The Wardrobe Mistress by Natalie Meg Evans / #BlogTour

Hi guys, and happy Friday! Yesterday I came back from my (well deserved, even if I say so myself) holidays and today I am already back to blogging with my stop on Matalie Meg Evans’s blog tour. I love good historical fiction and this author is really at the top of my favourite authors list, and really, I can only recommend her novels! Here is my review of her newest release, “The Wardrobe Mistress”.

The Wardrobe Mistress by Natalie Meg Evans

 

35652772Publisher: Quercus

Publishing Date: 10th August 2017

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

Number of pages: 448

Genre:   Historical Fiction, Literature/Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

From the award-winning author of The Dress Thief comes a love story set in the glittering world of London theatre. Perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley and Kathleen Tessaro.

War has been over more than a year but rationing and shortages persist. The worst winter in two-hundred years is just around the corner. London desperately needs an injection of cheer and colour, and the glamorous Farren Theatre Company intends to provide it.

Young war widow, Vanessa Kingcourt, has just been hired as wardrobe mistress at the notorious old theatre the Farren in London. Working backstage at the Farren is a lifelong ambition, and she’s looking to re-find the sense of purpose that war work gave her. But when Vanessa becomes romantically entangled with the Farren’s married owner – the enigmatic Alistair Redenhall – Vanessa’s career, and her very happiness, are put on the line.

Rating: three-stars

Natalie Meg Evans is on the top list of my favourite historical fiction authors, so I was incredibly excited to see she’s about to publish her fourth novel, “The Wardrobe Mistress”. The book went with me on my holidays and I was incredibly excited to start reading it – I adored Ms Evans’s books in the past, and this one was also sounding very promising.

The author sticks with her favourite historical period as the story takes us to the post – war London. The book consists of four parts and follows the story of Vanessa Kingcourt. It also ventures to a world of theatre, and as I love stories about theatres, I truly had high expectations here. So Vanessa – she was a wireless operator during the war, and now she wants to reconnect with her family, and especially her father who has left the family on his daughter’s sixth birthday. But life, as usual, has other ideas and there is no reconnection to be. However, there is the other meeting, with a captain Alastair Redenhall, that takes Vanessa on a very different, adventurous journey. Alastair has inherited a theatre from his godfather, and he truly never has expected such inheritance – well, he was a captain, and taking on a theatre was a totally new role for him.

But oh boy. This book gave me a headache. There was a mystery, but it was tangled in many other events and characters and it just felt very slow and I sometimes had a feeling that very little is happening and it took my whole willpower to continue reading – fortunately, as then, later on, the pace gained some tempo. There were twists and turns that I would never have expected to come but somehow, and it annoys me very, very much as I can’t put my finger on why, I just couldn’t connect with the story and it didn’t wow me as much as I hoped it would. I also couldn’t warm to the characters – maybe because there were so many of them, and really, I had a feeling that the plot jumps between them and situations and I just couldn’t find myself captured, just couldn’t get into the depth of the book. The characters felt too one – dimensional to me and I think that Fern was one of the most outstanding in this novel – she was clever and even though she was playing games, those were intelligent games. Alistair was blowing hot and cold and yes, I get it, he was a sea man thrown suddenly and unexpectedly into totally different entourage and eventually, in the end, I started to warm to him. Vanessa was a great leading character and here I had no problems to like her from the very beginning. She had a mind of her own and, as it usually happens, she was way ahead of her times in the way she was thinking. She has never gave up, and I really appreciated her for this. But altogether, for me, I couldn’t start to trust them completely, there was something holding me back, and I was asking myself if their motivations are honest.

As I have already mentioned, there were some twists and turns in this story, but it was all happening so very slowly, to finally come to a dramatic end. But somehow all the good things just happened too late and couldn’t save the book for me. However, the author, as always, has perfectly chosen the setting and the descriptions of the theatre, of how the costumes, the plays were prepared, were brilliant, full of details and very, very vivid.

Altogether, I am very sad to say that “The Wardrobe Mistress” was not my favourite read by Natalie Meg Evans, I think that her previous books are better, faster and more captivating, however I am not saying that this novel is bad! Oh no, it has its moments, and the writing style is beautiful, full of vividness and I am sure that it’s going to steal pieces of the author’s fans’ hearts. I am already looking forward to Ms Evans next book.

