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My Reading Month ~ Books I Loved in June 2023

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Welcome to my reading month!

 

I didn’t quite manage to hit my target of eight books this month, but I came close. I managed seven, and cracking reads they were too. I always start these posts by explaining that  if I didn’t particularly enjoy a book, or didn’t even finish it (rare) I don’t mention it at all. I move on and find a book I do love. So you’ll never find a negative review of any book on my blog, only positive ones. After all, just because I didn’t enjoy a book doesn’t mean someone else won’t love it, and I’d hate to put anyone off reading it. I’m not a book blogger as such. I’m just sharing the love for the books I think others might love too. Here then are the books I’ve read and enjoyed during June.

 

The Chosen Ones

 

 

Foxden Acres: Historical Fiction

 

This was such a lovely story. Bess Dudley has a good life. Her father is second groom at the Foxden Acres estate, where her family have their own little cottage. Bess, the eldest of the Dudley sisters,  is training in London to be a teacher, staying during term-time with what’s become her second family – her landlady and fellow guests, Molly and Miss Armstrong. Home for Christmas, she encounters James Foxden, whom she’s loved since childhood. He is clearly interested in her, and Bess dreams of a life with him when she’s finished her training.

But war is declared, and everything changes. Bess completes her training but finds London is no longer safe. Her brother Tom is sent to fight, and so is James. Bess is devastated to be separated from him, but realises he’s not hers anyway, as she hears news that he’s engaged to wealthy and aristocratic Annabel Hadleigh.

When James asks her to return to Foxden Acres and help turn the estate into arable land for the war effort, Bess heads home and takes charge of the new land girls. Her unlikely friendship with Annabel grows, but her love for James doesn’t diminish. By the end of the war, just who will he choose?

This book covers the entire length of the war, so clearly some bits are skipped over quite quickly. However, there are several key scenes that really tug at the heartstrings, and the reader can’t help but feel for Bess who has more than her fair share of trouble and pain to deal with.

It’s an interesting look at life in wartime Britain, and how it affected everyone, regardless of gender, race, or class. It was good to meet the Jewish family, the Goldmans, and get a little glimpse into what war meant for them, particularly as Natalie is German.

Family relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships are explored in this book, and the characters are likeable and realistic, which kept me invested in the story. I really enjoyed it, and I’m glad to see there are many more books in this series, as I’d like to know what happens next and learn more about other members of the Dudley family.

 

Image shows the cover of Foxden Acres by Madalyn Morgan. Image of a young woman's face in profile on top half of book which fades to picture of country house in parkland. The planes of the Second World War fly in the sky above.
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England, 1939. 

Bess Dudley knows what it means to lose what you love. As daughter of a groom at historic Foxden Hall, she has pushed herself to escape her humble background and train as a teacher. But just as Bess arrives in London to take up her first, hard-won post, the shadow of war sweeps over England. Bombs rip apart the city, and screeching air raids become a part of everyday life. The city is thrown into chaos and schools close, taking Bess’s dreams with them.

Then Bess learns that James, the handsome heir to Foxden Hall – who she’s loved since they played together in childhood – is engaged to Annabel Hadley. Annabel is everything Bess is not – wealthy and gentile – but James never seemed to care about those things before. It breaks Bess’s heart to see him promised to someone else.

Living in London is becoming more dangerous by the day, and Bess is persuaded to return home as a Land Girl – farming Foxden Acres for the war effort. It’s a far cry from the life she dreamed of – it’s back-breaking work and living in close proximity to James and Annabel seems unbearable.

But once she arrives, she finds that not only does her love for James remain, she’s becoming increasingly close to Annabel. In a world torn apart by violence, Bess must make an impossible decision, all while keeping a dark secret of her own. Is her love for James worth risking everything she’s built for herself from the ashes of her old life?

And without James – without Foxden – does she have anywhere left to call home?

 

Wyrd Magic ~ Urban Fantasy

 

I’ve finally caught up with T J Green’s White Haven Witches series! This month’s read was Book 11, Wyrd Magic, and what a cracking story it was, too.

