What Would Mary Berry Do?

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For fans of The Great British Bake Off, this is a story about family life, unfriendly rivalry and flat Victoria sponges

Marie Dunwoody doesn’t want for much in life. She has a lovely husband, three wonderful children, and a business of her own. Except, her cupcakes are crap. Her meringues are runny and her biscuits rock-hard. She cannot bake for toffee. Or, for that matter, make toffee.

Marie can’t ignore the disappointed looks any more, or continue to be shamed by neighbour and nemesis, Lucy Gray. Lucy whips up perfect profiteroles with one hand, while ironing her bed sheets with the other. Marie’s had enough: this is the year it all changes. She vows to follow – to the letter – recipes from the Queen of Baking and at all times ask ‘What would Mary Berry do?’

Husband Robert has noticed that his boss takes crumb structure as seriously as budget sheets and so puts on the pinny: serious redundancies are on the horizon. Twins Rose and Iris are happy to eat all the half-baked mistakes that come their way, but big brother Angus is more distant than usual, as if something is troubling him. And there is no one as nosey as a matching pair of nine-year-old girls . . .

Marie starts to realise that the wise words of Mary Berry can help her with more than just a Victoria Sponge. But can Robert save the wobbling soufflé that is his career? And is Lucy’s sweet demeanour hiding something secretly sour?

*** This is a work of fiction, in no way endorsed by Mary Berry, and where neither Mary Berry herself nor her recipes feature. ***

My opinion: When I received a copy of this book in the post I really liked the look of it, and was really intrigued whether it would just be another book about cake as there are so many around at the moment.

Marie is a working mum with three children and loving husband Robert, who feels that she doesn’t live up to her supermum neighbour Lucy. Particularly when twin daughters Rose and Iris forget to tell her that she is supposed to be baking the showstopper for the school fair. Lucy seems to be a Stepford Wife style woman, with a perfect life – always perfectly dressed, has a loving husband and step daughter, lady like and above all a fantastic baker. But things aren’t always what they seem and Marie finds out what life is really like on the other side whilst on her quest to conquer Mary Berry’s recipes and bake a showstopper that is memorable for the right reasons.

This is a whopper of a book, but I couldn’t put it down. I really felt that I connected with Marie straight away. She’s trying to juggle her career and business, being a mother and also being a wife and I for one think that she is doing a damn fine job of it. I really liked reading about the family and Lucy grew on me as I got to know more about her. I liked that there was a bit of baking rivalry between Marie and her husband Robert and some of his creations really made my mouth water!

I had never heard of Claire Sandy before, but will definitely be looking out for more of her writing. I think that this book would attract all ages of readers and isn’t just a straightforward romance novel or family saga – I think it really encompasses a lot of things that readers like in women’s fiction. I’d definitely recommend this book, and although it is quite large, it feels well paced and was really enjoyable. A good read to curl up and relax with.

My rating: A scrumptious four stars.

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Blog banner What Would Mary Berry Do

Book extract: Down on the Other Street Vol 1

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Today I am hosting an extract from Jennifer Cie’s new book, Dowon the Other Street which is published today!

Excerpt from Down On The Other Street:Vol I –The Photo:

“With a burger in one hand and a hotdog in the other. That’s how I want to die. Like a true American.”

Streaks of yellowing pimples topped off with a variety of green and white caps waved from each side of her cheeks; the new haircut was not a strategic cover like the others. This was good. I needed a distraction to keep me from laughing when she talked like that. Not more than five foot three with a twang that grates on my nerves every lunch break, I hate to love Melissa.

“Seriously! How dare you come in here with a damn rice burger! I oughta call your momma and tell her you need to be re-baptized in Coke and freedom fries.”

I didn’t want to laugh, but that’s the effect she has on me. One minute I’m giving her the smuggiest of smug looks I can muster up, the next I’m laughing at her ignorance. In a weird way, I think I’m going to miss her the most.

“Yes! Coke and Freedom fries! Don’t act like you only eat salad. I can see the truth.”

I didn’t get a hug or “good luck” when she found out I gave my two weeks’ notice. She just kind of hovered around my cubicle for a while. I think she was staring at the picture of us. It’s the one of you spilling beer all over your shirt while I’m kissing your cheek.

I know you hate that one butterfingers, but it’s my favorite.

“You could use some lettuce though—that Diet Coke ain’t shrinking on nothing.”

The last words Melissa will probably ever utter to me were fat shaming. It’s kind of fitting since the first time we met she called herself a reformed “working second shift at the grocery store pale fatty.” Still not sure how she went from unloading trucks at Walmart to no minimum qualifications met assistant pretending to be the manager, but that’s the recession for you—messing up logic since 2006.

I kind of wonder what would have happened if the government had of got itself together and the burst never happened.

