Sunday, 14 January 2018

Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy: A Wonderful, Wintry Love Story

Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy is a wonderful love story set against wintry Firefly Lake, Vermont; perfect to curl up with by the fire sipping a large mug of hot chocolate!
It's the third part of Jen's Firefly Lake trilogy which focuses, this time, on Cat McGuire, Nick's sister from Summer on Firefly Lake (although each of the books stands alone) and NHL* hero and Olympian ice hockey player, Luc Simard.
However, for me, re-engaging with all the other characters in the previous two books was like going back home, and I'd settled in before the end of the first chapter!
Firefly Lake is a small town community, and Jen Gilroy gives an excellent picture of what you'd imagine it to be like to live there in the winter time: snow, ice, hockey, everyone knowing everyone's business and, romance!
Cat has returned to the town with her daughter, Amy. She has a grant to work on a research project, which she hopes will get her that university job she's dreamt of for years, but she doesn't want to stay with her mother, Gabrielle, at Harbor House, preferring to be self-sufficient and rent an apartment over the craft gallery in return for payment and helping out.
Widower, Luc, Nick's friend, whose dad and brothers run the creamery, has left NHL after a shoulder injury and returned to the lake as well, building a new house where he can make a new start and get over the death of his wife, Maggie, who was expecting their first baby. However, the junior league ice hockey coach breaks his leg, so Luc takes over the training and allows twelve-year-old Amy, a keen hockey player back in Boston, to join the team.
After all these years since they were together at school, when although he was friendly enough, and she admired him from a distance, Cat and Luc can't help finding each other attractive, but is this what they both really want and where will it end, especially when Amy tries to get them together?
It's an engrossing story, full of ups and downs that make you want to keep reading to the final page to find out what happens! I loved it.

*National Hockey League, for those not living in North America!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Place We Met by Isabelle Broom - A Great Read for Cold, Dark January Days and Nights!

If you've read my blog before, you'll know that I like to read novels set in the places I've visited. Therefore, I loved The Place We Met, the latest book by Isabelle Broom, especially as it's set around Lake Como, Italy, where I spent a wonderful few days in September.

Taggie works at the Casa Alta Hotel near Como, it's nearly New Year's Eve and her big chance to make her name by putting on a big party and achieving her dream of becoming an events organiser; however, there a heartbreaking event in her own past that she's finding hard to forget.
Then, when she visits her secret beach by Lake Como, and slips into the icy water, strong, gorgeous Marco lifts her out, but is a new love interest what she really wants, or needs?

Lucy treats her boyfriend, Pete, to a New Year's break at Lake Como. She's not usually spontaneous, but surely a few days in such a romantic spot will help their relationship, especially after she finds a shoebox full of photos of a glamorous woman at the back of his wardrobe, and he receives some phone calls that he won't tell her about.

The story is told in turn from Taggie's and Lucy's point of view as the plot thickens and their lives intertwine.

For Isabelle Broom, the lake is an integral part of the novel, another character reflecting the emotional highs and lows of the girls as they come to terms with their past and move forward into the New Year.

I think that this New Year, it's a great read for all these cold, dark January days and nights.

(Look at my photo of Bellagio, it's almost the same as the cover of the book, but lots warmer!)

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Louisa May Alcott, Orchard House, and Little Women

Did you enjoy the BBC adaptation of Little Women over the Christmas holiday? I did.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to visit Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa May Alcott lived for twenty years from 1857. The exciting thing is that this is where she set the story, based on her family life during the American Civil War.
Most of the contents of the house are those that belonged to the Alcotts,  so it is like wandering through the home of the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, too. You can even see the shelf desk that Louisa's father built for her writing, and Jo sat at a similar one in the BBC dramatisation.
Louisa was very fortunate to grow up amongst some prestigious authors, visiting Ralph Waldo Emerson's library, walking with Henry David Thoreau and putting on plays in Nathaniel Hawthorn's barn!
She and her sisters also acted out her melodramas in the dining room for friends who used the parlour as an auditorium. Always a tomboy, she would take the extravagant male parts, and I wonder if the russet-leather boots that Jo wears in the book were based on some Louisa had too?
I particularly liked standing in Orchard House and imagining the girls all dressed up in their costumes.  It's a shame that Heidi Thomas left these theatricals out of her adaptation; I was looking forward to seeing the girls' Christmas Night play!
Faced with family poverty, Louisa took on all sorts of jobs to earn some money: as a teacher, a governess and even an household servant. However, through it all, she kept up her writing, starting with poetry and short stories, just like Jo March, which were published in popular magazines. She also wrote books, including Hospital Sketches, based on her letters home during the Civil War when she spent some time working as a nurse in Washington DC.
In 1867, her publisher asked her to write a book for girls which she dashed off in just three months at her shelf desk in Orchard House, creating Little Women which has been loved by generations of girls ever since. A lot of this is down to the captivating character of Jo March, a girl who thought her own mind and lived her life her own way, just like Louisa.

