Review | Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha

A tough, moving story about learning to live with loss. 4/5 stars.

Side by Side by Anita Kushwaha_cover

Thank you to the author and Inanna Publications for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: Kavita Gupta is a woman in transition. When her troubled older brother, Sunil, disappears, she does everything in her power to find him, convinced that she can save him. Ten days later, the police arrive at her door to inform her that Sunil’s body has been found. Her world is devastated. She finds herself in crisis mode, trying to keep the pieces of her life from falling apart even more. As she tries to cope with her loss, the support system around her begins to unravel.

In the wake of tragedy, if a fresh start is possible for Kavita? Will she escape her problems and start over? Or will she face the challenges of rebuilding the life she already has? Side by Side is a story about loss, growth and the search for meaning in the wake of tragedy,

My take:

From reading the blurb, you’ll appreciate this isn’t an easy read. Side by Side is an unflinching look at loss and, more specifically, survivor’s guilt and the maelstrom of emotions experienced when losing a loved-one to suicide.

However, this is not a depressing book. The story is structured in three acts entitled Fall, Crawl and Rise. As this makes clear, while you’ll reach a point where things look rather bleak for the main character they do eventually start to get better. And although the story is tough, it is definitely worth sticking with, as it’s wonderful to see how Kavita grows through her darkest moments of grief and emerges stronger and wiser.

Continue reading…

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Review | The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

An ambitious murder mystery. 3/5 stars.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?

My take:

I was excited to read this as it looked like an interesting combination of some classic murder mystery tropes with darker thriller elements. Perhaps I went in with inflated expectations because sadly I was left disappointed.

I appreciate that the author is trying to take a different approach to a classic murder mystery problem. Like many “closed suspect pool” mysteries, the story starts with the discovery of a body, leaving the characters and us to work out who the murderer is. The Hunting Party runs another mystery in parallel to the “whodunnit” by also keeping back who the victim is until confirming the identity of the deceased at about the 80% mark. Continue reading…

Review | The Other Wife by Juliet Bell

The Other Wife by Juliet Bell

Thank you to HQ Digital and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.

The blurb:

Outback Australia, 1981

After a terrible childhood, Jane comes to Thornfield as nanny to the adorable Adele, watched over by the handsome and enigmatic Edward. Plain and inexperienced, Jane would never dream of being more than his hired help. But swept up in the dramatic beauty of the Outback, she finds herself dawn to Edward. And, to her surprise, he seems to return her feelings.

But Jane is not the first woman Edward has pledged to make mistress of Thornfield.

As a child, Betty was taken from her English home and sent for adoption in Australia. At first, no-one wanted her, deeming her hair too curly, and her skin too dark. Until the scheming Mr Mason sees a chance to use Betty to cement a relationship with the rich and powerful Rochester dynasty…

When Jane discovers Betty’s fate, will she still want to be the next Mrs Rochester?

My take:

Earlier this year I read and reviewed Juliet Bell’s first novel, The Heights, an excellent retelling of Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed seeing how the story worked when moved to the twentieth century, so was pleased to hear Juliet Bell’s next novel would be a reimagining of Jane Eyre, one of my all-time favourites. I was particularly intrigued when the blurb made it clear this was a radical shift from the original, moving the story over a hundred years closer to the present and thousands of miles away from its English setting.

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Recipe | Melted snowman Christmas biscuits

These melted snowman biscuits are a cute, easy festive bake.

Recipe melted snowman biscuits easy festive Christmas cookies uk baking with kids

I saw these cute snowmen biscuits on Hand Luggage Only. They’re really easy to make, so a great option if you’re short on time or if you’re baking festive treats with children.

I used my Christmas vanilla biscuit recipe which only uses 5 ingredients. Click on the link for the ingredients and instructions.

I used a large flower shaped cutter, but you could also use a large mug or glass to cut out round biscuits.

Melted snowman biscuits easy festive Christmas cookies uk

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Review | Snowday by B. R. Maycock

 As the temperature drops outside, curl up with heart-warming novella. 4/5 stars.

Snowday by B. R Maycock cover

The blurb: Sometimes hot cocoa just isn’t enough to keep you warm in the snow…

Eloise is too busy juggling the chaos of three kids, an ever present ex-husband and a demanding boss to even remember the last time dating crossed her mind.

But as soft snow falls silently all around, romance twinkles with the flakes.

After being single for so long, Eloise suddenly has a lot of choices. Too many choices. Will anyone be worthy of melting the guard around her heart to let love in?

My take:

Whether you’re a fan of the festive season or dreading its approach, you have to admit that November is zipping past and December 25th will be here in a blink. So if you fancy reading something wintry to get you into the holiday mood or escape from the crush of Christmas advertising, B. R. Maycock’s new novella, Snowday, is for you.

This is a fun, heart-warming romance with a sympathetic main character. If you’ve ever had too much on your plate or struggled to juggle everything in your life, you’re sure to empathise with Eloise’s many dilemmas. I mean, who hasn’t resorted to making the kids/themselves dinner from a box from the freezer more often than they think they should?!

