Just Say Yes by Maxine Morrey

I am a big fan of Maxine Morrey and have read a lot of her books. You Only Live Once is my current favourite, but I’ve never read one I didn’t enjoy. Once again, I love the intriguing title and the colourful cover!

Blurb:

There’s only one problem – dream cottages take a lot of work, and with a leaking roof, and not enough money to pay for it, what Maddie needs now is a big wedding to plan.

So she’s delighted when she takes on the wedding of Californian heiress Peyton, to all-round good guy Patrick. She’s less delighted to find out that she’s going to have help – from the admittedly gorgeous, but equally maddening, tall, dark and handsome best man Lorcan.

The wedding is set to take place in a castle in rural Ireland, and so, in no time, Maddie and Lorcan are on their way to Ballalee. Life hasn’t always been easy for Maddie, and work has become her refuge. But soon the warmth and humour of Lorcan’s Irish family and friends start to chip away at Maddie’s walls. And as the big day approaches, it might be time for Maddie to focus less on her clients’ love life and more on her own…

‘Read yourself happy’ with Maxine Morrey’s latest feel-good and utterly uplifting love story, guaranteed to make you smile. Perfect for fans of Mhairi McFarlane and Sophie Kinsella.

My thoughts:

This is a heart-warming and uplifting story. It’s a great reminder that you can find love and trust despite being hurt or let down in the last. Maddie is the epitome of a trustworthy and reliable character. She is so organised and regimented in everything she does, those close to her are even able to identify when she will eat, when she will bath and what time she goes to bed.

A creature of habit but also a pretty successful and definitely effective wedding planner, it appears that her organisational skills are used in order to help her feel in full control of her life at any point. She actually reminds me very much of a close friend, and this made certain points very relatable and also laugh out loud. You may read it and think, “Who actually colour codes all areas of their diary, down to what they will eat each night?” But having been friends with highly organised people, I could totally see it as believable.

I really liked the chemistry and fun between Lorcan and Maddie. For me, their connection and attraction was obvious but I did find myself both frustrated at how long they were taking to communicate their feelings to each other, but at the same time enjoying the build up too Peyton and Patrick’s wedding and seeing an emotional depth to the characters which is unexpected in a book like this.

Throughout the story, there is definitely drama, gorgeous scenes describing stunning scenery in Ireland, heartwarming dialogue and touching insights into characters’ vulnerabilities.

This book serves as a reminder that sometimes we must go with our heart and not our head, and take chances at the first opportunity. Because, if we don’t overthink it, it really is as simple as just saying yes!

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A White Christmas on Winter Street by Sue Moorcroft

I was drawn to this book because I love Sue Moorcroft’s books and I am a huge fan of festive fiction. The cover is beautiful and encapsulates one of the main images in the book – Sky throwing herself into her Christmas decorations project in order to avoid dealing with some of her problems.

Blurb:

When Sky Terran returns to the village of Middledip after losing the job she loves, she anticipates a quiet Christmas getting used to her new life. However, the annual street decoration competition is coming up and this year, the residents of Winter Street are determined to win.

As she is pulled into the preparations, Sky quickly grows to love the quirky, tight-knit community she is now part of. Including the extremely handsome Daz, who soon becomes more than just a friendly neighbour.

But when Daz’s ex turns up determined to win him back and it seems he might not be the man Sky thought he was, she remembers how much allowing people into her life – and heart – can hurt. As the snow falls, will she and Daz find a way through – and help win a Christmas victory for Winter Street?

A gorgeously festive novel about love, family and the power of forgiveness from Sunday Times bestseller Sue Moorcroft, perfect for fans of Sarah Morgan and Phillipa Ashley.

My thoughts:

This book definitely has all the hallmarks of a brilliant Christmas book. A shocking opening that means that Sky is left at risk of being lonely and sad at Christmas, a beautifully Christmas setting including the aptly named “Winter Street’ and the huge community spirit at Christmas, including a friendly-on-the suface decorating competition.

What sets this book apart is that Sue is not afraid to deal with some of the harsh realities of family life and how they become more amplified at Christmas time. Sue deals with family issues related to fostering, identity, imprisonment and disharmony when business mixes with family. This level of depth adds so much to the story and at times I found this book very emotional.

