Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Muse by Jessie Burton - A Gripping Story about Art, the Sixties and the Spanish Civil War

I bought The Muse by Jessie Burton last year, and on seeing it in Waterstones recently, nearly bought it again. It was high  time, I thought, to read it at last!
Not sure what to expect because I hadn't read Jessie Burton's bestselling first book, The Miniaturist, I was attracted by the idea that this one was set in 1967 and 1936, and intrigued that the central character who linked the two stories together, was Odelle Bastien, a girl from Trinidad, which made it interesting to read about the Sixties in London from an outsider's point of view.
In 1967, Odelle and her friend, Cynthia, work in a Dolcis shoe shop, a far cry from the golden image of London they had dreamt of back in the Caribbean. She knows she deserves better than this because she was well educated in the British way at home, so she applies for a job at the Skelton Gallery, and to her surprise, is taken on as a typist by the enigmatic, Marjorie Quick.
One day, Lawrie Scott comes in with a painting of a woman carrying another woman's head which he wants valued with a view to selling it as it is all he's got now his mother has died and his stepfather is selling the family house.

Back in 1936, Olive and her mother, Sarah, move to Arazuelo, near Malaga in Spain, as her Austrian father, Harold Schloss, is finding it hard to live in Vienna because of the growth of antisemitism there. Olive loves painting and gets offered a place at The Slade School of Art, but she knows her father is against women as artists and will not let her go.
On their arrival at Arazuelo, Isaac and Teresa Robles, a brother and sister, come to help them in their finca (a Spanish house in the country). Isaac is also a teacher of Lithography, and teaches the people of the workers' union to read and write.
Later in the story, Teresa swaps a painting that Olive has done (unbeknownst to her parents) for the one that Isaac has painted of Sarah and Olive. Harold is delighted with 'Isaac's' work and wants to take it to Paris to be sold with far-reaching repercussions for the family, Teresa, and her brother.
Of course, this is the painting that Lawrie takes to the Skelton, and the story unfolds as Odelle searches for the real artist who painted it.
Jessie Burton has set the scene convincingly for 1960s London when every traditional value was being challenged, and 1930s Spain on the brink of civil war, and has drawn believable characters from all these different backgrounds.
The story is gripping. I could not leave the book alone, and I enjoyed it very much discovering the secrets of the painting which had been hidden for over thirty years.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

My Map of You by Isabelle Broom - Coming to terms with the past and looking forward to the future on the magical Greek Island of Zakynthos

Who can resist reading about summer holidays now autumn's  here? Dreaming of revisiting those magical days spent in the sun?

Here, in My Map of You, Isabelle Broom transports you to the Greek holiday island of Zakynthos with Holly Wright who has just inherited a house there from an aunt she's never heard of. And you can explore the island with Holly as she discovers the secrets of her family's past.
Holly has a good job at Flash magazine (even if she doesn't get on with her boss, Fiona) and a wonderful boyfriend called Rupert, but when she receives the solicitor's letter about the house in Zakynthos, her whole life changes.
She's still trying to come to terms with the death of her mother, Jenny, from alcoholism, and now she's shocked to find that Jenny had a twin sister, Sandra, who has left her the house. Why had she never heard about her before?
Isabelle Broom cleverly reveals the relationship between these two to the reader in tantalising letters added to the end of some of the chapters which Holly eventually finds. Also she discovers a map of the island, drawn by the sisters of all their happy places, so their life on the island can't have been all that bad. What happened to change their relationship?
Of course, she has a gorgeous neighbour in Zakynthos, Aidan, an Irish vet, who takes her to some of these places. She is attracted to him, but wants to solve the mystery of her mother and aunt more than anything else, so goes off on a moped that one of the islanders, Nikos, lends her.
All the characters are beautifully drawn from Kostos at the local store, to Phelan, Aidan's dog.
It's a wonderful story of Holly's exploration of the island and her own life, where she comes to terms with the past and can look forward to the future, but will it be with Rupert or Aidan? In London, or the magical Greek island of Zakynthos?
It's very popular at the moment to write about girls returning to, or inheriting, a house and uncovering family secrets, but this is one of the best I've read.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Last Seen by Lucy Clarke - A Gripping, Unputdownable Thriller - A Perfect Bank Holiday Read

