The Summer of Hopes and Dreams by Lynsey James

The Summer of Hopes and Dreams by Lynsey James


35652158Publisher: HQ Digital

Publishing Date: 11th September 2017

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 384

Genre:  Romance, Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle





It’s been a difficult year for Cleo Jones. The car accident that crushed her leg didn’t just destroy the village baker’s dreams of becoming a dancer, but crushed her confidence too. And recovering from that has been harder than healing from any number of broken bones…

But this summer is going to be different. Life is turning around for Cleo! Maybe it’s the invitation from her childhood bully to their high-school reunion that’s shocked her out of a ten-year slump. Or joining Carb Counters and finally starting to shed the weight she’d piled on during her recovery – or maybe it’s catching the eye of her gorgeous personal trainer!

Whatever the answer, this is going to be a summer she never forgets… watch out world, Cleo Jones is finally fighting back!

Rating: three-stars


Lynsey James’s latest book, “The Summer of Hopes and Dreams”, introduces us to Cleo, who has just found her old bucket list, and as I love novels with to – do lists, or bucket lists, or any other lists, I thought it can be THE read. And let’s not forget that I enjoy the author’s writing, and so, quickly after downloading the book, I started to read it.

Our main character Chloe has left me s little torn. On the one hand I liked her and admired her strength and the way she fought for her weight, on the other hand she seemed a little bit meh and boring as a person. Don’t get me wrong, please, she was of course kind and lovely but maybe she was too kind and too lovely – she just wanted all the good in the world for everybody, there was not a bad bone in her body and it just felt so… flat. However, she was also honest and she felt genuine in all the things she did and felt, and it was really hard to see how she was affected by all the accidental meetings with her high school nemesis Amanda. Chloe’s relationship with Scott was the greatest part of this story, I think, or rather the way Sam made her feel good about herself, how he made her feel stronger and how he helped her to come out of her shell.
I liked how well Lynsey James captured Cleo’s battles. In a very sensitive, gentle way she was able to show all the feelings and emotions, spot on, making Chloe realistic and relatable. I think many of us know the feeling of binge eating and those guilt – feelings afterwards? Also, the descriptions of Chloe’s feelings towards herself, the self doubt, the looking in the mirror and hating herself… well, I think for most of us, normal people, they do ring a bell and it just made me understand Chloe more and better. This all written in a very gentle and sensitive way.

But the book lacked for me in this “something”. I think I know what the author wanted to achieve touching upon this very sensitive issue of being overweight but it didn’t work for me and, sadly, I must say that I’ve read better stories with such topics. Which is a pity because I was expecting more from this book and from Lynsey James, as she’s already proved that she can write brilliant, light – hearted novels. Altogether, I think that the author just wanted to make this book work, to make it all so correct, to not to offend anybody, and she’s just overdone it, and as a result we got a book that is nice but that’s all.

It was a story of lost dreams, starting afresh, becoming stronger, feeling good in your own skin. It also turned out to be much more serious that you can expect from this author and from this kind of read, I think, deeper and not so light. It’s not criticism, it didn’t disturb this book on the whole, it just might take you by surprise. It was about self – confidence and being happy with yourself and gaining confidence, and altogether I did appreciate the message in it – it was a pleasant read, with more or less likeable characters, some funny and some serious situations, and even though it didn’t push my buttons, I’m sure fans of Lynsey James are going to love it.

The Little Bakery on Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry

The Little Bakery on Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry


33939393Publisher: Avon

Publishing Date: 7th September 2017

Series: Rosemary Lane #2 (read my review of Book 1 here)

Source:  Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 368

Genre:  Women’s Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback



If you want to move forward, sometimes you have to go back …
Prepare to fall in love with beautiful village of Burley Bridge.

Growing up in a quiet Yorkshire village, Roxanne couldn’t wait to escape and find her place in the world in London. As a high-powered fashion editor she lives a glamorous life of perennial singlehood – or so it seems to her sister Della. But when Roxanne gets her heart broken by a fashion photographer, she runs away, back to Della’s welcoming home above her bookshop in Burley Bridge.