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This Beautiful Life by Katie Marsh / #BlogTour

Hi guys! I am incredibly thrilled to be a part of Katie Marsh’s blog tour today – since reading her debut novel “My Everything” I fell in love with her novels, the way she gently and sensibly tells characters’ stories and making them feel so realistic and genuine. And the new release “This Beautiful Life” is not different, it tugs at your heart – strings, it’s moving and it’s just beautiful, and really, if you haven’t read Katie Marsh’s books yet, drop everything and run to the next bookshop, you will love them – you have my word!

This Beautiful Life by Katie Marsh

 

32883111Publisher: Hodder

Publishing Date: 27th July 2017

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

Number of pages: 384

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

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

Synopsis:

The addictive and emotive new novel from Katie Marsh, perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes and Jodi Picoult.

‘I lived over half my life before I met you both, and I hope with all my heart to live many years more. You two are the reason why. Always, always the reason why.’

Abi Cooper is living her happy ending. She’s in remission and is ready to make the most of her second chance. But during Abi’s illness her family has fallen apart. Her husband John has made decisions that are about to come back to haunt him, while her teenage son Seb is battling with a secret of his own.

Set to the songs on Abi’s survival playlist, This Beautiful Life is the moving and uplifting story of what happens as Abi tries to put her family back together – and of why life, and love, are worth fighting for.

Rating: five-stars

“This Beautiful Life” by Katie Marsh is not a book with many twists and turns in the story but I think this is the strength of this book – just showing normal, everyday life, with all its ups and downs, crises and little moments of joy. Writing about normal life, in incredibly gentle, subtle and sympathetic way is becoming Katie Marsh’s hallmark, and even though I know that her books are going to make me cry crocodile tears, I incredibly eagerly read them because they also lift me up and give me hope, and I simply love it.

This story shows Abi’s cancer recovery, but not focusing on her medical condition per se, but dealing with her everyday life. I loved the idea of telling the story partly through music and Abi’s favourite songs that helped her when she was recovering. If I were to tell you a song that helps me, it would be – please, don’t laugh – “Get Back Up Again” sung by Poppy in “The Trolls”. Just listen the lyrics – there is really nothing that works better for me than this song. But back to the story. Abi has explained why those songs are so special and particular to her, and you know what, those personal letters made me love this woman even more, and I had a feeling that I know her through and through.

But the book deals not only with Abi and her problems, it also focuses on her family, and especially the tale of Seb, Abi’s son, was heart – breaking. He had not only to face the challenges of his mum’s illness but he had demons of his own and you could feel through the pages how torn he was, and the way the author showed how he tried to fight all the insecurities by attacking everything and everyone was incredibly realistic and genuine.

The author has truly done a great job with getting into the characters’ heads. It was so easy to understand how Ali and Seb have been feeling, to understand their perspectives. It is also incredible how well she captured all the changes that have happened throughout the year Abi was ill, and while her being in remission should be a happy moment, the reality bites, and many things have changed, financial problems appeared, relationships changed as well, and also when you thought nothing worse can happen, the story took a turn or two and made you wonder if this rollercoaster journey is going to have a happy end. The characters have flaws but isn’t this what make them more believable? And Katie Marsh excels in creating such characters, those that doesn’t always make the right decisions, those that keep secrets from each other, that lie and even though they don’t want to hurt each other, they do it. They are raw and they are totally believable.

“This Beautiful Life” is a sensitive, realistic, uplifting read, written with a heart on the author’s sleeve, with a soul. Katie Marsh writes in such a convincing way and you have a feeling that she has been there, has seen this.
I am already looking towards her next book, because whatever she decides to write about, it’s perfect. “This Beautiful Life” is a beautiful, soaring story about love, survival, forgiveness and understanding. It was unusual in showing this side of cancer, as normally the characters go through the illness together with us, but I really appreciate this fact and it is great that this book shows this side of cancer for once. It is a memorable book, with unforgettable characters, and while it touches on hard and difficult subjects, it also has uplifting and promising moments. Highly, highly recommended!

