Escape to Perdition by James Silvester

Escape to Perdition

I am extremely grateful to Matthew Smith at Urbane Publications for a copy of ‘Escape to Perdition’ by James Silvester in return for an honest review.

In modern day Prague, the intrigues and machinations of the past and the Velvet Revolution still reverberate. As reunification between the Czech and Slovak republics looks increasingly likely, it is difficult to know whom to trust and just who is in charge. Peter Lowe is equally as duplicitous as those controlling him and as his missions become increasingly difficult and personal, his own life starts to spiral from his control.

Initially I wasn’t sure I was going to like ‘Escape to Perdition’ as I found tuning in to the unfamiliar political setting took a couple of chapters. I wanted to research names and details to see what was based in fact and what was fiction. However, James Silvester writes with a skill that draws in the reader and it soon didn’t matter where fact and fiction were blurred because what I had in front of me was excellent storytelling.

The plot is scarily plausible and disturbing, with twists that leave the reader reeling right up to the end when the title of the novel finally becomes fully clear. Having recently visited Prague, I wish I’d read ‘Escape to Perdition’ first to give me an added layer of perspective and I enjoyed picturing some of the settings used that are so evocatively presented. I also think James Silvester has incredible skill in portraying the rawness of emotion for his characters.

With Peter Lowe as a murderous political puppet, he initially seems little more than a drunk rueing his past, but as the narrative progresses the reader begins to feel he is a man ‘more sinned against than sinning’ and to empathise with him as someone of deep emotions and complexities. Without spoiling the plot, I was reduced to tears by Peter’s role towards the end of the novel.

Although I’m not sure if I enjoyed ‘Escape to Perdition’ as its themes are too true to life in dealing with love and hate, loyalty and betrayal, guilt and redemption so that I found it quite disturbing and unsettling, I also found it a totally absorbing read. At times I felt almost complicit in actions I wouldn’t like to be part of and this is down to the clever intensity of the writing. However, I’m so glad I’ve read it, even if it has caused me to question the balance of power in modern day Europe and to wonder what may really be going on behind the scenes.

Readers who enjoy intelligently written, tautly plotted and disturbingly executed political thrillers will love ‘Escape to Perdition’ and may well find themselves affected by it as did I.

‘Escape to Perdition’ is available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book editions

It can also be obtained direct from the publisher

What Happens In Cornwall by T A Williams

New Book Out Now


I’m delighted to be able to bring you ‘What Happens In Cornwall’ by T A Williams as part of Bliss Book Promotions. ‘What Happens in Cornwall’ is out today, 20th July 2015, from Carina UK.

I’ll be reviewing the book here on my blog on 27th July – it’s a great read and you can win an e-copy and read a couple of extracts below.

‘What Happens in Cornwall’ 

For a very British summer holiday…

When archaeologist Sam realises her relationship is as dead as the skeletons she’s exhuming, she knows it’s time to make a change. But with bills to pay her options are limited…until a discovery on Rock Island in Cornwall gives her a reason to escape…

Head to the Cornish coast!

In Cornwall, questions are thrown up at every turn: who is the glamorous owner of Rock Island that the paparazzi are so interested in? How has the irresistible, but impossibly arrogant, history professor James Courtney managed to get so far under Sam’s skin? And will it ever stop raining so Sam can lose the cagoule and sip a cool drink in the sun? One thing’s for sure: there’s never been a holiday quite like this one!

Enjoy a summer of surprises and romance with What Happens in Cornwall…, the perfect retreat for fans of Fern Britton.

What happens in Cornwall

Read an extract where we meet Miles Vernon for the first time: 

At nine-thirty on the Sunday evening, fortified by a large glass of Chardonnay each and bearing a bottle of Rioja as an offering, they turned up at the party. It wasn’t in a scruffy terraced house in the heart of student town, but in a fine Georgian villa, high on the hill above the university, with a terrific view across the historic city. Even more surprising was the fact that the music was provided, not by a tattooed DJ with an earring and a couple of battered loudspeakers, but by a string quartet set up under a pergola of exquisite white roses. As they rounded the side of the house and took in the scene, both of them stopped dead in astonishment. They glanced at each other, the same thought on both their minds.

‘Bugger! We should have dressed up.’ Sam looked down at her shorts and regretted her decision not to go with a dress. Beside her, Becky was doing her best to tug her very short skirt down to her knees without baring her bottom.

‘There’s something about Bach, isn’t there?’

They turned towards the voice. It emanated from a tall man, probably in his early forties, with a patrician accent and immaculately styled long brown hair. He was wearing jeans and a plain white shirt. Samantha began to feel a bit less conspicuous about her choice of clothes. He smiled down at them. ‘Miles Vernon, Professor Miles Vernon. And you are?’ He held out his hand.

He was very good-looking and he knew it. Sam read the interest in his eyes, but she took a surreptitious step backwards, definitely not attracted to him and keen to avoid his getting the wrong idea. At the same time, she didn’t want to appear rude to a professor, even if his was a new name to her. But she needn’t have worried. Before she had time to extend her own hand, Becky had grasped his with both hands and was pumping it up and down. She beamed up at him. ‘Hello, Professor Vernon. I’m Becky and this is Samantha. We’re PhD students in the Archaeology department.’ She paused, then added for clarification, ‘At the university.’

