As it is almost the weekend, I have asked Jan Brigden to present an extract from her romance novel, ‘As Weekends Go’. Grab yourself a coffee, take a break and let Jan chat to you about her novel.
What if your entire life changed in the space of a weekend?
I am delighted to present ‘As Weekends Go’. The extract I have chosen is fairly early on in the book. I think it perfectly portrays how Alex (principal male character) feels after his memorable first encounter with Rebecca (principal female character) at Hawksley Manor, the plush hotel in which they are both staying as guests, little knowing the drama that lay ahead of them.
I’d love you keep ‘As Weekends Go’ in your handbag so you can dip in and out of the story. Open the book as you move from place to place, and flit from one dilemma to the next over the course of their eventful weekend and beyond.
Words from the book…
Alex took the scenic route to the car park to try and fathom the effect she’d had on him. Those eyes, so rich in colour, like a tiger’s eyes, sparkling back at him.
As much as he hated how big-headed it sounded, even to himself, he was used to people staring at him. Fact. He also knew that what had happened back there was in no way premeditated on her part; the deep blush and dip of her head when he’d first spoken to her had told him that. How small she’d tried to make herself appear during the ensuing chaos in reception, standing there nervously pulling on the bottom of her ponytail, looking so desperately sorry.
He’d felt like an ogre deliberately holding on to her mobile, but if he’d given it straight back to her she might have fled before he’d had a chance to find out her name.
He’d certainly never seen her at the hotel before.
What was it his granddad had told him during their precious heart-to-heart the day before he’d died?
‘Believe me, Alex, you’ll know when you’ve met “the one”’
Trouble is, Granddad … What do I do if she’s already married?
More about the book…
When Rebecca’s friend Abi convinces her to get away from it all at the fabulous Hawksley Manor hotel in York, it seems too good to be true. Pampering and relaxation is just what Rebecca needs to distract herself from the creeping suspicion that her husband, Greg, is hiding something from her.
She never imagined that by the end of the weekend she would have dined with celebrities or danced the night away in exclusive clubs. Nor could she have predicted she would meet famous footballer, Alex Heath, or that he would be the one to show her that she deserved so much more …
But no matter how amazing a weekend is, it’s always back to reality come Monday morning – isn’t it?
What the reviewers say…
“I loved this gorgeous love story, written with a sure touch and a big heart.” Bestselling author, Lisa Jewell.
“Alex isn’t your stereotypical celeb footballer (or rather stereotypically portrayed in the media). His ethics and morals had me swooning as much as his physique!” Shaz Goodwin – Jera’s Jamboree
“Those lovely people at Choc Lit and their reading panel do have a bit of a talent for spotting something special that their readers will enjoy, and they’ve done it again with this lovely book.” Anne Williams of Being Anne
More about Jan…
Jan is a South London-dwelling all-round book devotee, married to Dave, and one eighth of online-writing group The Romaniacs
As Weekends Go tested as many of my emotions as I put my characters through, so when it was published by Choc Lit UK after winning their Search for a Star Competition 2014/2015, I was elated. I missed the characters terribly, especially Rebecca and Alex, so much so, that I’m currently writing the sequel where I get to spend more time with a few of the ‘As Weekends Go’ crew, plus some new faces who are creating a whole fresh mixture of predicaments for everyone.
I suggest you go shopping, stock up on your favourite treats and pamper yourself with a great read. Now your weekend is organised, and you can sit back and read about someone else’s dilemmas, as you visit York, Spain and Brighton. I’ll see you in Brighton – happy reading!
Having downloaded all of Lizzie Lamb’s books, I opened Boot Camp Bride. Remembering Lizzie Lamb’s Scottish romance books, I expected to be travelling with a man in a kilt. Instead, I was off to London with Charlee, a fledgling journalist. Charlee is forced to attend a boot camp to get a scoop for the magazine she works for. I adored the situation set up for this story – such fun! The author is very clever at painting her characters and adding poignant brushstrokes of humour and vulnerability. Oh my, Charlee’s humour is the perfect anecdote to the winter blues!
