins their relationship which, while it has a rocky start, soon becomes focused on the puppies’ wellbeing. If anything, Abby’s presence stops Elliot from sinking into depression, and instead he is cheered by the antics of the playful seven.

But it can’t go on like that. Elliot will have to leave his cabin eventually, and Abby needs to find homes for the dogs. However, by then the two are firm friends and come up with a plan to look after the puppies which just so happens to also take into consideration Abby’s home life and her mother’s unhappy marriage.

The struggle is real and their plan falls apart early on when Abby’s father decides he’s in charge of his family and “takes” them away. With no way of contacting Elliot, it seems Abby may never see her puppies or Elliot again.

An emotionally-charged story that will keep you reading through to the end to see how things work out.

As always,