Sam had a hard job restraining herself from giggling. Miles Vernon probably didn’t realise just how close he was to having his clothes ripped off him, Viking-style. You didn’t need a PhD to see the ‘target acquired’ look in Becky’s eyes. Sam waited until Becky had reluctantly released him and then shook hands with him in her turn. ‘Good evening. Is this your lovely house? Is this your party?’

He smiled at her, exposing a set of immaculate white teeth as he did so. ‘Good evening, Samantha.’ He pronounced it ‘Sementha’ and she repressed a shudder. ‘The answers are yes and yes. The house is indeed mine, and I thought I should do something for all my new friends at the university.’

Now find out why Sam never wants to be a passenger with Virginia again!

Virginia successfully backed the car into the parking space at the third attempt and turned off the engine. Samantha, beside her, breathed out deeply. She was still alive. Slowly, she unclenched her fingers from the seatbelt. She had never been driven by Virginia before and if it never happened again, that would be too soon. The journey down the busy A38 trunk road had been a succession of near misses and near death experiences. Driving without due care and attention didn’t even begin to describe it. When they had crossed into Cornwall and embarked upon the ever narrower lanes, Sam had genuinely expected death to come at them around every corner. Throughout the whole trip Virginia had kept up a non-stop chatter about the prospect of exploring Rock Island. Understandably she was excited at the thought of going to the island, but it was to the exclusion of all else, road safety in particular.

They climbed out of the car, Sam managing to resist the temptation to throw herself to the ground and kiss the tarmac under her feet. Instead, she took a few deep breaths, dried her palms on her jeans, and looked around. One unexpected side effect of having the fear of death put in her was that she found that she was experiencing life with total clarity, and she looked around with interest. The car park was halfway down the hill leading into Tregossick and the view across the bay to the island was as clear as a bell after all the rain. Sam glanced at her watch and was pleased to see it was just before three o’clock as arranged.

From the moment they left the shelter of the car, they were assailed by the twin noises of seabirds wheeling overhead and the regular crump of waves against the beach. While Virginia went off to get the parking ticket, Sam had time to look around. The car park was almost full and most of the cars had roof racks for surf boards. A quick glance down to the beach showed that the waves had enticed quite a number of wetsuited figures into the water with their boards.

You can buy ‘What happens in Cornwall’ here:

Amazon US:

Amazon UK:

Barnes & Noble:

Meet the author T A Williams:


Firstly, my name isn’t T A. It’s Trevor. I write under the androgynous name T A Williams because 65% of books are read by women. In my first book, “Dirty Minds” one of the (female) characters suggests the imbalance is due to the fact that men spend too much time getting drunk and watching football. I couldn’t possibly comment. Ask my wife…

I’ve written all sorts: thrillers, historical novels, short stories and now I’m enjoying myself hugely writing humour and romance. Romantic comedies are what we all need from time to time. Life isn’t always very fair. It isn’t always a lot of fun, but when it is, we need to embrace it. If my books can put a smile on your face and maybe give your heartstrings a tug, then I know I’ve done my job.

I‘ve lived all over Europe, but now I live in a little village in sleepy Devon, tucked away in south west England. I love the place. That’s why you’ll find leafy lanes and thatched cottages in most of my books. Oh, yes, and a black Labrador.

I’ve been writing since I was 14 and that is half a century ago. However, underneath this bald, wrinkly exterior, there beats the heart of a youngster. My wife is convinced I will never grow up. I hope she’s right.

If you would like to find out more about Trevor (T A) Williams here are some links:





Amazon Author:

Win an e-copy of ‘What Happens in Cornwall’ by T A Williams

There are some reviews here on Goodreads, but pop back on 27th to see what I thought.


The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas

The Olive Branch

My enormous thanks to Frances Gough at Headline and to Bookbridgr for a review copy of ‘The Olive Branch’ by Jo Thomas which was published on 2nd July 2015 by Headline Review.

Having just split up from her partner Ed, Ruthie Collins accidentally buys a house in Italy on Ebay. When she arrives to take up residence she finds herself unwelcome and in the middle of a long standing family feud. Trying to be accepted and not run home to live on her mother’s sofa ‘leap before you look’ Ruthie has a lot to learn.

I loved ‘The Olive Branch’ which was a real relief as I’d also adored Jo Thomas’ first novel ‘The Oyster Catcher’ and it’s always a worry that the next book might not match up. It certainly did.

There is a great plot to the novel with several really absorbing twists along the way to keep the reader guessing until the end. Fast paced, the writing style is vivid, lively and engaging as Jo Thomas manages to combine humour and emotion with flawless storytelling. Her descriptions are wonderfully evocative and there is appeal for all the senses, not least taste when she describes some fabulous food, in her writing. Reading ‘The Olive Branch’ certainly made me hungry. I could envisage the writing translating very effectively into a TV or film production.

Characters are warm, human and varied giving a broad range for all readers to empathise with, love, hate or dislike. I found Daphne very amusing but you’ll have to read the novel to find out why!

The title has several meanings both in the literal sense of a physical olive branch and its more intangible one representing peace and reconciliation and it is this level of attention to detail that lifts Jo Thomas book out of the merely good to outstanding.

If you enjoy feel good fiction that will lift your mood and be totally entertaining then I heartily recommend ‘The Olive Branch’. The book is beautifully romantic and just what is needed in a suitcase for a holiday read.