For more information about Louisa May Alcott and Orchard House, you can visit

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes with a Great Christmas Story too!

I've always loved short stories from Roald Dahl to Maeve Binchy.
Paris for One is Jojo Moyes' first collection and I've really enjoyed it. The stories have appeared elsewhere and I have read some of them before, but you always see different things the second time round.
I actually saved the last story, The Christmas List, until December because it's a Christmas one. Hence the Santa in the photo! It's a great tale about a woman who takes a taxi whilst doing her Christmas shopping in London and changes her life.
The best story is Paris for One, a delightful romcom of a read about Nell who sets out for a weekend in Paris with her boyfriend, Pete, but interesting things develop when he doesn't turn up.
The stories have clever twists like those of Maeve Binchy and Roald Dahl, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I hope you do too!

This book also includes the first chapter of still methe third book which follows Lou Clarke, who appeared in best seller me before you and after you, as she starts her new life in New York.
still me is out in hardback on 25th January 2018, so it's a good opportunity to get reading now!  

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Daughters of Castle Deverill by Santa Montefiore - A Magnificent Sweep of a Novel

The Daughters of Castle Deverill by Santa Montefiore is the second part of a trilogy about Kitty Deverill, her cousin, Celia, from England, and Bridie, the cook's daughter: three girls who spent idyllic summers together at Castle Deverill on the west coast of Ireland in Songs of Love and War. (You can read my review here)
It is now 1925, and after a catastrophic fire which destroyed the castle, Celia has bought it and intends to rebuild it and make it grander than ever it was; Kitty has married her tutor, Robert, and is bringing up, Little Jack, her father's son with Bridie who has fled to New York and made a fortune marrying an elderly rich man.
So now, Celia has the castle at last; Kitty pines for Jack O'Leary (the man that she and Bridie both loved) who has also gone to America; and, although she's now very well off, Bridie yearns for her son, Little Jack.
Set against the Stock Market crash of 1929 which changes everyone's fortunes, this is another of Santa Montefiore's sweeping stories that she does so well, and I was totally immersed in its depth and breadth. It takes place from the west of Ireland to London, New York and the diamond mines of South Africa. It is romantic, atmospheric, yet also tragic and shocking.
This book also reveals more about the first Lord Barton* Deverill arriving in Ballinakelly to claim his lands (bestowed upon him by King Charles II, for his support to the Crown) and his relationship with Maggie O'Leary, who puts a curse on him and his heirs that their spirits will never rest from their wandering until an O'Leary owns Castle Deverill again.
It is through this curse that we see Kitty Deverill's ancestors, from the raging Barton, to her much missed grandmother, Adeline, a bit like a Greek chorus, observing the family's celebrations and, commiserations.
Told from many points of view, it's a magnificent sweep of a novel and the final part, The Last Secret of the Deverills is out now.

*In her introduction, Santa Montefiore tells how she chose Barton's name from the village sign along the A303 for Barton Stacey. I've often thought it would make a good name for a character, and she's beaten me to it! 

Saturday, 11 November 2017

I Found You by Lisa Jewell - A Fabulous Murder Mystery

I Found You by Lucy Dillon is a fabulous read, and I devoured it in record time - I really couldn't put it down.

Forty-something Alice, who has three children from three different failed relationships, finds a man on the beach at Ridinghouse Bay, Yorkshire, who has lost his memory.

Meanwhile, down in Surrey, newly-wed, Lily is distraught because her husband didn't come home on Tuesday night. She's told the police and they say (after investigating his passport details) that he, Carl Monrose, does not exist.

In 1993, Gray Ross is unhappy about the attention arrogant Mark Tate is paying to his fifteen-year-old sister, Kirsty, on their family holiday at Ridinghouse Bay.

However, whilst Lily goes through Carl's belongings and retraces his movements, Alice and her friend Derry do some research of their own and discover that back in August 1993, there was an incident on the beach where one man died and two others were missing, feared drowned. Another teenage youth was taken to hospital but discharged. The mystery deepens.
Could the man Alice is sheltering be a murderer?

This book has been published with two different covers. I liked the brighter one the best, but new books with that cover were twice the price of the darker ones on Amazon. So, I bought a used one, and, looking inside, I found that it had been signed by the author. Brilliant! I was meant to buy it!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Summer on Firefly Lake - Interview with RNA Author, Jen Gilroy

Welcome to my blog, Jen, please make yourself at home. I've made a Victoria sponge cake with jam and cream which I hope you'll like, perhaps washed down with a good cup of English Breakfast tea?

You know, I've really enjoyed reading your latest book, Summer on Firefly Lake, and I'm so pleased you're here so I can ask you some questions about it! 

Thank you for inviting me to chat with you again, Jean. I’m happy to be here and talk about my Firefly Lake books with you and your readers. As you know, I lived in England for many years and am a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). Visiting your blog is a virtual trip to my second home! Victoria sponge cake is my favourite and not well known in Canada, and I'd love a cup of English Breakfast tea too. Thank you!