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Kid’s race circuit birthday cake

This number circuit birthday cake is an easy homemade option for any kid who loves racing cars.

How to make easy race car race track circuit birthday cake uk

I’ve been a little busy with kids’ birthdays recently!

This sixth birthday cake is surprisingly easy to assemble and looks great. I came up with the idea by doing a quick Google image search – loads of people have made a version of this cake for various age numbers.

Click for the recipe and more photos…

Review | Love, Lies and Café au Lait by Lynn Forth

Bask in some winter sun with this charming holiday romance. 4/5 stars.

Love, Lies and Cafe au Lait by Lynn Forth cover

The blurb: When Annie Roberts has the chance to escape rainy Accrington for the glamour of sunny Nice, it seems like a dream come true, even if it does involve dog-sitting a pampered pooch for the winter.

But, once in France, despite trying to adopt a classy persona, Annie attracts the attention of all the wrong people: from Jacques, an attractive waiter, to Reen, a perma-tanned expat from the Costa del Sol. And just who is the charming Monsieur Xavier who is so keen to befriend her? Dare she enlist his help to solve the mystery left behind by her France-obsessed mother? Can Annie find her way through all the lies, intrigue and deception or is she just too nice for Nice?

My take:

Last year I was delighted to read and review Lynn Forth’s debut, Love in La La Land (click on the title for my review). I’m very pleased to report she’s back with her second novel: a story set slightly closer to home than the bright lights of LA. In Love, Lies and Cafe au Lait we follow the main character, Annie, to Nice as she takes a break from the greyness of her life in Manchester, propelled to the south of France by her more colourful friend, Sophie. If you can only dream of getting away to some winter sun, this novel has it in spades as we join Annie exploring the old town, trying to blend in with the locals at the market and finding a regular cafe where she can simply relax and soak up the atmosphere.

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Recipe | Halloween brownie cupcakes with orange and green sponge and buttercream swirl

These brownie cupcakes are a colourful, easy Halloween bake

Halloween brownie cupcakes with orange and green sponge easy Halloween baking recipe for kids UK with buttercream and sprinkles

While scouring the internet for Halloween baking inspiration, I came across the idea for these brownie and sponge cupcakes at two sisters. They manage to get a much stronger orange colour in their sponge – they must have better food colouring! I used my own recipes for the brownies and sponge and included a green variation.

Ingredients (these amounts will make 12 Halloween brownie cupcakes)

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Review | The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond #TheGoldenOrphans @GaryRaymond_ @parthianbooks#damppebblesblogtours @damppebbles

A short, sharp thriller which will keep you guessing. 4/5 stars.

The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond cover

Published by Parthian Books on 30th June 2018.

Hello everyone! I’m delighted to be one of today’s stop on the blog tour for The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond. Thank you to Emma at damppebbles and the author for giving me the chance to read and review the book.

The blurb:

Within the dark heart of an abandoned city, on an island once torn by betrayal and war, lies a terrible secret…

Francis Benthem is a successful artist; he’s created a new life on an island in the sun. He works all night, painting the dreams of his mysterious Russian benefactor, Illy Prostakov. He writes letters to old friends and students back in cold, far away London. But now Francis Benthem is found dead. The funeral is planned and his old friend from art school arrives to finish what Benthem had started. The painting of dreams on a faraway island. But you can also paint nightmares and Illy has secrets of his own that are not ready for the light. Of promises made and broken, betrayal and murder…

The Golden Orphans offers a new twist on the literary thriller.

My take:

It’s been ages since I read a book when I honestly had no idea what to expect next. This was the greatest pleasure in reading The Golden Orphans which will keep you guessing the whole way through possibly because it refuses to fit neatly in any one genre: it’s part mystery, part thriller, and almost a coming of age story, if a character can “come of age” as part of a midlife crisis! Refreshingly, the author never gives into the temptation to over-explain, instead trusting the reader to keep up and not mind finding out exactly what’s going on at the same time as the main character.

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Review | The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp by Sarra Manning

A cracking yarn retold for today. 4/5 stars.

The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp by Sarra Manning cover

Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.

The blurb: Beautiful, brilliant, ruthless – nothing can stop Becky Sharp.

Determined to leave her poverty-stricken roots behind her, Becky Sharp is going to take every opportunity offered to her to climb to the top. Whether it’s using her new BFF Amelia Sedley to step up into the rarified world of London’s upper classes, or seducing society’s most eligible bachelors, Becky Sharp is destined for great things – at any cost.

From London to Paris and beyond, the world is there for Becky’s taking – even though some people are determined to stop her along the way…

My take:

Vanity Fair (1848) is one of my favourite books, so I jumped at the chance to read The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp.

This is a fun retelling of Vanity Fair in a contemporary context. Free from all of Thackeray’s more (perhaps) long-winded sections, the story zips along, honing in on what makes the original book so brilliant – Becky Sharp – and refocusing the narrative so we’re under no illusions as to which character is the star. That said, just like in Thackeray’s version, Manning’s Becky is also made to earn her time in the limelight, leaving the other characters, and us, slack-jawed in her wake.

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