Sky is a believable character and a true heroine of the story. She is hard working, but the situation at the start of the book teaches her that there’s more to life than work. Sky reluctantly throws herself into community life in Middledip, though she quickly embraces manly elements wholeheartedly, and she forges bonds with a whole host of interesting and likeable characters.

Daz is totally likeable. He comes across as selfless and helpful, with a great sense of humour and also a good level of dedication to his own work as a video game developer. I was rooting for the two of them but knew it was going to be difficult for Sky to put her trust issues and past aside.

Overall, a heartwarming and sparkling Christmas treat. This is perfect for fans of Sarah Morgan, Mandy Baggott and Trisha Ashley.

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Wendy’s Winter Gift by Debbie Viggiano

When I first came to Debbie’s books, she was a bit of an unknown quantity and not someone I’d really heard of. Now, she is a must read author for me and I absolutely adored all her books. Her covers and writing have a distinct style, which I absolutely love.

Blurb:

Everyone has secrets but some are bigger than others.

Wendy Walker can count on two fingers the number of birthdays until she’s fifty. She can also count on six hands the number of years she’s been married to controlling Derek. Whatever happened to the boy she used to lark around with in the back of a Ford Escort? Just like Derek’s hairline, that lad has gone.

Wendy yearns for freedom but is resigned to her lot. After all, there are others to think about. Like daughter Ruby who – as a teenage single mum still at home – needs supporting, especially since abandoning her hopes of being on Love Island and achieving fame as a reality star.

But secrets dare to spill at the most inopportune moments.

Ruby is nurturing a mystery romance that she frets about her mother discovering, while Derek finds himself under the spotlight in the most disastrous of circumstances.

But just when Wendy thinks her world is falling apart, she discovers that sometimes unexpected joy is just around life’s corner…

My thoughts:

I say this every time, but I think this might be my favourite Debbie Viggiano book to date. I adored the character of Wendy. She is likeable, reliable and hard-working. Her family set up and circumstances are very believable and it is clear that Wendy is the glue that holds the family together.

Derek is the perfect villain character, and Gabe the perfect hero. In some ways, on the surface, this appears like a straightforward love story. However, there are bumps in the road that are realistic yet not insignificant. You have Derek, with his difficult character and secrets and lies, which when coupled with Wendy’s lack of self confidence and financial reliance on Derek, plus Gabe and Wendy’s attempt to maintain their professional relationship, could mean a recipe for disaster.

There is a perfect balance of drama and comedy. The book touches on serious topics including loss, teenage pregnancy, and being complicit in another person’s unfair treatment of you. However, the dog walking antics, and Wendy’s inner monologue provides some perfect comic relief. The inner monologue definitely helped me build a big connection with Wendy, so that I was completely invested in her fure and happiness.

Overall, this has been the perfect, uplifting, heartwarming winter read and I couldn’t recommend Debbie Viggiano any more highly.

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Murder In Tuscany by T A Williams

I love T.A. Williams and I love cosy mysteries, so this seemed like a great option for me! The cover is beautiful and encapsulates the beautiful Tuscan landscape.

Blurb:

A brand new cozy crime series set in gorgeous Tuscany…It’s murder in paradise!

A remote retreat…

Nestled high in the Tuscan hills lies Villa Volpone, home to renowned crime writer Jonah Moore and his creative writing course. It’s also the last place retired DCI Dan Armstrong expected to spend his retirement! Dan’s no writer, but maybe this break will help him to think about the next chapter in his own life story?

A gruesome murder…

But only days into the course, Jonah Moore is found stabbed to death with his award-winning silver dagger! And Dan finds himself pulled out of retirement with a killer to catch.

Eleven possible suspects.

The other guests all seem shocked by Jonah’s death, but Dan knows that one of them must be lying. And as he and Italian Commissario Virgilio Pisano begin to investigate it quickly becomes clear that everyone at Villa Volpone has secrets to hide…

But can Dan discover who the murderer is before they strike again?

My thoughts:

This was quite a slow burn to begin with, but this was done purposefully as allowing us to get to know the characters and get to grips with the setting made the investigation easier to follow, following the murder.

Dan is a great character and I respected him a lot from the very beginning. It was clear that he was trying to make the most of his retirement, but also had a natural aptitude and desire for investigation following his lengthy career in the Met.

It didn’t quite sit right with me that Dan was so good at speaking Italian, despite claiming to be rusty but this was important in allowing him to have a central role in the investigation and be a bridge between the guests at the retreat and the local police.

With eleven suspects to choose from, it takes a skilful writer to manage and balance these investigations without the reader becoming overwhelmed, especially when trying to write cosy mystery. The focus on Dan and Oscar allowed this, as we followed the unravelling of the mystery from their perspective.

Overall, a lighthearted and engaging cosy mystery with believable characters and plenty of twists to keep you guessing!

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Blind Dates by Gordon Macmillan

I read Gordon’s previous book and debut release in 2021, titled Songs For Your Mother. That book took me by surprise as I was completely engrossed and would definitely name it as one of my favourite uplifting reads of 2021. Therefore, I had high hopes for this one. The cover is eye-catching and the title suggested it would be romantic and fun.

Blurb:

Tom has always been a hopeless romantic: but now he’s just hopeless. After lockdown in particular made the millennial a reclusive introvert, it was finally time to get back ‘out there’ – at least according to his best friends Adam, Allison and sister Sarah.

As the group sets up 10 dates to rejuvenate Tom’s love life, he soon realises how difficult the dating scene has become, along with juggling his Shakespearean-themed cafe and a hobby of romantic mixtape making.

As some of the dates turn into disasters, an old flame keeps reappearing in Tom’s sight – along with bitter-sweet memories. Fearing it may be too little too late, Tom must decide whether he can date his way to happiness, or find his true match was under his nose the whole time…

A warm, uplifting read about finding love while also finding yourself, for fans of Mike Gayle and Hazel Prior.

My thoughts:

I would definitely describe this book as romantic and fun, but there are many layers to this book. The main character, Tom, is likeable and easy to imagine.

Tom’s character is a well-developed character who comes across as independent, brave and hard-working. Tom’s choice to give up his job as a journalist in order to open his own coffee shop was a really interesting one to think about. There was a lot of discussion in the book relating to the old mantra that you either live to work or work to live. This was quite interesting, especially within the post-pandemic context in which this book is set, but also reflects the world we are all currently living in.

In his note at the end of the book, Gordon expressed that he wanted this book to some extent to reflect the pandemic, but not be about the pandemic in a way that was depressing or off-putting. I think he definitely achieved this, in this hopeful and entertaining book.

I could relate to Tom’s feelings of social anxiety and having almost become too comfortable in our own home environment, so much so that venturing out can still, even now, feel like a mammoth and unnecessary task. I think that the pandemic changed all of us, one way or another, and I believe that this should be addressed more.

This is far from the focus of this book though, and the fun and sometimes hilarious, sometimes brutal world of dating is definitely its focus. Gordon has somehow managed to use this popular romantic fiction trope in an original way.

After a series of dates, all with varying levels of success but each one entertaining to read about, it was still difficult to predict where this one was going. I loved that this one kept me guessing right until the very end.

Once again, Gordon has created an original and uplifting book with memorable characters that have warmed my heart. I think he is a brilliant writer!

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Clara’s Secret Garden by Rosie Green

I have read so many of the books in this series, and I just can’t get enough of them! In my opinion, they just get better and better. In this installment, the Little Duck Pond Cafe is on the periphery of the narrative for much of the story, I love how the cafe has allowed this series to take on a life of its own!

Blurb:

When Clara Bowes transforms a wilderness of a garden, she isn’t expecting to reconnect with someone special from her past at the same time.

Having Rory Angel in her life again is a dream come true. But life is never straight forward – especially in matters of the heart – and soon, a devastating revelation looks set to bring Clara’s hopes for the future crashing down around her.

Will she find the strength to reach for her dreams? Don’t miss this gorgeously sunny read, perfect for the summer months!

My thoughts:

Firstly, I loved the host of characters in this book, especially Clara and her Gran. I wasn’t so sold on Lois, and I was definitely disgusted by Ireme, though even she had her golden moments in the book where she showed that she does have a caring and supportive side.

Clara is an absolutely delightful human being. In developing her back story, Rosie creates a lot of sympathy for her and it is very clear that she deserves to be valued and loved.

The romance storyline is one hell of a rollercoaster! There are quite a few unexpected but completely believable twists, and Rosie keeps us guessing right until the end! Only to remind us, of course, that Clara’s story is far from over and we are going to meet her again in the next installment of the Little Pond Cafe, which I hope to read very soon.

Rosie Green’s Little Duck Pond Cafe series is uplifting, touching, addictive and consistent proof that some of the best things come in small packages!

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Yellow is For Sunflowers by Kathryn Freeman

I love Kathryn Freeman’s books. She is definitely one of my favourite authors in this genre. The cover and title is a little unusual to what I usually see from her, but I still love it.

Blurb:

Dean Baxter was everything a sensible thirty-two-year-old teacher should avoid. Five years younger, cocky, with a playboy reputation. Oh and guardian to Tom, one of her most promising students. But Lia was a rebel at heart.

Lia Stapleton was everything that was out of reach for an uneducated garage mechanic who’d made too many mistakes. Cambridge-educated, gorgeous and from a well-heeled background, she was his brother’s teacher. But Dean couldn’t resist her.

As Dean and Lia’s tentative relationship begins, can it survive Tom’s disapproval, her parents’ interference. And the dangerous return of his past.

My thoughts:

Though not traditionally the flowers of romance (such as roses), the sunflower is a symbol of loyalty and adoration, and these are definitely two key themes in this book.

Firstly, it is clear that Dean and Lia adore and are attracted to each other from the very beginning. Though very different characters in some ways, they are both clearly intelligent, hardworking and dedicated people.

I definitely had empathy for both of their situations. From Lia’s point of view, I understand what it’s like to feel very different to the rest of the family.

From Dean’s point of view, I understand what it’s like to be, or feel like, a single parent. Tom, though his little brother, is the centre of his universe and you can’t help but deduce that someone who has sacrificed so much, has a beautiful heart, despite his past mistakes.

This book is beautifully written, and contains for me the right balance of romance and raunch, character development and drama.

I have absolutely adored this book from cover to cover. For me, it is a perfect love story and my favourite book from Kathryn Freeman thus far.

If you’re looking for an uplifting romance read with dramatic scenes and the odd raunchy spot, I’d definitely recommend picking this one up.

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A Festive Surprise by Margaret Amatt

This was my first read by this author, and I was very glad to have picked this as my introduction. I have heard lots of romantic fiction fans rave about this author, and now I see why. The cover is crisp, Christmassy and beautiful.

Blurb:

She can’t abide Christmas. He’s not sure what it’s all about. Together they’re in for a festive surprise.

Ambitious software developer Holly may have a festive name but the connection ends there. She despises the holiday season and decides to flee to the remote island of Mull in a bid to escape from it.

Syrian refugee Farid has made a new home in Scotland but he’s lonely. Understanding Nessie and Irn Bru is one thing, but when glittery reindeer and tinsel hit the shelves, he’s completely bemused. Determined to understand a new culture, he asks his new neighbour to educate him on all things Christmas.

When Holly reluctantly agrees, he realises there’s more to her hatred of mince pies and mulled wine than meets the eye. Farid makes it his mission to inject some joy into Hollys’ life but falling for her is an unexpected gift that was never on his list.

As their attraction sparkles, can Christmas work its magic on Holly and Farid, or will their spark fizzle out with the end of December?

My thoughts:

Despite this being the incredible tenth book in a series, I found this book extremely easy to get lost in, and highly enjoyable.

This is at least the second book I’ve read in recent weeks that steps away from the traditional enemies to lovers trope, bringing together two extremely likeable and sympathetic characters.

Both characters’ back stories are told in adequate depth in order build substantial connections with the reader, and they are both told with compassion and sensitivity.

I think many people have felt how Holly felt at Christmas time, to a certain extent. Everyone who has ever experienced an unhappy Christmas, will know that sense of trepidation that sometimes invades our festive spirit at Christmas time. When we have dealt with significant loss or grief at Christmas time, it is hard not to let ‘what if’ or ‘I wish’ seep into our thoughts, and Margaret expresses these things very well through the character of Holly.

Farid, though on the surface harder to relate to, as he had been through suffering and hardship on his journey to the UK that thankfully to most of us, is unimaginable. Howrever, some elements of his story we are all able to identify with. For example, his desire to follow his dreams, go with is heart but also feeling torn about keeping his family happy and living within their traditions.

Farid and Holly’s attraction, and commitment to each other is explicit from very early on, as though a magnet exists betwern their neighbouring houses.

However, 2 questions remain:Will this be enough? What sacrifices will they have to make?

