All posts by VL

Galileo – Ann McMan

Galileo – Ann McManThere are some authors who can write nearly anything with style and grace, it doesn’t matter which genre they pick, their literary elegance overshadows the sub-genre. Ann McMan has the style to carry of anything, the grace to deal with an extremely difficult subject, and the wit to make you laugh while reading it.

Galileo is the second book in her Evan Reed Mysteries, following on from the excellent “Dust”. Political investigator Evan is called upon to do a rush job researching the arch-conservative candidate the current incumbent of the White House has nominated for the supreme court. What she finds is a horrendous trail of child abuse in the Catholic Church and beyond; privileged and powerful white men using the local parish schools as a grooming ground for their unholy activities.

It sounds heavy – and it is, but while McMan treats the subject with both compassion and respect, she also writes witty banter and dialogue, has us laughing at the inter-relationships, especially with the one-night stand “ex” and her teenage daughter. We get to see the story from multiple viewpoints, adding poignancy and depth to the tale, and pulling in both the history of her partner and her best friend. Few writers can manage multiple POV, but McMan effortlessly blends them into a cohesive whole that brings us closer to the characters and engages us fully in their stories.

Add in the return of master sleuth cum controller cum assassin Maya Jindal and the cast is complete.. with the dastardly Marcus Goldman hovering off-screen, powerful PACs and vested interests trying to first stop the investigation and then wipe out the trail, we have a story that twists and turns, opens up deep dark secrets and exposes an alliance of power that will rock the church, political and corporate worlds.

It’s hard to say Ann McMan’s writing just gets better and better, I didn’t think she could match the style of “Beowulf for Cretins” in a political thriller, but she has. It touches the politics of the day, this historical wrongs we continue to uncover, while deepening and exploring the characters we came to know and love in “Dust” and binding them even more strongly together. Tough subject done with consummate empathy… highly recommended.


(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Bywater (November 12, 2019)
  • ISBN: 978-1612941592
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High October – Elena Graf

High October – Elena GrafIt is a refreshing change to read a story about two more mature women, aged 58 and 60 at the start of the novel. They have a lifetime of memories, happiness and sadness, baggage – good and bad – as well as broken hearts and life changing regrets, and it makes them totally real. College room mates 40 years before this begins, soul mates torn apart by one’s acceptance of family pressure, financial and social, they meet by accident and are instantly drawn back together, despite the hurt, the anger and the span of time and distance between them.

On the surface it’s a second chance romance, but the depth and feeling make it a love story that spans these women’s lives. As we delve into the emotions and actions that have shaped their existence it becomes increasingly clear that they have both settled, and yet always been unsettled, by lesser emotions and shallow relationships – one perhaps knowingly, the other without realising why she can’t commit.

It’s slow burn, they aren’t teenagers making out in the back of cars. It’s emotional yet gentle, despite the pressure of time, they have done the first passionate romance and are now far more aware of the need to let things develop, to allow themselves to re-grow those connections and rediscover each others souls. And they are both aware that mucking this up would mean the loss of an amazing chance to reconnect.

I loved it. I loved the fact that we learn snippets of the past without having full-blown flashbacks. That it deals with real issues mature women face, like menopause, the decline and loss of parents, the concerns of aging and the knowledge of time passing. That these women and many of their colleagues and friends have such deep long term relationships and knowledge of each other that they don’t play games, they don’t need to walk on ice, they just cut to the chase with full frontal honesty.

Extremely well written and crafted this is simply a wonderful exploration of love across time, and how these mature women have settled into themselves enough to accept who they are and respect who each other has become.


(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Purple Hand Press (October 15, 2019)
  • ASIN: B07YXSB9S9
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Fire and Ice – Rachel Spangler

Fire and Ice – Rachel SpanglerFollowing on from romances set in the worlds of tennis, snowboarding and baseball, Rachel Spangler’s latest sports romance follows the rapid rise of a curling team, and in particular their outstanding “Skip” Callie Mulligan.

Callie is obsessed with her ‘real’ job – curling – and has fought off the negative attitude of everyone from family, friends and bosses that it is a hobby, not a real sport. She has dragged 3 school friends along with her, building them up with her own style of leadership and charisma until they are USA team 2 ranked in the top 15 with chance to fight for a place at the Olympics in two seasons… what they lack is support; each woman works full time and barely gets enough sponsorship to cover travel and hotels.

Max has been at the top of the sports reporter tree, writing in depth character pieces about the big names, until she falls for the wrong woman and the wrong story and loses everything; the girlfriend, the position and most importantly her own self respect. Sent to the icy North East to cover Team Mulligan for a season she quickly dismisses curling as housework on ice.

But Callie and Max need each other, one to give the team and the sport exposure, the other to regain her good graces with the bosses and her standing as an honest and engaging sports writer. Their initial meeting couldn’t go any worse, but both have an inner strength and determination that wont let them give up, and ultimately their magnetic attraction is stronger than their icy distance.

Spangler is a master of sports romances, bringing us into worlds we don’t know and possibly don’t care about – snowboarding and curling are certainly sports I knew little about – but like the great writer she is Spangler makes the people the centre of interest and their sport the backdrop. As a reader we learn almost by osmosis as the sport is explained both to an incomer and by example.