But Burley Bridge, Roxanne discovers, is even quieter than she remembered. There’s nothing to do, so Roxanne agrees to walk Della’s dog Stanley. It’s on these walks that Roxanne makes a startling discovery: the people who live in Burley Bridge are, well, just people – different from the fashion set she’s used to, but kind and even interesting. Michael, a widower trying to make a go of a small bakery, particularly so. Little by little, cupcake by cupcake, Roxanne and Michael fall into a comforting friendship.

Could there be a life for Roxanne after all, in the place she’s spent 46 years trying to escape?

Rating: three-stars


“The Little Bakery on Rosemary Lane” is the second book in the Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry series but it can easily be read as a stand – alone. The book mentions some of the characters from the previous novel but it entirely focuses on a new character, Roxanne. She has left Yorkshire as a teenager, and now she’s in her late forties and loves her work as a fashion editor. She’s passionate about her job, and she’s also successful, she has great ideas and she knows what it is the readers of the magazine want to see. However, there are some changes to come in the magazine and it’s a little unsettling – as well as her relationship she’s in starts to shake the foundations. So Roxanne decides to go back to Yorkshire where her sister Della still lives – Della, the one who owns the cookbook shop from the previous book.

This story started so, so well! I was doing the virtual high – fives because it was feeling like reading the good, old Fiona Gibson again – the writing was so warm and engaging, the story was flowing and I was incredibly caught up in the story. However, the more I got into the book, the slower and flatter it felt. There was not much happening and I had a feeling it is very repetitive and in the end I found myself skipping some of the passages and even a chapter or two – I am very sorry for this but it just didn’t keep my attention. Then there is the same thing as with the first book in the series, “The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane” – the bookshop is in the title, as is the bakery in this book, but they are not the huge part of the story, the bakery hardly features in this story and it’s just misleading.

I did like Roxanne. She was a great leading character. She was very passionate about her job, you could really feel she loves what she does and that she feels comfortable in her own skin. She was creative, and I always love this in characters. However, she finds herself at the crossroads right now, what with big changes at work and some troubles in love paradise, and we accompany her on her journey to find out what she really wants.
I really liked how Roxanne started to see that she really likes the countryside and that there is much more to living there as she thought, even though she sometimes learn to like it in the hard way, like going for a walk with the dog totally unprepared and dressed in very unsuitable clothes. It was nice to see her changing, making new friends, helping at the shop and feeling well in her own skin.

The London part of the book was really good, fast – paced and I totally enjoyed it. However, the Yorkshire part, while really important, as it was the time that Roxanne – of course! – started to change and see what she wants, was for me a little too flat, too slow, too meh. It was a tad predictable and some things, such like the later changes at Roxanne’s magazine, felt much too rushed and much too clichéd and obvious.

Altogether, “The Little Bakery on the Rosemary Lane” was a warm, lovely story. It felt modern and up – to – date and it lovely mixed the world of fashion with cookbooks and fresh, tasty bread. It was about making your own choices, about not letting others to influence you, seeing you can really take the risk. It was an easy, pleasant read with a low – key romance and even though I maybe didn’t love it as much as I initially thought, it was still pleasant enough and I am looking forward the third book in the series.

Coming Home to the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

Coming Home to the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson


35215800Publisher: HarperImpulse

Publishing Date: 8th October 2017

Series: Comfort Food Cafe #3 (read my review of Book 1 here and Book 2 here)

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 400

Genre:  Women’s Fiction, Literature/Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback




Come home to the Comfort Food Café and cosy up with a mug of hot chocolate and an extra sprinkle of romance!

When Zoe’s best friend Kate dies of breast cancer, her whole world is turned upside down. Within hours, she goes from being the wacky neighbour who can barely keep a houseplant alive to a whole new world of responsibility when she realises she’s guardian to Kate’s 15-year-old daughter, Martha.

Moving to the little village of Budbury, Zoe hopes the fresh Dorset sea breeze and the gentle pace of life will help them heal.