Would you have been at the “Elite 8” party curling up your nose at those guys butchering your name? Could we still have had that first eye contact with each other from across the room when we both yelled, “Hit the free-throws,” at the screen? I like to pretend that you still would’ve somehow been at the Blue Monkey. I love to imagine that you still would’ve sauntered over to me in your gray Memphis Tigers shirt holding out a beer.

I want to believe that I still would’ve heard you say, “Ey, I’m Ly Pham—good aggression coach,” and swooned…Too bad that’s just wishful thinking.

You can find out more about both Jennifer and her book at the below links:

Twitter: @JenniferCie1

The Lemon Grove

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One hot summer. One week in a villa on the outskirts of Deia, a village nestling in the rugged, mountainous west coast of the island of Mallorca. One family for whom the carefully laid jigsaw of life is about to be broken.

Jenn and her husband Greg holiday each year in Deia, enjoying languorous afternoons by the pool. But this year the equilibrium is upset by the arrival of Emma, Jenn’s stepdaughter, and her boyfriend Nathan. Beautiful and reckless, Nathan stirs something unexpected in Jenn. As she is increasingly seduced by the notion of Nathan’s youth and the promise of passion, the line between desire and obsession begins to blur. What follows is a highly-charged liaison that put lives and relationships in jeopardy, and a taut narrative which percolates with enough sexual tension to make it impossible to put down.

My opinion: I was attracted to this book by the cover and have read loads of good reviews of it. I thought it sounded like a perfect book to read on holiday with an exotic location and a sexy storyline.

Jenn and Greg have rented the same villa they do every year in Mallorca for when their annual opportunity to relax and unwind in a beautiful location. This time their 15 year old daughter Emma has asked to bring along her 17 year old boyfriend Nathan, and her parents agree. From the moment Nathan arrives at the villa, Jenn is attracted to him, and he soon makes it clear that the attraction is mutual.

This book wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. I was expecting something that was a bit more of a chick lit style novel, but the style was more like contemporary fiction. This made the book feel a lot more formal, and less fun, which of course, suited the storyline perfectly. I liked the way it was written, although it took a few pages for me to get used to it. Unfortunately though, I wasn’t overly keen on the rest of the book.

The book contains a number of graphic sex scenes, which due to the way the book was written, weren’t what I was used to in a book, but didn’t offend me or shock me in any way. The thing which I really wasn’t sure about in the book was the relationship between Jenn and Nathan. It just didn’t seem right and made me feel quite uncomfortable. I also didn’t feel that Nathan seemed to be 17 as his experiences – both life and sexual – didn’t seem to ring true for a boy his age.

All in all, I’m glad I read this book and was able to satisfy my curiosity about it, but I won’t read it again, or recommend it to my friends.

My rating: Three stars

I was sent a review copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

This week I am taking part in the #SexMeUp readathon – join in the conversation on twitter using the hashtag

From Paris With Love

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Every girl dreams of hearing those four magical words Will you marry me? But no-one tells you what’s supposed to happen next….

Fun-loving Gemma Goodwin knows she should be revelling in her happy-ever-after. Except when her boyfriend Lord Edward popped the question, after a whirlwind romance, although she didn’t say no….she didn’t exactly say yes either!

A month-long cookery course in Paris could be just the place to make sure her heart and her head are on the same page… And however disenchanted with romance Gemma is feeling, the City of Love has plenty to keep her busy; the champagne is decadently quaffable, the croissants almost too delicious, and shopping is a national past-time! In fact, everything in Paris makes her want to say Je t’aime…. Except Edward!

But whilst Paris might offer plenty of distractions from wedding planning – including her new friends, mysterious Joe and hot French rockstar Blade – there’s no reason she couldn’t just try one or two couture dresses is there? Just for fun…

My opinion: I loved Samantha’s first book, Doubting Abbey, so I jumped at the chance of reading an advance copy of her new book, From Paris with Love.

We catch up with Gemma and Edward about six months after Doubting Abbey ended, and they are off to Paris to live for a month. Gemma’s cooking skills are going from strength to strength and she is attending a month long cookery course in Paris, and Edward is coming with her to work as a waiter at the restaurant, and build on the popularity of his blog by writing some travel articles relating to the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. Before leaving the UK, Edward popped the question, but Gemma still hasn’t given him a response. The romantic setting of Paris only serves to put additional strain on their relationship, along with their new friends, bitchy Monique, hot and mysterious Joe and glam rockstar Blade.

It was great to catch up with Gemma and Edward, although I would have liked to have seen them back at Applebridge Hall as I loved the setting in Doubting Abbey. I soon got over that as Paris is a wonderfully romantic setting and really suited this story. Gemma is still very much herself – athough a slightly more refined version after taking up residence at Applebridge Hall, and still gets herself into a number of scrapes. This time around, she gets herself into a potentially dangerous situation early on after meeting mysterious Joe who swears her to secrecy about what he asks her to do. Gemma is a lot more trusting of other people than me, but it is touch and go whether she can pull off what Joe has asked her to do without blabbing to anyone.