Samhain is fast approaching, and Avery, Dan, and Sally are getting into the mood by dressing up for the occasion as they serve customers in Happenstance Books. Avery’s not too keen when she discovers what costume Dan has bought for her, but as it turns out that’s the least of her worries…

Brief overview: creepy mists, disappearance of a team member, ancestors, totem animals, visions, battles, and a starring role for Stan!

This was a fast-paced, action-packed story from an author who never disappoints. If you love magic, witches, and Cornwall (come on, who doesn’t?) then you’ll love this. Best to read the series in order, though, and you can start with Buried Magic which is free to read on all platforms.

Meanwhile, I’ve just pre-ordered Book 12, Midwinter Magic!

 

Image shows cover of Wyrd Magic by TJ Green. Symbols form a circle around a picture of a young woman, with a stag behind her. Above her in a night sky is a large full moon.
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Samhain is approaching. The past draws closer. A reckoning is coming.

Avery and her coven are looking forward to celebrating Samhain, and the townsfolk are preparing to honour their ancestors with the Walk of the Spirits. 
But then Ben disappears from Old Haven Church, leaving no clue as to where he has gone. 
Panic-stricken, the witches and their friends widen their search, but when they can’t find him, they have to accept that he’s somewhere else—somewhere their spells can’t reach.

When part of the town vanishes, they realise that their lives and the town’s future are in danger. 
Their ancestors reach out, desperate to help them—if they can.
But what has happened in their past that is having such huge repercussions on the present?

With every hour that passes, the risks escalate. They need help, and they need it quickly, but it means they have to find their familiars…

Wyrd Magic is the biggest and most twisty action-packed mystery in the series yet, filled with your favourite characters and lots of new ones. You won’t put it down!

Join the coven and battle Wyrd’s magic, now!

 

The Book Club in Lily Vale Village

 

This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was a short and sweet story of life in a cosy little village, and a cute romance between handyman Alex and writer Lucy.

After Lucy’s relationship with the less than charming Craig comes to an end, she finds herself struggling with writer’s block, and her mum suggests she go to stay in her late grandmother’s home, Appleseed Cottage, in Lily Vale Village.

Lucy doesn’t want to take advantage of her parents, and knows they need to sell the cottage, but her mum suggests she stay there for six months while she gets her writing mojo back, and in return she can help renovate the cottage to prepare it for sale.

Lily Vale Village is the sort of picture-perfect country village that most people would love to live in, and it’s populated by kind, generous people, who soon make Lucy welcome. From the local café owner to the elderly gentleman who loves gardening, Lucy finds help at every turn, not least from the charming Alex, who seems able to turn his hand to any job Lucy needs doing at the cottage.

It’s an easy read that I finished in a couple of hours, so you don’t expect an in-depth, complicated plotline. It’s no less enjoyable for that. Sometimes all you want is a happy story that you can lose yourself in for a little while, and The Book Club in Lily Vale Village serves that purpose perfectly.

I’ve already downloaded the second in the series, and I look forward to reading more of Imogen Payne’s stories.

 

Image shows cover of The Book Club in Lily Vale Village by Imogen Payne. Rural scene depicted in cartoon like drawing of cottages and various people on green hills.
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Life is just not turning out the way Lucy Middleton had planned. An aspiring author with a serious case of writer’s block and a broken heart, she’s just about done with love, whether that’s fictional or real life!

When the opportunity to escape her stale life in the city for a gorgeous countryside cottage once owned by her Granny Edith arises, Lucy jumps at the chance, sure the change of scenery will cure her lack of inspiration once and for all. If Lily Vale Village is anything like her childhood memories, it’ll be the perfect place to take a break from reality while fixing up the cottage for her parents to sell. Now’s her chance to prove the true meaning of do-it-yourself!

Just days in Lily Vale Village and she’s already met the local eccentric Victor with his obsession for gardening, made a firm friend of Holly who runs a quaint little tearoom and started giving her gran’s old cottage some much-needed TLC. It’s really starting to look like this short break is exactly what Lucy needs to get her spark back before returning to reality.

But a chance encounter with a handsome stranger sets her plans awry and Lucy questions whether she can leave all she’s found in this quiet little village behind. She only has six months to stay in Gran’s cottage, but the temporary life she’s forged in Lily Vale Village has complicated everything. And when her past comes crashing into her present, will Lucy make the right decision?

