January 2023. What Was I Reading?

Here in Australia it’s summer and of course, it was hot. Inside under the air conditioning was a good place to read. Reading about cooler climates helped too.

Reading Challenge. Set This Year at One Hundred.

Last year I read 147 books so, why have I set my reading challenge still at one hundred?

2022  READING CHALLENGE. Congrats! You read 147 books of your goal of 100!

I set myself a goal of reading at least a couple of books a week. I am not in competition with anyone else, only myself. I want to read books I enjoy, and I won’t hesitate in abandoning a book if I am not enjoying it. If I review a book, then I have read it. I don’t post reviews of books I didn’t enjoy and gave up on.  I accept that we all have different tastes, and they weren’t my book and that’s ok too.

Moonlight Over Manhattan by Sarah Morgan.

From Manhattan with Love 6 She’ll risk everything for her own Christmas miracle…

Determined to conquer a lifetime of shyness, Harriet Knight challenges herself to do one thing a day in December that scares her, including celebrating Christmas without her family. But when dog walker Harriet meets her newest client, exuberant spaniel Madi, she adds an extra challenge to her list–dealing with Madi’s temporary dog sitter, gruff doctor Ethan Black, and their very unexpected chemistry.

Ethan thought he was used to chaos, until he met Madi–how can one tiny dog cause such mayhem? To Ethan, the solution is simple–he will pay Harriet to share his New York apartment and provide twenty-four-hour care. But there’s nothing simple about how Harriet makes him feel.

Ethan’s kisses make Harriet shine brighter than the stars over moonlit Manhattan. But when his dog-sitting duties are over and Harriet returns to her own home, will she dare to take the biggest challenge of all–letting Ethan know he has her heart for life, not just for Christmas?

384 pages, Paperback.

My Review. An easy and enjoyable read, as fans of Sarah Morgan, have come to expect. It didn’t matter I had not read the other five Manhattan books. Harriet and Ethan make an unlikely couple who are somehow perfect for each other if only they will realise it. As an animal lover, I enjoyed the addition of the dogs into the story and Harriet’s dedication and passion for their care.

The Country Village Christmas Show by Cathy Lane

A feel-good, festive read to keep you cosy this winter. For fans of Heidi Swain, Sarah Morgan and The Archers.

Recently divorced, the family home sold and her son all grown-up, Clare is at a crossroads. She’s dedicated her whole adult life to her family, and now it’s time she did something for herself.

In the lead-up to Christmas, Clare decides that a bit of time in the countryside might be just what she needs, so she moves back to Little Bramble, the village she grew up in. But living with her mum for the first time in years – and not to mention Goliath the Great Dane – can be challenging.

When Clare finds herself running the village Christmas show, it feels like she has purpose in her life again. Bringing together people from all sides of the community, and all walks of life, will Clare manage to pull off a festive feat like no other? And will she find the new start in life – and possibly love – that she’s been looking for?

The Country Village Christmas Show is the perfect romantic read to get cosy with this winter. 400 pages, Paperback

My Review.

Can you ever go back again? If you do, is it the right move? Clare ponders these questions as she returns to Little Bramble. It is challenging and rather unexpected and at first, she flounders. Who is she now, and what does she want? Sadly, she hardly knows. She gradually finds her feet and is drawn into village life and begins to feel happier. Dog walking puts the colour back into her cheeks, as does an encounter with a certain village vet. Could going back mean a whole new beginning? Easy and enjoyable reading.

The Little Venice Bookshop by Rebecca Raisin.

When Luna loses her beloved mother, she’s bereft: her mother was her only family, and without her Luna feels rootless. Then the chance discovery of a collection of letters in her mother’s belongings sends her on an unexpected journey.

Following a clue in the letters, Luna packs her bags and heads to Venice, to a gorgeous but faded bookshop overlooking the canals, hoping to uncover the truth about her mother’s mysterious past.

Will Luna find the answers she’s looking for – and finally find the place she belongs?

My Review.

I fell in love with this book, it explored a book lover’s passionate connection to books and bookshops. The cover was just perfect too.There were so many topics which resonated with me, dealing with grief, uncertainty, searching for identity, relationships, family and of course, Venice. Venice, is the setting for so many love stories, falling for the wrong person, or finding the right person.