Luckily for them both, the friendly community at the Comfort Food Cafe provide listening ears, sage advice, shoulders to cry on, and some truly excellent carrot cake. And when Martha’s enigmatic, absent father suddenly turns up, confusing not only Martha but Zoe too, the love and friendship of their new friends is the best present they could have asked for…

Rating: five-stars



Oh my word, guys, you have no idea how much I loved “Coming Home to the Comfort Food Cafe”! I simply adored it with all my heart and my whole little miserable life, and I really can’t describe how great it was to be back to the Comfort Food Cafe, Budbury and all the brilliant villagers, old or new. The Comfort Food Cafe series, in fact, is up there, very very high, on the favourite series shelf, together with the Walshs by Marian Keyes and The Proper Family by Chrissie Manby and I really don’t want to end.
You can read this book as a stand – alone, as it introduces as to brand new characters that are going to break your heart and full it with the warmest feelings at the same time, but I highly, highly recommend to read all of the books in the series because they are simply brilliant and it is always such a great feeling to catch up with all the regular, old characters.

The story is split into four parts, and each of them is full to brims with beautiful descriptions, bad and good things happening, tears and laughter. Within those four parts we can see how much affect The Comfort Food Cafe is having on Zoe and Martha, how they change, open and find their place. But of course this story is not only about Zoe and Martha, and I was over the moon with joy to see and hear the latest from Laura, Becca, Cheri, Edie and their other halves. They didn’t change one iota, thanks God, they are still as warm and welcoming as ever, and they still know what is needed to help the new kids on the block to see happiness again.

The characters are, as always, spiky, bubbly and real and they feel like 3D people. They are quirky, they are fun, they are full of compassion and I would love to have such Comfort Food Cafe nearby. There is this brilliant and warm feeling of community spirit. Zoe and Martha, the two main characters this time, are so beautifully written, they are down to earth and genuine with all of their emotions. Martha is the typical teenager but you cannot dislike her, you sympathize with her, with the way she copes with her grief, and her being so sarcastic and awkward rings such a bell. The interactions between Zoe and Martha are fabulous and also genuine – the author has got so easily into their heads and put all of their feelings into words. Zoe is so authentic, and she deserves a standing ovation for being as she is, what with her chaotic and shaky childhood.

The story mentions good as well as tough times of Zoe and Martha, and it is incredible how very well it is balanced, how well the author knows when to add a poignant moment and when to brighten the atmosphere, and let’s just mention the welcoming party or the Christmas Talent Show. There is so much feeling and understanding to the words and even when Debbie Johnson writes about dogs sitting on Cal’s feet, hoping for something to eat, it is written in such a way that you could easily picture this and feel the warmth in those words. This novel is full of twists and turns and surprises, there are so many threads in there but they all mesh really well, they get together brilliantly and as a result we get a wonderful story without a single flat moment, but also that is not overdone.

I’ve no idea how Debbie Johnson manages to capture and put into words all the emotions and feelings: of disappointment, anger, hope, love, despair and exasperation – but she does it in a brilliant way. It was so honest, so genuine that I really had goose bumps, it touched upon all my right heart – strings and it doesn’t happen often, guys, only very few authors can do this, and Debbie Johnson belongs to them.

Debbie Johnson’s writing style is one of a kind, she draws the reader into the story from the very first page and I found myself racing through the pages, but not wanting this book to end. This story is so beautifully written, it’s full of layers, it’s deep and incredibly funny at the same time, and full of unforgettable characters and situations, friendship and the overwhelming feeling of being welcome. It’s bittersweet, and it is very honest and raw but there is also this incredibly uplifting, optimistic side to it. You can feel the love, the friendship and hope and it is great. It made me laugh out loud and cry like a baby, and it evoke all kind of emotions in me. It is Debbie Johnson at her best, though I could have mentioned it once or twice in my previous reviews? Very highly recommended!

Invisible Women by Sarah Long / #BlogTour

Hi guys. Today Sarah Long’s blog tour is stopping by on my blog and I have a review of “Invisible Women”. Way back in April, when the book was published as ebook only (now it’s also out in paperback!), there was also a blog tour organized and I shared a great guest post with you – you can read it here here again!

Invisible Women by Sarah Long


34459814Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre

Publishing Date: 5th October 2017

Source:  Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 400

Genre:  Women’s Fiction, Literature/Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback





Isn’t it about time we talked about YOU?

Tessa, Sandra and Harriet have been best friends through first crushes, careers, marriage and the trials of motherhood. After twenty years of taking care of everyone else’s every need, they’ve found themselves hitting the big 5-0 and suddenly asking themselves: ‘what about me?!’

Sandra has a sordid secret, and Harriet is landed with her ailing mother-in-law. Tessa is looking for something to fill the gaping hole left by her youngest daughter’s departure for uni, where it seems she’s now engaged in all sorts of unsavoury activities, if Tessa’s obsessive late-night Facebook stalking is anything to go by.

When Tessa impulsively responds to an online message from an old flame, she soon finds herself waiting at Heathrow Airport for The One That Got Away.

But what will the plane from New York bring her? The man of her dreams, or a whole heap of trouble?

And could this be the long-awaited moment for Tessa to seize her life, for herself, with both hands?

Rating: three-stars


 I’ve heard many really good things about “Invisible Women” by Sarah Long, so I was truly excited when my review copy arrived. I love the cover of this book – it’s sparkly and beautiful, the kind of cover that just appeals to me, is warm and inviting and makes me want to read the book even more. And well, the synopsis is great, it sounds just like real life, and I adore books about friends.

And here in this story we have three – Tessa, Sandra and Harriett. They have all reached the big 5-0, they all have families and happy marriages – or, at least, they think they are happy. The children have mostly flown from the nest and so they start to evaluate and re – evaluate their lives. The three women know each other as long as they can remember, they were always there for each other and they have seen many important life events of each other. Each of them has a secret that makes them realise that instead of looking after everybody in their lives, they should start to take care of themselves.

I truly liked the female characters, while the male characters were so, so irritating and annoying, especially Tessa’s husband Matt, with all of his remarks and undermining her and I SO wanted to punch him in the face! I’m guessing the author has deliberately written him in this way but really, I can’t remember such annoying supporting character. Actually, all of the husbands didn’t take any notice of the women, their wives, they took them for granted, it was just so obvious that they’re there. It’s not a wonder then that the three girls start to eventually feel they deserve so much from life – though I would say it took them too much time to realise this. The three main characters Tessa, Sandra and Harriet are very realistic. They make mistakes, they have secrets, they have faults but this only makes them much more realistic, and deep down they are really good people. They are at the crossroads, physically and emotionally, and the author has done a great job of capturing those feelings. Tessa is dealing with money and status – obsessed disinterested husband, Sandra’s husband has had a mental breakdown and Harriet is a carer of her husband’s mother and his own needs. I may not agree with the way they deal with some of the things in their lives but I must admit that they are well developed and they sound genuine.

This is a story that left me really, really torn. I was sure I was going to love it – and I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would. I can’t really put my finger on the problem – it was different to what I was expecting it to be, I was hoping for something more optimistic. Maybe it was because it took the characters so long to realise that they are so much more worth than they think, and that there is so much more to life than only living the lives of your children and husbands. I think I was missing more personality from all of them, more ambition and aspiration. Also, there were parts of this story that felt so long and repetitive, I had a feeling that the characters are all the time complaining, and there was too little doing, happening. But of course the book has its moments as well, moments that were funny and emotional, moments that many of us can relate to, which only made the story realistic and likely. The writing style, while rich and fluent and also funny and poignant when necessary, was somehow heavy for me. Some stories just fly when you read them, and sometimes it is really hard to get through them, and I had this problem when reading “Invisible Women”. I had some problems to get into this book, and till the very end I didn’t feel a part of this story. Sometimes you read the first sentence and you are already in, at the heart of the book, and sometimes you just can’t get through, and sadly it was the case this time. I couldn’t fully relate with the characters because I just couldn’t understand their actions, the way they forgot about themselves. However, the author has really well captured the voice of the characters, of women who finally want to fight for themselves, who longs for so much more.

Altogether, “Invisible Women” was an emotional and down – to – earth journey of finding yourself afresh, about realising that living a routine is not the best possible way to live your life. It was about some really serious issues that not everyone would dare to write about, such as ageism or mental health problems, and the author has dealt with them in a great way. It was also full of loving friendship, natural banter, emotions and understanding, sharp observed and realistic. Already looking towards Sarah Long’s other novels.



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Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan


30234835Publisher: Sphere

Publishing Date: 5th October 2017

Series: Little Beach street Bakery #3

Source:  Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 384

Genre:  Women’s Fiction, Literature/Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback



Welcome back to Mount Polbearne! The new book from Top Ten bestseller Jenny Colgan is full of festive joy, warmth and the best hot chocolate you can imagine…

It’s Christmas in the Cornish coastal village of Mount Polbearne – a time for family, friends and feasting.

Polly Waterford loves running the Little Beach Street Bakery. She’s at her happiest when she’s creating delicious treats and the festive season always inspires her to bake and knead something extra special for the village residents. In fact, the only thing she loves more than her bakery is curling up with her gorgeous boyfriend, Huckle. She’s determined that this Christmas is going to be their best one yet, but life doesn’t always work out as planned…

When Polly’s best friend Kerensa turns up with a secret that threatens the life Polly and Huckle have built together, the future begins to look uncertain. And then a face from Polly’s past reappears and things become even more complicated. Polly can usually find solace in baking but she has a feeling that’s not going to be enough this time. Can she get things back on track so that everyone has a merry Christmas?

Rating: five-stars


Guys, really, I love Jenny Colgan more and more, and her every new release is better than the last one, and soon I will have to rate the books with 10 stars or more. I knew that with this novel the author is for sure going to take me back to a lovely, full of warmth place and larger – than – life, cordial and sincere characters, and this is what I needed so much!

There was a basic introduction to the book at the beginning of this story, or a quick reminder to those who read the previous novels, and also the author mentions things that happened before, so yes, I would say you could read “Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery” as a stand – alone novel but please do read the first two books! You can’t imagine how much you’d be missing without reading them! Polly and Huckle are the perfect couple,  their relationship is so honest and so genuine, with all the awkward moments, the problems and the way they act and react, and the dialogues are just so spot on!

Polly is still working at her bakery, baking all sorts of incredibly sounding breads and cakes, and you know, I read a lot of books that centre around food, but Jenny Colgan always manages to make my mouth literally water and she makes me to long to transform myself into a domestic goddess baking ciabatta or spelt bread like crazy. I already have a Jenny Colgan apron, so actually nothing prevents it, right? Polly lives in a lighthouse with Huckle and, of course, we can’t forget about the most important character in the story – namely Neil the Puffin! This book just wouldn’t be the same without Neil – this time slightly overweight and behaving probably like a dog, but that’s just Neil and guys, there is going to be a third children’s book featuring Neil! I personally can’t wait. Neil and his “eeeps” just made me go weak at the knees and he’s not only funny, but he’s Polly’s real solace and he always knows when she’s sad. Huckle wants to take their relationship (I mean, Polly and Huckle’s, not Neil and Huckle’s) this one step further but there is something holding Polly back – what is it? Cold feet or something more? And is Huckle going to wait until she eventually decides?
This book also centres around Polly’s friend Kerensa and her eccentric but – please let me say this – with a golden heart – husband Reuben. Kerensa might have made a mistake that can turn to be a real problem with huge consequences. She needs Polly more than ever, but can Polly keep Kerensa’s secret, as she and Huckle don’t have any?