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Cocktails and Dreams by A.L. Michael – #BlogTour/Giveaway

Hi guys! Today is my second (!) stop on A.L. Michael’s blog tour celebrating the release of her newest novel, and the first in the series, “Cocktails and Dreams”. Here you can read the brilliant guest post that the lovely author has written for me, and today you can also read my review of the novel. There is also a giveaway, and all you have to do is to enter the Rafflecopter and have some luck!

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Cocktails and Dreams by A.L. Michael

35603653Publisher: Canelo

Publishing Date: 24th July 2017

Series: Martini Club #1

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

Number of pages: 209

Genre:   Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle

 

Synopsis:

A heart-warming novel with characters you’ll love, don’t miss this first in a new series for romance, laugh-out-loud comedy and a feel-good ending. Perfect for fans of Mhairi McFarlane and Lindsey Kelk.

I was seven years old when I realized my mother was not a great person…

Since Savvy was abandoned by her rockstar mother, she has craved a normal life. But after years of financing her boyfriend’s lacklustre career, he leaves her when he hits the bigtime.

Savvy’s friends at the burlesque club where she serves elaborate cocktails encourage her to make bold changes in her life. She soon meets handsome bartender Milo, and begins to plan a future she can be excited about.

But when Savvy’s estranged mother crashes back into her life, her newfound happiness is under threat… will Savvy have the courage to pursue her dreams?

Rating: four-stars

I am not so into cocktails. Heck, I am not so into alcohol, except maybe for a glass or two of Prosecco. So I can hear you asking, duh, what did you want from a book titled “Cocktails and Dreams”? True – but it was again the synopsis and the lovely bright yellow cover that captured my attention and I just wanted to read this story that turned out to be a great journey of discovering your own dreams and following them.
Though, I must admit, when I started reading the book I started to have this very unsettling feeling that this story is going to be much heavier than I thought it’s going to be and while the serious tone stayed, the writing style has loosen it and there were some funny moments as well.

The story introduces us to Savvy, who is a daughter of a very famous pop star, but also they haven’t been in touch for a very long time and Savvy was brought up by her aunt. But now she’s an adult, moreover, an adult dumped by her boyfriend, and it’s time for her to realize what it is she wants to do with her life. Well, there is a thing she’s really good at – making cocktails, as well as her cooking skills and tastes, which leads to her writing reviews of restaurants – but not normal reviews, oh no! There is a special club…

I really liked the descriptions of the Martini Club where Savvy was working her magic with cocktails. Let’s be honest, it is an unusual place for a heroine to work at, no? But it sounded great, and the group of people working there, especially the boss, were brilliantly supporting. Actually, all the characters were very well portrayed, and I especially liked Savvy’s father and the relationship they had. Savvy herself was down – to – earth girl from your neighbourhood. She loved her job in the bar and she loved creating cocktails and some of them sounded really interesting – even though I am not into cocktails, I’d make exception to try them.

The romance in the story was absolutely believable and I liked how it developed – not too quickly, not too slowly, and it just sounded realistic, with the ups and downs and troubles in paradise. The writing style is also a great advantage, it is sharp and quick and I really enjoyed it.

Altogether, “Cocktails and Dreams” was a fast – paced and multi – layered story describing a journey to self – realisation. It tackled many different aspects and issues, of fame, family and secrets. Fast – paced, with interesting characters that blended well into the scenes and events and were jumping off the pages. It is also the first book in the series and I will be for sure reading the next one. In the meantime, I do recommend this book to you.

GIVEAWAY:

This giveaway is to win a cocktail making giftset and an eCopy of the book. UK only!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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A Taste of Death by H.V. Coombs – #BlogTour / Extract

Hi guys, happy Friday! Another day and another blog tour, and today I have an extract from H.V. Coombs’s “A Taste of Death” to whet your appetite – I, for example, am desperate to read this book, as it sounds brilliant, and am already looking toward my holidays, hoping I’ll find some time. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the extract with me.

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Extract four – Chapter Four

I tried to kid myself that I liked this minimalist look, but, in truth, it was rather depressing and the carpet that Mrs Cope had bequeathed me – well, threadbare would be a euphemism. It was stained and moth-eaten. Frankly, it was nasty.

Well, I could always take my mind off the carpet by looking out of the window. I had a view across the common and in the daylight I could see Dave Whitfield’s house with the charred mess of his obelisk and behind it, trees and fields.

