blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Two Truths and a Guy – Jeannine Henvey

High school is hard enough. Imagine having to keep a secret that can change your twin’s life.

Sixteen-year-old twins, Stella and Peter, move cross-country with their parents to start fresh and leave their former life behind. Will the past determine their future, or will they finally get their happy ending?

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Peter and Stella may be twins, but individually their struggles are one of a kind. Peter wasn’t always Peter. And Stella misses who he used to be –her sister Petra. From the outside, they seem like two kids just trying to find their way at a new school, but behind closed doors they deal with the emotional baggage from the past they’ve yet to unpack. Beauty queen Mom counts Stella’s every calorie rather than deal with Peter’s transition. And even though Dad supports Peter’s true self, he’s blind to seeing Stella for who she really is. She just wants to be a teenage girl known for anything other than her sibling. Meanwhile, with a skin-tight binder around his chest, and desperation to be one of the guys, Peter feels like he’s suffocating. All this, just to have his outside match his inside–and simply be. If anyone learns their secret, the family’s sacrifice of moving to California will have been for nothing.

Brimming with a rollercoaster of emotion and unwavering hope, Two Truths and a Guy is a heartfelt coming of age story that touches us with the power of loyalty, the need for acceptance, and the importance of living our truth.

My thoughts: this was a really good read, discussing serious issues around gender and sexuality but with enough lightness and general teen drama to stop it feeling heavy and “issues” ridden, which can be off-putting and feel more like a lecture.

Stella and Peter have allowed themselves to drift apart, from being super close to struggling to talk, both have been dealing with a lot, mostly around Peter’s transition and all that ensued back in Pennsylvania. Moving to California didn’t change that, you take your problems with you if you don’t deal with them. Their lack of communication leaves them without the other’s support when they need it most. Luckily they’re able to finally talk, and write, and build a new start.

The people around them, the genuine friends they’ve made, help them through all of this struggle and I really liked the way even Peter’s basketball coach had his back, it was great to see adults being supportive too.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Girl in the Tunnel – Deirdre Palmer

London. A January night. Commuters surge into the Underground. Ellen Randall recognises a man standing close to the platform edge: Matt Leyton, her sister Rosanna’s married lover. The man who’s
playing a game as old as time. A red-hot flash of uncontrollable anger propels Ellen to his side. The train approaches. Seconds later, Matt has gone.
Carl Teviot is convinced Ellen isn’t a killer, even though he’s only just met her – or rather, found her, huddled in a sleeping bag in an abandoned Tube station: a ghost station. He can’t leave her there, alone, and in danger.
But rescuing her from the tunnel is only the beginning…

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Deirdre lives in Brighton, on the south coast of England. She writes women’s and psychological fiction under her own name, and as Zara Thorne. Becoming an author was a childhood dream, although she didn’t have much of a clue as to what it meant. But fast forward several years – okay, many years – and the dream showed signs of becoming reality. She entered the Mail on Sunday Novel Competition, twice, and came fourth, twice. So there was the incentive to complete her first novel, Remarkable Things, which was published by Crooked Cat and shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award. The Girl in the Tunnel is Deirdre’s 14th book.

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My thoughts: this was a book about guilt and memory, and how your memory can’t always be trusted. Did Ellen really push a man under the train? She thinks she did but there’s no proof. Her faulty memories make her panic and hide in an abandoned Tube station. She’s convinced the police are after her. Carl tries to help her, offering her a safe place to heal and reconcile her memories with reality. Meanwhile Matt, the man Ellen believes she killed, is also coming to terms with the way he’s lived his life.

I liked Ellen and Rosanna, they’re both slightly damaged by their shared childhood trauma (the death of their parents) and the unaffectionate life with their aunt and uncle, but Rosanna chooses to start a new life in Cornwall while Ellen struggles with her need to protect her sister and avenge her heartbreak. But it’s Carl that most intrigued me, taking in a lost and distressed Ellen with no motive except to help her. His kindness and freely offered friendship go a long way to helping her move on. I was less interested in the peripheral stories of Georgie and Matt, they felt a bit unnecessary. It was interesting to see how Ellen had convinced herself she was a killer, despite all evidence to the contrary and how it took her time to reevaluate her memories, something that’s notoriously faulty, and see the truth.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Silent Mother – Liz Lawler

The phone rings. It’s the call every parent dreads. My beautiful son is dead.

He’d been the centre of my world from the moment he was born. Now my perfect life is shattered. In the midst of my grief, I receive an anonymous letter telling me that Tom’s death was not an accident.

So I’ve come to the apartment where my only child lived to find out what really happened. Tom was newly qualified as a doctor, he had a bright future ahead of him. Nothing about the day he died makes sense.

As I get to know the medical staff Tom worked with and his friends living nearby, I’m drawn into a tangled web of lies. Whispers and rumours circulate along the hospital corridors and I start to question how well I really knew my precious boy.

But a mother knows when things don’t add up.

His girlfriend has been keeping her pregnancy secret.
His best friend betrayed him in the weeks before Tom’s death.
His neighbours all have something to hide.

Which one of them would kill? As I get closer to the truth, the stakes become more dangerous. And I realise I could be next on their list…

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Liz Lawler grew up sharing pants, socks, occasionally a toothbrush, sleeping four to a bed. Born in Chatham and partly raised in Dublin, she is one of fourteen children. She spent over twenty years as a nurse and has since fitted in working as a flight attendant, a general manager of a five star hotel, and is now working with trains. She became an author in 2017 when her debut novel Don’t Wake Up was published by Twenty7.
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My thoughts: this was really interesting, I don’t think the title quite fits as one of the things Ruth isn’t is silent. She’s asking questions and tracking down the people in her son’s life. She knows Thomas wouldn’t have done the things he’s accused of, none of it adds up and the police have closed the case. It’s her job to find the truth.

When the real story starts to come out, it’s shocking and Ruth has wound up right in the heart of it. People she’s seen as a locum GP aren’t who they first appear and by staying in her son’s flat she’s able to find out details the police missed. A clever and twisted story of malice and grief.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book book exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Sister Pact – Lisa Swift

Thirty-year-old Brooke Padgett is the landlady of The Highwayman’s Drop in the beautiful Yorkshire village of Leyholme. Commitment-averse and obsessed with work, she isn’t looking for anything
serious – and she certainly isn’t interested in the pub’s new barman, gorgeous single dad Hayden. Or is she?
Older sister Rhianna Garrett has fled wealthy husband James after discovering his infidelity. As she moves back to the pub with her children in tow, it’s clear that living together will be tricky for these
two very different sisters…
Meanwhile, their widowed mum Janey is keen to rejoin the dating scene. But a lot has changed since her youth in the seventies – and she’ll need the help of her girls.
As the sisters join forces to help Janey, as well as fight off the chain circling the pub, their relationship becomes close once again. Until Brooke discovers Rhianna is hiding a secret that could drive a wedge between them all…
Can the two sisters come together to save The Highwayman’s Drop, their mum’s love life – and their relationship?

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Lisa Swift is a romance author from West Yorkshire in the UK. She is represented by Laura Longrigg at MBA Literary Agents. Her first book was published by Hera Books in August 2019.
As Mary Jayne Baker, Lisa also writes romantic comedies for Aria Fiction.
Lisa is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

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My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book, the sisterly bickering was reminiscent of my relationship with my own younger sister – we can’t be in the same room for five minutes without disagreeing on something. Brooke and Rhianna are very different people and have differing opinions on pretty much everything. It doesn’t make their suddenly sharing the small flat that was their childhood home as adults easy at all. I felt sorry for Janey, drafted in as referee once again. This book was a lot of fun, as they come to see that they can get along if they want to and that sometimes you have to work to get what you want.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: His Loving Wife – Miranda Smith

I would do anything to protect my family. It’s my fault they’re in danger…

Our vacation house is beautiful. With its pastel-blue walls, the swimming pool outside, the boardwalk stretching down to the shore. My children play in the waves and my husband grills burgers on the deck. It is so peaceful.

But I can’t relax. When I drive to the store, or stroll down the beach, I am always looking over my shoulder, my heart racing. I am looking for him.

The man who nearly destroyed everything, a year ago, because of the secrets I kept.

I swear I didn’t do anything wrong. But no matter how hard my husband tries to pretend, we both know it’s not over.

This vacation was meant to be a chance to heal. Instead, I think it might break us. Because my husband still doesn’t trust me… and I’m not sure I can trust myself.

An absolutely compelling psychological thriller that will make you question how well you know those around you—and how safe you ever are. Fans of The Girl on the TrainBehind Closed Doors and Gillian Flynn will be completely hooked by His Loving Wife.

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Author Bio:
Miranda Smith writes psychological and domestic suspense. She is drawn to stories about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Before completing her first novel, she worked as a newspaper staff writer and a secondary English teacher. She lives in East Tennessee with her husband and three young children.

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My thoughts: this did not go where I thought it would, the beginning of the story and the trauma the family are trying to recover from, the reason they’ve gone on holiday, looms large over things but not for the reason it first seems. Another, much more sinister, reason starts to emerge as the holiday unfolds into its second week and things take a strange turn with the arrival of a supposed friend.

I felt for Kate, her husband has been acting very strangely and leaning on his online group more and not telling her things. She’s frightened and he’s just absent, mentally and emotionally. He’s not even looking after their children very well. The tragedy and horror that this holiday ends as shouldn’t have happened, they’re already traumatised, and while the story ends on a hopeful note, it could have been very different.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Orchid Farmer’s Sacrifice – Fred Yu

He was born of prophecy. If he can’t embrace his destiny in time, his country is doomed.

Ancient China. Spoiled and overconfident, eighteen-year-old Mu Feng relishes life as the son of an honored general. But when his sister is abducted and his friends slaughtered, he flees home. He soon discovers the mystical birthmark on his body has attracted an enormous price on his head.

Pursued across the Middle Kingdom, Feng finds allies in two fierce warriors and a beautiful assassin. When he learns his ultimate enemy plans an incursion with advanced weaponry, he must call on his friends and his own budding military genius to defend his country. His plan is desperate, and the enemy outnumbers him twenty-five to one…

Can Feng fulfill a duty he didn’t know he had and unite the empire against a terrifying force?

Add to Goodreads Available October 5th!

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Chapter One
Mu Feng woke to the call of a rooster, unsure where he was. He was staring into an empty flask flipped over and wedged against a stack of plates.
He pulled his silk robes tighter around his body. This was not his bed. His body lay bent and twisted against the hard edge of a wooden table, and his face was soaked from sleeping in a puddle of spilled liquor all night. He supported himself on one elbow to stretch his sore hip.
His three friends were still asleep, two of them snoring on the floor and another sprawled on a narrow bench, his arms and legs dangling.
Vague memories of the night before brought a smile to Feng’s lips—drinking, eating, and playing dice deep into the night. Empty flasks were scattered everywhere. Two large buckets of water remained half full.
Feng flinched against the dull pain at the base of his skull. He rubbed his oversized forehead and reached for a bowl. He hadn’t drunk enough water, and now the headache would nag him all day.
He sat back and gulped down the water, one bowl after another, and then paused to take a deep breath. He remembered coming to the Rider’s Inn with three of his best friends last night. The first floor of the little inn was packed. There were no rooms left upstairs, and the innkeeper was going to ask one of his customers to find somewhere else to stay because the general’s son, Mu Feng, needed a place to sleep.
Feng assured the innkeeper he would be drinking all night and didn’t need a room.
He remembered the innkeeper bringing him the very best drink they had to offer, a liquor made from sorghum buried in the ground for thirty years. It was something so exquisite only a Tiger General’s son could afford it. Feng remembered sipping the liquor and commenting that the taste resembled an onrush of invading cavalry, the sound of a thousand war drums approaching until it became thunder, then breezed by to leave an exhaustive state of calm. One of his friends laughed and told him to get drunk.
Feng needed to hurry home. The ride back would not be long—only a trip through a small forest. But he was to train his father’s pike unit that morning, and it wouldn’t look good for the instructor to arrive late.
The front door had been left open, and a little boy, his face filthy and his clothes in tatters, stood outside.
The boy’s a beggar and wants something to eat, Feng thought. He took a piece of copper from his pocket and stumbled to the door. The boy inched back, leaning away as if preparing himself to run.
Feng placed the coin on the table closest to the entrance. “Here, kid. Get yourself some food.”
Ding, facedown on a bench only a moment ago, was already on his feet.
“We need to go,” Feng said. “I can send a servant later to pay the innkeeper.”
“You must have paid him four times already,” Ding said. He planted a sharp kick into one of his friends on the floor and squatted down to scream in his ear. “Get up, Wen!”
He proceeded to the next drunk, curled under a table and still snoring, and kicked him in the ribs. “Get up, Little Chu. Feng needs to go home.”
Little Chu groaned. He lifted his head, his eyes still closed. “I don’t want any breakfast.”
“You’re not getting any,” Feng said with a laugh. “But there’s plenty of water in that bucket.”
Ding headed for the door, his long sword dangling by his side. “I’ll get the horses ready.” He stopped by the table near the entrance. “Who left the coin here?”
“It’s for the kid,” Feng said, turning and pointing outside. The boy was no longer there. Feng walked to the door and pulled it wide open for another look. “He was just here.”
Wen lumbered to his feet, towering over the others. “What boy?” he asked, his voice booming across the room. He hoisted a heavy bucket to his lips for a gulp or two, then poured the rest of the water over his head.
“A young beggar,” Feng said. “So many of those little things around here.”
Wen’s laughter thundered across the room. “See? Even a beggar knows he can’t take money from a dead man. You drank so much last night the boy thought you were a hungry ghost.”