Last Seen is the latest unputdownable thriller by Lucy Clarke. It takes place amongst the summer community of Langstone Sandbank on England's south coast, but it could be any similar beach community where a tragedy tests the lifelong friendship of two women to the limit.
Seven years ago, best friends, Jacob and Marley, swim out to the yellow buoy and get into difficulties, but only Jacob is rescued. Marley's body is never found.
Marley's mother, Isla, turns to her best friend, Sarah and her husband, Nick, who spend the summer months at the beach hut next door, for support and comfort as they all come to terms with Marley's death.
But the title of the novel gives a clue to the conflict arising: Who was the last person to see Marley alive?  What were the circumstances of his death? Who was responsible?
This is a gripping novel, told in turns from Sarah's and Isla's point of view over the seven years since the incident, and gradually, coming together until the dramatic truth is revealed in the final chapters.
Lucy Clarke, as always, takes you right onto the beach. You can taste the salt; feel the sand between your toes; and squint into the sun reflected off the sea as you search with Sarah and Isla for their sons.
It is a moving story of summers spent on the beach and the secrets the sea keeps in its depths.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Summer of Serendipity by Ali McNamara - Romance, Magic and Fun

This is the second book by Ali McNamara that I've read this summer, and I loved it just as much as the first.
The Summer of Serendipity has it all: romance, magic and fun!
Serendipity Parker (Ren to her friends) and her crazy friend, Kiki, who's always getting her words mixed up, travel to the west coast of Ireland to find a property for a client. They stay at the Stag Hotel and meet the gorgeous manager, Finn. Later, a local man called Jackie rows them across the lake and points out The Welcome House.
When Ren goes to see it to find the owner and ask if they're willing to sell, she finds the front door unlocked, and wanders in. It's perfect!
In her mission to discover who the owner is and secure the house for her client, aided by Kiki, she meets many fabulous Irish characters and animals who help her in her quest, including Fergus, Finn's dog. But nobody seems to know who the owner is.
It's a brilliant story, which not only reveals the secrets of The Welcome House, but also reveals the personal secrets that Ren, and Finn, have been hiding from each other, and whether their holiday romance will be for keeps.
The whole thing is all wrapped up in magic, and is another fantastic summer read, and again, like Ali McNamara's The Little Flower Shop by the Sea (my review is here), it is a little like Enid Blyton for grown-ups. I don't know how she does it, but it really works - like magic!

In the story, Ren has some Guinness (of course!) and Kiki tries some Club Orange. I was in Dublin recently, and couldn't resist taking these photos. Two great Irish drinks!

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Summer on Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy - A Deep and Loving Story

Many of us have rented a holiday home for two weeks by a lake or beside the sea, but how many of us wonder about the lives of the people who live there all year round, or the visitors who stay so regularly that they become part of the community and therefore inextricably intertwined with them?
Jen Gilroy paints a beautiful picture of the seasons in Vermont, in the second novel of her trilogy, Summer on Firefly Lake, and the lake itself becomes almost another character in the story, reflecting the actions of the people involved in and around it.
You don't have to have read her first book, The Cottage at Firefly Lake, because each stands alone, but that one centres on Sean and Charlie who rekindle their love after twenty years, and this one concerns Nick, Sean's friend, and Charlie's sister, Mia, although Sean and Charlie do appear!
Nick is a high-flying lawyer in New York. He is back at the lake to help his mother sell the family home, Harbor House, after her illness, and move into a bungalow as fast as possible so he can return to the big city on Labor Day.
Mia is settling at the lake with her daughters, Naomi and Emma, to be near Charlie because her husband, Jay, has gone off with a younger woman.
Neither want a relationship: Mia, because of the way Jay has treated her, and Nick, because his wife Isobel left him too, but as the summer progresses they begin to fall in love, but will it be the sort of love that will make them want to stay together forever?
Gabrielle, Nick's mother, also falls in love with Ward, a man who is visiting the lake to make a wildlife film, and it is touching to see people in their sixties facing the same problems of commitment as the younger ones.
Another key character is Kylie, a twelve-year-old who has spent her life in foster care.  Her social worker has arranged for her to spend some time at Camp Rainbow which has been set up in the cottage that belonged to Mia and Charlie's mother. When Mia and Nick take an interest in her, she tries to keep them together, just like Gabrielle does because to her Mia is the perfect woman for her son.
Nick and Mia do appear to be a perfect match, but it becomes clear that events in their teens are keeping them from each other too. Will they be able to let go of the past and their desire for independence and freedom, or will they find independence and freedom together at Firefly Lake?
I really enjoyed Jen Gilroy's deep and loving story which explores the love between lonely adults, the love between a son and his mother, and the love that can be shared with a lonely child.
I'm looking forward to her third book, Back Home at Firefly Lake. It's out in the UK on December 28th 2017, and it's got snow on the cover! Perfect for reading after Christmas!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Little Flower Shop by the Sea by Ali McNamara - A Fantastic Summer Read!