1.     Firefly Lake is a beautiful setting for a novel. Have you ever thought of living in such a place to get inspiration for your writing?

I’m glad you like the setting for my Firefly Lake books. I’d like to live in the fictional Firefly Lake, Vermont, myself!

In terms of the sense of community and inter-connectedness, though, I live in a small town much like Firefly Lake so don’t have to look far for writing inspiration. My town doesn’t have a lake, but there are many lakes and rivers nearby and in summer, I often go to such places to read and plot.

I’m rooted in the kind of small-town world I depict in my fiction so (with a large infusion of imagination), I’m in many ways ‘writing what I know.’

2.     What influenced you to write about Kylie, the troubled twelve-year-old? And what sort of research did you have to do?

As part of finding my writing voice (and long before I was published), I read and wrote young adult fiction. Within the context of romantic women’s fiction, I still enjoy writing about younger characters and the joys, as well as challenges, they bring to the lives of adult protagonists. Kylie’s character was born from that interest.

I have vivid memories of being Kylie’s age, and although I was blessed to grow up in a loving and supportive family, I had schoolmates who weren’t so fortunate. Kylie’s character is loosely based upon their experiences, but I also read widely about fostering from the perspective of both child and caregiver and learned from friends who have looked after troubled youth.  

3.     Was it easier to write Summer on Firefly Lake when the scene was already set in The Cottage at Firefly Lake? Did it help, or did you feel restricted by it?

In some ways, yes, it was easier to write Summer on Firefly Lake because I’d already got to know Firefly Lake and some of the people who lived there in my first book, The Cottage at Firefly Lake. 

Nick and Mia, the hero and heroine of Summer on Firefly Lake, were introduced in Cottage so I already had a good sense of their characters, motivations and challenges. When I started writing Summer, though, they still surprised me, as characters always do, and new characters came on the scene and wanted their stories told.

Although I wouldn’t say I felt restricted by writing a second book also set in Firefly Lake, it did mean I had to be extra careful in double-checking details at every stage. It’s easy to use different names for the same secondary character in different books, or be inconsistent when mentioning eye colour and other physical characteristics. I’m grateful to copy editors and proof readers everywhere (and mine in particular) for catching little glitches I missed.

Suffice to say that for the future, I’ve learned the importance of creating a series ‘bible’ from the start!

4.     I enjoyed reading about Gabrielle’s love affair. What inspired you to write about an older woman being in love?

Although much contemporary romantic fiction focuses on younger characters, I’m a fan of what in North America is called ‘seasoned romance’—stories with older heroes and heroines. The hero and heroine of Summer on Firefly Lake are both thirty-nine so are somewhat ‘seasoned.’ However, since I believe it’s never too late to find love, I wanted to give Gabrielle, the hero’s mother, her own happy ending as part of a secondary romance.

Since all my books take place amidst a network of families and communities, it made sense to include more mature characters and give them their own romantic storyline. Young people don’t have a monopoly on falling in love, and so far, Gabrielle was one of my favourite characters to write. It touches my heart that many readers have warmed to her.

5.     The third novel in the Firefly Lake trilogy, Back Home at Firefly Lakeis out in the UK on 28th December 2017, can you say which characters from the first two books are in it, as it was great seeing Sean and Charlie from Book 1 in Book 2?

Many characters from the first two books reappear in Back Home at Firefly Lake including Charlie and Sean and their baby; Mia, Nick and their new blended family; Gabrielle and Ward; and more. The hero and heroine of Back Home at Firefly Lake are historian Cat McGuire and retired NHL ice hockey player, Luc Simard, who were also introduced in previous books.

As a reader, one of the reasons I enjoy reading a series is because I get to know familiar characters, as well as their community. As an author, that’s the feeling I want to create in my books, and I love giving glimpses of previous characters experiencing their “happy-ever-after.”

Back Home at Firefly Lake takes place in the winter, and I hope readers will enjoy curling up with this story to experience the small town blanketed with snow, ice skating on the frozen lake, New Year celebrations and more.

6.    In your blog, you talk about a new series of novels set in a family bakery. It sounds delicious! What made you choose this new setting?

Thank you for reading my blog, Jean. I’m glad the new series I mentioned sparked your interest. I enjoy baking and, when I travel, I seek out local bakeries. They’re often family-run and have a long history in their community. 

When I started writing this new series, and as often happens for me, the bakery setting almost chose itself. Alongside a central romance, though, I wanted to explore multi-generational family relationships and a family bakery lent itself to that kind of story.

The small town where I live has a bakery that has been in operation since 1885. I can do ‘research’ on my doorstep and writing a bakery-set story is the perfect reason to sample sweet treats to ensure my fictional world is realistic!

Thank you so much, Jen, for spending time with me on my blog today. I can't wait for the Christmas Holidays to be 'Back Home at Firefly Lake'! 

If you've enjoyed this interview with Jen as much as I have, and you would like to find out more about her books and her new life in Canada, please visit: