This year has been another difficult one, but authors have stepped up and given us some amazing stories. I struggled to whittle my favourite books of the year down to a reasonable number. There was no way I could stop at a Top Ten, but I managed a Top Fifteen. These are the books that made my year, and I highly recommend each and every one. Here they are, listed in no particular order:
The Tell Tale by Clare Ashton
2. A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry
3. The Island Between Us by Wendy Hudson
4. The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan
5. Ignis by KJ
6. The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
7. Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily R Austin
‘Highland Whirl’ by Anna Larner is the third book I’ve read by this particular author and I’ve loved every one. Although this is a follow up to ‘Highland Fling’, there is no need to have read the previous story as it works as a standalone too. In this novel we spend time with Roxanne Barns, best friend of Eve, who is paying a long anticipated visit to Inverness, and Alice Campbell, stepdaughter of Moira, Eve’s partner. The pair did not hit it off at all when they first met in Leicester a few years before, so when Alice is asked to host Roxanne for the night, neither are happy about it. Roxanne’s apparent nonchalance regarding women and relationships annoys Alice no end. And Roxanne finds Alice stuck-up and immature. Can either of them get past that now? As a growing attraction builds it becomes more difficult to keep to their own corners.
I was so glad to be back in Newland, with Eve, Moira and their neighbours, especially Angus and Elizabeth. Life had moved on and there were new issues to deal with involving all of them. The tension between Roxanne and Alice was skilfully done, as was the story involving the whole group. The writing was beautifully descriptive and one could almost imaging being in the Highlands with them. The setting was perfect and the characters exceptionally well imagined. Anna Larner writes in a gentle, kind and loving way, and I look forward to every book she brings out. A wonderful story.
What’s a Muse to do when her much-anticipated peaceful break is under threat? Calliope Ardalides is the eldest of the nine Muses, and is responsible for arbitrating arguments between the gods and answering for their failures to the humans who complain. Her haven of serenity is a small Scottish village, where the Temple of the Muses is situated. But when an American businesswoman lodges plans for an adventure park right next door, Calliope’s hopes of relaxation and calm are shattered. Despite a powerful attraction neither women appear ready to yield. Can they each get what they want? And will they be able to resist the pull of something more?
I’ve been looking forward to this, the first in a new series set in the Afterlife Inc world. The first trilogy was excellent and my favourite series of the past five years. This time we are with the Muses, and they are just as compelling. Calliope is a talented musician and singer, but has been so caught up in the other aspects of her job, that her artistic side has taken a back seat. Being in Scotland lets her enjoy music again, but the threat to her peace from Jordan James and her plans is worrying. Although she’s used to seeing an issue from both sides at work, it’s more difficult in this case. She’s a kind, thoughtful and sensitive soul and I really liked her.
Jordan wasn’t the big, bad wolf, even though she wanted to build next to the Temple. I could see her point of view, and it would certainly help the local community. But she had to see the whole picture, and Calliope was the person to help her do that. Their attraction was intense and powerful, but it was also healing for both of them.
Brey Willows describes the Scottish countryside perfectly and makes me feel as if I’m there. She sees past the surface and allows the reader a peek of that too. I love the marrying of old and new, the mythology and the present. The story shows wonderful imagination, and I never tire of reading what she has come up with . She knows her characters inside out and allows the reader to become part of their lives.
‘Song of Serenity’ is a stunning story. I highly recommend it.
‘Change of Heart’ by Clare Lydon has ALL the feels. The Scottish Highlands, is the perfect setting for this heart-warming romance. Erin runs a decorating business with her friend Morag in Edinburgh. Her parent’s wedding anniversary means a big party in the Highlands, and she doesn’t want to turn up alone. So she hires a fake girlfriend. Steph, a struggling actress, takes on the role. It’ll be strictly business and they’ll part ways at the end of the weekend. What could go wrong? A growing attraction and family secrets throw a spanner in the works. Nothing is ever simple.
I loved Erin and Steph. As with all of Clare Lydon’s characters, I get the feeling we would be friends. They’re lovely women and perfect for each other. Their story had some unusual and very surprising twists and I found myself so invested in them. The wider story was extremely emotional and beautifully told. When I realised where it was going, it was a shock, but as with everything Clare Lydon writes, it was so well thought out and pulled me in. And with some added comedic moments and hot and steamy interludes, who could ask for more? I adored it.
‘The Island Between Us’ by Wendy Hudson is an atmospheric and wonderfully descriptive story set on a Hebridean Island off the coast of Scotland. Adventurer Georgia runs survivalist courses using the skills she has gained over many years travelling in the most remote areas of the world. When famous actress Kelsey signs up for one of her courses, Georgia initially has no idea who she is, or that they have a long-lost connection. The fierce Scottish weather leaves the group stranded and faced with using their newly acquired survival skills for real. How will they cope? And what will it mean for Georgia and Kelsey as they become reacquainted?
