Book Review: One Summer in Italy by Sue Moorcroft

When Sofia Bianchi’s father Aldo dies, it makes her stop and look at things afresh. Having been his carer for so many years, she knows it’s time for her to live her own life – and to fulfil some promises she made to Aldo in his final days.

So there’s nothing for it but to escape to Italy’s Umbrian mountains where, tucked away in a sleepy Italian village, lie plenty of family secrets waiting to be discovered. There, Sofia also finds Amy who is desperately trying to find her way in life after discovering her dad isn’t her biological father.

Sofia sets about helping Amy through this difficult time, but it’s the handsome Levi who proves to be the biggest distraction for Sofia, as her new life starts to take off…

From the publishers via Netgalley, this is my first Moorcroft book. It’s a  slightly different take on the “romance in a sunny foreign land” trope, and thank god!

Sofia, a woman in her late 30s nurses her sick father, as she has done since she was a teen. The early chapters of the book have her discussing what happens after her father dies, and she makes various promises, including to be happy, and to travel to her father’s home town in Italy to place flowers on her grandparents graves – they had died in a car crash several years before, and Aldo hadn’t seen them for years.

Once Aldo dies she goes to Italy and gets a waitressing job at a local place. Her father’s brother lives nearby, but she doesn’t have an address, so she seeks help from one of the local church goers. Before anything come to fruition however, she has to step in when the owner’s son (Davide) picks on a naive young German waitress called Amy. Levi, a guest also steps in to support Amy and Sofia, resulting in the owner backing down from sacking her.

Levi and Sofia get on, even though there is the rule that staff are not allowed relationships with customers. Sofia feels protective, even motherly, towards Amy, even when she suspects that Levi has a vested interest in the much younger woman. That, plus the “no fraternising” rule means that she backs away from anything deeper. However, the two meet away from the bar, where a conversation along lines of “you’re old enough to be her father” results in admission that Levi is her father, but she doesn’t know. Puts both Levi and Sofia in difficult position.

It turns out that Amy has run away from home because she overheard an argument, and found out that the man she’s always called “dad” is not actually her biological father. She feels her mother lied to every one around her and refuses to see anyone else’s standpoint.   She was infact the result of a one night stand between her mother and Levi when he was  17 and she was on a hen weekend.

The first half of the book covers both Sofia trying to get to know her extended family, whilst trying to help Levi navigate the minefield of watching his daughter whilst not letting on who he is.

In the background Levi’s friend and business partner has met up with a woman called Octavia, a tech genius who is far too intense and seems to want to know far more than appropriate with regards to Levi, and is willing to use Wes to get it. Naturally Wes cant see that he’s being used and is in lust – until Octavia dumps him.

The second part of the story is when all characters return to the UK, with Amy having found out who Levi was and wants to confront his behaviour.

I felt the secondary characters could have been used better – the hotel owner was mercurial and temperamental, apparently purely as a plot device – I wasnt convinced at the “Sofia is the niece of the competition” excuse. The tertiary characters, you have to wonder about  – could the secondary characters been expanded, and used as mechanisms to move story along? I felt Octavia (for all her obsessive checking of Wes and Levi) disappeared a little too easily for a literal stalker.

So, a nice distraction, and perhaps I’m overthinking a fine summer Italian romance.

About this author

Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times bestselling author and has held the coveted #1 spot in the Amazon Kindle chart. She’s also a bestseller in Germany. She writes women’s contemporary fiction with sometimes unexpected themes.
Sue has won the Best Romantic Read Award, been nominated for a RoNA and is a Katie Fforde Bursary winner. She also writes short stories, serials, articles, columns, courses and writing ‘how to’.
An army child, Sue was born in Germany then lived in Cyprus, Malta and the UK. She’s worked in a bank, as a bookkeeper (probably a mistake), as a copytaker for Motor Cycle News and for a typesetter, but is pleased to have wriggled out of all ‘proper jobs’.