Each and Every One by Rachael English

Each and every one

I was delighted to receive a copy of ‘Each and Every One’ from Rachael English in return for an honest review. ‘Each and Every One’ is published by Orion and is out in paperback on 16th July.

Gus Shine has had a successful career and carried the financial burden of his four children far longer than he should. With his business finally failing in the Irish recession and his own errors of investment, it’s time for his offspring to accept responsibility for their own lives – and their own spending. After years of profligacy this isn’t easy.

‘Each and Every One’ is a very cleverly crafted book because, although it focuses on one family, Rachael English manages to paint a highly accurate picture of life in all levels of society during the recession. She also explores what family relationships are like in a way that so many readers will recognise and I think some parents of 30-something children may want to get them a copy of ‘Each and Every One’ as soon as possible!

I particularly liked the writing style with the variety of structure and the way in which each chapter ended with a hook for reading that would be picked up later. Rachael English’s journalistic background gives a real depth and assurance to the writing, especially with regard to Tara, making the story totally convincing. There are uncomfortable echoes of stories we all know and when the Shine family find themselves making the news, rather than reporting it, the reader is touched by their predicament.

Initially, I didn’t warm to all of the characters and felt there were too many to start with, but this feeling dissipated the more I read until I even had sympathy for the totally spoilt Vee and the ridiculously pompous Damian. However, it was eight year old Ben whom I found most heart warming and realistic as he reminded me of underprivileged youngsters I’ve taught.

I hadn’t discovered Rachael English before but feel she is joining that established tradition of female Irish writers I already love and I recommend others new to her work to read ‘Each and Every One’.

Swimming with Manta Rays in the Maldives by Linda Hill

#TheCultureHour WordPress Blog

There’s a tangible sense of anticipation aboard the dhurney as Chas, our local tour leader, distributes baby shampoo ‘spit’ to stop our masks fogging and we wriggle our feet into our fins. Whilst we were eating sun-ripened baby bananas from the branch strung at the back of our cruise vessel, the Ari Queen, and drinking our early morning teas and coffees, the ever-vigilant crew have spotted Manta Rays in the glistening Indian Ocean and now we are going to try to find them and, hopefully, swim with them.

Chas briefs us carefully. If we are lucky enough to find these magnificent animals, we must slip as quietly as possible into the bath-warm sea, not chase the Mantas but respect them in their environment and remain as composed as our mounting excitement will allow.

A cry goes up from a dhurney crew member. He has spotted a Manta in the water…

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Beyond the Sea by Melissa Bailey

Beyond the Sea

I am very grateful to Philippa Cotton at Penguin Random House for providing an Advanced Reader Copy of ‘Beyond the Sea’ which is published by Arrow on 16th July 2015.

Following the tragic death in a boating accident of her son Sam and husband Jack, Freya is struggling to cope with her grief. She goes back to the lighthouse-keeper’s cottage where the family had been happy together to seek some kind of peace. However, recovering from tragedy is not a straight forward path.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Beyond the Sea’. It is a quick (but by no means superficial), engaging and absorbing read.

From the menacing portents of the prologue, the uneasy undercurrent persists throughout, making the reader’s pulse increase and drawing them into the story. This is a subtle effect and works extremely well. There is a satisfying rhythm to the writing.The writing itself is often lyrical and poetic and descriptions bring the text to vibrant life.

‘Beyond the Sea’ has a Russian-doll-like structure with oral history, letters, a diary, fable and the events surrounding Freya all building the narrative and intertwining so that, along with Freya, the reader isn’t always sure what is real and what is imagination. Melissa Bailey has a highly intelligent approach, mixing well researched mythology with narrative to create a really entertaining story.

The characters are real people with whom the reader can engage, but I think it is the sea that is the most vivid and important character in the book. I was utterly captivated by the descriptions of the sea’s moods and power. I am slightly in awe of the sea anyway and Melissa Bailey’s writing has compounded my sense of unease at what lurks beneath the surface.

‘Beyond the Sea’ is a really good read and I will be reading Melissa Bailey’s first novel. ‘The Medici Mirror’ too as soon as I can.

Fairytale Beginnings by Holly Martin

fairytale 4a

I’m hugely excited to be able to share with you the first chapter of ‘Fairytale Beginnings’ by Holly Martin.

If you enjoy the first chapter of Fairytale Beginnings, and I’m sure you will, you can download the whole book here.

Its only 99p for the next few days!

Start reading now:

Milly drove up the steep, curvy, cliff top lanes with the warm sun on her back and the wind in her hair. From up here, she could see the sparkling blue of the sea below her stretching out for miles into the horizon. It was a beautiful day, made even lovelier by the endless yellow fields of rapeseed on the other side of her. It smelt wonderful but she wished it was clover instead as that might be some indication that she was going in the right direction.

She was hopefully heading towards Clover’s Rest. The satnav had, of course, stopped working half an hour ago and all she was left with was a flashing question mark on the screen, indicating that the satnav had no idea where she was. Nothing seemed to be known about the village of Clover’s Rest or Clover Castle which presided over the tiny dwelling. It didn’t appear on any maps, and bizarrely there was no record of it on any kind of historical documentation. That in itself was a mystery and one Milly was keen to solve.