This was a lighthearted read and I loved the theme in it – it was very different to most chick lit/romance novels and made the book really interesting and more adventurous. I wasn’t able to guess how the book would end and it kept me guessing right up to the final chapters about what would be the outcome of the month in Paris. I loved the detail about the cooking in Paris, some of the detail made my mouth water! We also meet some great new characters like rockstar Blade, slimy John and all of the staff at Chez Dubois.

This books would work well as a standalone book, but I would recommend reading Doubting Abbey first, partly so that you can understand the references, but also as it is just as good a read as this one. Another fab book, and I look forward to reading more from the author, and hopefully more about Gemma and Edward!

You can read my review of Doubting Abbey here.

My rating: Five stars

I received an advance copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review

From Paris with Love is published by Carina UK on 30th July 2014

Book extract: Behind the Glass

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If you are looking for something to read this week as part of the Sex Me Up Readathon, then look no further! I am very pleased to host an excerpt of Kristen Morgen’s New Adult book, Behind the Glass today. Enjoy and join in the conversation on Twitter by tweeting Kristen @KristenMorgen and using the hashtag #sexmeupreadathon

 

Chapter One ~ Rebecca

 

Few people came here this late at night. The occasional patrons who did wander in at this hour were usually either weary college students needing a quick shot of espresso to keep going, flocks of lively young girls taking a short break before the second round of club-hopping, or on occasion, two lovers engaging in a secret romantic rendezvous.

During her many nights of coming here, she had seen it all.

It was just minutes to midnight, that wondrous part of the day when she finally allowed herself to slow down but wasn’t quite ready for sleep just yet. She had grown to love this special part of the night that belonged only to her. It was undoubtedly her favorite time to come here.

After a long, arduous week, the serene calm and quiet solitude of her beloved bookstore café had become her most vital oasis. She had come here every week for months, always alone, always at this time of night, and she’d grown to love this stylish little shop’s atmosphere. Something innocuous about it made her feel at home and she was completely at peace here. And her favorite soft velvet reading chair on the second floor could always be depended upon to be waiting for her.

The shop was an eclectic little gem tucked away inconspicuously into the fabric of downtown Madison, Wisconsin, on State Street, the city’s renowned pedestrian mall. Set back slightly between the adjacent storefronts, its unadorned façade and soft lighting from within made it virtually glow from the street at night.

The open two-story space inside could be seen clearly from the street through a simple storefront consisting of virtually seamless glass. Its clean design contrasted sharply with the adjacent brick and stone facades, giving it a light, airy feel. The openness of its design was initially what drew her here. The shop itself was quite figuratively an open book.

Inside the shop, on either side of the entrance, three evenly-spaced, colorful glass light fixtures highlighted local artwork that the shop showcased to the public. Farther inside, the first floor’s main space was filled with groupings of wood tables and chairs, large lush reading chairs, and oblong coffee tables displaying books.

Immense mahogany bookcases flanked each side of the main space and a simple granite café counter in the rear ran the entire width of the shop. A long staircase nestled into one side of the shop led to a loft area above that overlooked most of the main space below.

Unlike the first floor, the loft area above was a smaller, much more intimate space with quiet acoustics and soft lighting that made for an excellent reading environment. The gorgeous mahogany floors and dark textures in the cherry wood furniture brought warmth to the space, while the lighter wall colors and simple lines of the railings made it feel open and welcoming.

She made an immediate connection to this secluded area of the shop and habitually took refuge here each week, happily losing herself in her books and letting the busy world fall away for a while.

It was quiet at this late hour, other than the faint echo of a distant conversation and the soft music playing over the sound system. The acoustics throughout the shop were superb and the music set a relaxing tone. The inviting smells of rich coffee and baked goods filled virtually every cubic inch of the two-story space.

To her, it was heavenly, and she considered her nights here a true indulgence.

By nature she had never been the type who took time like this for herself. She was focused, disciplined, and her daily obligations to her two jobs during the week took most of her time and energy. She was, by her definition, a struggling artist paying her dues and was willing to make the needed sacrifices.

By day she worked as a staff photographer for the Isthmus, a local weekly newspaper in town. It wasn’t a glamorous position by any stretch of the imagination, but it gave her a chance to do what she loved; photography was her passion. She had been intrigued by it since high school when she took an introductory photography class for her art elective, and was immediately hooked. She had a natural eye for it and loved spending endless hours in the darkroom.

Her position didn’t pay much, and the subject matter was usually somewhat menial, but she learned from it every day and expanded her education constantly. She captured the best of whatever assignment she was given on film, whether it was Madison’s annual Art Fair on the Square or simply the pet of the week. Whatever the challenge, she was simply content to have her dependable, manual 35mm camera in hand.

The income from her daily job scarcely paid her bills, which made her second job an inevitable necessity. By night she worked as a waitress at a local high-end restaurant downtown, owned by a childhood friend’s family. The hours were long and being on her feet all day was sometimes exhausting, but she couldn’t deny how lucky she was to work there. The tips were lucrative and she truly couldn’t ask for better people to work for.

It was actually while walking downtown after a long day of work one night that she discovered this wonderful little shop. The fact that the shop displayed local artwork every month was an added bonus. She was inspired by it each week, and imagined seeing her photography in its windows one day.

Her weekly routine of escaping to this oasis over the past several months had become something she truly looked forward to. After the typical monotony of a long work week, she enjoyed treating herself to her favorite coffee: a caramel latte with whipped cream served in a large hand-thrown pottery mug. After exchanging pleasantries with the owners, she would always take her time to admire the local artwork as she walked upstairs to the loft area, and then quietly settled into her favorite comfy reading chair, eagerly getting lost in whatever book she was reading that week.

Her minutes-to-midnight ritual had become a comforting constant in her life.

This week as she walked upstairs to the loft with coffee in hand, something profoundly beautiful caught her eye in the artwork at the stairs. Tonight one minor element of her evening routine was noticeably altered.

The local art normally displayed on the café walls each month was amateur at best. It was quite appealing to the untrained eye but was by no means extraordinary. The work of art before her tonight however, was a striking exception.

As she halted on the landing, fascinated by the painting in front of her, her surroundings gradually faded away as she examined the work. It was unexplainable, but something about it captivated her deeply and the effect was magnetic. She was inescapably drawn to it.

The painting itself was no larger than a standard piece of paper, yet it appeared far more substantial to her. Framed in a simple white mat inside a basic black frame, the contrast in colors appeared sharp, yet soft simultaneously. In the foreground stood three abstract white houses set against a harsh black sky. A single blurry white line above indicated a distant skyline with dark looming blue-gray clouds above.

It wasn’t the subject matter that caught her attention but rather the feeling the scene evoked. The landscape was mysteriously barren and cold, yet strangely welcoming. As her eyes carefully scanned every minute detail of the painting, she found herself wondering what it would feel like to be inside this peculiar space. She imagined it would probably feel cool, but not cold. The wind might be blowing softly, the way it does before a storm. It would likely be quiet and peaceful. Voices and sounds, if there even were any, might echo.

Then it hit her. The feeling she connected with so strongly was loneliness.

As if created only for her, this brilliant artist had captured the feeling of being completely alone in such a beautiful way. Her usual feeling of peace and contentment in this place became abruptly emotional as she realized why this painting spoke to her so completely.

Entirely lost in her own unsettling thoughts, the sharp sound of several ceramic coffee mugs crashing to the floor at once pulled her abruptly back to reality. She spun around quickly in surprise, momentarily losing her balance on the landing and almost spilling her hot coffee. Her heart jumped to her throat and she stopped breathing for a moment. She hadn’t realized how detached she had become and nearly couldn’t remember where she was.

It was then, as she quickly scanned the main space below her, immediately identifying the source of the startling clamor, that her eyes unexpectedly noticed him.

He was sitting alone at a table near the rear of the shop, staring directly up at her with stunningly intense eyes. It was his atypical expression that caught her eye; he looked as if he had been staring at her for a long while.

He was a genuinely handsome young man with soulful, deep-set dark brown eyes. His face was striking with flawless bone structure and a strong, square jaw. His short, dark brown hair was slightly tousled and he wore two-day-old scruff on his perfectly sculpted face. His lean build and broad shoulders were indicative of someone active and athletic. Dressed casually in jeans and a dark gray button-down shirt, he was, by all appearances, definitely a man women noticed when he walked into a room.

He made absolutely no effort to look away and their eyes locked onto each other for a long moment. Feeling unexpectedly self conscious, she could feel her face begin to flush and her heart begin to race. She wasn’t used to being noticed this way by someone who looked the way he did. The intensity in his eyes continued but a slight look of curiosity began to emerge as his expression softened slightly.

Noticing this, she unconsciously tilted her head slightly and fought back a sudden urge to smile. Reluctantly, she finally forced herself to look away slowly, released from his intense gaze.

Flustered, she swiftly turned and headed upstairs, stumbling on the first step and not noticing what she dropped on the stair below. As she reached the top of the stairs she quickly made her way to her usual reading chair and settled in quietly, her heart still racing.

Unaware that a tiny smile had emerged on her lips, she felt goose bumps up and down her arms and nervous butterflies in her stomach. She had no idea who he was or why he had been staring at her so intently, but her curiosity and wonder made it nearly impossible to focus on her book or anything else.

A sudden shiver went down her back.

She focused and tried to think, trying to remember if he had been sitting there when she first walked in and ordered her coffee. Surely she would have noticed him, so it’s possible he came in later. She wondered how long she had been admiring the painting but couldn’t be sure. Maybe that was why he had been staring at her. She simply couldn’t make sense of it.

Why would he notice her? She shook her head, smiling. It was definitely a mystery.