Wendy Hudson has surpassed herself with this novel. The writing is excellent, with exquisite descriptions of the island and the dire situations the group face. She slowly ramps up the tension, making the adventure real and dangerous. The distinct personalities within the group add to the drama, and it is only by working together they can overcome the situation they are in. It’s about teamwork and camaraderie and realising what is important. The story is compelling, with characters I could believe in. Georgia was strong, and a born leader. She brought out the best in people – especially Kelsey. I loved seeing how they became a unit and encouraged the others to believe in themselves too. Highly recommended.
‘The Fair Botanists’ by Sara Sheridan is the standout novel of the year for me. It’s the wonderful story of two women and the connections they make in Edinburgh in the early 1800s. Elizabeth is a widow moving to Edinburgh to live with her husband’s family, and hoping for a better life. Her interest in botany and especially illustration, brings her into contact with those working at the new botanical gardens. The imminent flowering of a special tree has the city fascinated, as has the expected visit of the King. Belle has a secret identity and a plan for the future. She knows her present career will be short lived, so is using her interest in botany to ensure her comfort later. These two very different women find a common bond, forming a friendship that defies society’s expectations .
Elizabeth and Belle’s stories weave in and out with those of other prominent and not so prominent members of Edinburgh society. It is this that captured my attention and did not let go until the last page. Sara Sheridan builds each layer, and connects each strand, with beautifully written descriptive pose. It’s a story of life, of friendship and of love. Highly recommended.
‘Under Her Influence’ by Amanda Radley is a sweet love story and leaves the reader feeling happy and contented. And that’s exactly what I want from a romance these days. Ms Radley keeps angst to a minimum and lets her readers enjoy the blossoming of love between her characters. Beth Fraser runs Fraser Park, a theme park in Scotland, where she takes the brunt of the responsibility and decision-making, whilst her brother apparently skates through life without a care in the world. When social media influencer, Jemma Johnson comes to the park to check out all it has to offer, Beth is perplexed. What is an influencer? She barely knows what Instagram is, so the idea that hundreds of thousands of people would follow Jemma on her travels around the world is beyond her. But as a hostile board threatens everything Beth has worked for, she realises that the park needs new ways of attracting customers.
I loved this story, as it was gentle and endearing, with two main characters I could really get to know. Beth was determined and focused and worked non-stop. In her way Jemma was the same. But the way they chose to deal with life was completely different, and bringing them together worked so well. It was a fee-good love story, with wonderful descriptions of the park. So wonderful that I want to go to Fraser Park. Tell me its a real place please Amanda Radley!
I am delighted to announce that my new book ‘The Women And The Storm – The Tarbet Witches Series’ is out today.
Being the only witch in a small Scottish town is not easy. Especially when the love of your life is totally unaware of the fact. Gillian has been in love with her best friend, Diane, for over ten years, but has yet to pluck up the courage to tell her.
How will Diane react to Gillian’s professions of love? And more importantly, will she run for the hills when she finds out she’s a witch?
If that was not enough, strange happenings in their little town convince Gillian that there may be more to them than freak weather or coincidence. As the town fights for its survival against the onslaught of all-too-frequent storms, the women face personal battles of their own. Can their relationship survive the turmoil? Or will long-hidden secrets pull them apart?
Last year I published a short story ‘The Woman By The River’ and soon discovered that I did not want to let Gillian and Diane go just yet. Readers and reviewers asked if I was going to tell more of their story, and I found myself imagining how their relationship would develop. The short story is free on Amazon if you want to read how it all started, but you don’t have to have read it to enjoy this one.
I hope you enjoy the book. Click on the links below to take you to the Amazon pages.
Tess and Susannah’s first meeting does not bode well for true love and happily ever after. If there’s one thing that Tess hates, it’s the upper class thinking they can lord it over the rest of us. Lady Muck owns most of the village and surrounding area – and has a contract dangling to tend to her growing equestrian stables. Tess’s new vet practice could do with that contract, but working for the lady of the manor might be a step too far for her. Even if she is hot. Will the women be able to get past their first impressions? There’s a lot more at stake than they initially think.
I liked Susannah, even from the start. She was grumpy and entitled, but there was a softer and kinder side to her too. With Tess it was one step forward and one step back. But there was a spark there and neither could quite resist it. Tess was still nursing a broken heart due to disloyalty from her previous partner. She had a bit of a chip on her shoulder regarding class, but it was understandable. They made an intriguing pair.
The setting was wonderful. When the setting is perfectly described and I can imagine myself there, that draws me into the story. That was certainly the case with A Roll in the Hay’. The intensely powerful feelings between the women kept me hooked. I could feel the joy and the passion. I loved it.
‘Before Now’ by Joy Argento is a a mixture of modern day romance and historical fiction. Delany Payton agrees to meet a friend of a friend for a date with benefits. But it doesn’t turn out the way she expected. Jade Taylor is drop dead gorgeous and sex would be very welcome, but she feels something for this woman she can’t explain. She feels she’s met her before – in a lifetime long ago.
The story goes back and forth between 15th century Scotland and present day New York State. Isobel and Heather’s love in the past was refreshing and beautiful but how could it ever work out? I really wanted it to, but feared the worst. Scotland in 1466 was described in wonderful detail. I enjoyed this part of the story. Delany and Jade’s story was one that was inextricably linked with theirs. I hoped that they could find happiness. There was some welcome humour and a bit of angst. An interesting story well told.