Apart from her dislike of roses, Poppy Carmichael has a secret that she cannot share with anyone. So when she inherits The Daisy Chain, her Grandma Rose's flower shop, and returns to St Felix in Cornwall to run it, she has to face up to all the memories that the seaside town holds.
I loved The Little Flower Shop by the Sea by Ali McNamara. There is a great cast of characters including Amber who has been sent from New York to help her run the shop by Poppy's mother, an international florist, who seems always to be a shadowy figure at the end of the phone, but who plays a big part in organising Poppy's life; Jake, a local nurseryman, who supplies the flower shop, but who can't let go of the memories of his wife, Isabelle, who died, leaving him with their two children, Charlie and Bronte; Ash, who carries on the job of gardening at Trecarlan Castle that his grandfather once did, although the building is in disrepair, and it's owner, Stan, is in a retirement home; not to mention Basil, Rose's dog, and Miley, Jake's monkey!
It's a fabulous summer story, and with the castle, the monkey and, secret footpaths along the cliffs, it is almost in parts like Enid Blyton for grown-ups, especially when Jake and Ash both take an interest in Poppy. Add to this, Rose's books about the magic language of flowers, reflected in the chapter headings, which change the lives of people of St Felix, and the wonderful picture of the seaside town that Ali McNamara evokes, you can almost hear the gulls and smell the fish and chips!
This is a fantastic summer read which made me laugh out loud, and cry too. Whether you are going to Cornwall for your holiday or not, this book is the next best thing!

Ali's new book, The Summer of Serendipity set on the west coast of Ireland is out now, and I can't wait to read it!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Little Theatre by the Sea by Rosanna Ley - a Fabulous Summer Read!

My summer reading is well underway with the new book by Rosanna Ley, The Little Theatre by the Sea, set in beautiful West Dorset and Sardinia.

Faye, unattached and with a new degree in interior design, is invited to house-sit in Sardinia, by her friend, Charlotte, whilst she and her hotelier husband go to Italy for a month on a business trip. It sounds like a wonderful idea to spend a month in the sun, but what Charlotte doesn't tell her until she gets there is that the Alessandro Rinaldi and his sister, Marisa, are looking for someone to renovate the town's Little Theatre. She also doesn't let her know about the animosity in the town towards the Rinaldis and their plans, especially from Pasquale de Montis, an elderly actor, who does not want the theatre to change in any way, and Enrico Volti and his friends, who contest the Rinaldis' ownership of the theatre in the first place.
Cagliari, Sardinia
The story is all about secrets and relationships: secrets that the people of Deriu keep from Faye, and each other, and the secrets that her parents have kept from her, and each other too, as well as the complex relationships between all the characters. For example, the fledgling relationship between Faye and Alessandro, and the failing relationship between her parents, Ade and Molly; the deep love Pasquale felt for Sofia, Alessandro's and Marisa's mother, and the rejection he has never got over when she married Bruno Rinaldi; and the parental love between Enrico and his lost daughter, Giorgia, and the strained love between Pasquale and his even more elderly mother, Dorotea.
Cagliari, Sardinia
One of Rosanna's many writing skills is to make the setting an integral part of the story, contrasting the hot emotions of the people who live in sunny Sardinia, with the cooling of the relationship of Faye's parents back in England; and the decay and demise of the Little Theatre representing the breakdown in friendships, and the renewal of the theatre as a new beginning.