“Shut your mouth,” Chu shouted, clapping Wen’s back with the hilt of his sword. Wen laughed even harder.
Ding returned, pulling the horses with one hand and carrying all four saddles with the other.
Feng stepped into the morning sun and took a deep breath. He reached for the harness of a gigantic warhorse, a gift from Uncle Shu this year for his eighteenth birthday. He stroked the nose of the charger, then the mane, and took the saddle. The horse reminded him every day that he was an adult, despite his boyish features and lanky arms, and he was commander of the best pike men in the world.
Little Chu turned back to the mess they were leaving behind—the empty bowls, the plates, and the overturned liquor flasks. “Too bad Du didn’t want to come last night. Since when did we ever go drinking without him?”
“He wanted to,” Ding said, “but he was vomiting and couldn’t get up. Must have been something he ate at the whorehouse.”
“He ate at a brothel?” Wen asked. “What kind of meat do they serve there?”
Ding turned to his friend with a smirk. “Why don’t you ever go to the whorehouse, Feng?”
Feng finished saddling his horse and leaped onto his charger. “Let’s go.”
“Feng’s father is a Tiger General,” Little Chu said. “He can get any girl he wants.” He guided his horse toward the road and squeezed its belly with his stirrups. The horse lurched forward.
“But then he’ll have to marry her!” Wen shouted from behind, hurrying after his friends. “I’d rather pay some money to amuse myself than be stuck with a wretch in my house.”
In a moment they were on the main road, riding at a comfortable pace. After a while the path bent into a forest and narrowed. The four friends merged behind one another, proceeding in single file. The dirt trail was an easy ride, well maintained and free of overhanging branches and intruding vegetation.
It was still early in the morning, and the ride home would be short. Feng relaxed a little, but not entirely. His father would be furious if he found out his son was too drunk to come home last night and couldn’t return in time to train his pike unit. He might even forbid Feng from leading his men again, a position Feng had to beg for over the years.
General Mu, Feng’s father and one of four Tiger Generals in the empire, was known as the General of the Uighur Border. He guarded the westernmost fortress in the empire. The portion of the Great Wall that he protected and the North Gate, which opened into the City of Stones, faced the land of the Uighur. It was the final stop on the Silk Road before entering the Middle Kingdom.
General Mu’s city was one of few fortresses built in a valley along the northern mountain chains. It was low enough to lose the advantage of elevation, which so much of the Great Wall depended on, but flat enough for travelers and barbarian traders to meet in this border city. Over the years General Mu had imposed heavy punishments on anyone harassing or discriminating against the foreigners, and despite countless skirmishes at the Great Wall, the City of Stones was never attacked in earnest. Commerce thrived at a time of heightened tensions between the Middle Kingdom and the barbarian nations. Chinese and Uighur, Khitans and Mongols assembled in the same bustling marketplace in the center of town and bartered. The city seemed oblivious to the politics of the Asian kingdoms.
The general placed his only son, Mu Feng, in command of the pike unit, but he was never permitted to confront the barbarians. The archers, the cavalry, and the anti-siege personnel were all deployed during border skirmishes with the Uighur.
Feng’s pike units were never battle-tested, and he never understood why. In military matters his father always sought his advice and often adopted his strategies. For years he studied The Art of War and every other military classic his father could access. In simulated battle, Feng had proven again and again he was capable. Yet, his father never trusted him in a real war.
Feng and his friends breezed along the narrow forest trail with Ding in front, Feng following from a short distance, and the other two in the rear.
Moments later, Feng noticed two rows of armed men standing in a line, motionless, blocking the road.
“Slow,” Feng said, loud enough only for his friends to hear. “Bandits.”
The foliage around them was dense with thick trees and low branches reaching into every empty space. It would be impossible to penetrate the forest and ride around the blockade.
Ding reined in his horse and slowed to a walk. “Small-time bandits trying to rob the general’s son. Wait till they find out who you are.”
Wen sent his horse lurching forward and stopped in front of the outlaws, so close he could have easily barreled into them. “Why are you blocking the road?”
None of them answered. They simply stared.
“If you don’t step aside, we’re going to run you over!” Wen said, his booming voice echoing through the forest.
The armed thugs remained silent, motionless. Wen reached for his sword. Feng held out his hand, fingers outstretched, and motioned for him to stop.
“There’s only ten of them,” Little Chu said in a low voice. “And they’re on foot.”
“Get out of my way,” Feng said to the bandits, his voice loud and firm. “We’re military officials. We have important business in the City of Stones.”
A short bandit with a gray topknot broke into a smile. “Military officials,” he said, speaking slowly as if to pronounce every syllable. “Exactly what we’re waiting for.”