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Book Review: One Night with a Duke by Sandra Masters

Reclusive, cold as ice, the politically powerful Raven, Duke of Ravensmere, denies love after the tragic deaths of his duchess and baby. He is bound by his vow never to allow love to enter his heart again. Samantha Winston permits him to seek refuge in her carriage in a time of need, and what started as a kiss in the name of safety, becomes something more pleasurable and not so safe after all. In spite of every caution, his interest escalates into unexpected desire.

Samantha, a young widow with a secret, irreverent and high-spirited, has constructed impenetrable walls against all men. When she and Raven meet again, strong wills clash. Political intrigues and a dreaded nemesis place his life at risk, and Samantha finds herself in a dire predicament. All the while, passion soars.

Can Samantha’s barriers fall with more kisses? Can Raven be released from his deathbed vow?

I have to say this was a DNF I’m afraid. It started well and I had high hopes, only to be get half way through and give up.

I really must stop asking for Regency romances, especially ones written by Americans or for the American market. I generally find there’s one or more errors that are glaring enough to stop me in my tracks and therefore spoil my enjoyment.

There were several in this book, one of which could be semi deliberate, one of which is just an out and out error. The first (possibly deliberate) point is Raven asking for investors to stump up £50,000 as an initial deposit in a new company. The reason I say semi-deliberate, is I think the author is trying to indicate this is a fairly large sum, but not impossible for investors to come up with. However, inflation doesnt seem to have been taken into account here. With the introduction of gaslight, I’m going to guess that this book is set in the 1860s. Calculations result in £50,000 being approximately £4,700,000 in today’s money. You know anyone else with £5million ready cash lying around? (especially when, later in the book, Raven alludes to the fact that he could have brought a house for £1,000). Bearing in mind, a few decades later in reality, the British aristocracy were marrying rich American women in order to bring some much needed cash to keep their houses up and running, then £50,000 was just so….wrong.

The second error that stopped me in my tracks is, whilst on a picnic, dessert includes “chocolate grenache layered cakes” . Now, maybe she did mean Grenache. However, it’s a type of wine and I’m not sure that it would be combined with chocolate to layer a cake. She might have meant Ganache, which *is* used in baking, and cakes in particular. Whether or not these cakes would have been served at this time, I don’t know, but again, it stopped me in my tracks to the point I had to look it up to check I wasn’t going mad.

Another thing that spoilt my enjoyment was the dialogue. The following is an example of Samantha talking to Raven the first time they have been formally introduced to each other, this time at a ball

“I’m impressed with you” she said. “when you spoke of your late wife, you struck an emotional chord with me. Grief overtook your face. You could not know, but my heart cried for you to know such love and such sorrow. I will never forgive myself for my behaviour when I know I’m better than that.” Samantha fingered her fan. “I would not bring such sad memories to life again when I can see hw painful it is to you. I, oo, have struggled with sadness. So I share your misery but for different reasons.”

If this is the way the other books have been written then I’m glad I havent read any of the others. I only got to 50% and then I had to give up

About this author

From a humble beginning in Newark, NJ, a short stay at a convent in Morristown, NJ, to the board rooms of NYC, and a fantastic career for a broadcasting company in Carlsbad, California, to the rural foothills of the Sierras of Yosemite National Park, Sandra Masters has always traveled with pen and notebook. It’s been the journey of ten thousand miles with a few steps left to go. She left her corporate world behind and never looked back.


She hopes you’ll like her voice and passion for writing. She’s never created a Duke she didn’t fall in love with. ONCE UPON A DUKE by Sandra Masters, New Release by The Wild Rose Press.

Book Review: Confessions of a Courtesan by Elizabeth Charles

Based on the true story of Elizabeth Armistead, one of the most notorious and successful courtesans of 18th century England.

From the harsh streets of London, Lizzie Cane rose to become the celebrated mistress of earls, dukes, and even a prince! Then at the height of her career, she risked everything she had struggled to gain by breaking the courtesan’s cardinal rule…Never fall in love.

Another, average freebie from Amazon, and less unsettling than the last one in its premise.  This is a fictionalised version of the real courtesan Elizabeth Armistead (born Crane), who crawls out of the gutter to become a whore, then a courtesan, and then the wife of the politician Charles Fox.

