Sweet ‘n’ sour books from… Leicestershire

Each S&S post features one romance or feel-good book and its blurb, and one in a crime fiction genre. (Click the covers to see the books on Amazon.) Today’s books are two of my all-time favourites, though one’s been around for quite a lot longer than the other.

 

 

Sweet: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4, by Sue Townsend

Friday January 2nd
I felt rotten today. It’s my mother’s fault for singing ‘My Way’ at two o’clock in the morning at the top of the stairs. Just my luck to have a mother like her. There is a chance my parents could be alcoholics. Next year I could be in a children’s home.

Meet Adrian Mole, a hapless teenager providing an unabashed, pimples-and-all glimpse into adolescent life. Writing candidly about his parents’ marital troubles, the dog, his life as a tortured poet and ‘misunderstood intellectual’, Adrian’s painfully honest diary is still hilarious and compelling reading thirty years after it first appeared.

Adrian Mole needs no introduction – the books aren’t ‘sweet’ in the romantic sense, but they’re definitely feel-good, which is just what we need at the moment. This is the first book in the series, and I think it’s the best, too. 

 

Sour: The Lies Within, by Jane Isaac

Be under no illusions by her kind face and eloquent manner . . . This woman is guilty of murder . . .
 
Grace Daniels is distraught after her daughter’s body is found in a Leicestershire country lane. With her family falling apart and the investigation going nowhere, Grace’s only solace is the re-emergence of Faye, an old friend who seems to understand her loss. DI Will Jackman delves into the case, until a family tragedy and a figure from his past threaten to derail him.
 
When the police discover another victim, the spotlight falls on Grace. Can Jackman find the killer, before Grace is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit?

I’ve read all Jane Isaac’s books to date, and this one, largely set in Market Harborough in Leicestershire, is my favourite. The courtroom scenes are completely convincing and must have needed a tremendous amount of research. Very well done, a real page-turner!

 

 

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A visit to Tuscany…

Writer Helen Pryke and I ‘met’ on social media quite recently, and I was interested to see she lives in the north of Italy – not a million miles from N.E. Switzerland. For obvious reasons, we didn’t manage a visit this summer, but one day… Here she is to tell us about her (wonderful; I’ve read it) new book, The Healer’s Secret.

The Healer’s Secret is set in Gallicano, a small village in Tuscany. The protagonist, Jennifer, is a 31-year-old English woman who is going through a rough period in her life – her husband is about to divorce her and she loses her job due to her drinking problem. Taking her mum’s advice, she goes to Tuscany to stay in her great-grandmother’s cottage and meet the Italian side of her family. But events don’t go exactly as she planned, and instead of a relaxing holiday in the sun she finds herself in the middle of a family mystery. With her overwhelming Italian relatives, a half-crazy uncle, and an attractive Englishman to complicate matters, will Jennifer ever manage to sort her life out?

Three years ago, after finishing the first draft of The Healer’s Secret, my husband, youngest son, and I decided to go to Gallicano for a short trip. We had four days to explore the area and taste the local food, so we made the most of it!

Gallicano is a beautiful town, with hidden treasures around every corner and breathtaking views. The church of San Jacopo is mentioned in the book. We found it during a walk around Gallicano, at the top of a very steep hill, overlooking the town. The overgrown graveyard was closed, so we couldn’t go in, but I saw a statue of an angel hiding among the grass, which sparked my imagination, and I had to include it in the book. (It was also after the ‘Weeping Angels’ episode of Doctor Who, so it was pretty creepy!)

The trip I was looking most forward to during our long weekend in Gallicano was the guided tour around La Grotta del Vento (the Wind Cave). We had to drive up a narrow road that wound around the mountain, with huge rocks overhanging it occasionally! Just like Jennifer and Mark, we went up early to avoid the crowds, but unlike Jennifer, we didn’t get lost inside the caves!

I came across the caves when I was doing research for The Healer’s Secret. With help from the website, I wrote the scene where Mark takes Jennifer there for a guided tour. But there’s nothing like seeing it for yourself, so when we booked our trip, the caves were the first thing I wanted to see! It was as amazing as I’d hoped it would be, as you can see from the photos. And I even found some creepy steps leading down to who knows where, which I had to add to the scene! If you ever go to Gallicano, I highly recommend you visit the caves – but take a jumper, it was freezing inside, even at the height of summer!