Feng stiffened. Soldiers earned modest salaries. They were well trained and armed, and very few of them traveled this road. For a small team of robbers to block the road, waiting for soldiers to rob, didn’t make any sense.
“One of our women was raped last night,” the short one continued.
Ding moved forward to Feng, his hand on his weapon, and whispered, “There’s more of them in the forest on both sides. Maybe a hundred.”
Feng nodded and turned back to the short bandit. “You’re not listening. Civilian crimes should be reported to the magistrate, not the army.”
“The criminal was a military official!” the thug shouted over Feng’s voice.
“I see,” Feng replied, fighting to remain calm. His heart was pounding.
His hand crept into his pocket to touch a bronze plate half the size of his palm, a token he always carried with himself. He still remembered the day so many years ago when he was afraid to climb onto a horse for the first time. He went to bed that night feeling disgraced and useless. His father came to his bedside and gave him this little bronze plate embossed with an image of a fierce tiger. His father told him if he carried it in his pocket, he would be able to do anything he set his mind to because the tiger held the powers of the Tiger General, powers meant for the strong and courageous. Much later he realized it was a standard pass the Tiger Generals’ messengers used.
He kept this one particular plate on himself every day.
The situation in front of him required much more than strength and courage. A hundred bandits had gathered to surround a few soldiers when very little money could be made.
Something was very wrong.
“Bring your evidence to the magistrate, and he’ll assign officers to investigate,” Feng said. “But blocking the road and randomly harassing any soldier is plain stupid. Harm the wrong soldier, and you’re all going to be killed.”
Chu pulled up behind Feng. “They’re behind us as well. We’re surrounded.”
“The criminal may be you!” the bandit continued, pointing the butt of his saber at Feng. “Why don’t you come with us to the magistrate, and we’ll talk about it in front of him?”
So, they didn’t intend to rob. They were looking to abduct, and they were waiting for the right moment to strike. The group of friends was in grave danger. Feng drew his horse back, opening up the space in front so he could see everything around him. How could this be happening?
Feng’s heart raced faster than he could withstand. They were on horses, and the bandits were not. That extra speed was their only advantage. He didn’t notice anyone on the road earlier, so they couldn’t have installed too many traps or ambushes behind them. Turning around, charging through the bandits in the rear, and riding the main road back toward the Rider’s Inn seemed like the sole course of action.
“After all, you look like a sleazy rapist to me!” the bandit shouted for all to hear. There was a roar of laughter.
“How dare you!” Wen shouted, drawing his sword. “Do you know who he is?”
Feng reached out in alarm, trying to grab Wen’s attention. He was too far away. Wen’s loud voice pierced through the thundering laughter.
“He’s General Mu’s son! Do you all want to die?”
The bandits fell silent, but only for a second. With a roar the men from both sides of the forest charged. Feng drew his sword, spun his horse around, and shouted, “Retreat! Back to the Rider’s Inn!”
His friends reacted, turned, and broke into a hard gallop. The bandits swarmed in like floodwater. Feng had never encountered a real battle before, but if they were out to kidnap for ransom, then he—not his friends—would be the prized possession. He needed to lead the bandits away from his friends if they were to have any chance of escaping.
Feng turned around and attacked the short bandit with the topknot, flying past him and slashing him across the face, almost cutting his skull open. The thug died instantly. Feng stabbed left and right, kicking his horse’s belly to urge it forward, struggling to break through the ring of hostiles.
Then he heard Wen shouting from behind. “Feng’s stuck back there! Feng’s stuck back there!”
“No!” Feng screamed as loud as he could. “Back to the inn!”
He knew they heard him, but in the distance he saw them approaching as fast as they could.
“No!” he shouted again. A spear flew across the air and struck Wen in the belly. He bowled over and fell from his horse. The bandits surrounded him and stabbed him over and over again.
Feng stared in disbelief. “Wen!” he shouted. They weren’t out to kidnap. They intended to murder. He kicked his warhorse and pummeled into the dense rows of bandits, slashing and stabbing as hard as he could, hoping to get to his other two friends before it was too late.
Chu’s horse screamed, lurching back and dismounting its rider.
They were attacking the horses. Without horses there would be no hope of getting out alive. Feng leaped off his mount and sent his horse away, wielding his sword with both hands like a battle ax and carving a path to Little Chu.
It was already too late. Chu was surrounded and stabbed from all directions at once, multiple spears and swords buried in his body. Dark blood poured from his mouth, and with his last breath, he screamed, “Run, Feng!”