I finished my yoga, squared up in front of the mirror and did some shadow boxing. I had been quite good at boxing when I was young, as an amateur, and had come back to it in my late thirties, obviously just for fun. Far too old to compete. I did some basic simple combinations, left jab, straight right, left hook etc., using the timer on my phone for three-minute rounds. Then the front doorbell sounded. I rolled my eyes, pulled a tracksuit on and went downstairs to investigate.

‘Do come in, DI Slattery,’ I said, as I opened the door.

‘Thank you.’ He didn’t sound terribly thankful. I had forgotten his intimidating bulk, he filled the door frame.

Slattery was a big man. He looked at me coldly. His eyes were brown and hard. With his glossy black hair and slightly swarthy colouring he did look a bit like an over the hill romantic lead from a soap-opera. A modern-day ageing Heathcliff.

Perhaps I ought to hum a bit of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, as played a lot on Beech Tree FM ‘home of local radio, coming at you through the trees …!’

Heathcliff …

Perhaps it would relax him. I looked at his unfriendly face. Perhaps not.

There was no back room at the restaurant. Just the eating area, toilets and kitchen. We could have gone upstairs but there were no chairs and while I couldn’t speak for DI Slattery, I personally had no great wish to sit next to him on my mattress.

For a moment I envisioned the idea: it would be worth it, just to see the look on his face. ‘Do take a seat …”

Or, sinking sexily down on to the mattress and patting it suggestively, maybe undoing a button or two on my chef’s jacket in a saucy way.

Let’s make ourselves comfy, shall we—’ a seductive smile as I had no hair to toss alluringly back ‘—I can call you Michael, can’t I, Detective Inspector? Let’s not be formal …

I waved him to a table in the restaurant. I did not want to switch machines that had been cleaned on again. He would have to do without the offer of hospitality. No coffee or cake for you, Mr Policeman.

‘How can I help you?’

He sat opposite me, giving me a sardonic once over. It was such a classic policeman’s look, polite scepticism with a hint of amused contempt.

‘How long have you been here?’ he asked.

‘On this earth?’ I said innocently.

He rolled his eyes. ‘In this village.’

‘Since the first of January,’ I said. He knew that anyway.

He nodded. ‘And during this time we have had two crimes: a break-in and a fire bomb.’ There was something accusatory about his tone, as if it were my fault.

‘A bomb?’

‘Mm-hm, Mr Whitfield’s obelisk was set alight with an incen­diary device which was detonated with a timer made from a mobile phone. Are you good with electronics, Ben?’

‘No,’ I said, shrugging. ‘It’s unfortunate, the crimewave, but it’s nothing to do with me.’

Slattery looked at me sceptically.

‘Pure coincidence,’ I said firmly.

He nodded thoughtfully and then said, ‘Of course, you’ve been in trouble with the law before.’

There was the obvious implication that he had run me through the system because I was a suspicious blot on the landscape; the veiled threat of ‘I’m on to you, Sonny Jim’ and the implicit threat that he would make sure knowledge of my chequered past would return to haunt me.

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Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future by Melissa Pimentel / #BlogTour

Guys! I am so, so thrilled to be kicking off blog tour for Melissa Pimentel’s new release, “Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future”, and on the publication day! Ms Pimentel is a new author to me but I can assure you that after reading Jenny Sparrow I will be looking for her previous novels and looking toward the new releases. I had a good feeling about this book from the very beginning – starting with the title, through the gorgeous cover and ending with the plot – and my gut feeling was again right – it was a great read! A brilliant read! I have a new favourite character – Jenny 🙂

Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future by Melissa Pimentel

34204297Publisher: Penguin

Publishing Date: 27th July 2017

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

Number of pages: 368

Genre:   Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Everything is going to plan – until she marries the wrong man . . .

‘Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella . . . the feel-good book of the summer’ Cathy Kelly, Number One bestselling author

Jenny Sparrow can tell you her future:

1. Meet soulmate at 25
2. Move in with him
3. Marry him this year . . .

According to the plan Jenny made at thirteen, it’s time for her to get married. But when her boyfriend proposes a break instead of a wedding, a girls’ weekend in Vegas is the only solution . . . until she wakes up in a stranger’s bed, and discovers that this is the year she gets married – to the wrong man.