After our guided tour around the caves, we stopped at a village on the way down to stretch our legs and take some photos. I found a stone-walled cottage that looked very similar to how I imagined Great-grandmother Luisa’s cottage to be. We walked around a curve in the road to take some more photos of the back of the cottage, and were amazed to see something in the back garden! I’m not going to say what we saw, but the spooky thing is, I’d already written the book, and Luisa’s cottage has something similar in its back garden! If you’ve already read The Healer’s Secret, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not – you’ll have to read the book!

While driving around, we found a beautiful spot near a river. We spent a pleasant few hours soaking up the peace and quiet, it was lovely. I didn’t want to leave! The photo gives you some idea of how beautiful Tuscany is.

I’ve been living in Italy for the last 30 years, and I’ve come to know the people, the culture, and the country well. I love the Italian way of life, and I enjoy writing about it in my books!

Thank you, Helen!
I loved The Healer’s Secret – and it’s only 99p/c on kindle at the moment! Here’s a short extract:

The food was exquisite, spaghetti Bolognese with a home-made sauce, followed by tender roast pork drizzled with the cooking juices, and sautéed courgettes that, I was informed, had been freshly picked that morning. There was never a lull in the conversation, everyone chatted easily together while they ate. I watched as they broke every rule I’d ever been taught in England: talking with their mouths full, using their knives to scrape up sauce and then lick them, breaking a chunk of bread off the loaf and wiping it around their plates, leaning on their elbows, laughing and joking. Aunt Liliana prided herself as a wonderful cook, and told me every detail of the preparation process, while I copied my cousins and broke off a piece of home-made bread to mop up the delicious pasta sauce left on the plate.

Yum! You can see the book in your local Amazon Store by tapping the cover image, and you can find out more about Helen Pryke below, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Helen Pryke is a chocolate-addicted British author who has been living in the north of Italy for thirty years. She is now happily married to her second husband, who is a wonderful cook, and enjoying life with her two sons and a rescue cat, Pan.
   Fluent in Italian, she worked as a translator and taught English to Italian students for many years, before deciding to follow her dream and become an author.
   Helen has always loved reading, and started writing at an early age – her first article was published in a school magazine when she was ten. She got her passion for reading from her mum, who encouraged her to write, but sadly never got to see Helen’s dream come true.
   Helen has written several women’s fiction novels set in Italy, and two suspense novels set in the Portsmouth area she grew up in many years ago. She enjoys creating dark characters who send chills down your spine, which worries her husband somewhat.

 

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(Almost) Silent Sunday…

Autumn is inching ever closer here in N.E. Switzerland – but summer’s still putting up a fight.

And Death Wish is in the middle of a make-over, with a lovely new cover image. Big thanks to The Cover Collection, brilliant work as always.

The ebook is available now and the paperback will follow on in a few weeks. Bargain ebook price for the weekend: 99p/c.

Next week, we have a guest post with some lovely Italy photos and an amazing book – see you then!

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The ‘P’ books… #A-Z books 📚

This is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. However, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

 

This month, it’s the ‘P’ books:

 

This is the first book co-written by Cass Grafton and Ada Bright I read, but it wasn’t the last. There’s a very clever double meaning in the title, and who wouldn’t wonder what could happen if Jane Austen time-travelled into today’s world – and got stuck here. But if she doesn’t get back to her own time, Jane won’t be able to write her books – which would mean no Mr Darcy. Fortunately, she has Rose to help her…
A lovely book and a fun read!

 

 

 

This book terrified me as much as it fascinated me, when I was a child. Princess Irene lives with her nursemaid in a lonely castle in the mountains. One day, she goes exploring – and finds a lot more than she bargained for, including the terrible goblins, her great-great-grandmother, and a whole lot of magic. I can still see the mind-pictures I made back then, reading it for the first time. Not for faint-hearted children…

 

 

 

My ‘older’ book isn’t so very old – 1999 – but it’s one of my all-time favourites, and another with a huge atmosphere around it. It’s 1963 when thirteen-year-old Alison disappears from a Peak District village. A young detective investigates, but it isn’t a straightforward case. Set against a bleak landscape with the Moors Murders and with the issues around capital punishment in the background too, this book is a chilling read and one that makes you think.

 

 

Coming next month: the ‘Q’ books.

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(Coronavirus) summer scenes…

To say that springtime 2020 was different to other springs is an understatement, considering we spent most of it in full coronavirus lockdown. Now it’s summer, and while some restrictions have been relaxed, we are still in the middle of a pandemic, and the usual activities and conversations aren’t always possible. Here are a few slices of the new normal in N.E. Switzerland…

 

Scene One: outside the restaurant.