Details of the working life in a brothel is relatively detailed, but the sex details soon disappear and are largely ignored. The list of her conquests is long and a tad confusing when you are trying to remember who is who. The size of the circles she ends up in is fairly small, so the same people end up going around with the same “fallen women” and it’s not long before everyone is pretty much sleeping with everyone else’s exes. The one that upsets Armistead the most is Perditia Robinson, who inspires extreme jealously in Armistead, especially when she is out with a current or previous patron.

The book starts and ends with the warning that a courtesan must “never fall in love” as if there is some foreshadowing of some great calamity/ies for Armistead if she doesn’t heed the warnings. Far from it it seems. As she gets older she realises that she has fallen in love with her friend Charles Fox, and they finally settle down and get married (albeit in secret). The biggest “disaster” this seems to entail for Armistead is that she has to settle down (with someone with dubious levels of debts) and not actually sleep around.  Much of the book also references America trying for independence, and the general politics going on in Britain at the time.

This is clearly made for the American market, with little consideration for the market outside of this, as I can tell from one of my bugbears in these kinds of books. Despite stating the author had done “large amount of research” all characters referred to the season of “autumn” as “fall”. It was repeated multiple times in this book. It is a purely American word and not used in England to describe the season. (In other recent Romance novels I’ve come across Regency English people announcing that somewhere was “only a block away” (it’s not a measure of distance the Brits use).

So in summary: Not the worst (creepiest) Romance I’ve read recently, an annoying Americanism that kept interrupting the flow of the story, and a romp through a turbulent time in British history.

 

Book Review: In the Garden of Temptation by Cynthia Wicklund

HONOR – Adam Stanford, Earl of Ashworth, has always done the right thing.
DESIRE – Lady Catherine Bourgeault, lonely and rejected, longs to experience passion, to love just once in her life.
TREACHERY – The Baron Bourgeault, to what extremes will an obsessive, unstable man go to achieve his own dark ends? 
SEDUCTION – In the face of a love that will not be denied, Adam and Catherine risk everything to be together.
BETRAYAL – What price must Catherine and Adam pay for a forbidden love in a time when honor meant everything?

When I came to write this review, I went searching for where I had picked it up – I got it for free from Amazon back in 2014 and in a way I was glad I hadn’t spent any money on it.

From the beginning, it is clear that Baron Bourgeault is more than a little odd – much older than his young, pretty wife Catherine, he has a dubious reputation in town and is rarely invited to polite society. He therefore stays in his run down residence, rarely inviting people to stay, and therefore restricting Catherine’s social circle. He does have one thing on his side: a pair of identical grey stallions, that he occasionally invites young men down to inspect, with the prospect of buying.  He invites Adam Stanford down, but generally acts appallingly, ensuring that Catherine and Adam end up in each other’s arms.

 

It’s only when Catherine becomes pregnant, and the Baron bans her from seeing Adam again (and allowing him to claim the child as his own) does the whole sordid plan come out: the Baron needs an heir, but has a fear of being touched. He had married Catherine in an attempt to overcome this phobia, but it proved to not be the case. Therefore he has spent the last 7 years inviting men to the estate in the hope that they will squire Catherine in order to get her with child, and give him the male heir that he wants.

Catherine gives birth to a girl, which sends the Baron into even deeper depths of madness, effectively pimping his wide out mere days after giving birth, in order to get pregnant again. It turns out that the man she has been told to seduce is a friend of Adam’s and she is able to tell her tale and enable a confrontation between Adam and the Baron, resulting in a successful resolution of the situation.

Overall, I found the whole premise just down right creepy……after 7 years of being humiliated and pimped out, was Catherine really that unaware of what her husband’s motives were?  All the staff were well aware of what was going on, and how badly she was being treated, and none offered any kind of help or support (even gossiping with other servants in the local area).  By the time that Adam and Catherine get to have their first meal together, the Baron has been so, well, weird, that it was hard to see the connection between the two soon to be lovers, and the apparent disconnect between the two continued for the rest of the book. I didnt get any sense of believable “burning passion”, or “true love”.