Charlee guided me through her adventure, and I could not stop laughing. How does Lizzie Lamb manage to combine humour, adventure and romance? Charlee was feisty, fun, intelligent and clumsy – perfect. Undeterred by the alpha male, she managed to fight him with wit and stubbornness. Lizzie Lamb’s characters and style of writing sparkle in Boot Camp Bride. This romantic comedy is classic gold: it is the equivalent of comfort food and a good night out with friends.
The soundtrack track to Spectre boomed, as I read the opening chapters of Boot Camp Bride, and Charlee was assigned her first undercover operation as a ‘faux’ bride. And her ‘self- assurance and sassiness’ made this an absolute hoot. Charlee’s ‘off the cuff remarks’ constantly entertain. I adored this refreshingly bubbly style of writing. The wit and tension fizzed and bubbled like a good Champagne. At this point, Charlee would observe:
‘If she was beginning to think in clichés, it was time for her to put down the empty glass.’
However, I didn’t have a glass of anything. It was a joy to immerse myself in Charlee’s world. She spoke before she put her brain into gear and is charming, funny and endearing. Lizzie Lamb used her characteristic turn of phrase to describe that moment when one says the wrong thing:
‘As the seconds drew out, Charlee imagined she could hear the tick of the grandfather clock marking time: feel the chill wind of disapproval whistling round her ankles…’
This captured the moment perfectly! I think there is an element of Charlee in all of us. She is a very real, honest and intelligent young woman. Then there is the experienced Bear Grylls meets James Bond type hero, Rafa Fonseca Ffinch, but thankfully he doesn’t take himself too seriously. I adored the sparks flying between Charlee and Rafa combined with the calamities. Furthermore, the dialogue is superb, and the scenes were filmic in quality. Lizzie Lamb is very skilled at challenging stereotypes for comic effect.
The narrative hurtles at great speed while the humour awaits the reader around every corner. Even the weather manages to mock Charlee as ‘hailstones hurled themselves at the window aided and abetted by a cutting wind off the marshes.’ Clever writing makes this novel feel like a trusty companion – I loved it! It is the sort of book one can return to chase away the blues!
After teaching my 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, I decided to pursue my first love: writing. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), followed a year later by Boot Camp Bride. Although much of my time is taken up publicising Tall, Dark and Kilted and Boot Camp Bride, I published a third novel Scotch on The Rocks in July 2015. It achieved Best Seller status within two weeks of appearing on Amazon. I am a founding member of an indie publishing group – New Romantics Press and have held an Author Event at Waterstones High Street, Kensington, London. The icing on the cake, as far we are concerned, and a fitting way to celebrate our achievements. March 2016 saw Scotch on the Rocks shortlisted for the prestigious Exeter Novel Prize and in November 2016 I held an author talk in London, at Aspinalls. In Spring 2017 I published – Girl In The Castle, which reached #3 in the charts. I am currently working on a novel set in Wisconsin – Take Me I’m Yours, and have more Scottish-themed romances planned.
The beautiful cobbled streets of Beverley, East Yorkshire, proved a little difficult on the icy winter’s day. It was such a nostalgic trip for me as we had visited some dear friends there over a decade ago. Amazingly, Cut-Price Bookshop was still there, and I hope Rhoda would direct me there later, as I had a great big pink bag ready. Although bracing, the cool air had brought a beautiful covering of snow to the ancient town. It was very tempting to stop and browse in the independent shops, but I was meeting Rhoda Baxter, romantic novelist, in ten minutes.
Wrapped in a long, dark coat, large colourful scarf and wearing my Ugg boots, I quickened my pace the tiny Bistro. Rhoda smiled, greeted me and organised a lovely array of tea and cakes. My favourite sweet treats were the double chocolate brownies. I removed my coat and sat on one of the bistro chairs. Rhoda was bundled up against the cold and had to remove several layers before she got down to hear practical jeans and sweater. She retrieved her book entitled Girl in Trouble from her multicoloured handbag. It was such a delight for me to be back in Yorkshire speaking with a fellow Yorkshire lass.