You know what, I think that if you showed me the book without telling me who’s the author, I’d immediately be able to tell that it’s Jenny Colgan – her writing style is so special and it’s her hallmark and she can really put into words feelings and emotions that I’ve no idea you can at all describe! There is a spark, a flair in Jenny Colgan’s writing. It is warm and so descriptive without being too patronising or without focusing too much on things that are significant but overdoing them. The writing style and the storytelling make you feel welcome and keep you glued to the pages and in the end “Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery” is this kind of book that you want to read for ever and ever but finds yourself finishing it in a few sittings. I was completely absorbed in this story and I desperately wanted to know how it’s all going to end – the many subplots that added so much charm were truly hooking, and it was funny and poignant at the same time. The characters are facing many, many problems, nothing runs smoothly to be honest, but the way they deal with those problems is not only realistic but also convincing and I often found myself nodding my head and feeling I’d do the same.

It was absolutely brilliant to catch up with the Mount Polbearne characters and with this island village itself. I didn’t have any problems to catch up with all the characters, it truly felt as if I was back with good, old friends of mine. Polly was always there for her friends, and it was a lovely aspect of her – even when she put all of them before herself. But it was also great to see that those friends were also there for Polly. This story mentions probably all of the characters that have ever entered the scenes of the Little Beach Street Bakery series, and even the puffin sanctuary has a problem this time! We, of course, keep to see Jayden who’s baking with Polly, there is Serena, who now lives in a flat above the bakery and somehow this really felt as if Jenny Colgan is tying up all the loose ends. This time also the author gives a deeper insight into Polly’s background and even though it somehow didn’t sit with me so well, as it felt so sudden, it was also poignant and made me feel the history has just went round in circles.

Jenny Colgan can also wonderfully put into words her love to Cornwall and its wild and moody beauty. And Mount Polbearne itself, where the tide can prevent you from leaving the island or coming back home – hard but it has its appeal!

One of the subplots in the book was the fact that Polly wasn’t too willing to take the next step and marry Huckle, and I must admit that it was probably the only thing that made me feel a little frustrated – with Polly. Because, to be absolutely honest, I couldn’t so much understand her dilemmas and indecision, especially as it was crystal clear that she loved Huckle to the moon and back and their love has already weathered many testing times. Yes, she explained, and I could see where she was coming from but still it was incomprehensive to me. And there came a moment that I was so, so scared! I was scared that Polly will drive Huckle away and that he won’t come back and that there won’t be happy ever after after all… It was, however, of course brilliantly written and the moments when she realised she can’t live without Huckle were so beautiful, and yes, I wanted to bang her head then but I also respected her fears.

Little Beach Street Bakery is one of my favourite series – all the books have the feel good factor to them and brought me tons of happiness. And really, guys, I adored “Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery”. Simply, I adored it. It had all what I’m looking for in books and much, much more. You can easily feel that Jenny Colgan has poured her soul and heart into writing this book, it is detectable – the characters are unforgettable, lovely people that found a place in my heart, the setting is described with lots of love and events are so close to life. It is a perfect winter read, a MUST HAVE this winter, and please, make your friends and family happy by giving them a copy of this beautiful novel for Christmas – they’ll be delighted with this lovely and festive story about love, friendship, troubles, worries and secrets but also about hope and forgiving. Highly, highly recommended!

Guest Post by Angus Donald

Hi guys! Today is the say when the new historical fiction series novel Blood’s Game by thebloods-game-by-angus-donald bestselling author, Angus Donald, is published.  What makes this novel particularly interesting is that Angus Donald is a distant relative of the protagonist, Col. Thomas Blood who famously stole the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London in 1671 – brilliant, no? I am incredibly looking towards reading the book but in the meantime I have a guest post from the author!


The court of Charles II: mistresses, mischief and merry-making

By Angus Donald
I’ve always enjoyed a little debauchery – I don’t get to indulge so much these days, now that I’m middle-aged and married with two young kids, but I’ve done more than my fair share of wild partying over the years. And I must admit that it was partly this deplorable character failing that drew me to write about the Restoration period and the “Merry Monarch” Charles II – it sounded like a hell of a lot of fun!