Jenny wants a quick divorce and her old boyfriend back.

But what if her accidental husband has other ideas?

Rating: five-stars

“Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future” is my first book by Melissa Pimentel, however this is this kind of book that you know, from the very beginning, deep inside, that you want to read. Firstly, this title is just brilliant, it’s so eye – catching and promising tons of adventures. Secondly, the synopsis – after reading the synopsis (when I’ve eventually stopped looking at the gorgeous cover and gushing over the brilliant title and got to read the synopsis) I was dead sure this book is going to be a cracker – I love people making plans, maybe because I am the one who can’t stick to a plan, as well as to to – do lists.

So, was it a cracker?

Hell, it was!

Jenny Sparrow wants to live her life according to a list that she created when she was 13 years old. You may not believe it, but she still has the list – the original one! – and it’s laminated. So, according to her list it’s time to get married now, and it looks really good but then Jenny’s boyfriend Chrstopher, instead of popping the question kneeled down only to do his laces. So Jenny, instead of planning a wedding, goes to Las Vegas with her best friend. As we all already know, going to Las Vegas isn’t often the best idea, because what happens in Las Vegas… you know the idea. Anything can happen there – you can lost all your money, or maybe incidentally get married…? To a total stranger…?

This whole story was actually one huge self – discovery lesson for our Jenny, and also for us. What happens when things don’t go according to what we plan or what we want? The author shows us that it’s ok, that life goes on! However, for our Jenny it was a shock to come out of her comfort zones, to deal with all the sudden changes, with all the surprises and with Jackson. I loved the way she dealt with those things – it was written in incredibly realistic way and when Jenny was scared, then she was scared, she didn’t try to hide it, and when she was unsure she also told it as it was. She was a very likeable character, our Jenny, sometimes too whingey, sometimes too chicken – hearted, sometimes too of a pushover, but oh my god, guys, nobody’s perfect, right, and she just felt so true and honest, and I just kept everything crossed for her.

This story is brilliantly observed and it is sharp about our reality. It shows the daily grind and battles but it also balances it with some grand gestures, and I really enjoyed this mix – it made impossible believable. The writing style was so light and modern, and the author truly knows her way with the words.
So altogether, “Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future” was a light – hearted, cheeky read with a lovely heroine and some troubles in paradise, yet it also dealt with some more serious issues but still, in a very light way. Showing it doesn’t matter if you stick to your plan or not, and that you can’t force love – it’s going to find you in the most unexpected moment, come and hit you hard. Honestly, I have maybe expected there to be more humour, and there were moments that the story dragged on a little bit, but still it was a great read to relax with and just have fun. I am already looking toward more from Melissa Pimentel and in the meantime – guys, go and grab “Jenny Sparrows” – it’s great read!

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The Summer of Second Chances by Maddie Please

The Summer of Second Chances by Maddie Please

35229298Publisher: Maze

Publishing Date: 17th July 2017

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

Number of pages: 400

Genre:  Women’s Fiction, Romance

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

The Summer of Second Chances is the perfect feelgood summer read.’ Chrissie Manby, author of What I Did On My Holidays

Lottie is about to discover that even when you think you’ve lost everything, hope and romance can be just around the corner . . .

It takes time to build your life. To get into a long-term (OK, a bit boring) relationship. To find a job (you don’t completely hate). Lottie might not be thrilled with the life she’s put together, but it’s the one she’s got.

So when in the course of one terrible evening, it all comes crashing down around her, Lottie has a choice: give herself over to grief at being broke, single and completely lacking in prospects.

Or, brick by brick, build herself a new life. And this time, with a little help from friends, a crumbling cottage in Devon and a handsome stranger, maybe she can make it the one she always wanted.

The Summer of Second Chances is an irresistibly funny read about never giving up, whatever the world throws at you. Perfect for fans of Jenny Colgan, Jane Costello and Christie Barlow.