Rebecca Raisin touches lightly on many of the topics, which perhaps doesn’t portray the depth of thought behind those easy words. I read sentences and found myself nodding, recognising my own experiences and feelings. A book about books and reading and bookshops but also about relationships, and fractured families. Hanging on for true love, refusing to settle and finding unexpected happiness along the way. It may be Rebecca Raisin’s best book yet.

I was fortunate enough to receive an Advance Reading Copy through Net Galley, and I am choosing to leave this review.

Audio Books Experience.
Do you enjoy audio books?

I was recently gifted a superseded I pad and it’s been an almost life-changing experience for me. I now can post to Facebook or email from the comfort of my sitting room. Another bonus has been downloading the library app called Borrow Box. This enables me to borrow and return e-books without visiting the library.

As Borrow Box is new to me, I accidentally downloaded an audiobook. I hadn’t considered audiobooks previously as I derive so much pleasure and relaxation from reading. The book was by an author I have read and enjoyed so I decided to give it a go. I was slightly daunted by the listening time of over 12 hours and thought I would listen at lunchtime.

I settled down to listen, the narrator adopting a different tone for each character, but I found my attention wandering. Much like how I can tune out TV advertisements. I couldn’t picture the scene as I can when reading and then unaccountably, I fell asleep.

I tried again the next afternoon, and with the same result, I fell asleep. I woke with a crick in my neck as the narrator’s voice rolled on. The book had over 7 hours remaining. I debated with myself before returning it. I know many people enjoy audiobooks, but I seem to be an exception.

John Cleese on Creativity. Read by John Cleese.

We can all be more creative. John Cleese shows us how.

Creativity is usually regarded as a mysterious, rare gift that only a few possess. John Cleese begs to differ, and in this short, immensely practical and often very amusing guide he shows it’s a skill that anyone can acquire. Drawing on his lifelong experience as a writer, he shares his insights into the nature of the creative process and offers advice on how to get your own inventive juices flowing.

What do you need to do to get yourself in the right frame of mind? When do you know that you’ve come up with something that might be worth pursuing? What do you do if you think you’ve hit a brick wall?

Not only does he explain the way your mind works as you search for inspiration, he also shows that, regardless of the task you’ve set yourself, you can learn to be better at coming up with a promising idea, refining it and knowing when you’re ready to act on it.

We can all unlock new reserves of creativity within ourselves. John Cleese shows us how. Audio Book. I hour.

My Review

I found this interesting and relatable. While there is nothing earth-shattering, what John Cleese said made sense. He explained how our educational system did not encourage creativity, preferencing the safety and comfort of being right. He went on to suggest ways that creativity could be nurtured.

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson.

London 1926. Roaring Twenties.
Corruption. Seduction. Debts due.

In a country still recovering from the Great War, London is the focus for a delirious nightlife. In Soho clubs, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time.

There, Nellie Coker is a ruthless ruler, ambitious for her six children. Niven is the eldest, his enigmatic character forged in the harsh Somme. But success breeds enemies. Nellie faces threats from without and within. Beneath the gaiety lies a dark underbelly, where one may be all too easily lost.

My Review.

Draws the reader in gradually, until you feel you are completely absorbed in post WW1 Soho. Grinding poverty and huge extravagance exist side by side Inspector Frobisher is called in to investigate a string of missing girls and the possibility of police corruption. Two young girls come to the capital to seek their fortunes. Freda, pert, bright, and talented and her friend Florence. When they seem to have disappeared, Gwendolen Kelly, an ex-nurse and York librarian agrees to try to find them.

Frobisher is battling a police station that is hostile and an increasing number of young girls pulled from the Thames. He is frustrated at every turn. Nellie Coker runs successful clubs with a clientele at ranges from aristocrats to low lives. She doesn’t care who they are as long as the money keeps rolling in and the gambling doesn’t stop. There are threats to the clubs, from old enemies and ambitious newer ones. She is the matriarch of a family of six without a maternal bone in her body, she is ambitious for them, because they are hers. Drugs, sex, gambling add a seedy underbelly to the frenetic atmosphere of the clubs. How can virtue win when vice looks so attractive? My favourite characters were dogged Inspector Frobisher, Gwen for her complete unflappability and the enigmatic Niven. I loved the gorgeous art deco style cover.

An absolute tour de force of a book, it confirms Kate Atkinson’s mastery of storytelling.

The Sandycove Supper Club by Sian O’Gorman.

Do what you love. Love what you do…

After a whirlwind courtship, Roisin Kelly ignored the sceptics and objectors and married aspiring novelist Brody Brady.

Fast forward one year and Roisin’s honeymoon is well and truly

over. Brody has become her reclusive, freeloading lodger whilst he pens his masterpiece and she walks on eggshells.

Working in the Council Planning office, Roisin dreams to escape the mundanity of her life. Her true passions are cooking and entertaining her family and friends but she lacks the confidence to take it any further. When a charity supper club is suggested by best friends Jools and Richard, Roisin has no choice and is reluctantly swept along to be head chef for the fundraiser.

With the help of her friends, Roisin starts to believe that there is more to life that moody writers, hamsters and poor hygiene and that maybe she has a few dreams of her own.

And that just when you think life has nothing left to give, your whole world can change.

My Review.

I got a little impatient with Roisin, as she creeps mouse like around her husband Brody. It can be difficult to confront someone, but she was so subservient. The best part for me were the food descriptions and menu planning sessions. There were some funny bits, she wants a baby, he wants a hamster. Ultimately, just not my book.

A Year at the French Farmhouse by Gillian Harvey

Escape to France with this warm, witty romantic read.

After ten years of loyal service Lily Butterworth has been made redundant. Like any clever woman, she knows the cure to redundancy is a little too much wine and her best friend. Only the next morning, Lily has more than a hangover . . . she has a whole new house – in France!

Seeing this as an opportunity instead of a disaster, she’s excited about finally moving to France, just as she and her husband always dreamed of. However, Lily is in for another surprise. Despite planning to move there for over 20 years, her husband never actually intended to go.

So begins a year in France, alone, renovating the gorgeous old farmhouse that is held together by wallpaper and wishes.

Will a year at the French farmhouse be just what Lily needs? Or could it be the previous owner, Frederique, that is the answer to Lily’s dreams?

My Review

Take a break in rural France. I imagine this is a fantasy wish fulfilment for many Britons. Lily has made the impulse purchase to end all impulse purchases, a house, sight unseen. Was it a moment of madness, or an inspired decision?  She is about to find out, and her husband isn’t prepared to join the adventure. After much soul searching, she decides to go it alone. Gillian Harvey lives in France and explores the difficulties of navigating a new system, when you don’t speak the language.

Weyward by Email Hart.

Three women. Five centuries. One secret.

‘I had nature in my heart, she said. Like she did, and her mother before her. There was something about us – the Weyward women – that bonded us more tightly with the natural world.
We can feel it, she said, the same way we feel rage, sorrow or joy.’

In 2019, Kate flees an abusive relationship in London for Crows Beck, a remote Cumbrian village. Her destination is Weyward Cottage, inherited from her great Aunt Violet, an eccentric entomologist.

As Kate struggles with the trauma of her past, she uncovers a secret about the women in her family. A secret dating back to 1619, when her ancestor Altha Weyward was put on trial for witchcraft…

Weyward is a stunning debut novel about gender and control – about the long echoes of male violence through the centuries. But more than that, it is a celebration of nature, female power and breaking free.

336 pages, Hardcover Expected publication February 2, 2023

My Review .Interesting, thought provoking, and enjoyable reading.

Three women linked in time by both their ancestry and abilities. Explores what it is to be and feel differently.

1619 Althea tries to mitigate the harshness of life with her abilities.

1942. Violet, privileged but unloved is deceived, and eventually is able to extract her revenge.

2019 Kate is little more than a trophy in an abusive relationship, until she decides to escape.

Each woman is trapped by her circumstance, but defiantly refuses to give in. There is a gentleness about the book.

Although the women do use their powers, I would have preferred them to be more proactive.  Thanks to Good Reading magazine and the publisher for an ARC.

The Girls on The Shore (Novella) by Ann Cleeves.

Ann Cleeves—New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows—returns with a darkly delicious short story featuring DI Matthew Venn from the Two Rivers series.

It was winter. Cold and clear, a different sort of day for this coast where the westerly winds usually blew rain and cloud.

Detective Inspector Matthew Venn is standing by his kitchen window when he first spots them. Two young girls, facing away from him, seemingly staring towards something in the distance. They are holding hands, and they are alone.

Though not a natural with children, Matthew knows he must find out why the girls are here, on a school day, unsupervised. And so he meets Olivia and Imogen, a pair of sisters whose secrets Matthew must uncover if he hopes to get them home.

My Review.