Jessie: It is wonderful to be back in Yorkshire. What do you like most about Yorkshire?
Rhoda: The people! Everyone is so friendly here and there so much less tension in the day to day interactions. I lived down south for a while and whenever we go back to visit friends, we feel the difference immediately. My youngest, who can’t remember living anywhere but here, is always surprised at how when she says hello to people in London, they ignore her!
Also, I’m a big fan of cake. Beverley and York have some amazing cake shops.
I retrieved a copy of Rhoda’s book, ‘Girl in Trouble’, from my handbag. It was easy to spot the familiar bright cover of a glamorous character on the jacket. As we waited for more tea to arrive we settled to discuss Rhoda’s work.
Jessie:Your romantic novels look great. Your characters look feisty and fun and Sue Moorcroft described them as ‘the real deal’. Tell me about your characters. Can you capture the essence of ‘Girl in Trouble’ in a few sentences?
Rhoda: My characters often just turn up in my head and start talking. I don’t know their stories, but I know their voices. I’ve had several readers say that my characters feel real to them. That’s the highest praise, as far as I’m concerned. My characters are real to me. They live in my head for the duration while I’m writing their book and I miss them when I finish the story.
One of the reasons I started writing was because in the early 2000s, I got into reading romances and I felt that only a certain type of person was represented in popular romance. All the women were likable and unobjectionable, and all the men were super confident, well-muscled and over bearing. Where were the nice guys? Or the women who were smart and career minded? Or even ones who were slightly hard edged?
Girl in Trouble is about two people who are a little different to what society expects. Olivia is a ladette and there isn’t much that will faze her. Walter is a nice guy and is scared of spiders. One of their first interactions is when Olivia has to rescue him from a spider. Olivia is adamant she doesn’t need a man in her life, even when things go horribly wrong. How can Walter persuade the most independent woman he’s ever met to accept his help, let alone his heart?
Jessie: I know you have been nominated for writing awards. What have the reviewers said about ‘Girl in Trouble’?
Rhoda gave a wry smile then scrolled through the reviews of her novel on Amazon.
Most people said it made them laugh and cry in equal measure. I love that!
” there was a real punch of emotional depth – one minute I’d be grinning at what the characters were saying or doing and the next I was fighting tears.” (Amazon review)
“This book with make you laugh out loud at times but will also frustrate you and make you cry. Everything you need for a great romance. ” (Amazon review)
“Baxter’s narrative sets up the sentimental situation only to send it spinning in entirely unexpected directions.” (Romance Novels for Feminists)
Jessie: ‘Girl in Trouble’ sounds like a romance with a strong character – perfect! Can you read a brief extract to tempt the reader?
Rhoda: He leaned back, flustered. Much as he found her attractive, the idea of being pounced on by her was a tiny bit scary. But, only a tiny bit. Which wasn’t all that scary, come to think of it.
Jessie:Wow! Your book sounds like fun! I can sense you enjoyed interacting with your characters. How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
Rhoda: I missed the characters so much that I wrote a follow up novella! Olivia first appeared as a minor character in ‘Girl Having A Ball’ (which was nominated for a RoNA Romantic Novel of the Year award). She’s confident and independent and doesn’t take crap from anyone. I loved her so much that I had to write this book to see what happened to her. I wish I was more like Olivia really. Walter, the hero, is a nice guy. I like beta heroes because they usually have wit and charm (as well being attractive) and I know I’d like to spend time with a man like that!
Jessie:I love the way you present the characters you want to spend time with. It must be great to create the characters you are fond of. Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
Rhoda: I’ve love for Emma Watson to read my book. ‘Girl In Trouble’ has a major theme of fathers and daughters, but underneath there’s quite a lot about gender stereotyping and the double standards that we apply to men and women. Boys don’t cry. Girls don’t climb trees (or whatever). I think it would chime with a lot of things Emma Watson raised in her He For She speech.
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Because it will make you laugh and cry and, by the end, you’ll have met some people who feel like they are real friends.
Jessie: Tell me about your favourite handbag.
Rhoda:The bag is from a shop in Sri Lanka called Barefoot. They make wonderful things out of handloom fabrics. This bag has loads of little pockets inside, so that I can find what I’m looking for (I have two youngish kids – being able to find the packet of tissues at just the right moment is very important!). It’s a colourful, but sensible bag because I can fill it with useful things, sling it across me and run.
Jessie:What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Rhoda: ‘beachwear and cocktail umbrellas?’ It’s a note to myself to figure out some details about my characters who are stranded on a tropical island with only a few bags they took on holiday. I liked the idea of them having a box of something that is completely useless – like cocktail umbrellas. They’re red, these cocktail umbrellas. They must be useful for something, right?
Jessie:What is the biggest challenge for an author?
Rhoda: Keeping going. I write because I love it and I don’t know what else I’d do with these people who keep popping up in my head. Writing books is hard, but marketing is harder. Nowadays, authors are expected to do a lot of marketing themselves and really, most of us are very shy. I can’t think of anything worse that going up to a stranger and saying ‘hey, I’ve written a book, wanna buy a copy’… but that is exactly what I need to learn to do.
Jessie: Where is your favourite writing place?
Rhoda: My favourite writing place is really my bed – but you don’t want a picture of me in my scratty pyjamas. So here’s a picture of my shed instead. I often sit in there at the weekend and do my editing work. There’s a battered old sofa and a collection of blankets in there, so it’s lovely and cosy even when it’s not the sunniest of days.
Jessie:What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Rhoda: Write. Edit. Submit. Repeat. Improve each time you go round the cycle.
Rhoda is very serious about girls being allowed to do whatever they feel a passion for. Rhoda is also serious about cake. she’d choose tea and cake over alcohol any day.
Rhoda likes to see the humour in a situation, she says it’s her way of dealing with the dark side of life.
It was wonderful to meet a fun, Yorkshire lass in Beverley. Rhoda adds feisty, independent women in her books and that is appealing. Rhoda’s lively, positive nature suggests her books will be a joy to read. Best of luck to Rhoda with ‘Girl in Trouble’.
As if by magic, I am presenting ‘Stone Circle’ by Kate Murdoch. The novel is a rich historical fantasy about a young man’s coming of age, as he learns about magic rituals and alchemy. I have asked Kate to present and extract of her debut novel. She has written to her readers about the book and her chosen extract.
I would like to present you with an extract from my debut novel, ‘Stone Circle’.
It’s a story of magic rituals and rivalry in a 16th century Italian town.
The extract, selected from the middle of the book, is a scene where my protagonist, Antonius, is being initiated as a seer. It describes the ritual he must go through.
It is a key scene in my book, because Antonius’s life is undergoing enormous change, and the ritual is a symbol of that.
Romance, thrilling escapes and alchemy – what’s not to love?
Antonius watched the blue and amber flames as they crackled upwards, repeating the same patterns into infinity. He felt his body move to the rhythms, and realised they all moved in tandem around the fire. The music, the flames, and the night were as much a part of them as the blood coursing through their veins. The pace quickened and they followed, twisting and turning with fluidity.
Antonius’s mind was clear and untroubled. At the same time, he watched Giulia’s russet hair swing across her back and the long line of her slender white arm as she moved with perfect grace. He felt the eyes of many upon him, but he was not afraid. It was a sense of being held in the embrace of the observation, as if he were returning to the home of a friend that was as familiar as it was strange. Glancing at Giulia, he saw she scattered herbs into the flames. His nose twitched as their combined scent wafted towards him—sage, elderflower, cloves, and others. Three crystals were then released into the fire—purple, white, and gold. Several loud cracks erupted into the air and multi-coloured sparks flew, with a hiss and a whine. In a low voice Savinus chanted. It was a mellifluous language he had heard during the rituals at the blue cave. He spread his arms in an outward motion, as if clearing away smoke.
More About the Novel
Stone Circle explores themes of class, rivalry and spiritual growth. It is a historical fantasy novel.