Dick, her beaten up old Triumph, was having trouble with the steep gradient of the inclines and she had spent most of the last fifteen minutes barely coming out of first gear. Her brother, Jamie, had begged her several times to buy a new car but her beloved white Triumph TR2 was her pride and joy.

Up ahead, on the very summit of the hill, she suddenly saw a flash of a blue-topped turret from behind the trees and her heart soared. But no sooner had it appeared, it had gone.

Dick whined as she pushed him round a very steep corner and she leaned forward and gave him a little pat of encouragement. He spluttered and coughed, but thankfully didn’t cut out. The handbrake wasn’t the best and she wasn’t hopeful that Dick could cling to the road surface without sliding back to the foot of the hill again.

Steam started to appear from under Dick’s bonnet as she floored the accelerator and crossed her fingers and toes. She glanced down at her multi-coloured star bracelet and absently made a wish that she would make it to the top of the hill.

‘Just a little further, Dick, come on.’

Dick was barely moving at all now, Milly could get out and walk quicker. As she begged and pleaded with Dick to just last a little bit longer, a kid on his bike rang his bell and scooted round her, disappearing into the trees up ahead.

How insulting to be overtaken by a kid on a BMX. And Dick obviously thought so too as he suddenly found a last bit of energy and groaned and coughed up the last few metres, where the hill finally levelled out.

They shuffled into a tunnel of trees, which swallowed her up, shutting out all the bright daylight behind her and overhead so she was driving through a canopy of total green. It was very dark, with just a tiny pinprick of light ahead of her that she pushed Dick towards. Movement swirled in her rear view mirror; as she glanced up it almost seemed like the trees were closing the gap behind her, covering the road with their tangle of branches so there was no escape.

Dick finally burst through the trees to the other side. Daylight temporarily blinded her, she briefly saw some houses and a village green and then a thick plume of white smoke burst from the engine and the village vanished from view. Dick let out what sounded like a really big fart and then died, smoke still pouring from underneath the bonnet.

Milly sighed. She had asked too much of him, she knew that. It had seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up; going out in her convertible along the seafront when the weather was so hot, and Clover’s Rest was only supposed to be an hour and a half away from where she lived. But Dick was over twice her age and was only really capable of short flat journeys, nothing like the mountainous terrain she had just traversed.

‘It’s ok Dick, you can have a few days to have a little rest and maybe we can find someone to tinker under your bonnet before we go home. And it’s all downhill from here so worst case scenario, we can just roll you home. Plus we’re on holiday next week, I promise you can stay at home every day. I intend to sit in the garden and do nothing but read for the entire week.’

Dick let out a sigh of relief and the smoke slowed and then stopped, revealing the most gorgeous, picturesque village she had ever seen.

Milly quickly got out and gazed across the village green, staring at the whitewashed cottages like a kid in a sweet shop. The roofs were topped with yellow thatch that glinted like gold in the sunlight. They were a hodgepodge collection; the nearest ones to her were timber framed and the ones on the far side were made from stone. But all of them came with their unique lumps and bumps, jutting out bits of stone or bent bits of timber indicating that these houses were hundreds of years old.

She quickly grabbed her suitcase, gave Dick an affectionate pat, and abandoned him on the edge of the green as she walked in awe along the cobbled road.

The historian in her picked out key features in the houses straight away. Of course without certain dating tests it would be hard to be specific, but the first house on the green had to be at least four hundred years old, which meant it should be a listed building. But there had been nothing in any historical documents or files that even indicated this place existed, let alone had listed buildings.

Her toes curled with pleasure at the prospect of what this mysterious Clover Castle looked like. Was it possible that she was going to round the corner of the green and see a sixteenth century undiscovered jewel?

She approached the nearest house and ran her hand appreciatively up the oak timber frame. There was something incredible and humbling about touching something that had been around for hundreds of years. What had this building seen and heard, what stories could it tell?

She leaned closer to the wood and sniffed it. The rich smells of smoke, wood and earth engulfed her and she smiled.

She suddenly realised she wasn’t alone. Milly looked up from the wood into the bulbous eyes of an old man, dressed in a tatty suit. His skin seemed to have shrunk against his bones, making his eyes seem more bulging and protruding. He was chewing on what looked like a small stone, rolling it around his mouth and back again as if he was trying to work out what it tasted like. His white hair stuck out making him look like he was a crazy scientist but he was looking at her as if she was insane, which she supposed she was, standing on someone’s front lawn stroking and smelling the side of the house.

He took a drag of his cigarette and then flicked it into the nearby bushes. She winced at the desecration of such a historic place but chose to ignore it as he still had the moral high ground at the moment, being the slightly saner one of the two.

‘You can’t leave your car there,’ said the man, indicating poor Dick, who looked so deflated and exhausted that even his headlights seemed to be drooping. ‘It’s double yellow lines.’

Sure enough, double yellow lines covered the roads on both sides, as if it was a main road through a busy city rather than a tiny remote village with probably no more than thirty houses. But closer inspection showed the lines to be very wobbly and most likely hand painted. Who would do such a thing? Traffic clearly wasn’t a problem up here, there wasn’t even another car in sight and Dick wasn’t blocking up the road, which was wide enough for two cars to pass easily in both directions.

‘Well unfortunately my car broke down, so it will have to stay there until I can get someone to have a look at it.’

The man sucked air through his teeth and shook his head. ‘Igor won’t like that. It’s likely the car will be towed.’