I got this through Borrow Box and was settling down for a good read. However, it was only about thirty pages, the rest of the book filled with prequel for another Vera story. I feel the description on the cover of the version I got is misleading as it was described as a novella and will lead to reader dissatisfaction. It certainly did in my case.

Madly, Deeply. The Alan Rickman Diaries.

By Alan Rickman edited by Alan Taylor.

Madly Deeply is a rare invitation into the mind of Alan Rickman—one of the most magnetic, beloved performers of our time.

From his breakout role in Die Hard to his outstanding, multifaceted performances in the Harry Potter films, Galaxy QuestRobin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and more, Alan Rickman cemented his legacy as a world-class actor. His air of dignity, his sonorous voice, and the knowing wit he brought to each role continue to captivate audiences today.

But Rickman’s ability to breathe life into projects wasn’t confined to just his performances. As you’ll find, Rickman’s diaries detail the extraordinary and the ordinary, flitting between worldly and witty and gossipy, while remaining utterly candid throughout. He takes us inside his home, on trips with friends across the globe, and on the sets of films and plays ranging from Sense and Sensibility, to Noël Coward’s Private Lives, to the final film he directed, A Little Chaos.

Running from 1993 to his death in 2016, the diaries provide singular insight into Rickman’s public and private life. Reading them is like listening to Rickman chatting to a close companion. Meet Rickman the consummate professional actor, but also the friend, the traveler, the fan, the director, the enthusiast; in short, the man beyond the icon.

Madly, Deeply features a photo insert, a foreword by Emma Thompson, and an afterword by Rima Horton.

My Review.

Thoughtfully edited, each chapter has a preview of the year and where and what it covers. This makes it easy if you want to check a specific time in Alan’s life, and what a life it was. An enquiring mind, a passion for his craft and a generous spirit that ensured he gave back to the profession that had given him so much. Inevitably name dropping, but then Alan seemingly knew everyone. A travel schedule that would leave many of us breathless. Equally, he seemed to enjoy the simple things of meals at home.

Who will you remember him as? Die Hard’s Hans Gruber? The Sheriff of Nottingham? Harry, the unfaithful husband in Love Actually? Alexander aka Dr Lazarus in Galaxy Quest? Or the supercilious and yet in the end vulnerable Professor Snape? Or Louis XIV from A Little Chaos? Each role showcased his versatility, a talent taken too soon.

A Good Heart is Hard to Find by Trisha Ashley.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man of over forty is in possession of a major defect . . .”

Cassandra Leigh has woken as if from a bad dream: forty-four, childless and twenty-plus years into an affair with a married man. Max assures her they just need a little more patience and for his wife to die (!) but Cass is desperate for a baby and running out of time. Maybe Max is not the only man for her?

There’s her friend Jason – though he’s perhaps a little too rugged, and there’s something strange about the way his wife disappeared . . . Or there’s Dante, the mysterious stranger she meets on a dark night in his haunted manor house . . .

Cass must throw caution to the wind and claim the life she’s always wanted. Suddenly, it’s a choice between Mr Right, Mr Wrong or Mr Right Now . . .

Fantastically funny and whimsical, this heart-warming novel will charm fans of Milly Johnson and Jill Mansell.

My Review.

This is a re-issue of one of Trish’s earlier books and it has a different tone to her later work. I found the jumps between shlock horror novel writing and the contemporary story slightly disconcerting. The premise was amusing and at times it worked, but at other times it struggled. It worked to the extent that I finished reading although I knew what was going to happen.

 Her Worthy Rake by Charlotte Anne.

Sparkling Regency romance full of wit, warmth and mystery from a fabulouSparkling Regency romance full of wit, warmth and mystery from a fabulous new voice. If you like Georgette Heyer or all things Bridgerton, you’ll love this.
Is falling for this rake a mistake?

Owen Tattershall might not have a title or immeasurable wealth like other gentlemen of his ilk, but he does have rather excellent taste in the waistcoat department-and taste counts for a lot amongst the ton. It also doesn’t hurt that his adopted mother is the dowager Marchioness of Faye and his kind-of-cousin is the Duke of Woodhal. Unfortunately, prestige didn’t save his family from the ravages of war, and now what’s left is held together by nothing more than heartbreak, hope and bravado. To keep his memories of the war at bay, Owen immerses himself in his work … until the day Sophy Calder comes colliding into his life.