Swiss restaurants reopened in time for the summer season, and Son 1 and I went for lunch on a lakeside terrace one day. On the way out again, we had a generous squirt of the restaurant’s hand sanitiser, and emerged onto the lake path rubbing our hands together.
Son 1, sniffing his fingers: That’s one of those new gin company disinfectants, isn’t it?
Me, sniffing my own hands: Mm, yes, I think so – quite pleasant. Have you tried the supermarket spray yet?
Son 1: The stuff that smells like fish paste? Yeah…

Remember when we used to come out of a restaurant talking about the lovely meal and our plans for the afternoon?

 

Scene Two: on the way home from the shops.

In the old normal, I’d have gone home in the bus. Nowadays I walk both ways, which is, admittedly, better for my health. On this particular day, I was striding along the main road with my trolley bag when an entire class of schoolchildren, maybe twelve- or thirteen-year-olds, emerged from a side street just in front of me, all wearing full gym kit and obviously en route for the fitness trail in the woods. The teacher was trying valiantly (and with no success whatsoever) to chivvy them along a bit faster, and I slowed to half my previous pace.
The kids’ social distancing skills, however, were exemplary. There they were, taking up the entire pavement, meandering along at a pace a geriatric snail would match on an off-day. And it was another 100m to the next side road where I could escape.
Pre-corona, I’d have barged through the middle, but you can’t do that now. A quick glance behind showed there was nothing coming. I dropped into the bike lane with my trolley bag and did a quick jog past.

The teacher turned round and yelled at the kids: DON’T YOU FIND IT EMBARRASSING when people MY AGE start RUNNING past you WITH THEIR SHOPPING?!?!

Which meant, of course, I was obliged to jog on as far as the side road, so I missed the answer to that. Probably just as well…

 

Scene Three: Zoom chats with your children.

While I’m very glad we’re able to do this, those calls bring with them the question – what do you talk about when no one’s done anything interesting?

You start with the corona doom and gloom, of course, then you move onto the daily excitements – an abandoned bike in my block of flats, Son 1’s attempts to grow ginger, the change of colour for Canton Thurgau bin bags… all stirring, important stuff.

Son 2, who studies in Zürich and lives in a flat share, didn’t half make me sit up recently, though:

Son 2: Danny’s moved out, so we’re interviewing people for his room tomorrow.
Me (hair standing on end): You’re showing random strangers round your flat??
Son 2: No, we’re doing Skype interviews first and we’ll take it from there.
Me (hair still up on end and greying rapidly): ASK THEM IF THEY GO CLUBBING! (Night clubs and bars in Zürich and Geneva are being blamed for the recent increase in corona cases there)
Son 2: We have ‘What do you do in your free time?’ on the list of questions. Don’t want any drummers! (chortles)
Me: We’re in the middle of a pandemic – you have to be specific! Say, ‘DO YOU GO CLUBBING?’
Son 2: Sure, whatever.
Me: (head on desk)

And won’t it be perfect when the biggest worry is if someone plays drums in their free time?

2020, the summer of small conversations… We’ll laugh about it one day. Maybe.

 

 

 

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Writing in Cornwall – Mandy James

I’ve never forgotten those childhood holidays in Cornwall – one day I’ll go back. And when I do, I’ll be sure to visit fellow-writer Amanda James. Mandy not only lives in Cornwall, with a lovely sea view and the beach (almost) on her doorstep, she’s set all her books there too. Here she is to tell us about the latest one:

Nancy Cornish PI is the sequel to The Cornish Connection which came out earlier this year. Nancy has recently left her job at The Whistling Kettle Café in Padstow to start her own PI business. And while seemingly an ordinary member of her community, she has an extraordinary gift. She is able to make psychic connections with those who have passed, and objects belonging to those still living. The PI denotes Psychic Investigator, not Private Investigator. Her husband Charlie is a DS in the Truro police, and a down to earth Cornishman. In the past, he’s dismissed Nancy’s gift as ‘mumbo jumbo’, but now he accepts that she’s a very good detective. He’s over the moon that she’s been able to help him solve some important crimes, and is keen for her to keep up this good work.

As well as working with her husband in his police work, Nancy’s main mission in life is to use her gift to help others. In the grand scheme of things, the cases she solves within her community might not seem very important. However, they mean the world to those who come to Nancy for help. Some of her successes to date have been to reunite long lost lovers, track down a war hero’s missing medals, rescue a beloved pet, and find the mystery ingredient in the local butcher’s prize-winning sausages!

In this sequel to The Cornish Connection, we see people come to Nancy for all sorts of reasons. Some are new clients, some are old friends, and she often discovers that what they say they need help with, is only the beginning of their story. Nancy’s investigations and discoveries help them to see what’s most important to them in life, and how to achieve it. And as we all know, that thing is happiness.