This is a fabulous summer read, whether you're headed to Sardinia or West Dorset for your holiday, or enjoying it in the back garden with a cup of tea !

Sunday, 11 June 2017

A Proper Family Adventure by Chrissie Manby - The Next Best Thing to Actually Going on a Cruise!

I love cruising, and I couldn't believe my luck when I saw this book on Twitter. I just had to buy it! A Proper Family Adventure is the first book I've read by Chrissie Manby. It's the third book in a trilogy, but you don't need to read the others first. However, now that I've enjoyed this one so much, I think I will!
Chrissie is expert at drawing her characters from Granddad Bill who is wheelchair bound most of the time and is more familiar with the Second World War than the present day, to Jack, his great grandson, aged seven, who is great at getting into trouble, right from the beginning of the book.
Jack gets his cousins, Sophie and Izzy, to take him to Tesco and buy a lottery ticket for Granddad's eighty-seventh birthday. When it comes up with five balls and the bonus ball and a win of fifty thousand pounds, the family decide to put some of it towards a dream cruise that everyone can enjoy.
It's great to follow Granddad's son, Dave, and his wife Jacqui, with their daughters, Ronnie and Chelsea as they sail to the Mediterranean with Ronnie's husband, Mark, and their son, Jack, and Chelsea's boyfriend, Adam, and his daughter, Lily.
Will Ronnie be right that Adam will propose to Chelsea on the trip?
There are two other passengers on the ship, Kirsty and Jane.  Jane's fiancĂ©, Greg, was killed in a road accident at Christmas, and best friend, Kirsty, has suggested that they go on the cruise, as Jane and Greg had planned it for their honeymoon, to help her see that the future wasn't entirely hopeless. However, Jane cannot bring herself to leave the cabin, and Kirsty finds herself going ashore on her own. How can she help her best friend to make a new start in her life again?
Annabel, Jacqui and Dave's daughter who was adopted, stays behind to look after Granddad Bill, her daughter Izzy who is recovering from a kidney transplant, and Sophie, Ronnie and Mark's daughter as she's got a chance for a work placement at the local county magazine. She gives Jack, Ted, a girl bear that Jacqui gave her as a baby, to take away. some of the best scenes are when Lily dresses her in her doll's clothes, much to Jack's insistence that she's a he.

It's a great story and is the next best thing to actually going on a cruise!
These photos are from a similar cruise I took on the Caribbean Princess to the Mediterranean.
I hope that you enjoy Chrissie Manby's book much as I have!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Songs of Love and War by Santa Montefiore - A Fabulous Tale of Friendships and Rivalries

This story could so easily be about three girls, Kitty, Bridie and Celia, who spent wonderful summers at Castle Deverill, County Cork, and grew up and found the most loving and suitable husbands, had lots of children, and lived happily ever after. But it's not!
Santa Montefiore has written a fabulous tale in Songs of Love and War of the friendships and rivalries of the girls, set against the Irish uprising at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Kitty, the granddaughter of Adeline, Lady Deverill, and her husband, Hubert, Lord Deverill, lives a privileged life, but is shunned by her mother, Maud, who favours her elder sisters, Victoria and Elspeth. She is shocked to discover that her father, Bertie, is having an affair with the beautiful Grace who becomes involved with the aggression towards their Anglo-Irish family.
Kitty considers herself as Irish as Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the cook at the Castle, and they slip away together to play in the gardens with Cousin Celia who arrives each year to spend the summer in Ireland. But their happiness doesn't last as Kitty and Bridie both fall in love with Jack O'Leary, the vet's son.
Castle Deverill has a curse that the male heirs of the Deverill family will have to haunt the castle as ghosts (which Kitty and her grandmother can see) until an O'Leary owns the castle again. So apart from the fact that Jack's Irish and not of the same class as Kitty, she knows that her father would never allow them to marry.
The story follows the girls through the Easter Rising which has a tragic effect on the Deverills and their castle, and into their twenties. As they grow up, they move further apart, but they never lose their love for Castle Deverill and the memories that they made there.
This book is the first of a trilogy, and I can't wait to read the rest!