None of the servants were particularly well developed and generally remained one dimensional. Willie, as the Baron’s henchman, had the potential to be more rounded, but just came across as a leering degenerate (I’ve seen others describe him as an “Igor” character), with no apparent motivation apart from being able to spy on pretty girls and creep them out.

During and after reading this book, I did have a distinct feeling of “why did I bother?”

 

 

Book Review: A Christmas Flower by Bryan Mooney

Miracles are like snowflakes—no two are alike, but each one is precious and beautiful. This Christmas, Dr. Beth Harding could use a few miracles. The hospital she runs in River Dale, New Hampshire, is being shut down, unless she can convince the Scrooge-like board to save it. At least her closest friend, firefighter Logan Mitchell, is home for the holidays to offer a broad shoulder to lean on.

In California, Logan is a smoke jumper, but jumping into a romance with his best friend scares him more than any forest fire. After losing his parents at sixteen, Logan was taken in by Beth’s family. As kids, they were like brother and sister. Now they’re grown up, and sparks keep flying between them. If only Beth wasn’t already engaged. Maybe with a Christmas miracle or two, Beth can keep those hospital doors open—and two dear friends can finally allow their one true love to blossom.

From Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley. Some Spoilers below.

On some level, Logan has always been in love with Beth, but it’s only since her mother died earlier in the year that he’s begun to realise his true feelings. He works out as a fire jumper in California and it gives him the best thrill in his life. When he hears that his old boss has been injured in a blaze, and with the California fire season over, he returns home to check on things. With budget cuts, the local fire brigade is short on staff, so Logan is persuaded to take on some cover. The budget cuts also mean that the accountants plan to close the hospital that Beth’s mother set up – and to do it by New Year.

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Book Review: Texas Christmas by Holly Castillo

Gabriella Torres loves returning home to San Antonio for the holidays–the decorations, the magic and her large family. As icing on the cake, she will serve as midwife for one of her cousins. Her Christmas visit also provides a temporary distraction from a looming obligation.

Luke Davenport has traveled across the world to accept the role as town doctor in San Antonio. But when he arrives to domestic chaos, the sheriff offers his hospitality and Luke can’t turn down the offer. While he’s embraced by all, Luke tries to keep his distance. His past remains a threat and the alluring Gabby Torres makes him dream of a brighter but impossible future.

When Gabby learns that Luke has never truly experienced Christmas, she sets out on a mission…to make this Christmas the best that Luke could ever have. As they spend intimate moments together, Luke begins to lose his heart to the woman who is showing him what life as part of a family could be like. When the ghosts of their pasts rise up to haunt them, will Christmas magic and love be strong enough to guarantee the happiness they’ve always dreamed of?

From Tule Publishing via Netgalley.

I didn’t know that this was number 4 in the series, but I thought it stood on it’s own pretty well. The secondary characters are pretty well rounded, and there’s no unnecessary exposition as to why they behave a particular way – invariably they just do what they need to do.

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Book Review: Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber

 

 

Merry Smith is pretty busy these days. She’s taking care of her family, baking cookies, decorating for the holidays, and hoping to stay out of the crosshairs of her stressed and by-the-book boss at the consulting firm where she temps. Her own social life is the last thing she has in mind, much less a man. Without her knowledge, Merry’s well-meaning mom and brother create an online dating profile for her—minus her photo—and the matches start rolling in. Initially, Merry is incredulous, but she reluctantly decides to give it a whirl.

Soon Merry finds herself chatting with a charming stranger, a man with similar interests and an unmistakably kind soul. Their online exchanges become the brightest part of her day. But meeting face-to-face is altogether different, and her special friend is the last person Merry expects—or desires. Still, sometimes hearts can see what our eyes cannot. In this satisfying seasonal tale, unanticipated love is only a click away.

Ebook from Netgalley in exchange for a review.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Debbie Macomber (and the day after I finished this one, I got the offer of another one from a friend in London! yay!).

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