My new novel Blood’s Game, a tale about the attempt by Colonel Thomas Blood to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London, opens in 1670, ten years after Charles was restored to his thrones in the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. Once back in power after a long penniless exile, the King was determined to have a really good time. He travelled back to London from the Kentish coast in a glittering procession, dressed in a silver tunic, his path strewn with fragrant herbs by beautiful maidens, the public fountains in the capital all running with wine. He continued this display of largesse throughout his reign; he spent money he didn’t have on fabulous masked balls, parties and banquets for his friends, he bought rare jewels and thoroughbred race horses, he gave extravagant gifts and grants of lands to his many mistresses and their offspring – by 1670 he owned eleven royal yachts and was about to buy another for his unhappy Portuguese wife Catherine.

His ministers tried to rein in his spending but, even though he received more than a million pounds a year from Parliament, his expenditure always far outstripped his income. But, as Charles says in Blood’s Game: “A certain carelessness with his finances befits a monarch. I refuse to scrimp and snivel like some damned pauper.”

The King was deliberate about this policy of having fun: the Three Kingdoms had just come out of a long dark period when the bloody civil wars were followed by the Puritan rule of the Commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell. During the austere interregnum period, most sports were banned, drunkenness and even swearing was punished with a fine, non-religious expressions of Christmas were stopped, many inns were closed, as were all the theatres, women caught working on Sundays were put in the stocks, bright clothes were banned and make-up was scrubbed off girls’ faces by soldiers who caught them wearing it, right there and then. Armed men humiliating women in the streets in the name of religious purity does not only happen in other parts of the world. We had our own approximation of the Taliban once.

So, when Charles returned to the throne, he wanted to show his subjects that it was now perfectly all right for people to enjoy themselves. Hip hip hooray! The theatres were reopened, and there was a resurgence of bawdy, satirical plays. Public drunkenness, particularly among the aristocracy, was so commonplace as to be almost a badge of rank. Pranks and japes abounded – a pair of well-born young men, friends of the King and members of the notorious Merry Gang, scandalised London by appearing on a balcony and pretending to sodomise each other. Poets and playwrights could openly criticise the King, his court, his morals and his mistresses. And did so enthusiastically. The drunken poet John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, leader of the Merry Gang, wrote of the King in one satire: “Restless he rolls from whore to whore/ A merry monarch, scandalous and poor”

Because Charles took his sexual pleasures seriously, too. He had many lovers as a young bachelor, including his nanny Mrs Wyndham, who took his virginity when he was fifteen. And after he married Catherine of Braganza, in 1662, he had at least seven mistresses, and possible as many as thirteen, who bore him a dozen children.

The role of mistress was semi-official – a whore or courtesan, or woman with whom the King had a casual encounter, would not counted among their number – and a man who kept one was obliged to pay for her food, drink, accommodation and servants, as well as making her generous presents from time to time, perhaps when he paid them a visit. Many of the mistresses and their illegitimate children, whose paternity the King acknowledged, received earldoms and dukedoms from the King – and many of British aristocrats alive today trace their ancestry back to Charles II.

Two of the the most famous of Charles’s mistresses – the formidable beauty Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, and the famous actress Nell Gywn – make appearances in Blood’s Game. In the period when the book is set, Barbara was about thirty and was being replaced in the royal affections by the feisty and outrageous Nell, who was ten years younger. Gwyn was an actress, and before that an “orange-seller” in the theatres, a profession which some historians take as a euphemism for prostitute. Perhaps because of her lowly origins and dubious trade, she was never ennobled by her royal lover, although her two children were.

Barbara, on the other hand, came from the noble Villiers family. She gave Charles five children and, as a long-time and fecund mistress, she wielded more power at court than childless Catherine. In fact, she was known as the Uncrowned Queen and she used her position ruthlessly to enrich herself and her friends. She persuaded the King to grant her lavish titles and lands and properties – she was given  Nonsuch Palace, built by Henry VIII, and the title Baroness Nonsuch, and promptly dismantled the palace and sold off the building materials to pay her gambling debts. She “borrowed” tens of thousands of pounds from the Privy Purse, and when this was discovered, the debt was immediately forgiven by her indulgent lover Charles.