Ultimately deciding to shrug it off as nothing more than an isolated incident she would likely forget by tomorrow, she tried not to give it any more thought and began refocusing on her evening. She was four chapters into her latest book and it was getting interesting, so diving back into it would be an excellent way to redirect her mind. The new author she was reading had a remarkable way of taking her far from reality, which was exactly what she needed tonight.

She took a few sips of her coffee and nestled comfortably into her chair.

She was halfway through chapter five when she heard a faint creak at the top of the stairs. Quickly snapping her head up, she was completely stunned by what she saw. The handsome young man from downstairs was standing at the top step gazing in her direction clear across the second floor.

As she looked at him, her heart jumped and she silently caught her breath. An equal mix of excitement and panic shot through her as he started walking directly toward her, his beautiful eyes locked onto hers again.

He stopped squarely in front of her and handed her a familiar object.

As she peered up at him, he seemed much taller than she had imagined and unbelievably, more handsome.

“You dropped this on the stairs.”

His voice was quite possibly the most mesmerizing she had ever heard.

Her heart pounded as every muscle in her body tensed up.

She struggled to release herself from his beautiful eyes to slowly look down at his outreached hand. The object he held was a beaded bookmark her mother had made for her on her last birthday. She obviously hadn’t noticed she’d dropped it.

She took it from him slowly without a word, desperately trying to form a coherent thought. After a few moments a nearly inaudible ‘thank you’ was all she could manage.

The way he looked at her and the way it made her feel seemed to prevent her from thinking clearly or acting normally. She continued to look at him, speechless.

He slowly sat down in the chair next to her with a subtle smile on his face.

“Are you alright?” he asked quietly.

There was something so familiar about his voice, as if she’d known him for a long time. She couldn’t understand it but his tone seemed to instantly put her at ease.

“I’m fine,” she answered as calmly as possible. “Why?”

She could only imagine what she must look like from his perspective. She wasn’t normally this tongue-tied and she hoped he didn’t think there was something wrong with her.

“You look like your mind is somewhere else right now, somewhere far away.”

He was perceptive. Her mind was somewhere else. And completely blank.

“Yes,” she began, desperately trying to focus. “I suppose it is. I … I usually come here to relax. It must be working.”

Wondering if she had even made sense, it was the best she could come up with for now. As her heart rate finally approached normal, she slowly started to relax a little.

“So that’s why you come here then,” he asked with a raised eyebrow, “to relax?”

She wondered about the suspicious tone in his voice.

“Yes, this shop is a great place to unwind.”

“Interesting.”

Again, his tone made her wonder.

“Why is that interesting?” She tried to read his eyes.

His expression had changed as if he knew something she didn’t.

“You look like you come here to hide.”

His eyes met hers again as he spoke, carefully watching her reaction.

To her surprise his comment hit a nerve and her mind began to race. She came here to hide? She couldn’t imagine what possible interest he would have in her reasons for coming here and wondered why he would say something like that to someone he didn’t know.

“And what would I be hiding from exactly?”

“You tell me.”

His stunning eyes studied her reaction again as if he knew what she was thinking.

“I’m not hiding from anything,” she asserted, her tone slightly more defensive than intended. She tried to understand where this conversation was leading.

He shook his head and smiled. His breathtaking smile practically knocked her over. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen in her life. He definitely had an unfair advantage looking the way he did, and she was finding it hard to keep her focus.

“Sure,” he speculated, “you come here to relax.”

“Why is that so hard to believe?” She was truly intrigued.

“So,” he began thoughtfully, “you choose this hour at night, when the shop is practically empty, to come and sip coffee and read a book, something you could easily do at home. You didn’t come with anyone and I’m guessing no one even knows you’re here. If you’re not hiding from anything, then why not stay at home and read?”

Tilting her head slightly, she glared at him, unsure what to make of what he had just said. She wondered how he had even known about her weekly routine. Had he been here before?

She felt the blood rush to her face.

“I honestly don’t see how this is any of your business, but I happen to like this place. It’s … tranquil. And I love coming here. It’s actually a great little shop with a lot to offer.”

She knew she was reaching but it seemed to make sense.

“You come here for the artwork,” he stated with a subtle sarcastic tone.

Again his comment hit another nerve.

“The artwork happens to be exceptional this month. I’ll admit it’s not always at a particularly high level but it’s encouraging to see people putting themselves out there like that. It’s inspirational.” And maybe one day if she were brave enough, her photography would be displayed here too, she thought to herself.

“This month?”

“Excuse me?”

“You said the artwork is exceptional this month,” he clarified. His expression was suddenly warm again. She looked into his deep brown eyes, instantly shaking off their previous conversation and recalled the beautiful painting at the stairs.

“Yes,” she began thoughtfully, “it’s wonderful.” She paused for a moment, remembering how the painting had affected her so deeply. “The artist this month is extremely talented. There’s a depth to the work that’s very raw.”

He took a moment before responding.

“You seem to appreciate art. To really connect to it, I mean. That’s a rare thing. You seemed to really like the painting at the stairs earlier.”

Embarrassed, she realized he must have been watching her when she was admiring it for what she assumed to be a noticeably long time.

“Yes, I guess you noticed that.”

“It was hard not to,” he replied, smiling warmly.

His stunning smile made her heart skip a beat. She returned the smile involuntarily.

“I was connecting, as you put it.”

Feeling slightly uncomfortable, she hoped he would change the subject.

“What did you like about it?”

His curiosity was puzzling. She couldn’t understand why this ridiculously attractive stranger she had just met had so many questions for her. When she looked at him he appeared genuinely interested in her answer.

“I generally don’t connect with art unless I can relate to something I see in it. The painting at the stairs …” She paused, carefully choosing her words. “I could imagine being in that scene, what the physical environment would feel like to me, how being there would make me feel, what the artist may have been trying to convey. If it touches me on an emotional level, I like it. For me, that’s what art is supposed to do. Of course it’s different for everyone.”

He quietly focused on her, listening intently, hanging onto her every word without responding. He looked somewhat reflective, taking in what she just said. She felt slightly self-conscious, hoping she made sense. She tended to ramble when she discussed art.

She took a sip of her now lukewarm coffee and decided to try to change the course of the conversation. She had been cooperative thus far and had answered his questions. In fact, she had been more truthful than she had intended. Something about him made her feel less guarded and her words seemed to pour out, unfiltered.

This handsome stranger was surprisingly easy to talk to.

“So, why do you come here at this hour? Is it the artwork or do you just enjoy interrogating strangers?” She tried to keep her tone light so he knew she was joking. He smiled, obviously enjoying her sense of humor.

“I know the owners. They’re old friends of mine. And for the record, I wasn’t interrogating you. I apologize if that’s how I came across.” He sounded sincere. “You just intrigue me.”

She intrigued him?

Apparently he had more of an interest in her than she originally thought. As she considered this, she slowly began to realize that this may not have been the first night they had been there together. If he knew the owners then surely he would know how often she came there and when. Over the many months she’d been visiting the shop, the husband and wife owners began to anticipate her weekly arrival. But why would they tell him about one of their customers? The more she pondered the idea, the crazier it sounded.

“Why is that exactly?” she asked, trying to read his eyes.

He hesitated slightly before he answered.

“Let’s just say you’re a bit of a mystery to me, an unsolved puzzle.”

Now that was ironic. She was the mystery here?

“So it’s puzzling to you that I come to a bookstore café late at night and like to read alone? Some people just like their ‘me’ time. How is that unusual?”

“It’s not. But that’s not why you come here,” he clarified, with the same intense expression he had downstairs.

The finality of his tone made her feel as if he knew much more about her than he was letting on, and ultimately made her realize something that she hadn’t wanted to admit to herself. He was right on target.

“That’s not the only mystery,” he added before she had a chance to respond.

Implying more than she thought he intended, she was given a perfect opportunity and her curiosity couldn’t let it go.

“So, how can I be so intriguing to you in such a short period of time? We just met. You don’t know anything about me.”

He looked down and paused momentarily before answering.

“Tonight … isn’t the first time I’ve seen you here,” he admitted, still looking down. “I’ve been here late at night before.” He slowly looked up at her, carefully reading her expression.

As it finally starting making sense, she was filled with an unexpected flood of emotions. She was both flattered and profoundly confused at his interest in her. Realizing that he had likely been watching her for who knows how long actually didn’t make her feel uncomfortable, which surprised her. If anything, his very presence put her at ease.

“How long?” she asked softly. It was all she could manage to say. His piercing gaze made it hard to concentrate again.

He seemed to know exactly what she was asking.

“A while,” he said quietly, “longer than I’d like to admit.”

Her heart skipped a beat and a chill went down her back. He noticed her reaction and smiled apologetically. She didn’t quite know what to make of all of this but strangely, was far from being upset by it.

“Did you know I’d be here tonight?”

“Yes,” he replied evenly.

She wondered how many nights she had come here in the last several weeks when he had been here too. She never really took notice of the other customers in the shop, but surely she would have noticed him. She wondered how lost in her books she usually got when she was here. Would she have even been aware of a secret admirer, if that’s what he was? It sounded absurd.

“Why did you choose tonight to talk to me?”

“That wasn’t entirely planned. You saw me downstairs.”

It was hard not to. She almost blushed again as she remembered.

“But you came upstairs, to me.”

He held up the bookmark and smiled.

“You gave me an excuse.”

She couldn’t get used to his smile. It was overwhelming. She tried in vain to get a hold of herself. It wasn’t just his beauty that made her feel the way she did. When he looked at her and spoke to her this way she felt connected to him in a genuinely real way. It was unfamiliar and as much as she didn’t want to admit it, wonderful.

He sensed her apparent uneasiness and leaned away from her slightly in an attempt to put her at ease.