Rating: five-stars

Wow, what a gorgeous, cute little story “The Summer of Second Chances” was! I truly didn’t know what to expect from this book but it really wow-ed me, with the light – hearted writing style, interesting plot and lovable characters, and the last few sentences at the end were just brilliant and a perfect end to this book. OK, I admit, there was one thing that bothered me, namely for me it looked as if this book was written by two different authors – why, I hear you ask? Well, you know, so the story and narration flew steadily and then suddenly, like the impossible to see icebergs, the narration was starting to turn incredibly hilarious, the events ridiculously funny and I was finding myself laughing out loud at Lottie’s antics, and it lasted for a few pages and then the story telling was back again to this normal, steady one. It happened a few times and while it didn’t make me confused or something, oh no, I enjoyed those moments incredibly, it just made me think. But that’s me. My problems. Don’t pay any attention and just read this book because it’s great. And it has a stunning cover – so summery!

The story introduces us to Lottie, who’s been through some dramatic moments in her life recently – she’s homeless, money – less, jobless, single – and is now looking for a fresh start. It seems that she can find it in a little cottage belonging to one of her friends – in return for redecorating it, Lottie can live there next, and she jumps at the chance. After living a comfortable life, with no financial troubles and a partner on her side, it was a change for Lottie, wasn’t it? But maybe it was this what Lottie needed right now? Well, this and a new neighbour, Bryn?

I have seen many accident prone characters in my life but Lottie overdone them all! Guys, it was incredible, really, those situations and troubles she was getting herself in – this story abounded in many awkward, embarrassing situations. I loved Lottie, she was such a positive personality, even though she had to cope with so many awful things in her life. She was this kind of character that grows on you and you keeps everything crossed for her. And I loved to see Lottie changing, spreading her wings despite all new troubles and worries and turning into almost a different person. She was honest and told us about things how they really were, and I really didn’t have any problems to connect with her and to understand her.
And of course, let’s not forget Lottie’s new neighbour, Bryn. Not broody nor moody, like many other characters yet incredibly interesting and colourful and hmmm, I wouldn’t say no to such a neighbour and his jacuzzi.

It wouldn’t be a rom – com without the “rom” part, of course, and I loved this aspect of this story! Sure, there were the necessary ups and downs, the road to happiness was bumpy and not too straightforward but it never felt too cheesy or forced, if anything it was fresh, funny, adorable and honest. It was not too rushed, which was also great, because moving into a new man too quickly would make it too unbelievable, and it also gave the heroine time to come to terms a little with the new situation.

Altogether, “The Summer of Second Chances” was a lovely and easy read that made me feel relaxed and I finished it grinning from ear to ear. There were characters that you quickly start to root for and relate to, and it was a light take on new beginnings and – yes! – second chances. It also makes you think about life, about figuring out what it is you really want, but not in a too serious way, nono, no worries. However, there is also so much to this story than meets the eye, there is depth, it touches upon some sensitive issues but it’s perfectly mixed with light – heartedness and really some best one – liners and situations in history. So if you are in need of cheering up, picking yourself up and seeing how not to give up, try this book – I can only highly recommend it to you!

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The Summer of Second Chances by Maddie Please – #BlogTour/Extract

Hi guys! A new day, a new blog tour! I am very excited to hosting “The Summer of Second Chances” by Maddie Please and I have a lovely extract from this lovely little novel for you. I am currently reading it and guys, what can I say? It is a light – hearted read with some heavier issues as well and it sounds really, really promising – keep your eyes peeled for my review in the next few days! And in the meantime, enjoy the extract.

[Extract 3 from Chapter 1 ]

I stood outside Holly Cottage, lost in thought. Just about every­thing I had taken for granted had gone wrong. Now I had to take this chance and focus on the future because I certainly couldn’t change the past.

I got out, locking the car behind me although, to be honest, it didn’t feel as though there was a living soul for miles. I wandered around to the back of the house, my heels catching between the broken paving slabs. I wondered if the ‘huge and bear-like’ Bryn was around to watch the homeless idiot arriving. Might he be lurking in the shadows under the trees down the lane? For some reason I pictured him standing, shoulders hunched like Lurch from The Addams Family, knuckles dragging on the ground. Fortunately there was no sign of him. But he had left the back door key under an upturned bucket in the porch as Jess had assured me he would. The key stuck for a heart-stopping few moments and then turned in the lock with an unwilling squeak. I let myself in to the hall.

The stale scent of wet dog, mingled with something even more unpleasant, hit me. The smell of damp carpet, neglect and, unmistakably, fish.