Is the ability to read minds a blessing or a curse?
When Antonius’s father dies, he must work to support his family. He finds employment as a servant in the Palazzo Ducal, home of Conte Valperga. Sixteenth-century Pesaro is a society governed by status, and Antonius has limited opportunities. When a competition is announced, Antonius seizes his chance. The winner will be apprenticed to the town seer. Antonius shares first place with his employer’s son. The two men compete for their mentor’s approval. As their knowledge of magic and alchemy grows, so does the rivalry and animosity between them. When the love of a beautiful woman is at stake, Antonius must find a way to follow his heart and navigate his future.
‘Murdoch presents a delightful romance, feathered with light touches of fantasy. The development of her love triangle is gratifying, and even secondary characters offer stark dramatic moments…’ Kirkus Reviews ‘
‘Her characters’ interactions with each other and their individualities helped shape the book into something wonderful; at the same time she excels at pacing the story with her characters, all within a framework designed to help readers understand the world of seers and alchemy she has created.’ Readers’ Favorite
‘Kate Murdoch’s fabulous writing is full of vivid sounds, sights and scents that pull us into the scene, expressed in inspired word combinations that are a joy to read. A wonderful, entertaining book.’ Gail Cleare, USA Today bestselling author
Words about Kate:
Kate is a painter turned author who enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories when she’s not writing historical fiction. Her debut novel is a romance with an element of fantasy. Kate became completely immersed in her Renaissance town and characters when writing the novel. Kate found it difficult to depart from the world in her novel and this bodes well for a reader intent on escape. The best of luck to Kate with her debut novel.
A haunting introduction from a dying woman commences this story. Isobel has written the story of her life for Bel, her niece, to read. The narrative of the past begins in the thirties, and Isobel’s past life punctuates events in the present day.
Isobel has remained in the same house her entire life while her niece escaped to Australia. Bel’s move to Australia symbolises the freedom of her generation – she could walk on the ‘long stretches of sand’ and feel the sun on her skin.
In contrast Isobel has lived in cold, grey and rainy Glasgow and was inhibited by her morals. But morals seemed to have been loosened, for others, during the uncertainty of war. But a chill of despair runs throughout Isobel’s life.
I admire the emotional parallels between Isobel’s love for Bob and Bel’s stirrings of a new love, as a mature woman,in her sixties. The contrast between Isobel’s innocence and Bel’s experience is moving; there is a beautiful connection in the feelings. I loved Isobel as she wasn’t bitter about her ‘lost chances’. Isobel seems to seek peace in orchestrating new romance for her niece. She tells Bel, ‘I want you to get to know each other.’ The elderly lady intervenes in her niece’s happiness because she neglected her own pursuit of happiness.
The mystery of why Isobel remained alone, intrigues Bel and the reader. Bel’s frustration with her aunt’s passivity, when younger, demonstrates the differences in the generations.
‘Bel couldn’t believe her aunt had been so foolish.’
One does wonder why Isobel denied herself opportunities, but I also felt completely frustrated with Isobel’s love interest, Bob. Bob is also a victim of the era, as he fails to communicate with Isobel. I really wanted to know what was happening inside Bob’s mind, and perhaps this is another novel. Why didn’t Bob speak with Isobel? I was furious with him, at times – but that is the fun of reading.
Despite inhibitions, Isobel does have economic independence through the dress shop. The shop is called ‘Plain and Fancy’, and I wanted to step back in time to visit place. Perhaps, I could have found a fancy vintage handbag. Isobel’s glamorous presence throughout the novel is impressive. Isobel is glamorous yet vulnerable, but her life experience translates into a formidable character in old age. This made me reflect on how we change according to our experiences.
The contrast between the innocence of the young Isobel and experience of the mature Bel is poignant. It is as if the two characters are one person experiencing the same life in a different era. The novel also shows us that ‘lost chances’ can be avoided, particularly in the twenty first century.