“I apologize if this is strange for you. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

The words strange or uncomfortable didn’t seem to apply here. Truthfully she couldn’t find a word for what she felt at this moment.

“Strange no, confusing maybe.”

This threw him completely.

“Why is it confusing?”

She didn’t exactly know how to explain it to him or even to herself. This whole scenario was definitely unchartered territory for her.

“It’s just hard for me to understand … why you would take so much of an interest in me.” Or even notice her for that matter, she thought to herself.

His expression was hard, unreadable for a few moments, until it finally softened as if he had just solved a puzzle. He smiled softly and looked directly into her eyes as he leaned in again.

“Trust me, from my perspective it’s extremely easy to understand.”

He didn’t elaborate. He simply looked at her with warm eyes as if trying to convey the extent of his feelings. His answer was somewhat cryptic yet she knew exactly what he meant. For some unfathomable reason he was drawn to her. To say that she was drawn to him as well was an understatement. The attraction was instant and magnetic.

As she leaned in slightly looking into his eyes, she realized his answer pleased her more than she wanted to admit. It was hard to believe she could have feelings of this magnitude toward someone she had just met and it didn’t make sense to her.

Things like this didn’t happen every day, she knew that, and not to her, yet she wished she could understand why tonight of all nights their paths had crossed.

As the reality of the situation began to finally settle in, anxiety inevitably shot through her and a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her she should probably go home. As difficult as it was, her instincts told her that leaving was the right thing to do.

Looking away from him she subtly began gathering her things.

Oblivious to her sudden internal battle he interrupted her before she could leave.

“I have another question, if you don’t mind,” he asked politely.

She knew she shouldn’t stay any longer, but she was curious.

“Imagine that,” she replied with a smile, trying to stay casual.

He returned the smile, sensing her apprehension.

“Earlier you said that if art touches you on an emotional level, you like it. I was wondering how the painting at the stairs made you feel.”

He seemed to have an uncanny ability to ask the one question she had no desire to answer. She couldn’t imagine why it mattered to him what she thought of the painting, and tried to think of a way to answer him without admitting too much.

“It’s hard to put it into words.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Art is a personal thing.”

As she looked down she realized it was difficult to be anything but completely honest when she looked at him and she didn’t trust herself.

His silence told her he respected her privacy, which she appreciated.

As they sat quietly together in a comfortable silence, she reflected on how incredibly rare this whole thing was. This was definitely not how she had envisioned her evening playing out tonight, meeting him.

Though her heart was telling her to stay there with him, her rational, determined mind was stronger, as always. She had answered his final question and it was now time to go.

Slowly she gathered her things and stood up. He looked up at her, clearly trying to understand what was happening. She stood in place for a moment not wanting to move. She could feel his eyes on her as she took a small step forward.

“Don’t go,” he whispered.

Her heart sank. She took another small step.

“Please,” he said, slightly louder.

She stopped and was now standing next to him, only inches away.

Deep down she wanted to stay, she couldn’t deny that. She wanted to learn everything there was to know about this man, wanted to answer any question he asked, wanted to talk to him for hours. But she had to leave. She had her own reasons for leaving and she wished she could explain them to him.

“I think I should go now,” she barely uttered, taking another step.

“Wait,” he said, looking up at her. “You said that I don’t know you, or anything about you.”

“Yes.”

She didn’t look at him, afraid of what she might do or say if she did.

“I’d like to, very much.”

In a flash, she was sure that every ounce of blood in her body had reached her face at once and she instantly felt hot. She felt light headed and her heart began to race again. She could feel his eyes on her and desperately wanted to look at him.

She tried to focus and think of what to say.

“I’m flattered,” she breathed, “but I can’t. I’m sorry, I wish I could.” More than he would ever know she wished she could stay there with him. “I really have to go.”

As she took a few more steps, he stood up. He appeared as if he was about to follow her but something stopped him. In response she halted, as if being pulled back toward him.

He stood in place for a moment before slowly walking toward her. He lightly touched her hand with his as she quickly looked up at him. His light touch was unexpectedly amazing. Every nerve in her body suddenly seemed to come alive at once. It was the first time they had stood face-to-face and she noticed that he was a good bit taller than she was. Her heart felt as if it would pound out of her chest as she looked up into his stunning eyes.

“Will you please give me one thing then?”

At this moment she would have given him anything he asked for.

“Yes.” Her voice cracked into a whisper.

“Your name.”

Surprised by his simple request, she breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t know if she would ever see him again and if nothing else, she was actually comforted by the idea of him knowing her name.

“Rebecca,” she answered evenly, looking into his eyes one last time.

As a faint smile crossed her face she slowly looked away and started toward the stairs, feeling his eyes on her with every step.

She hesitated for a moment at the top step, wanting to look back at him again but thought better of it. The temptation to stay would be too much to resist.

Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, trying to ignore the sinking feeling overtaking her. Before she could change her mind, she quickly opened her eyes and pushed forward, down the stairs and out the front door of her wonderful oasis without looking back.

The rest of the book can be found on Amazon.

The List

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Phoebe Henderson may be single but she sure doesn’t feel fabulous. It’s been a year since she found her boyfriend Alex in bed with another woman, and multiple cases of wine and extensive relationship analysis with best friend Lucy have done nothing to help. Faced with a new year but no new love, Phoebe concocts a different kind of resolution.

The List: ten things she’s always wanted to do in bed but has never had the chance (or the courage!) to try. A bucket list for between the sheets. One year of pleasure, no strings attached. Simple, right?

Factor in meddlesome colleagues, friends with benefits, getting frisky al fresco and maybe, possibly, true love and Phoebe’s got her work cut out for her.

My opinion: I was attracted to this book by its cover (I am so shallow when it comes to books!) but it took me a while to download it as I wasn’t sure if I would like it. After reading so many great reviews of the book and with the Sex Me Up readathon coming up, I thought I would give it a go!

Phoebe has been single for about a year and is still struggling after her break up with cheating bastard Alex. She hasn’t been feeling single and ready to mingle in that time so has also been going without sex for that time. At New Year, Phoebe decides to make a resolution that she is determined to keep and writes a list of sexual challenges that she has always wanted to do or been curious about. She is looking forward to a year of lots of sex and new experiences, but is it going to be that straightforward after her year of chastity?

I was immediately hooked by this book and read about 20% in my first sitting. I really didn’t know what to expect from this book, but was pleasantly suprised at the hilarious read I had picked up. The book is written in a diary format, which I always like and we live a year of Phoebe’s life with her. The great thing about this book is that although it contains lots of sex, it doesn’t feel forced or seedy, but is more like having a very open conversation with your best friend. The book is truly laugh out loud funny whilst still being sexy and at times brutally honest.

I really enjoyed the book and I think it was the right level of bonk buster for me – fun without making me feel like I should be covering it in a brown paper bag and wearing a dirty mac. I will definitely be looking out for more books from the author, but don’t think I will be recommending it to my mum – who knows what questions she would ask me if she read about some of the challenges! This was a fun read and is perfect to read whilst hanging out next to the pool this summer.

My rating: Four stars

This week I am taking part in the #sexmeupreadathon

The Inheritance

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Welcome to Tilly Bagshawe’s Swell Valley, where the scandal is in a class of its own.

Tatiana Flint-Hamilton’s gilded cage is torn away when her estranged father dies. As the beloved family estate slips through Tati’s fingers, the portraits of her ancestors look down disapprovingly.

The new Lord of the Manor is just as ruthless as Tati. The old-world status of Furlings is everything the wealthy, self-made Brett Cranley has ever wanted. Luckily his wife Angela is the perfect homemaker, happy to fall into line with whatever Brett desires. Along with her two children, Furlings soon becomes Angela’s lifeline, a place she can finally belong. And one she’s not going to give up easily.

Losing everything has made Tati realise that her rightful inheritance is all that she now lives for… and she will do anything to get it back.

But the fate of Furlings lies in the hands of the villagers.

Let the Fittlescombe fireworks begin!

My opinion: I had been toying with reading this book for a while as the cover intrigued me. I was interested in what this sort of bonkbuster novel would be like, and with the Sex Me Up Readathon coming up, it was the perfect excuse to read it whilst lying on a sunlounger in Corfu!

Wild child Tatiana Flint-Hamilton is cut out of her father’s will when he dies. Not only does he stop her from inheriting Furlings, the family home, but he insists on conditions for her to receive an allowance. Furlings is passed on to distant Australian relatives, the Cranleys, who up sticks and move to England. Angela Cranley sees the move as a fresh start for her and businessman husband Brett and their two children, moving away from her husband’s past. Tati wants to be back in what she considers to be her rightful home and will stop at nothing to get it back.

I was pleasantly surprised that this book had a very good storyline. I’m a sucker for a book set in a rural environment, whether it be a cosy mystery or bonkbuster novel. This one reminded me of Jo Carnegie’s books – which I love! I was sucked into the story straight away, and although I hatedthe pretentious Tati at first, I felt like I really got to know her.

The book is set over a period of around ten years so we really get to know the characters and see them grow. The book included a really good mixture of great story and hot sex scenes – although I was confused about just how closely the Flint-Hamiltons and the Cranleys were related. The book is a whopper at over 500 pages, but the story is well paced with a good smattering of well thought out supporting characters, so didn’t feel that long.

If, like me, you enjoy reading about what goes on behind the scenes in country villages that are not so sleepy as they appear, then this book is for you. I will definitely be looking for more of Tilly’s books, as I think this is probably the right level of sexy book for me! A great story, with a lot of depth and thought behind it, with just the right amount of steamy sex!

My rating: Four stars

This week I am taking part in the #SexMeUp readathon – join in the conversation on twitter!