Feng stabbed a bandit in the rib cage, pushed his sword all the way in until the hilt slammed against his chest. With a roar he shoved the writhing body into a crowd of enemies. He grabbed someone’s saber and swung and thrashed behind himself, fighting off those attacking his back while shielding his front with the dying bandit. He planted his feet on the hard ground, sensed Ding’s location, and pushed his way through.
Ding had already fallen off his horse, but he was hiding behind two trees standing very close together in front of a narrow gap only one person could penetrate at once, allowing him to hold back his attackers.
Feng forced his way to the two trees and dumped the dead bandit from his own sword and into the gap to seal it. He then circled around the smaller tree. “My horse is still alive,” he said. “Let’s go!”
He whistled for his horse and grabbed another saber from a dead bandit, and with a weapon in each hand, he leaped out from behind the trees and slashed at his nearest enemy.
The bandits were hardly skilled swordsmen. They were poorly coordinated and clearly had never trained to fight together.
But there were so many of them.
Feng created an opening when his warhorse broke through from behind. The massive charger was kicking and stomping the enemy, pressing them back, throwing them into disarray.
Ding stood right beside him, covered in blood—perhaps some of his own blood. “Go!” Feng shouted. He slashed another bandit in the neck, lodging his blade in the man’s collarbone.
“Careful!” Ding shouted from behind. Out of the corner of his eye, Feng noticed a spear flying toward him. Ding leaped in, crossing in front of Feng and blocking the spear with his body. He collapsed, the warhead plunged in his abdomen.
“No!” Feng wrenched his weapon free, hacked down another enemy, and leaped onto his horse. He grabbed Ding and dragged him onto the saddle, smacking the horse with the side of his saber. The charger surged forward. They were on a warhorse, one of the best in the army, and the bandits originally sealing off the road were out of position. Many were killed. Others couldn’t climb over the dead bodies littered across the narrow path. Feng’s warhorse met little resistance.
Ding yanked the spear out of his belly, and with a shout he threw it into the closest bandit. A stream of dark blood flew from Ding’s mouth.
Slowly he leaned his full weight against Feng’s back, fading out of consciousness. Feng threw away his saber and reached back with one hand to clutch his friend’s belt, preventing him from falling over. He urged the horse on, and the powerful stallion responded, charging forward at breakneck speed. The shouts and insults from behind were fading. In a moment, Feng found himself riding in silence.
His back was soaked with Ding’s blood. Ding’s breathing was becoming shorter and quicker.
“Ding! Wake up, Ding!”
How could this be happening? To think a few hundred untrained ruffians would dare confront a Tiger General’s army for mere ransom was hard to believe. Besides, they could have captured Wen and Little Chu when they fell off their horses. But they rushed in to kill without hesitating a step, as if taking them alive was never considered.
Feng felt a squeezing pain in his chest at the thought of Wen and Chu. They were gone. They were drinking and laughing and bickering only last night, and now they were gone.
A little side path branched off from the main road, and a small house hid behind a row of trees. He pulled his horse’s reins toward the house. It looked like the home of a local peasant, with coarse mud walls and an old wooden door once painted red. Feng had never spoken to a peasant before, much less asked one for help. He was the son of a Tiger General, high above the rest. Normally the peasants would be kneeling in front of his father’s mansion.
With Ding dying behind him, it didn’t matter if he had to bow to a beggar.
Feng reached the front door of the hut, dismounted, and dragged his friend’s unconscious body with him.
He took a deep breath and pounded the door with his fist.
An old woman with a wide gap between her oversized front teeth opened the door. She looked at Feng from head to toe, then at Ding. “Come on in,” she said. “I was afraid you wouldn’t knock. He’s bleeding to death, you know.”
Feng was more thankful than surprised. He lifted his friend as gently as he could and dragged him into the little hut. There was nothing inside except for a small bed, a table, and a brick cooking stove in the corner.
“We were attacked by bandits. There were four of us, and—”
The old woman sneered. “Stop barking like a neutered dog. You lost a fight, and you want to hide here. Put him in the bed. I’ll boil some towels to clean his wounds.”
Feng ignored her insolence, dragged his friend to the bed, placed him on his back, and tucked a coarse pillow under his head. Blood dripped everywhere. He yanked open Ding’s shirt and sucked in his breath. “No,” he whispered. “No.”
Ding looked up with a blank, lifeless stare.
The old woman brought a bucket of water and with one glance turned around to leave. “You should’ve told me earlier. I wouldn’t have brought the towels if I knew he was almost dead.”
Feng climbed onto the bed with trembling hands, lifted his friend’s head, and wrapped his body in his arms. “How do you feel, Ding?”
“I’m cold.”
“I-I’ll find you a blanket. I’ll—”
“No. Don’t leave.”
Feng held his friend tighter. “I’m here. I’m here.”
“What happened, Feng?”
Feng’s entire torso shook. His quivering lips were barely able to speak. “I don’t know.”
“Wen and Chu. They’re gone?”
Feng nodded.
A sob escaped Ding’s lips, and a trickle of tears rolled down his face. “I’ll . . . I’ll see them soon.”
“No!” Feng said. “Stay with me, Ding. Stay with me.”
“I’m sorry, Feng. You and Du are left behind. It’s still better than drinking alone. Tell him to stop eating at the whorehouse.” Ding tried to laugh at his own joke but only managed a choked sob. “How could there be so many bandits here?”
Feng shook his head, unable to respond.
“I’ve never heard of . . . of so many bandits . . .” Ding’s voice trailed off, and then the room was silent. Even his light gasps for air faded.
“How did we fail the people?” Feng whispered, struggling to speak so Ding could hear him. “Why did so many turn to crime?”
Ding took his last breath, his cold, limp body sinking into Feng’s arms. For a moment, the tears wouldn’t flow.
“Why are the people discontent?” Feng’s broken voice managed to say. He held his friend’s body closer. He felt ill and dizzy, as if he might vomit and faint all at once. He squeezed his eyes so tightly together that his tears couldn’t flow.
He threw his head back to scream.
“He had a gaping hole in his chest,” the old woman shouted from across the room. “Did you expect him to live?”
Feng collapsed on his friend’s body and wept. He shook with every sob, his clenched fists pounding the bed with every convulsion.
The door flew open so hard the old iron hinges rattled. A group of peasants carrying thick bamboo poles charged in, all of them young and strong. They moved in lock step with perfect discipline. They formed an arc around the door, each facing a different direction with their bodies poised to react. Feng recognized them.
“How dare you break my door!” the old woman shouted. “Get out of my house! I’ll report you to the magistrate!”
One peasant drew a sword halfway out of his bamboo pole, and the old woman fell silent.
A tall man with thick eyebrows and a short beard stepped in. He acknowledged the old woman once, then turned to Ding’s body.
“I’m sorry.”
“Uncle Shu,” Feng said, his voice trembling. His father’s brother was here, a powerful man of great skill and military prowess. At least he was safe now. “Wen, Chu, and now Ding. They’re all gone.”
Uncle Shu came to the side of the bed.
“How did you find me?” Feng asked. “How did you know?”
His uncle pulled a ragged sheet over Ding’s face so the horrid look of death would not stare back at them. The little hut was silent while he took Feng’s hand and led him to the table on the other side of the room. “Sit. I need you to calm down and tell me what happened.”
“I . . . we . . .” Feng couldn’t find words. He was so relieved to see his uncle and even more relieved to see the army’s elite, personally trained by his uncle, gathered around him. Strange, they were dressed in the coarse gray fabric of peasants, and their weapons were concealed in bamboo poles. Why would his uncle need to travel under disguise?
“You’re safe now, Feng,” Uncle Shu said. “Tell me what happened.”
Feng’s hands were still shaking.
Uncle Shu motioned for one of his men. “Bring the young master some liquor.”
Just the night before, they were drinking the finest liquor the little inn had to offer, laughing and playing dice late into the night. Feng remembered debating Mongol military tactics. Little Chu’s words echoed in his head. The Mongols may have the strongest cavalry in the world, but horses can’t climb walls. I can drink a bucket of liquor and still defend the country.
One of the soldiers placed a flask of liquor in front of Feng.
“I let my friends die,” Feng whispered. He didn’t wait for his uncle to respond. He grabbed the flask and emptied it in his mouth, guzzling the hard alcohol without taking a breath. He planted the flask on the table and tried to shake his head clear as his vision already began to blur.
“You shouldn’t be drinking like that, young man,” he heard the old woman say behind him. “Here, drink some water before you vomit all over my table. Not that I don’t have to spend all day cleaning up your friend’s blood.”
Feng grabbed the bowl of water placed before him and drank everything in one gulp.
“Take her outside,” Uncle Shu said to one of his men. “Give her some money for her troubles and ask her to leave us alone.”
Feng felt dizzy, incredibly drunk for a single flask of liquor. Maybe that was what his uncle wanted for him, something to numb his senses and help him forget. “Where is my father?” he asked.
He lowered his head onto his arms, leaned against the table, and closed his eyes. He had slept in the same position on a similar table the night before. His friends were alive then.
Nothing made sense anyway. His uncle was here, and very soon he would be taken home. His father would summon the army, they would round up all the bandits, and soon after he would find out why his friends were slaughtered in broad daylight, why even a Tiger General’s son could be attacked on his own land.
But in that moment he was dizzy and intoxicated, and he wanted to let everything go.
Very quickly the effects of the alcohol disappeared. He didn’t want it to leave his head, didn’t want his escape to be over so soon. He remained still, head in his arms, resting on the table with his eyes squeezed shut. Maybe if he tried not to move, he would eventually fall asleep and have sweet dreams.
“Sir, the young master is unconscious,” one of the soldiers said.
“Bring him to the carriage,” Uncle Shu replied.