I thought I’d show you some of the scenery around where I live, and where Nancy visits during some of her investigations. The north Cornwall coast inspires my writing and helps me visualise my characters as they make their way through the story. I need to know where they live, and go about their daily lives. I’m spiritually anchored to this area, and so feel closer to the characters if they live here too. I’m not psychic, sadly, but I have had a few readings over the years. Some have been spookily accurate, and I’m fascinated by the whole phenomenon.

Above is Padstow Harbour where Nancy worked. In the book, she often comes here for tea and cake at The Cherry Trees Café.

This next shot is of Trevone Round Hole, which is a collapsed sea cave and it’s not advisable to walk too close to the edge. I won’t say more about this, as I don’t want to give anything away!

And finally, these are of  Bedruthan Steps where Nancy has a connection with someone very close to her. This person tells her to warn her mum that she’s in danger of being duped by a gold digger. I adore this place. It’s very beautiful, and I could gaze at the ocean all day from this spot.

Thank you, Mandy, for sharing these beautiful photos!
Amanda James lives in Cornwall and is inspired every day by the wild and beautiful coastline near her home. She has many suspense/mystery novels set there. Somewhere Beyond the Sea, Summer in Tintagel, Behind the Lie, Another Mother, Deep Water, The Cornish Retribution, The Feud, and Dark Deception. Amanda has two women’s fiction books. The Calico Cat, a family drama/coming-of-age. Lastly, The Cornish Connection and the sequel Nancy Cornish PI, cosy crime with a psychic twist.
Amanda can usually be found playing on the beach with her family, or walking the cliff paths planning her next book.

To find out more about Mandy and her books, you can go to her Amazon author page, or visit her on Facebook or Twitter.

We’ll finish off with another of Mandy’s Cornwall photos:

 

 

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Sweet ‘n’ sour books from… Down Under

Today on Sweet ‘n’ Sour books, we’re having two very different books in two genres, both set Down Under and both by the same author.
(Each S&S post features one romance or feel-good book and its blurb, and one in a crime fiction genre. Click the covers to see the books on Amazon.)

 

Sweet: Walking in the Shadow, by Carmen Radtke

Jimmy Kokupe is the miracle man.

1909, Quail Island. On a small, wind-blasted island off the east coast of New Zealand a small colony of leprosy patients is isolated but not abandoned, left to live out their days in relative peace thanks to the charity of the townspeople and the compassion of the local doctor and matron of the hospital.

Jimmy Kokupe is a miracle: he’s been cured. But he still carries the stigma, which makes life back on the mainland dangerous and lonely. To find a refuge, he’s returned to the camp to care for his friend, fellow patient old Will, and disturbed young Charley. Healed of his physical ailments and dreaming of the girl he once planned to follow to a new life in Australia, Jimmy meets ‘the lady’, the island caretaker’s beautiful but troubled wife who brings their food. Can she help Jimmy forget his difficult past and overcome his own prejudices towards his mixed parentage, and find the courage to risk living in freedom?

This is a fabulous read, one of my top favourites this year. Jimmy’s story sucked me in; I read it almost in one go, desperate to know what happened, wanting things to end well for him and unable to see how they ever could. Is there a happy end for Jimmy? Read it and see!

 

Sour: Murder at the Races, by Carmen Radtke

Nothing is a dead-cert in a race against a cold-blooded killer…

1931. Frances Palmer is overjoyed when her brother Rob returns to Adelaide as a racecourse veterinarian. But all is not well on the turf, and when a man is murdered, there is only one suspect – Rob.

Frances and her boyfriend, charming night club owner Jack Sullivan, along with ex-vaudevillian Uncle Sal and their friends have only one chance to unmask
the real murderer, by infiltrating the racecourse. The odds are against them, but luckily putting on a
dazzling show where everything depends on sleight of hand is what they do best. But with time running out for Rob, the race is on…

This is the second standalone story featuring Frances and Jack, and it reminds me a little of Agatha Christie’s books. And Uncle Sal is truly a wonderful creation… A fun read!

Let’s have those New Zealand sheep again to finish off with:

 

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The ‘O’ books… #A-Z books 📚

This is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. However, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

 

It’s the ‘O’ books today:

 

I’ve read and enjoyed several of Sarah Denzil’s books now, and this is a good one. Leah is a nurse in a psychiatric hospital, where she meets Isabel, who was convicted, years ago when she was fourteen, of killing and mutilating a child. But not everyone thinks Isabel was guilty… One For Sorrow is a well-written, tense read with plenty of twists and turns before we arrive at the end.