Thankfully, these questions are answered in the book but there will be no spoilers here. I will end by saying the ending is absolutely anc beautiful, bringing the story completely full circle in a way you rarely see, especially in suc ha flawless and effortless manner.

Margaret Amatt has definitely established herself as a new favourite of mine. I will be looking out for new releases, and digging into the back catalogue! I highly recommend this book as an uplifting, festive treat!

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Just Date and See by Portia Macintosh

I adore Portia’s books and never turn down the chance to read a newbie by her. The romance and Christmas scenarios in this one sounded like a lot of fun, so I was looking forward to it.

Blurb:

Billie is looking forward to a quiet, man-free Christmas. It’s just a shame her family doesn’t feel the same way…

With a house full of unexpected (and unwanted) guests, Billie needs to find the perfect escape to get away from the chaos.

So when her dating app recommends a week of singles nights in her area, Billie decides that braving these events has to be better than making conversation with her dad’s new wife, dealing with her mum’s mid-life crisis or witnessing her sister flirting with her insufferably arrogant next-door neighbour.

While this is definitely not the festive season she had planned, between disco bowling and boozy bingo, little does Billie know that she may find love this year after all – she’ll just have to date and see…

Fall in love with the perfect laugh-out-loud festive read from top 10 bestseller Portia MacIntosh.

My thoughts:

I loved the character of Billie and admired her indepence and strength. As a teacher, I identitifed with her need to switch off and enjoy the peace and calm of Christmas.

Of course, these plans go awry when family members turned up. I completely felt for Billie and her mixed emotions of having her Dad invite himself and his new partner over for Xmas, as their relationship could be described as distant. At this point, the story becomes about familial relationships and how they change and divert as we grow up.

I suppose the exploration of family dynamics provides a more serious element to the story, as the romance story is very light-hearted, a lot of fun and sometimes laugh out loud. Billie’s backstory is upsetting and realistic, and I was glad of her reaction when slimy Declan tried to worm his way back into Billie’s life.

Rocco is a likeable and suitable hero of the story, and him and Billie seem to hit it off straight away. However, another woman seems to have her eye on Rocco and Billie has setious trust issues, which makes it unclear as to whether their instant attraction will build into something that will last.

I was surprised by a few twists along the way, as well as the ending, but glad that Portia made the choice to provide an insight into the future, as otherwise I think the ending might have fallen flat or felt too rushed, for me personally.

Overall, this was a well balanced rom com that provides some light and fun moments, alongside some more serious, soul-searching moments. Recommended for fans of Paige Toon and Camilla Isley.

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The Santa Killer by Ross Greenwood

I have read a few of the books in this series now (though admittedly not all) and I have really enjoyed them. I have definitely like I was cracking the cases alongside DI Barton and his team.

Blurb:

The Santa Killer is coming to town…

One night less than two weeks before Christmas, a single mother is violently assaulted. It’s a brutal crime at the time of year when there should be goodwill to all. When DI Barton begins his investigation, he’s surprised to find the victim is a woman with nothing to hide and no reason for anyone to hurt her. 

A few days later, the mother of the woman attacked rings the police station. Her granddaughter has drawn a shocking picture. It seems she was looking out of the window when her mother was attacked. And when her grandmother asks the young girl who the person with the weapon is, she whispers two words. 

Bad Santa.

The rumours start spreading, and none of the city’s women feel safe – which one of them will be next?

My thoughts:

This has been a fun, whirlwind ending to the series and I have thoroughly enjoyed dipping in and out of this series.

The Santa Killer has definitely been an exciting and sometimes terrifying concept to read about in the run up to Christmas 2023. I read a book like this before, and I have to be honest it fell really flat and cliche, so it was great to read something that had a bit of spark and a rollercoaster feel to it.

DI Barton is a great character and detective, who works extremely hard, at times to the detriment to his family time, though he also credits his supportive and loyal team for his successes.

This will take you on quite a journey of near-misses and trying to make the crime stick. I definitely couldn’t predict where this one was going. There are some really dark themes explored in the book, including the desperation of poverty, grief and violence against women, but Greenwood carries it off because you know throughout that he has the rigbt persob at the helm, who won’t give up until the right man or woman gets what they deserve.

I don’t read police procedurals much anymore but it’s testament to how much I’ve enjoyed this series that I keep coming back to it. I highly recommend Ross Greenwood!

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