This is a charming, heart-warming story of second chances and the strength of family support. The narrative moves at a good pace. I found myself hanging on to every word of Isobel’s story and willing Bel to unite with the enigmatic solicitor. I hope there will be a sequel to this novel!
To find out more about the author, Maggie Christensen and heart-warming stories of second chances see:
On opening this beautiful book, I arrived in the ‘early morning sunshine at Perugia’, with Anna. I sat back as she drove the Italian car and observed the way that the road ‘…cut its way through tobacco fields sprouting green shoots and [took] a mountain road joining Sansepolcro to Rimini.’ I admired the olive trees and waited as the ‘road climbed’. It was impossible not to see the ‘lake glistening’ and to imagine the people sheltering in this setting during World War Two.
On arrival at Rofelle, I found my way through the tangle of ivy, listened to the river rushing past the stones and opened the large wooden door to the mill. The paint was peeling, but the knocker of the lion’s head stood proud; as if to announce the courage of Davide, Ines and their parents. I opened the door to enter the past, with Anna, through the letters and diaries. It was wonderful to meet Anna’s mother, in the diaries, but painful to discover that her ‘heart began to shrivel a little each day…’ during her traumatic life.
I stopped at the mill ‘hidden in the folds of the Alps of the Moon, where the sun sets from the jewel red skies behind misted blue peaks.’ Anna’s mother once lived in a mill, and she explains ‘…the old building in ruins, crumbling into nothing seems to mirror what I am leaning of Mamma’s past.’ The Mill is ‘fragile’ and is a symbol of lost history and lost dreams that could be rekindled by the new generation. Sitting on the steps to read the letters and diaries, I sensed the ‘breeze that dances on the river’. Listening to the ‘sound of the river and distant sheep bells’, I could feel the loneliness of Ines. I am sure I heard the voices of the German soldiers who would have bathed there, and the whispers of the POWs and partisans hidden in the mountains.
I was completely spellbound by the characters and the clever structure of this novel. ‘Tuscan Roots’ is a beautifully written novel examining cultural differences, the impact of war and the risks that ordinary people will take. I was intrigued by the details of post war Britain, but wanted to stay in Italy. The contrast between the two settings and cultures reinforces Ines’ emotional landscape. The patchwork of history and the present are sewn together effortlessly with Angela’s distinctive prose. How much do we really understand about our grandparents and parents’ experiences? Such a poignant message is presented:
‘We should not bury our memories, even if they are painful, even if mistakes were made in those times, which causes us anguish…we must learn from them.’
I discovered Anna’s history, trusted her observations and understood her pain. I was very fond of the vulnerable, innocent Ines who demonstrated incredible bravery. The descriptions of the setting rooted me to the novel, and made me understand how it bound Ines to her homeland. I pondered the way that a landscape can remain untouched throughout the generations but people leave clues about the place’s history. The author examines how war changes circumstances and the simple things that we take for granted. I was in awe of the people who made sacrifices for others during the war, in Italy. The romance of the setting presents the reader with the hope of love. The romance in the novel is wonderful, natural and tender. Angela’s writing style is captivating.
The food prepared by the locals, in the Italian Apennines, transcends time and bridges the gap between the generations. I enjoyed ‘the stuffed zucchini flowers, little squares of crostini topped with spicy tomatoes, liver pate and a creamy relish made from dandelion flowers, roasted bay leaves topped with ovals of melted cheese.’ Food is prepared to celebrate feasts, to welcome people into the home, to celebrate family occasions and to woo.
This novel evokes the senses and leaves the reader firmly fixed in Tuscany. Not the tourist’s Italy, but rural, down to earth Italy – ‘this landscape feels lived in’, and the author breathes life into ‘the ghosts from the past’. The story of the POW and partisans provide another dimension to this story, and I was impressed with how this was skilfully woven into the story.
Read Tuscan Roots, and you will not want to leave the romantic beauty of ‘indigo blue mountains’, or the ruins of Il Mulino (The Mill). You will be impressed with the bravery of the Italian community during the war, and you will not want to leave the blossoming romance. I highly recommend this book!