Daughters of Castle Deverill is out now.

The Last Secret of the Deverills is out on July 13th 2017.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Secrets of Happiness - A Book to Make You Happy - by Lucy Diamond

We all want to be happy, don't we? And I think we're always on the look out for the secrets of happiness that other people seem to have. To this end, Lucy Diamond has written a book to make us happy as step-sisters, Rachel and Becca, do just that with some surprising results.
The Secrets of Happiness explores the lives of  two women who couldn't be more different. Rachel, nine years older, is an organised, focussed career-woman and mother, whilst Becca has not been very successful in anything she's done. She's a little overweight, and she used to run a jewellery business with a friend, but it didn't come to anything.
At Rachel's father's funeral (Becca's step-father), a woman called Violet tells Rachel that she knew her mother and, 'What a shame it was'. Curious, Rachel sets off from Hereford on a train to Manchester, in the hope of seeing Violet again. However she gets mugged and loses her memory. She hasn't told anyone where she's gone, so when she doesn't return, the neighbour looking after her children, Scarlet and Luke, contacts Becca in Birmingham. Becca gets fired from the pub where she works  because she wants some time off to look after Rachel's children, and so the story starts, and as it continues, Becca finds out that maybe Rachel's life is not so perfect after all.
There are some funny moments as Becca tries to deal with Rachel's clients who are expecting a fit, healthy life coach, not her wheezing sister, and there are some poignant moments as Rachel deals with her injuries and tries to put her own life back together. There are also some tense moments as the step-sisters confront the event that drove them apart.
This book certainly made me happy because I loved the characters that Lucy Diamond has drawn so well. It's the second book of hers that I've read, and I shall certainly look out for some more.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley is Hot! Hot! Hot!

‘If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know how much I love Rosanna Ley’s novels; I’ve read four in the past year! So I’m looking forward to reading this one set in Cuba and England from the 1950s to the present day, and enjoying Rosanna’s skill at combining place and the action of the story. This one should be Hot! Hot! Hot!’

That is what I wrote last year in anticipation of reading Last Dance in Havana, and I wasn’t disappointed!

The rhythm of the rumba permeates the story of Elisa and Duardo, who meet at a dance, fall in love, but are forced apart by the political situation in Cuba in the 1950s. Duardo wants to go off and fight for freedom with Castro, and when Elisa is told that he’s been killed, she’s sent to England to make a better life for herself. There, in Bristol, she meets Philip who is kind to her. She marries him, but he will never replace Duardo in her heart. Philip has a young daughter, Grace, who he’s brought up alone after her mother died under tragic circumstances.

In 2012, Philip has become an alcoholic, and Elisa now runs a conversation class for Cubans and other Spanish speakers. Grace is married to Richard, but is unhappy with her career and the fact that he wants to start a family. Theo, a magician, is a good friend of all of them, attending Elisa's class, and spending a lot of time with Grace and Richard, but gradually Grace falls in love with him. 

There are many parallels between the stories of Elisa and Grace, not the least as to whether they end up with their true love. And again, Rosanna Ley sparkles in her descriptions of  Cuba and Bristol, really drawing you into the action and making the settings an integral part of the story. 

Her next book, The Little Theatre by the Sea, set in Dorset and Sardinia, is due out on June 1st, and I can't wait. Perfect holiday reading!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Searching for a Silver Lining by Miranda Dickinson - A Fabulous Feel-Good Book!