When Charles’s interest in her began to wane, she was not above finding other gentlemen friends to amuse her. She became the lover of Jack Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough, when he was a handsome and penniless young officer at court. She bore Churchill a daughter and tried, unsuccessfully, to claim she was the King’s.

Charles was not exactly delighted that his long-time lover, a woman he had given so much to, had taken a younger man to her bed – Barbara had given Churchill a gift of £5,000, money she had received from the King, which infuriated Charles – but he was perfectly gentlemanly about the situation. He was, after all, beginning his relationship with Nell Gwyn at the time. There is a (probably apocryphal) tale, which I have included in Blood’s Game, that a servant was paid £100 by the Duke of Buckingham to inform His Grace when Churchill and Villiers would next be enjoying a lovers’ tryst. The mischief-making Duke then persuaded the King to visit Barbara at the same time. The story goes that when the King arrived unexpectedly, the naked Churchill had to hide in a cupboard, and was discovered there by the Merry Monarch.

Apparently, the King saw the funny side, and forgave his love rival. He said: “You are a rascal, sir, but I forgive you because you do it to get your [daily] bread.”

A stinging insult – basically calling Churchill a man-whore – then forgiveness. And never losing your sense of humour. That’s pure class in my book. And the lusty King even hung around to pleasure his old mistress after young Churchill had gone.

How could writing about a monarch like that, and chronicling his court of drunken, debauched and promiscuous hangers-on, not be the most tremendous fun?

I hope you find reading Blood’s Game just as enjoyable.

The Little Bakery on Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry / #BlogTour

Hi guys! Delighted to be hosting a blog tour stop for Ellen Berry’s new novel “The Little 33939393Bakery on Rosemary Lane”. It is already a second book in the Rosemary Lane, introducing us to the second sister and you know, I’ve read this story already, and it was very warm and full of lovely food, and please do keep your eyes peeled for my review (to come asap. Promise!) Today I have something different for you – not an extract, not a review, not a guest post but a recipe! Yes! Start baking, guys!



Perfectly Gooey Chocolate Brownies / Ellen Berry



While making light, fluffy cakes stretches my capabilities somewhat (resulting in patronising comments such as, ‘At least  you tried’), brownies are pretty much fool-proof. I love their versatility too. Obviously you can scoff them just as they are, with a cuppa – but you can also jazz them up with mini sparklers stuck in and set dazzlingly alight, for a special occasion display.

For my husband Jimmy’s 50th birthday I chickened out of making him a birthday a cake, and baked a huge quantity of brownies instead, which I arranged on a huge silver cake board in the shape of a guitar (his preferred instrument). The result looked pretty good. I’m sure lots of people would prefer birthday brownies rather than a traditional sponge.

You can ring the changes by whacking in a generous handful of chopped grace cherries or chopped walnuts too, if you fancy.

You’ll need:

150 g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)

185 g unsalted butter

60 g cocoa powder

50 g plain flour

A pinch of salt

A generous ½ tsp of baking powder

3 eggs

185 g caster sugar

75 g demerara sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 175C/Gas 3½. Line a baking tray (ideally around 16cm x 22cm) with baking parchment.
  2. Break up the chocolate into small pieces and put it in a bowl. Into a separate bowl, sift the cocoa powder, flour, salt and baking powder together.
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan on a gentle heat, until it just starts to froth.
  4. In another bowl – sorry! – whisk together the eggs and both the sugars, until they are pale (but not to the point of being frothy).
  5. Once the butter starts to froth, pour it over the chocolate and whisk until smooth and glossy. Allow it to cool a little (otherwise you might scramble the eggs).
  6. Pour your butter and chocolate into the egg mixture and whisk together briefly. Now tip in the dry ingredients and gently fold everything together.
  7. Tip the mixture into your lined tin, smooth it out and bake for around 15-18 minutes.