The Book Club in Lily Vale Village is the first story in the Lily Vale Village book series, a charming set of novellas revolving around the lives of the ordinary people who reside in the beautiful countryside community.

 

They Do it With Mirrors ~ Crime Fiction

 

Another book chosen from the Read Christie 2023 Challenge. Last month I ventured away from Agatha’s crime stories to read my first book of hers written as Mary Westmacott, Unfinished Portrait. It was surprisingly enjoyable and prompted me to buy another of her books written under this pseudonym.

This month, though, I was firmly back in familiar territory, as the suggested book was They Do it with Mirrors, a murder mystery starring that perennial favourite, Miss Jane Marple.

I know I must have read this book before because I had the entire collection of Miss Marple stories in paperback and read them all before sending them to a charity shop (don’t ask!) but I must admit I couldn’t remember much about it because the book has been overshadowed by the television adaptation starring Geraldine McEwan.

Now, I loved the Marple series, but I will say that this was one of my least favourite episodes, although I can’t really give you a reason why, so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading this. However, it was so much better than I expected, and made a lot more sense to me than the television episode.

I won’t give away any details about the plot, but it’s littered with red herrings, there are plenty of characters behaving oddly, and no shortage of suspects. The setting is unusual – an old house owned by Miss Marple’s friend, Carrie Louise, but with a reform centre built in its grounds which houses young criminals. Carrie Louise’s husband, Lewis, is devoted to rehabilitating these young men and helping them to turn their lives around.

Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t so keen on it when watching the programme. Maybe the setting didn’t seem cosy enough? I really don’t know, but this time, reading the book I was quickly swept into the story and found myself wishing I couldn’t remember whodunnit, because I do think it’s a well-plotted mystery. It’s still not my favourite Agatha Christie, or even my favourite Miss Marple, but given how much I love Agatha’s books that’s not a criticism. It’s well worth a read and I do recommend it.

 

Image shows cover of They Do it with Mirrors by Agatha Christie. Green cover with oval inset showing the body of a man slumped over a typewriter. A lamp is on and there's a mirror above his desk. In the reflection we see a shadowy figure standing by the window, the full moon behind him.
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A shocking crime

A mansion filled with suspects

Ruth Van Rydock can’t shake the feeling that something terrible is going to happen to her sister at Stonygates house.

Her old school friend Jane Marple decides it’s time to pay a visit.

But this grand Victorian mansion isn’t just a family home – it’s also a correctional facility for wayward young men.

And when something terrible does indeed happen, Miss Marple must face her most eccentric cast of suspects yet.

Never underestimate Miss Marple

 

Honeybee Cottage ~ Contemporary Romance

 

This is the second in K.T. Dady’s popular Pepper Bay series, set in a close-knit community on the Isle of Wight. This time it’s Josh and Joey’s story. Josh Walker is the playboy younger brother of Jake, star of the first book in the series, Starlight Cottage. For years he’s had an on-off relationship with Joey Walker. Every time he returns to Pepper Bay they fall into each other’s arms before he jets off again, leaving her behind. But this time, Joey’s determined it’s going to be different. She’s tired of being used by him as a holiday fling, and wishes he’d realise how much he’s hurting her. Why can’t he see how much she loves him?

Josh, meanwhile, has been through the mill. He’s been fighting his demons, seeking help from a therapist who has finally made him realise that Joey is the love of his life, and all he wants to do is show her how much he cares. He’s determined that, this time, his visit to Pepper Bay will be different. He’s ready to settle down and declare his feelings for her. So it’s a bit of a shock to him when Joey makes it very clear she’s no longer interested in a relationship with him, and considers them just friends. Just what will he do now?

This was a sweet, cosy story about two people who only want the best for each other, but somehow keep messing up. There’s romance, friendship, drama, and a strong sense of community. Pepper Bay is a lovely setting, populated with plenty of interesting characters who, I’m sure, each have their own story to tell. If you’re looking for a light, easy read that will warm your heart, this is perfect for you.

 

Image shows cover of Honeybee Cottage by K.T. Dady. A cartoon-like illustration of a young couple on a scooter, gazing out over green fields and hills, with a couple of small cottages in the distance. A road sign reads Pepper Bay, while bunting is strung across a blue sky.
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Honeybee Cottage: The last time Joey Walker watched Josh Reynolds leave Pepper Bay was three years ago. She decided there and then that the next time he visited she would never in a million years, even if her life depended on it, sleep with him ever again. She was done with secretly being in love with him. She couldn’t keep falling into his arms every time he was around. Josh was never going to see her as anything more than a holiday fling, or a sure thing. She had made her decision and had happily stuck to it, but only because he wasn’t around. She soon realises just how hard keeping him at arm’s length actually is when he unexpectedly turns up just before Christmas.

Josh had always loved Joey, but he knew she never took him seriously. She had no reason to. Growing up, he only went to his grandmother’s family home in Pepper Bay for the summer. As an adult, he knew that the world viewed him as a playboy heir to his grandfather’s millions. This year, he was determined to prove just how reliable he could be.

He was back, and on a secret mission to get Joey to fall in love with him, because she was all he had ever wanted.

 

The Gilded Cage ~ Historical Fiction

 

Having read this author’s contemporary novels, I wasn’t sure what to expect from her historical fiction, but I loved this book and whizzed through it in no time.

In the dying days of the nineteenth century, Rosamund’s father dies, and her brother makes it very clear to her that she has no choice but to marry Sir Lucien Fitznorton. It soon becomes clear to Rosamund that her happy life is over. Her new husband is a brute, who takes great delight in tormenting and torturing her, while outwardly keeping up the façade of a dutiful husband.

Her maid, Nellie, is all too aware of the truth of Rosamund’s painful existence, but at first finds it hard to have sympathy for her mistress who, after all, has a life of luxury compared with many other women who are also beaten and abused by their husbands, but have no luxuries to compensate. It’s only when Sir Lucien and his spoilt daughter, Charlotte, head to London for a long stay with Sir Lucien’s sister, that Nellie begins to warm to Rosamund, and sees a different side to her.

I thought Nellie was a wonderful character. Sensible, practical, unsentimental, but with a genuine loyalty and compassion for Rosamund. Despite the difference in their circumstances, it’s Nellie who really comes to Rosamund’s rescue and shows her what true friendship is. Yet somehow she never steps out of place or forgets that she is Rosamund’s maid. There are clear boundaries, and I thought that relationship was particularly well done, and realistic.

The new chauffeur and mechanic, Joseph, is Rosamund’s only hope of a life outside her miserable marriage. She wants to learn to drive, desperate for a taste of freedom, and when he agrees to teach her it changes everything.

This was a beautiful story. Rosamund is such a sympathetic protagonist, trapped as surely as any bird in a cage, and finding comfort with the unlikeliest of people. Joe is an interesting character, and although he is flawed, it’s difficult not to have sympathy with him, as he, too, finds himself trapped in a very different kind of cage. Despite the social distance between them, somehow these two sad and lonely people find comfort in each other, taking moments of happiness as and when they can, and giving each other tantalising glimpses of what true freedom could look like.

But glimpses are all they are. Even though I found myself rooting for Rosamund and Joe, in my heart of hearts I was sure there could be no happy ending. In the strict confines of Edwardian society, how can a born lady and a chauffeur really find happiness and acceptance as a couple? I wasn’t sure how the author would resolve all the threads of the story and was dreading an unhappy ending for at least one of the characters.

I was delighted when I reached the end of the book with a smile on my face and a feeling of contentment in my heart. It was cheering to see all three of the main characters choosing their path for the future, deciding what was next for them, and taking action to make it work.

The ending was plausible and, to my mind, perfect, giving Joe, Rosamund, and Nellie a satisfying and optimistic conclusion to their stories, while keeping them grounded in reality. I honestly don’t think the author could have given them a better outcome.

 

 

Image shows the cover of The Gilded Cage by Luisa A Jones. A young woman in Edwardian dress walks down a long path towards a grand country house. The image is framed by yellow roses.
Click to buy

 

 

1897. Rosamund bows her head and steps slowly down the aisle. The satin of her gown whispers against the stone floor and a single tear falls into the bunch of yellow roses twisted in her trembling hands. Despite rumours of his cruelty, Rosamund has no choice but to become this man’s second wife.

After her wedding, Rosamund finds herself trapped in Sir Lucien Fitznorton’s lonely country estate. As she wanders the chilly halls, made shadowy by drapes of heavy velvet, she longs for the lost comforts of her childhood home, where she was the beloved only daughter to a doting father, now buried miles away. As a young woman with no fortune of her own, only death can release her from this misery.

Until she meets Joseph, her husband’s gruffly handsome new chauffeur. With his mop of salt-and-pepper hair and lilting accent, Joseph is from another world. One of clambering children and tea at scrubbed kitchen tables, the hollow scratch of hunger and long hours of hard work. Despite their differences, they find themselves increasingly drawn to one other.

But Sir Lucien is not only cruel, he’s devious too, and soon Rosamund finds herself caught in a dangerous web of secrets and lies. Is Rosamund’s fragile marriage nothing but a golden cage, trapping her between two men who desire her… and to what end?

One holds her captive and the other offers a hope of escape… but who really holds the key to Rosamund’s gilded prison?

 

The French Chateau Dream ~ Contemporary Romance

 

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that this is the first book by Julie Caplin that I’ve read, but I have to say it was a wonderful surprise. The writing flowed and was easy to read, and the story was captivating. I loved Hattie and was rooting for her from the start. She’d had a pretty awful time with her ex-boyfriend, Chris, and although I also felt some compassion for him, I did hope that Hattie wouldn’t give in and put his needs before hers.

I loved Luc from the moment he appeared on the page. What a kind, generous, and understanding hero he is! He also has a great sense of humour. I could almost hear him saying, “‘Attie,” in that gorgeous French accent, and I understood all too well why Hattie fell for him.

But it wasn’t just Luc and Hattie that won me over. I loved straight-talking Fliss, the grieving Solange, the stubborn Alphonse, Marthe, the family matriarch who had taken Luc in and given him love and a home when his own parents weren’t up to the job. I even warmed to Yvette eventually, despite her antics.

There’s no real threat or danger here. Apart from a few setbacks caused by Yvette it’s a gentle, lovely story that you can absolutely lose yourself in. I felt very relaxed reading it. I could almost feel the sunshine beating down on me. Oh, and the food! The descriptions of the delicious dishes eaten by the characters had my stomach rumbling. I could smell the bread baking, taste the buttery croissants and those scrumptious desserts. Don’t read it if you’re hungry!

It’s an absolute treat for the senses, and a wonderful escape from the pressures of the world. I loved it.

 

Image shows cover of The French Chateau Dream by Julie Caplin. Illustration of a young woman on a bicycle with a basket full of flowers riding down a drive towards a grand chateau, vineyards at either side of her.
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The world is just a page away with Julie Caplin

You are invited to a summer of sparkling champagne, warm buttery croissants and a little bit of je ne sais quoi…

With a broken heart and a broken spirit, Hattie is in need of a summer escape. So when an opportunity comes up to work at a beautiful, stately chateau in the Champagne region of France she books her flights quicker than the pop of a cork.

Romance is the last thing Hattie is looking for but then she wasn’t expecting gorgeous Luc to stroll into her life.

With picnics in the warm French sun and delicious foodie trips to the local market, Hattie starts to wonder if a holiday fling – or maybe even something more – might be just what she needs.

 

 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jo Lambert - Author

    What a lovely new feature Sharon. I too read The Gilded Cage and enjoyed it very much. Looking forward to your July choices.

    1. sharon

      I decided to do it as a way of making sure I read more books, Jo. My reading had dropped massively, and I thought by promising to do monthly reviews it would make me up my game. It has, and I’m really enjoying getting back my reading mojo!

  2. K.T. DADY

    Thank you so much for reading Honeybee Cottage. Glad you enjoyed the story. xx

    1. sharon

      You’re very welcome, Karen. I’m already very fond of Pepper Bay and looking forward to the next one as soon as I can fit it in. xx

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