The main characters are both intriguing, strong, independent, sure of themselves but with one major fault line, Callie’s her exclusion of anything but curling from her life and Max’s horrendously bad decision to allow her heart and compassion to rule her head. The supporting cast of Team Mulligan provide a strong group background, but I particularly liked the cameos of Callie’s family, her grandpa steals the scene, and Max’s long surpassed rival Tom, both of whom play a tiny part but are critical scenes.

What impresses me most about Spangler’s growth as a writer is the increasing subtlety of the character development, romance and the pivotal angst of the plot. Callie and Max come together almost despite themselves, seemingly honest about their personal goals and life choices, the angst isn’t overdone, they play out their roles, until, of course, the crisis hits and the hurt overcomes their maturity. But even then Spangler doesn’t overplay, they miss each other, it affects their lives and makes them reconsider their choices, but without the chest-beating drama of so many romances. With a bit of prompting from BFF’s and unpleasant egotists they come to recognize how their priorities have changed.

I really enjoyed this one, read it in a day, couldn’t put it down, not because it’s a page turning drama but because I enjoyed seeing the interaction and growth of the two main characters, literally fire and ice coming together to make steam. Excellent reading and highly recommended.


(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Bywater Books (15 Oct. 2019)
  • ASIN: B07X9359VY
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A Heart This Big – Cheyenne Blue

A Heart This Big - Cheyenne BlueNina runs a small farm she inherited and is determined to keep going, despite increasing pressure from a bullying property developer. When a child is injured riding as part of her program for disadvantaged kids both the farm, her livelihood and her daughter, Phoebe’s, self-confidence are threatened

Fighting for everything she holds dear Nina approaches a well known attorney, literally begging for her help. Leigh is the archetypal city girl with no knowledge and little interest in farm life. But Nina’s passion for her program draws her in and Phoebe makes it hard to walk away.

The farm and the program are a heart-warming backdrop for this romance. The cast of volunteers adds depth, the menagerie adds colour and the threats and intrigue add just the right amount of suspense and angst to pull us in. Even the supposed baddie is fleshed out into a very real person despite her very human failings.

But what makes this an outstanding read is the main characters (all three) and their interactions. They are worlds apart in every way, but when the spark of interest ignites Cheyenne Blue slowly and gently reels them in. It’s slow-burn, they have plenty of time to get to know each other, time to bond and grow into something you just believe will last.

This is an absolutely charming story of two worlds colliding and making a much brighter whole.  Well written, well-paced and totally adorable. I genuinely loved this story in all its parts.


(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Ylva (June 17, 2019)
  • ASIN: B07T7YXMV3
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Breathe – Cari Hunter

Breathe – Cari HunterJemima is a paramedic in the north of England with a terrible habit of getting the worst cases and losing her partners because of it. Bumping into Rosie, an easy going copper, brightens her day and gives her at least one person who doesn’t want to run away. But as storms hit, the water rises and a murder inquiry turns nasty, Jem and Rosie need all their good luck to come out of it together and unscathed.

This is Cari Hunters first romance… but fans of her earlier action adventures (with a hit of romance) won’t be disappointed. As the blurb and my brief description indicate it’s not exactly a saccharin “girl meets girl and falls in love” tale. The crime element centres around child grooming and trafficking, the weather has a major voice in the action and the run down and derelict back end of town does it’s best to add drama.

Cari writes with her usual wit, this one is firmly grounded in northern colloquialisms, sarcasm and English humour. The characters are well developed and adorable in their normality, full of recognisable faults and deficiencies, they are literally the girls next door. Ably supported by a great cast of characters we could definitely do with a follow up to fill out the ‘what happens next’ of the romance and family reactions.

The title is also perfection – Jem has chronic asthma which doesn’t help her with emergency responses, and the plot denouement will leave you gasping – literally.

Warning – if you cant cope with some English slang, and a wicked sense of humour you might not be delighted with this .. but if you dare step out of the box, enjoy some English culture and have fun learning about wellies, brollies and lots of taking the piss, then this is just a delightful read (Cari has even done a humorous translation page for non-British-English speakers https://carihunter.wordpress.com/2019/08/28/breathe-translation/)

Excellent reading as always, Cari Hunter’s books are always on my go-to list and this one is highly recommended.


(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (September 10, 2019
  • ASIN: B07VDFDQWZ
Amazon.com
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Under your Skin – Lee Winter

Under your Skin – Lee WinterA great follow up to “The Red Files” where we met Lauren and Catherine as the bickering reporters stuck in the gossip and entertainment section – rivals who fell in love over a hot story. Now an established in DC Catherine has returned to her cutting stories of political intrigue while Lauren struggles to find some meaning in the local interest pieces she is writing. Off to Iowa to plan their wedding when a world changing story drops into their laps and brings all Catherine’s issues with her family crashing into their lives.

Another witty, intelligent and clever book, well balanced between the deepening romance and understanding of our main characters, the exploration of family, and the investigation of another corporate/government wrongdoing involving corruption, greed and threats to individual freedoms.

Lee Winter is an excellent writer, using the smallest of side stories to great effect. The bagpiped Amazing Grace and Star Wars Imperial March is a classic example of how a great storyteller can drop something completely unexpected into a scene and not only make you chuckle while you read but smile about it for a long time after you finish. Thoroughly enjoyed this one and hope there will be another in the series. Excellent reading.


Product info:

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • First published 2018
  • Publisher: Ylva (June 20, 2018)
  • ASIN: B07DJTRNCW
Amazon.com
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Beautiful Accidents – Erin Zak

Beautiful Accidents - Erin ZakThis is an interesting and amusing romance, traditional in the overall arc but with some twists that make it stand out. Its an age gap romance for a start (late 20s and late 40’s), and neither of the main characters want a romance – both have absolutely solid life choices which they have no intention of breaking – really.

Bernie is an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for her best friend Constance, who is also the unrequited love of her life. Bernie not only wallows in the fruitless adoration but lets Constance control her life – what little life she allows herself outside of providing unwanted care for her deaf mother. Stevie is a rising improv star who’s overwhelming and life controlling dream is to make it to Saturday Night Live – nothing and nobody will stand in her way.

Of course love has a way of breaking down barriers and changing the most determined mind. Erin Zak delivers the whole with great style, excellent writing, a lot of wit and some serious laughs. It’s all about letting go and allowing life to happen, both women have an emotional lesson to learn and a journey to free themselves. “Beautiful Accidents” is a great read, I thoroughly enjoyed it and its great to read a book which includes a physical impairment without ever making it an issue.


(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 265 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (September 10, 2019
  • ASIN: B07VB91JQN
Amazon.com
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After the Summer Rain – Gerri Hill

After the Summer Rain – Gerri HillGerri Hill is simply one of the best romance writers in the genre. This is an archetypal Hill, slightly unusual characters in a slightly unusual setting. The slow burn romance, however, is a classic, trying not to fall in love, but unable to fight the pull.

Mel had a traumatic childhood; married for all the wrong reasons and carrying the guilt of destroying her best friend’s life. She has retreated to womyn’s land and spends her isolated days tending the goats, chickens and garden that have healed her mind if not her heart.

Erin was left broken hearted when her girlfriend of 6 years left – boasting she had been cheating for two years – and lost herself in work, to the detriment of her physical and mental health. When they are brought together by Erin’s family’s intervention, sending Erin to the womyn’s land as a retreat/detox for three months, their worlds could not be further apart. But sometimes hearts need nothing but time and quiet to heal, and find their missing pieces.

The characters are endearing and you simply cannot help engage with the older women who have lived on the land for years; when escape from homophobic patriarchal society seemed the best way to be free. Mel and Erin capture your heart from the first moment, however strung out Erin is from caffeine and the consequent crash.

The romance pulls you in, the lack of angst is a refreshing change, and the will she won’t she climax worth the wait. It’s a slow sensual tug on your heart, reminding us that not everything that glitters is worth the loss of our souls and social/partner expectation can destroy us. It reminded me of “Gaining Ground” by Joan Barfoot, a novel I read many times in my 20’s when the concept of isolation seemed immensely attractive. I love many of Gerri Hill’s books for many reasons and this one is right up there for me as an exquisitely gentle balm to the heart.


(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • First published 2019
  • Publisher: Bella Books (September 24, 2019)
  • ISBN: 978-1642470710
Amazon.com
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Detective Sergeant Catherine Bishop series – Lisa Hartley

On Laughton Moor - Lisa Hartley
Double Dealing - Lisa Hartley
From the Shadows - Lisa Hartley
On Laughton Moor
Double Dealing

    From the Shadows
by Lisa Hartley

Just finished the Detective Sergeant Catherine Bishop series and loved finding a crime series from a writer I hadn’t come across before. The CID Detective Sergeant and her colleagues work in the gritty underbelly of the small towns of Lincolnshire (UK) dealing with drugs, protestation and murder, but on a level the local force aren’t used to dealing with.The characters are strong and the team dynamics add depth to the character building, with the key members on a definite journey as they deal with the human cruelty and depravity they uncover. The plots twist and turn, baffling the detectives and only slowly revealing the complex web of connections.

These were Lisa Hartley’s first novels and show a strong style and excellent skill, the story arcs are well done, the narrative well developed and the descriptive passages integrate seamlessly into the well-constructed investigation. Definitely a crime writer I will be on the look out for again.


On Laughton Moor

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Double Dealing

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From the Shadows

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The Carousel – Stefani Deoul

The Carousel - Stefani DeoulI absolutely loved “The Carousel”. It’s the tale of a lost women, literally, figuratively, emotionally, physically, who accidentally finds a dismembered carousel in a small town junk yard, and in saving the carousel not only saves herself but the small town community she was just passing through.

Glorious characters, good, bad and ugly, in depth relationships new and old, a plethora of interesting and absorbing personalities and an almost simplistic plot for them to revolve around. It is a triumph of human observation set in a tiny community of people, people who had lost themselves and each other. Watching the ebb and flow of rediscovery is, quite simply, joyful.