I left the door open and made my way into the sitting room, one hand over my nose. The room was flagstoned with a large rug over the top, which was soaking. Someone had flung a plastic bucket plus water into the middle and my shoes squelched as I took a hesitant step into the room. They had also enhanced the décor by chucking around a few shovelfuls of ash from the fire. The walls were pale and marked with squares of grime where pictures had been removed. Underneath one windowsill the paper had been pulled off altogether and someone had drawn stars in pink and purple felt tip pen on the wall.

The smell was stronger here, pungent and eye watering. Trying not to gag, I pushed back the curtains and opened both the sash windows. The crispness of the evening air was welcome. I hurried back outside for a moment to refresh my lungs and then went upstairs to explore further, finding a small bathroom and two bedrooms.

There was evidence in the expensive wallpaper and the sisal carpet that this place had once been very pretty, but now it was neglected and extremely dirty. There were stains on the floor and muddy fingerprints around the china light switches, and someone had been free with wax crayons on the walls of the landing.

In the corner of the bathroom was a huge web, the spider still busy in the middle with a struggling bluebottle. I shuddered. On the mirror, in coral lipstick, was scrawled Bitch. It neatly crossed over the reflection of my cold, pale, frightened face.

Jess had wanted me to clean and decorate, that was the deal, but it was obvious this place wasn’t just in need of a flick round with the antiseptic wipes and a lick of paint; it needed pressure washing. The stink from downstairs was curling up the stairs so I opened all the windows and re-buttoned my coat.

In the larger of the two bedrooms was a mahogany wardrobe that had once been highly polished and beautiful, but was now scratched, covered with globs of Blu-Tack and propped up with a brick at one corner where one of the feet had been lost. There was a sink in the corner filled with scummy water and dead flies.

‘Bloody hell!’ I said.

My words echoed around the room.

‘What on earth’s been going on here?’ asked a voice from behind me.

I spun round, squeaking with shock. There was a silhouette of a man in the doorway, his shoulders almost filling the space. I yelped again.

‘Well, if you don’t want people to walk in you shouldn’t leave all the doors open,’ he said, unapologetic.

‘And you shouldn’t just wander in to someone else’s house uninvited,’ I said, my voice shrill with fright. I flapped my hands at him to shoo him back down the stairs.

He turned and went, his movements unhurried and careful in the confined space of the stairwell. I followed him downstairs and into the kitchen, trying to calm the thudding of my heart.

‘What’s happened here?’ he said. ‘It wasn’t like this the other day. And what’s that terrible smell?’

‘How would I know?’ I replied. ‘I’ve only just got here.’

‘Hang on,’ he said and went into the sitting room, ducking his head under the lintel. He searched around for a few minutes and then retrieved a rotting fish wrapped in newspaper from behind a radiator.

‘Jesus!’ I clamped my hand back over my nose and watched him take it outside into the garden.

He reappeared, framed in the kitchen door. ‘I’ve no idea where that came from. I’m assuming it’s nothing to do with you?’

‘Of course it isn’t. Why the hell would I do a thing like that?’

‘OK, calm down. All I know is it didn’t smell like this when I last called in. Nor was there a pond on the sitting-room floor. Perhaps the Websters are responsible?’

‘The Websters?’

Oh yes the Websters. What had Jess said about them? I should have paid more attention.

‘The last tenants. Two years without a problem and then Mr Webster discovered skunk and scratch cards. They left a few days ago. Spent all his money on things other than his priorities. But I know he left his house keys behind when he left. I can’t think how he could have got back in. I’ve been here, Webster had a beaten-up old camper van. Red and white. I’m sure I would have noticed…’

I stood watching him for a moment wondering who he reminded me of.

‘It needs a bit of a sort out,’ he said, his blue eyes flicking from the piles of junk mail behind the door to the chocolate handprints on the wall. At least I hoped they were chocolate.

‘A bit of a sort out?’ I said, incredulous. ‘Never mind the smell, it’s absolutely filthy and disgusting.’

‘Ah well.’ He shrugged his shoulders. They really were very broad. ‘I’m Bryn Palmer, by the way.’ He held out a hand and I shook it.

‘I’m Charlotte Calder. What do you mean “ah well”? Would you want to live here?’

He stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans and rocked back on his heels. ‘Nope.’

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