Igor? Wasn’t that the name of Dracula’s assistant?

‘Sorry, what did you say your name was?’ Milly asked, deliberately.


‘Danny, I’m sure Igor will understand that a broken down car is not my fault. I’m a guest of Lord Heartstone, so if there’s any problem Igor can come and see me at the castle.’

Milly hoped that using Cameron’s name and title would be enough to get Danny to leave her and Dick alone, but that wasn’t the case. Danny’s face suddenly filled with disdain.

‘He isn’t exactly Mr Popular round here at the moment. He’s only been back here a few months and he’s sacked all the staff already. Grumpy sod, too, keeps himself to himself.’

‘Well it’s a big responsibility to suddenly inherit a castle, I’m sure it will take a period of adjustment. I’m here to see if I can help him.’

She spotted a flag flying above the trees and grabbed her suitcase and started walking towards it, hoping that Danny wouldn’t follow her, but he did.

‘It’s the Summer Solstice this weekend, we always have a big celebration and he won’t even be a part of it.’

‘Well maybe I can talk to him.’

She squinted at the flag, it wasn’t like any she had ever seen before. It was hard to see from this distance what was on it, but it looked like a dragon eating a heart.

‘Are you staying up there?’ Danny yelled after her, finally giving up following her.

‘Yes, for a week.’

‘You’ll never leave. Those that stay there never leave.’

She stared at him. These sinister words sent shivers down her spine.

‘And whatever you do, don’t go out after midnight. The Oogie will get you.’

‘The Oogie?’

‘A sea monster who eats unwanted visitors.’

‘That’s a local myth, surely.’

Danny shook his head. ‘The village has lost lots of victims to the Oogie. Just don’t go out after midnight and make sure you keep all the doors and windows locked at night.’

He was clearly joking or just insane. Danny wandered off and she stared after him, realising he was only wearing one shoe. Definitely insane. She looked around at this calm, tranquil little village. With the bright sunshine beating down on the little houses, the scent of the roses that twisted round all the doors, she wasn’t going to let some crazy nonsense about a sea monster bring her down.

She had a castle to look at and she couldn’t wait to see it.

Milly walked round the corner into the trees. Up ahead she could see some large, highly decorative wrought iron gates, with swirls and flowers. The gate was probably Victorian or Edwardian. It was very pretty but her heart sank a little bit. It didn’t necessarily mean that the castle was from that era, but she hoped it wasn’t. Castle Heritage, who she worked for, would have nothing to do with the castle if it was from the Edwardian era. They were only interested in ancient relics, particularly those from the medieval period.

She wanted to help Cameron, she really did. She had spoken to him a few times on the phone and he’d sounded desperate. He had this deep, rich, voice that sounded velvety and she guessed he was about fifty years old. She had a way of accurately estimating people’s ages too, not just the age of houses.

It was the stuff of dreams to wake up one morning and find that not only were you a Lord but one that owned a castle too, yet from speaking to Cameron it seemed it was more like a nightmare than a dream.

He’d spoken to her about burst pipes, broken windows, rotting walls, crumbling masonry and a severe damp problem. It wasn’t the inheritance that he had hoped it would be.

If the castle was old enough, Castle Heritage would probably buy it off him or, at the very least, pay to have these things repaired and maintain the upkeep of the place. They might even make it into a tourist attraction if they thought it was a viable option. If she thought it was a viable option. That’s what she was here to assess. The steep incline of the hill was definitely a negative point. Thousands of people every year visited the big castles in the UK. The road she and Dick had driven up earlier couldn’t sustain that many visitors, nor could the tiny village. But if the property was worth it, her company would pay to improve the road too.

She ran her fingers over her multi-coloured star bracelet, as she always did when she wanted something really badly. Most of the time the bracelet let her down but occasionally her wishes came true. Singing the first few lines of the song ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ in her head, she closed her eyes and made a wish. ‘Let the castle be something truly spectacular,’ she whispered.

She opened the gate and it creaked in protest. Clouds skittered across the sun, casting long shadows across the curved drive. As she stepped through the entrance, a cool wind whipped around her, dragging her blonde hair into her face. The wispy summer dress she was wearing hardly seemed appropriate all of a sudden, she should at least have worn a jacket or a cardigan. English weather was always so unpredictable.

She shivered and walked round the corner, pushing the hair out of her eyes so she could get her first glimpse of Clover Castle. And suddenly there it was.

Her heart soared. For someone who had grown up obsessed with all things Disney, and still loved Disney now, years after it was socially acceptable for her to do so, seeing what was quite obviously a real life Cinderella’s castle in front of her was something out of her wildest dreams. Turrets jutted out from all parts of the castle, some protruding out of other turrets. There were four towers, all topped with conical blue spires. From her position at the foot of the drive, she could see twenty-three blue spires, some of which topped the turrets, some that were simply large conical topped pinnacles that didn’t seem to have any purpose other than for decoration. Each spire had a long, gold flagpole on the top with a scarlet banner, apart from the large flag in the middle that had that weird dragon design. She stared at the flag for a moment, although very different in its design, the theme of the dragon wrapped protectively around the heart was eerily similar to the tattoo she had on her right side.

The castle was beautiful but her heart had already plummeted into her shoes. This couldn’t be any more than a hundred years old. It looked Bavarian in its design and was built purely for enjoyment and certainly not to protect.

There was a splendid drawbridge in the middle of the front castle wall but as she walked up the drive she could see there was no moat for the drawbridge to go over.

It seemed as though, at some point over the last hundred years, someone had decided to build a castle, looked at what features other castles had and decided to have one of everything – whether it was needed or not. Or in the case of the spires, twenty-three of them.

Standing on the hilltop with the sea framed dramatically behind it, the castle was an incredible sight. It was magical and arrogant and wonderful all at the same time and … Castle Heritage wouldn’t come anywhere near it.

She might as well turn round and head home now. Her birthday was later this week, and she didn’t really want to be working on her birthday. If she left now she might even be able to start her holiday a few days early. But she had promised Cameron she would stay for a week to do all the tests and surveys. He had already paid Castle Heritage quite a significant sum for her time and services and although she could refund the money there must be something she could do to help him. At the very least she could stay for a couple of days in order to get a feel for the place.

She couldn’t feel too disappointed at her wasted trip, the place was spectacular and she got to sleep here, hopefully in a room fit for a princess in one of the tallest towers.

As she stared up in wonder at this thing of beauty, she heard two deep barks. She turned in time to see a heap of black, shaggy fur before she was knocked to the ground.

‘Gregory, NO!’ a deep voice yelled out.

But Gregory, if that was indeed the beast’s name, was not to be dissuaded. Standing over her, Gregory started bathing her face in pungent wet licks, his coarse tongue tickling her face and making her giggle.

Suddenly the dog was snatched from over her and she was yanked to her feet. She slammed into a hard wall of muscle and looked up into a pair of eyes that were so dark they were almost black. Dark, curly hair topped his head, but she was too close to see any other features. He smelt amazing though, all woody and earthy and wonderful.

‘Oh God, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise I pulled you so hard.’ He took a step back and Milly stared up at him, aware that her throat was completely dry. This guy was frigging hot. Dark stubble lined his jaw bone. He was huge too, muscles screaming from every single part of him. He was wearing a suit that was very tight around his broad, muscular shoulders. She felt very under-dressed all of a sudden in her beach dress and sparkly pink Converse trainers.

‘Oh God, your dress, I’m so sorry.’ He stepped forward and brushed her breasts, trying to wipe off the two muddy paw prints that had been imprinted onto the material. His face immediately turned pale as he realised what he had done. He leapt back, looking horrified. ‘I’m so sorry. I … God, I’m so sorry.’

Milly couldn’t help but take pity on him.

‘It’s not the usual greeting I get, normally a handshake would suffice.’

He stared at her for a moment, then laughed, a deep, booming laugh. He offered out his large bear paw of a hand, and she shook it. ‘I’m Cameron Heartstone.’

This gorgeous man was Cameron Heartstone? She had expected someone so much older, probably smoking a pipe and wearing tartan slippers.

‘Milly Rose. We spoke on the phone. It’s good to finally meet you.’

‘Yes of course, come in.’ He bent down to pick up her discarded suitcase. ‘Gregory, Sit! Stay!’ He commanded the black, hairy beast by his side. Gregory was so big Milly thought she might be able to ride him. His eyes were lost under a mass of fur, his pink tongue lolling out the side of his face. He gave a wag of his tail before running off and disappearing round the side of the castle. Clearly very obedient. Cameron sighed and ushered her through a small side door, with his hand in the small of her back. ‘He’s not my dog, he sort of came with the castle. The first day I arrived he turned up and hasn’t left since. He doesn’t belong to anyone in the village, so I guess I’m stuck with him.’

He was clearly nervous, though she wasn’t sure why. He pulled at his collar, obviously not comfortable wearing a shirt and tie. Had he dressed up for her?

She stepped through into a warm kitchen, with a large wooden table standing in the middle and wooden benches either side. The walls were painted a cosy terracotta. Delicious, tangy smells reached her and her stomach gurgled appreciatively. An Aga stood at one end of the room and something was bubbling away in a huge pot on top.

‘I’ll make us some lunch. Will your boss be joining us soon?’

‘My boss? I don’t really have one. Well, the board of directors at Castle Heritage are sort of my bosses, but I mainly work for myself.’

Her heart sank a bit. He had been expecting someone older, too.

‘Oh, well, the science people, the historians, the ones who will do all the tests?’

‘That would be me.’

He stared at her, disappointment registering on his face. He looked her up and down disdainfully. ‘They’ve sent me a child, is this someone’s idea of a joke? Your idea of history is probably what happened in EastEnders last week.’

Milly felt her mouth fall open. She was used to getting some prejudice when she turned up at these historic places. With her long blonde hair, large blue eyes and Mary Poppins style rosy cheeks, no one thought she was capable of having any knowledge of history at all. She knew she didn’t help these first impressions by having pink tipped hair and sparkly clothes and shoes, but generally the comments she got were little jokes. That remark about her historical knowledge hurt. And she had never been called a child before. This man couldn’t be any more than five years older than she was, although, being so short, she knew she looked a lot younger than her actual age.

She drew herself up to her full height, which did nothing to diminish the height difference between them.

‘I am not a child. I’m twenty-eight years old. You judgemental ass. You see the blonde hair and the pretty dress and automatically assume that I’m some kind of bimbo. I have a Doctorate in Archaeology and Historic Architecture. I have a Master of Science degree in Heritage Conservation and a Bachelor of Science degree in Medieval History. I have extensive experience in dendrochronological and geophysical surveying and my PhD studies required detailed research into archaeological remains, excavation and historic building construction. I guarantee I know more about this castle than you could possibly ever know but if that isn’t good enough for you, I will quite happily leave right now and take every chance of you ever working with Castle Heritage with me.’

She stormed to the door but he beat her to it, slamming it closed before she’d only opened it an inch.

‘You can’t leave.’

‘Just watch me.’ She tugged at the door but he leaned against it, so it didn’t budge. She tried again.

‘I’m sorry.’

She stopped tugging, but didn’t let go of the handle.

‘I really am.’

She looked up at him and his eyes were honest and concerned.

‘I’ve hurt you and it really wasn’t my intention to do that. It’s been a really bad couple of weeks, well, a bad couple of months if I’m honest. Since my dad died and I inherited this place, it’s been one problem after another. He was in so much debt and that debt doesn’t appear to have died with him. There is no money in this estate, none at all, and he was still paying all the staff here right up till he died but I can’t see how or where the money came from. I’ve had to let them all go, which means everyone in the village hates me and I’ve been going through all his paperwork and keep uncovering more and more problems. Without the staff the place will fall into ruin. I have no money for any of the repairs or to pay any of his debts and quite frankly the idea of selling the place to Palace Hotels and making it into a five star resort is looking very appealing right now. You are my last hope. I looked at you and thought …’

‘You thought wrong.’

‘I know, I’m sorry, I had no right to judge you by your appearance. I’m a terrible judge of character, I really am. I should have learned my lesson by now, not to judge a book by its cover. The people I’ve trusted have sold me out and betrayed me. I’ve had my share of model girlfriends, the types that look good on your arm but with not a lot else going for them and … I … Well, I’m really sorry. Please stay, at least have some lunch whilst I beg your forgiveness some more.’

Milly felt all the fight go out of her. She couldn’t hold a grudge for long. Besides, she was starving and the soup that was bubbling on top of the stove smelt amazing.

‘Ok. I’ll stay for lunch, but it depends how good the soup is whether I stay longer.’

His mouth lifted up into small, cautious smile and he gestured for her to sit down.

‘There’s a hell of a lot riding on this soup then. If I’d known that perhaps I would have thought about the recipe a little more carefully instead of just throwing everything into the pot with a bit of seasoning.’

She sat down on the bench and watched him fill two big bowls. There was nothing graceful about him. The soup splatted into the bowl and over the sides and he didn’t seem to care. There were big chunks of meat, large slices of potato, whole florets of cauliflower, all of which should have been blended or at least chopped smaller. He grabbed a large round loaf and tore it into chunks. He plonked the bowl down in front of her and left her half of the loaf on the table next to her bowl, not even on a plate. The man really had no finesse. He sat down opposite her and took a big bite of the bread. He was like a caveman and strangely she found his raw masculinity a bit of a turn on.

‘Do you normally have such gay abandon with your food?’

He paused with the spoon halfway to his mouth. ‘It seems to work.’

He gestured for her to try it and she took a small sip from her spoon. It was incredible, so thick and full of flavour. ‘It’s really good. Did you make the bread too?’

He nodded, before biting off another huge chunk from his loaf. ‘It’s potato bread.’

She took a small piece and bit into it. It tasted delicious. ‘You’re actually really good at this “throw it all into the pot and see if it works” method.’

He shrugged shyly. ‘It’s kind of how I write my books, too.’

‘What kind of books do you write?’

‘Children’s books, with magical forests and super powers and fantasy adventures. But I never plan anything or follow any set rules. A lot of my author friends will have post it notes and charts and character interviews or CVs but I never do any of that, I just sit down and write. People seem to like it. I mean, I have enough to live off and pay the bills but I’m not going to be buying an island in the Caribbean any time soon.’

‘Well if you have enough money to write full time, you must be doing something right.’

He shrugged again, obviously not keen to admit that he was any good.

‘I’d like to read them.’

He shook his head. ‘They’re just kids’ stuff, not your thing at all, I’m sure.’

‘As we’ve already established, my thing is very different to what you think my thing is.’

‘Right, of course.’ He swallowed a big lump of bread and didn’t look up at all after that.

She sighed. She didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable around her. She already regretted her little outburst earlier, she was normally much more professional than that.

‘Thank you for letting me stay, there was nowhere else anywhere near here apart from the tiny B&B I booked and when their pipes burst and flooded the house, I was at a bit of a loss for what to do.’

‘It’s fine,’ Cameron said, in a way that said it really wasn’t fine.

‘Don’t feel that you have to cook for me or anything. This is lovely,’ she gestured to the soup. ‘But I can look after myself. I presume the village has a shop. I can buy some food and make my own meals. You don’t have to worry about that.’

‘I have food here, it’s silly for both of us to be cooking separate meals, unless you’re on some weird diet,’ he glanced briefly at her slender frame. People always assumed she ate really healthily when the truth was miles apart.

‘I eat anything.’

‘Then we might as well eat together.’

‘I don’t want to be in your way.’

‘You won’t. I have work to do and you’ll have tests and measurements to do so I hope … I mean I guess we won’t be getting in each other’s hair too much.’

He didn’t want her there and her heart sank even more at this. Well, if he didn’t want her to stay and she probably couldn’t help him anyway, maybe she would only stay one night after all.

‘Tell me about the castle.’

He looked across the table at her. ‘I don’t know a lot. I used to live here when I was very young, but my mum took me away when I was about six. I never saw my dad after that and I never came back here either. They were always arguing, mainly about the lack of money, even back then. Mum wanted to sell the place and move, my dad refused, so she left. I know it’s been in the family for hundreds of years, hence the rather obnoxious title of Lord that I’ve been bequeathed.’

Milly sat up straighter. The castle she had seen from the outside was not hundreds of years old, but that didn’t mean there hadn’t been some recent modifications to the original structure. Perhaps the Cinderella façade was hiding something far more exciting and mysterious.


Bride Without A Groom by Amy Lynch

Bride without a groom‘Bride Without A Groom’ is available now as an eBook and in paperback from 16th July. I am very grateful to Amy Lynch for providing me with a review copy.

Rebecca Browne has pretty much everything organised for her wedding to Barry. She’s chosen the dress, booked the honeymoon and knows exactly how the day will go. Unfortunately, Barry hasn’t proposed yet and doesn’t look as if he will any time soon.

‘Bride Without A Groom’ is a highly entertaining summer read. Amy Lynch manages to capture the irritating Rebecca perfectly so that the reader becomes as frustrated with her as does Barry. Self centred, immature and spoilt, Rebecca needs to grow up and realise others have feelings and opinions too. She does, however, have redeeming features and the way in which Amy Lynch has created almost a dialogue with the reader so that Rebecca speaks to them directly, enables them to forgive her maddening behaviour and to sypathise with her when life doesn’t treat her as she wants. I found I shared many of her opinions – especially those regarding other people’s children – and she certainly made me smile.

There are comic moments throughout and although I thought a couple of scenes could have been omitted, I really enjoyed this book. The supporting characters like Rebecca’s boss and her Mum are well developed and convincing.

I liked the way in which the madness of Rebecca’s first person narrative was tempered by Barry’s third person accounts so that there is light and shade in the story.

I think ‘Bride Without a Groom’ will appeal to anyone wanting a happy summer read that will entertain them thoroughly.

Being Someone by Adrian Havey

being someone

I am hugely indebted to Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications for providing a review copy of ‘Being Someone’ by Adrian Harvey. It can be purchased direct from the publisher here and all good bookshops. Adrian Harvey features as one of W H Smith’s Fresh Talent writers.

James is drifting through life with little thought or direction. Not particularly good at his job and without a life partner there is little of real interest for him until he meets Lainey – a woman of beauty and confidence – who gives him some substance and a reason for existing.

‘Being Someone’ is a love story, but it is so much more. Starting with a death in the opening paragraph I wondered the direction the narrative would take and it is not until the last few pages of the novel that all the threads are pulled together and the symbolism is clear. The reader needs the twists and turns in James’ life fully to appreciate the significance of an opening story set in India. This is master storytelling as the parallels between James and Annayya are revealed.

Adrian Harvey writes with skill and intelligence, creating a sense of place absolutely clearly, whether it is London, New York or India being described. His attention to detail is stunning.

However, Harvey’s greatest skill is in creating the character of James. Because I read so many books authored by women, or featuring them as protagonists, having a male perspective on relationships and life was both interesting and compelling. James is a flawed, complex personality with almost a built in self-destruct button. Having finished the novel, I’m still not clear if I have sympathy or empathy for James – if I want to hold him or punch him.

‘Being Someone’ is erudite, literary and beautifully crafted. It is also accessible and a thorough pleaasure to read. James’ attempts at being someone will resonate with all who read the book.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

The last runaway

Having thoroughly enjoyed ‘Remarkable Creatures’ by Tracy Chevalier I was pleased that ‘The Last Runaway’ was chosen for my U3A reading group for July. I was not disappointed.

In the mid 1850s, Quaker Honor Bright sets out for America with her sister Grace who is to be married to Adam Cox, a pioneer already in Ohio. Having been jilted, Honor is looking forward to a new life, but on arrival in America, events don’t go according to plan.

I loved this book. Firstly, there is a well crafted plot that leads the reader through Honor’s trials and successes and culminates in a somewhat surprising but perfectly wrought ending. The third person narrative about Honor is underpinned by first person letters, usually though not always written by her, so that there is real pace and variety to the story.

Secondly, the characters are distinct and clearly depicted. I have to confess to preferring the villain Donovan amongst the men. Each person is given an identity so complete as to make them human and realistic for the reader. I found I was thinking about them when I wasn’t reading the book.

The theme of slavery in America is sympathetically explored without preaching to the reader, thereby conveying its message all the more eloquently. The attention to historical detail is wonderful, being precise and accessible through the narrative. Having studied slavery and emancipation in the USA at university, I thought Tracy Chevalier captured the era perfectly, managing to be both moving and historically accurate at the same time.

The quality of writing is quite lyrical. The descriptions of a latter day mindfulness, the seasons and nature, and the colours and fabrics in the quilting build a vibrant and vivid visual image so that the reader can see the settings in their mind’s eye.

I would thoroughly recommend Tracy Chevalier’s ‘The Last Runaway’ to those who enjoy a good story, but like their fiction based intelligently in fact. I loved it.

‘The Last Runaway’ was published by Harper in August 2013.