 

 

 

 

My children’s book isn’t really a children’s book this month, but I read it when I was about twelve, so we’ll have it anyway. If you’re looking for a fun, laugh-out-loud read, look no further. Monica Dickens is Charles Dicken’s great-grandaughter, and this is her account of a few years of her life in the 1930s, which she spent working as a cook-general. She then goes on to try her hand at nursing, and we can read about that in the follow-up, One Pair of Feet. I absolutely loved both books!

 

 

 

 

Superintendent Roderick Alleyn is confronted by pagan revelry, morris dancing and the winter solstice in this book, first published in the 1950s. And then there’s Mrs Bünz… A nice gory read!

 

 

 

Coming next month: the ‘P’ books.

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Yarn-bombed in Switzerland – part 2

A couple of weeks ago I was on Sharon Booth’s lovely blog, with a selection of photos from this summer’s yarn-bomb trail in our town – click HERE to see the post and pics. Since then, I’ve walked round the rest of the trail.

 

Down at the harbour, we have a set of knitted flags on trees, to match the real ones on poles.

Switzerland, Germany and Austria, and you can see them all in this photo.

Behind the old town, some woolly animals are chasing up and down trees:

I think the cat’s the best one, but I love the mouse, too.

 

 

And there’s a lizard…

 

 

 

 

 

And a snake…

 

 

 

 

 

And some birds. Flamingoes?

 

 

 

Around the corner is the wool shop where the idea came from:

This one’s further round towards the lake. Lovebirds…

Meanwhile, the Gasthaus Römerhof is being invaded by giant butterflies.

To finish off, we’ll go back to the harbour, where the lunchtime boat is just reversing out:

 

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Sweet ‘n’ sour books from… Cornwall

I’ve never forgotten the holidays I spent in Cornwall as a child – that sea! So here we are with a sweet ‘n’ sour post from the south west of England. Each S&S post features one romance or feel-good book and its blurb, set in an area I’ve visited, and one in a crime fiction genre. Click the covers to see the books on Amazon.

 

Sweet: The Little Shop in Cornwall, by Helen Pollard

Claudia thought she knew how this summer was going to go. Turns out, she didn’t have a clue…

It’s been two years since Claudia arrived on the beautifully rugged Cornish coast with nothing but a suitcase to her name. She’d walked out on the husband who had never loved her, ditched the corporate job she’d never wanted and vowed that no gym membership card would come within ten feet of her ever again.
Swapping boardrooms and cocktails for a little shop right at the end of the beach road should have been a bit of a shock. But from the moment she first laid eyes on the empty, run-down store, Claudia knew this was where she was meant to be all along.

After all that upheaval, Claudia was looking forward to a quiet summer, full of the usual holiday makers and long walks along the clifftops. But life in her patch of paradise is about to change in more ways than one.
Enter recently widowed Jason, dragging his sullen teenage daughter Millie in tow. Millie and Claudia immediately hit it off. And while Millie loves everything about Claudia’s free-spirited way of life, practical architect Jason is less than thrilled about his daughter’s new interests. He doesn’t shy away from telling Claudia exactly what he thinks and sparks fly every time they meet.

But as circumstances throw Claudia into Jason’s path in increasingly unexpected ways, she begins to glimpse what lies beneath his fiery temper and sharp tongue. Claudia was sure her new life was perfect in every way. But was there something missing after all?

If you enjoyed Helen’s Little French Guesthouse series, you’ll love this one too! I only wish I’d read it on a Cornish beach… And isn’t it a gorgeous cover?

 

Sour: Dark Deception by Amanda James

Who can you trust when the past won’t let you go?

Kerensa and Leo are a happily married young couple who live in Cornwall. Leo works part-time in London as an investment advisor to wealthy businessman Paul Donaldson. The couple hope to start a family soon, and life couldn’t be better.  

But Leo has been stealing from Paul – and Paul isn’t the sort of man you steal from.  

When Leo realises Paul knows what he’s done, he has no choice but to resort to drastic measures.  

Meanwhile, after discovering that she’s pregnant, Kerensa can’t wait for her husband to return home so that she can share her news. But Paul has gone missing… 

After receiving a threatening phone call from Paul, Kerensa realises how much trouble her family are in.  

Just how far is Paul prepared to go to get revenge? And will Kerensa ever be happy or safe again? 

I read most of this book with my heart in my mouth – and the ending! I don’t think anyone would see that coming – and as it’s only 99p TODAY ONLY, there’s no excuse not to buy it…

And a lovely photo of Cornwall to finish off with:

 

 

 

 

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