We are always searching for a silver lining, aren't we? And to this end, Miranda Dickinson has written another fabulous feel-good book!  In Searching for a Silver Lining, Mattie is sad that she didn't settle her differences with Grandpa Joe before he died. As he warned, her marriage to Asher has been a disaster, however she is enjoying running her dream Fifties vintage shop, Bell Be-Bop.
But, when she's invited to the Beauvale Sheltered Housing centre to give a talk about the lovely 1950s things she sells, she's befriended by Reenie Silverman. This 84 year-old is the former lead singer with The Silver Five, the group that Mattie's grandpa raved about back in the day.
In exchange for expensive violet cream chocolates, Reenie tells Mattie about her colourful life with the group and, in an effort to make things right with her late grandfather and to help Reenie meet up again with her fellow Silver Five members, she sets off on a road trip in her cherished VW camper van, Rusty, with the octogenarian singer and Gil, the grandson of the owner of the Palm Grove where The Silver Five were to play on the fateful night that Reenie ran away.
It's a wonderful story, with Miranda Dickinson at her best, making me laugh and cry, and laugh even more. I read it so fast that I want to read it again!
It ends with 'THE END?',  but I do hope that there's more to come about Mattie, Reenie and Gil!!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young - A Moving Story About Life in the Aftermath of the First World War.

It's five years since I read My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young, and the story of the men and women caught up in the First World War both in France and at home, has stayed in my mind, especially as my father fought in the Great War when not much more than a boy, and although he returned, suffering physical wounds far less severe than Riley's, his life was never the same.
The Heroes' Welcome takes up the story of Riley and his girlfriend, Nadine, as they marry in March 1919, with Peter, his Commanding Officer, and Rose, Peter's cousin who had nursed Riley, and Peter's son, Tom, in attendance. The fact that Peter's wife, Julia, is not there illustrates the strain their marriage is already under after the war.
Louisa Young quotes a passage from The Odyssey about a wife so relieved to see her husband again she feels like a shipwrecked sailor reaching land. Julia wants to rekindle their love and take up where they left off, but Peter has his own problems dealing with the fact that so many of his men were lost.
Riley and Nadine too have their problems coming to terms with Riley's injuries which get in the way of the joy of their marriage, and the reaction of their families to their wedding.
This book is worth reading too for Louisa's ability to get right into the heads of her characters as they journey forward through 1919, trying to put the war behind them but, like Peter, unable to talk about their experiences. She also graphically illustrates the reaction of society to the injured: there was not a heroes' welcome waiting for them all.
I'm pleased to say that Devotion, Louisa Young's next book, set in 1930s Italy will be released on April 6th.

'Tom loves Nenna. Nenna loves her father. Her father loves 

This continues the story of Tom Locke, Peter's son, and I can't wait!  

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Guest Interview - Jen Gilroy Talks About Her Debut Novel - The Cottage at Firefly Lake

Hello Jen, and welcome to my blog. It’s lovely to have you here today to talk about your debut novel, The Cottage at Firefly Lake (Grand Central, Forever, January 2017).

Thank you for inviting me to visit, Jean. I’m delighted to be here to talk about my first book with you and your blog readers.

Some mistakes can never be fixed and some secrets never forgiven . . . but some loves can never be forgotten.
Charlotte Gibbs wants nothing more than to put the past behind her, once and for all. But now that she's back at Firefly Lake to sell her mother's cottage, the overwhelming flood of memories reminds her of what she's been missing. Sun-drenched days. Late-night kisses that still shake her to the core. The gentle breeze off the lake, the scent of pine in the air, and the promise of Sean's touch on her skin . . . True, she got her dream job traveling the world. But at what cost? 
Sean Carmichael still doesn't know why Charlie disappeared that summer, but after eighteen years, a divorce, and a teenage son he loves more than anything in the world, he's still not over her. All this time and her body still fits against his like a glove. She walked away once when he needed her the most. How can he convince her to stay now?

The Cottage at Firefly Lake is set in Vermont, a state renowned for its beautiful lakes and mountains. Can you say why you chose a lake as the setting for your first novel?

The Cottage at Firefly Lake celebrates everything that’s wonderful about a summer holiday by a lake with a small town nearby. I had many such summers growing up and, after a succession of damp and cool English summers, subliminally I think I wanted to recreate the idyllic summers of my memory in fiction!

I set the book in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, a special, unspoiled corner of the state where my husband and I spent several happy vacations.

In your novel, there are many parallels between the stories of Sean and Charlotte, and his son, Ty, and Naomi. Did you find it easy to step into the shoes of these teenagers to write their story?