Sophy has been fending for herself ever since her twin brother was press ganged to fight against Napoleon’s forces. But the war ended almost two years ago, and still he hasn’t returned. Knowing something dreadful has happened, Sophy is determined to find her missing brother, even if it means infiltrating the world that snatched him from her. But when she encounters Owen, she quickly finds her growing attraction for the only man who’s taken her seriously threatening her long-mastered control.

An addictive romp from start to finish, this delightful Regency romance is set in the world of The Unworthy Duke but is a standalone read. 

My Review.

I kept thinking that some of the characters were familiar and of course they were, having first appeared in The Unworthy Duke. There is no need to have read that, to enjoy this story.

Sophy’s brother is missing, she knows the ship he sailed on, but the captain now denies all knowledge of him. The Admiralty is also stone walling her attempts to find answers. She suspects that something is very wrong, and her money is running out. Yet, she can’t abandon the search.

A chance encounter with Owen Tattersall changes her circumstances and together they embark on the hunt for Sophy’s brother. There are complications, miscalculations and even a suspicion that her brother doesn’t want to be found. Then there is the growing spark of attraction between them.  

The Village Inn of Secret Dreams by Alison Stedman

After escaping her parents’ unhappy marriage to sleepy Cranbridge a long time ago, Belle Clarke dreams of staying at The Black Swan Inn forever.

But with the rundown Inn threatened with closure, Belle may be forced to leave, unless a buyer can be found … quickly.

So, when her oldest friend Pete Kennedy returns from working abroad with a plan to save the Inn, Belle should be overjoyed. The trouble is, Pete has some rather radical ideas for the renovation which Belle disagrees with.

But when a snow storm hits, Belle and Pete are forced to put aside their differences and work together to help the village.

Can Belle realise her dreams to stay in Cranbridge and can Pete ever stop running from his past?

As they try to save The Black Swan Inn, secrets are revealed and just maybe they’ll finally find out how they really feel about each other.

My Review.

An easy-to-read bit of escapism. Part renovation story and part romance. Cranbridge, which I kept wanting to call Cambridge, is a quintessentially English village. The centre of the village is the ageing Black Swan Inn. No longer glossy and new but dilapidated and dated. It has to be sold, but that would leave Belle homeless. When Pete returns and buys the Inn, she thinks her worries are over.

However, their different ideas and temperaments mean they can’t agree on how the inn should be renovated, or on pub food. Pete’s time in Singapore has made him almost a stranger. Getting them back together might seem impossible, but if they can’t agree, the Inn will be up for sale again.

One Night with her Viking Warrior by Sarah Rodi.

A dramatic Viking reunion romance.

Her forbidden love

Is back to claim her!

Once, Lady Rebekah shared a life-changing night with stable hand Rædan, but he disappeared the morning after. Now she’s consort to a cruel Saxon lord, and when Northmen lay siege to Ryestone Keep, Rebekah’s shocked to see Rædan leading the charge! This Viking warrior is not the man she remembers…and yet she finds herself drawn to him again. Taken as his hostage, Rebekah must decide—can she trust him with her life…and her dangerous secret? 

My Review.

Highly enjoyable, the story keeps you entertained as it follows the pull and push of attraction and the denial of that attraction. They knew each other years ago, but each now feels that the other betrayed them. Add in a shameful secret and a jealously deranged ex-partner and the scene is set for some highly charged action. 

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves.

Shetland Detective Jimmy Perez knows it will be a difficult homecoming when he returns to the Fair Isles to introduce his fiancee, Fran, to his parents. When a woman’s body is discovered at the renowned Fair Isles bird observatory, Jimmy must investigate the old-fashioned way.

My Review.

Delves into Jimmy Perez’s back story as he returns home to present his fiancée to his parents. They are hoping he may return to the island, but Perez has other plans for a new life with artist fiancée Fran and her daughter Cassie. Storms close in and the Island is cut off, so when a murder happens Jimmy has to rely on his own  skills and resources. Can he work without compromising his integrity or that of the scene?  How can he replicate forensics? It’s back to old fashioned policing and his knowledge of the community. In a sense it is locked room mystery set on the island, as no-one can get in or out from Fair Isle. The crime comes at a personal cost and we know Jimmy Perez will never be the same again.

January saw record breaking temperatures here and being indoors was often pleasanter than being outside. Once again my reading was mixed bag of lighter and more serious reads.

When the sand burns your feet, its too hot for the beach!

Do you only read one genre? If so what drew you to it? Id love to know!

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