When I first started writing, I tried young adult fiction, only to discover it wasn’t my niche. However, I still love writing young adult characters, possibly because I remember so vividly what it is like to be that age.

I also read young adult romance so that helped me ‘step into the shoes of…teenagers.’

Charlotte, for various reasons in the story, left Firefly Lake when she was eighteen to be a war correspondent. Did you draw on your own experiences of leaving Canada to work in Europe?

Although I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, my experiences as an expatriate did shape some aspects of Charlotte’s experience. Unlike Charlotte, I always maintained strong ties to North America, but in her case I wanted to explore the pull of home for someone who spent her adult life cutting ties with the past and a place and people she once cared about.

Having spent much of my life living outside my home country, questions of home—what it means, and how and where we find it—run through both The Cottage at Firefly Lake and everything I write. My author tagline is even ‘Romance to bring your heart home.’

Sean has a twin called Trevor who’s a good friend too. Do you have any twins in your family to draw upon for their experiences?

There are no sets of twins in my immediate family, but I’ve always been fascinated by the twin relationship, possibly because there was a set of twins several years below me at school who were the focus of considerable attention.

To write about Sean and Trevor’s relationship, I read about twins and also talked with my husband who has three brothers very close in age. Apart from the twin bond, I wanted to depict a close relationship between brothers—the love, but also the teasing and male rivalry.

Has most of your writing been set in North America, or have you tried writing stories about your time in the UK?

I lived in the UK for a long time and consider England my second home. However, when I started writing seriously towards publication, I recognised early on that I have a North American writing voice.

For a time, I belonged to a writing group in England and, in that context, I did try to write stories set in the UK and featuring British characters. However, my dialogue was stilted and plots contrived.

Although I don’t rule out writing about my time in the UK, for now writing from my heart means setting stories amongst the people and places that first influenced me.

Jen and I and other members of the Reading RNA

You belong to the RWA in America and the RNA in the UK where we both attend the Reading Chapter. How would you describe the different approaches to romance writing on each side of the Atlantic?

As I see it, the primary difference is size and, to some extent, related organisational culture.

I came through the RNA New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) and without the supportive critiques I received via the NWS, I don’t think I’d be a published author now. Compared to Romance Writers of America, the RNA is small and for that reason, has a cosier, more intimate feel, at least to me.

However, I also owe much to RWA. It has a highly developed online learning programme I’ve benefited enormously from, and its large chapter network offers excellent contests that give unpublished writers feedback and, as a finalist, visibility. Under a previous title, The Cottage at Firefly Lake was a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart® contest in 2015. That experience changed my life and introduced me to a wonderful and supportive community of fellow finalists, now writing ‘sisters.’

Although some romance publishers (e.g. Harlequin/Mills and Boon) produce different covers for books published simultaneously in the UK and North America, when it comes to actual romance writing, I think the two markets are quite similar. As romance authors, and irrespective of geography, we have the same goals—to create characters and stories that evoke an emotional response in our readers and deliver the happy endings they expect.

The Cottage at Firefly Lake is the first of a trilogy, which I’m really looking forward to reading! Will we find out more about Charlotte and Sean or will you be concentrating on other the characters in your book next time?

I’m so pleased you’re looking forward to reading the other books in the series. While each book stands alone and can be read independently, there is also continuity between them with recurring characters and, of course, a common setting. 

The next book, Summer on Firefly Lake is released on 27 July 2017 in the UK and tells the story of two characters, Mia and Nick, who are introduced in The Cottage at Firefly Lake. Although not main characters, you will certainly find out more about Charlie and Sean in the second book.

The third book, Back Home at Firefly Lake, will be released in March 2018. Once again, previous characters reappear to give readers glimpses of their ‘happy ever after,’ as well as life in Firefly Lake.

Thank you for answering my questions today, Jen, and good luck with this and your future books.

Thanks so much, Jean. It’s been my pleasure to chat with you.

The Cottage at Firefly Lake can be purchased in either mass market paperback or e-book from all online platforms including Amazon UK

And, as I said, Summer on Firefly Lake will be available in the UK from 27th July from the above including Amazon UK

You can also find out more about Jen on her website: or catch up with her on Twitter @JenGilroy1 or Facebook