“Do we need to secure him? In case he wakes up before we get there?”
“No need. He won’t wake up for another day.”
Feng’s heart beat so hard he thought his ribs would crack. He waited. Two men lifted him off his seat, wrapped his arms around their shoulders, and dragged him outside. Feng was determined to find out where they were taking him and whatever Uncle Shu wanted to do to him. He kept his eyes closed, his arms limp, his head hanging.
They lifted him into an enclosed carriage, settled him on his back, and walked away. Outside, at least a hundred men and numerous horses and carriages shuffled around. Feng heard his uncle giving orders to depart.
“You stay with the young master,” Uncle Shu said.
The operation was well planned and rehearsed. No one asked a single question after that.
Someone climbed into the carriage with Feng. The soldier placed his sword on the floor and shouted, “Go!”
The driver cracked his whip. They eased forward, then pulled into a steady speed. Feng waited. The road became smoother, and the horses picked up the pace. The heavy pounding of warhorses shifted to the front of the carriage, leaving only a few soldiers to protect the rear. The attack units had moved, and it was time.
Feng grabbed the sword lying on the floor of the carriage, drew the weapon, and pinned the blade against the soldier’s throat before he had time to react.
“Where are you taking me?” Feng asked in a quiet voice.
The soldier shook his head. “You—you were supposed to be unconscious . . .”
Feng pressed the tip of the sword harder into the base of his throat, piercing the skin. Blood trickled at the tip. The soldier froze.
“Answer me!”
“We’re going to the City of Eternal Peace.”
Feng’s eyebrows knit together. “General Wu’s fortress?”
The soldier nodded. “Young master, we didn’t mean to—”
“Why is my uncle doing this?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why am I being escorted to another Tiger General’s city? Where’s my father?”
“I’m just a soldier, young master. You know we only receive our orders.”
Feng took a deep breath. “I’m going to kill you if you don’t tell me.”
The soldier’s face was blank, his lips pressed together.
“I’m the general’s son. I can kill you for entertainment, and no one would do a thing.”
“We’re the general’s soldiers, young master. But we’re also your soldiers.”
Feng paused, lowering his sword. “You’re the people’s soldiers. You fight to defend the people, not my father or me. Don’t ever forget.”
“I won’t, young master.”
Feng spun his sword around and hammered the soldier’s head with the handle. The soldier collapsed.
Feng reached for his peasant clothing, about to strip him, and hesitated. He had never worn the coarse fabric of a common man, much less the filthy rags of a peasant. He could almost smell the soil stains on the straw sandals.
His own clothing reeked of dried blood, so changing into dirty canvas would not be so bad.
Feng cursed himself for worrying about the quality of his clothes at a time like this. He stripped the soldier and dressed him in his own bloody robes, then lifted the unconscious body with one hand and the sword with his other and kicked the carriage door open. He threw the soldier halfway out, facedown, and released a long, tortured cry.
“Young master!” one of the riders in the rear called. The soldier hurried forward, closing the distance between himself and Feng’s carriage. Feng threw his sword out the partially opened door. The soldier outside evaded the flying sword and was barely recovering when Feng leaped out, slammed into him, and sent him toppling off his horse. Feng recovered his own position on the speeding mount, grabbed the reins, planted his feet in the stirrups, and squeezed the horse’s belly. The other guards were charging up behind him. A side road appeared ahead. Feng saw his opportunity and brought his horse thundering down the little path.
The guards followed. Feng reached for the sword hanging from the saddle, spun around, and charged into his pursuers.
“Young master!” one guard shouted. They recognized him and pulled back. No one wanted to fight the general’s son.
He tried not to think of how his friends had died that morning, how hundreds of bandits waited for him in ambush, how Ding died in his arms. The little beggar at the inn that morning, who watched them from outside and didn’t bother to collect the coins Feng left for him, must have been there to report when they began their ride home. The ambush was prepared for them and only them.
His uncle could have encountered the slaughter in the forest and traced his tracks and Ding’s blood to the peasant woman’s house. There was no way to understand why his uncle was out there looking for him, his elite unit dressed as peasants, or why he drugged his own nephew.
Feng kicked his horse and rode as hard as he could, heading south for Major Pass toward the City of Stones. Major Pass, the main artery running across the north of the empire and parallel to the Great Wall, connected the city fortresses of all four Tiger Generals. It used to be named something else, but the people called it Major Pass because it was the widest, most well paved road north of the capital. Armies and their supply wagons could efficiently move on this road.
As far back as Feng could remember, the empire was at peace within its borders. Aside from skirmishes with the barbarians in the north and short wars with the island nations in the south, people lived well in China.
He remembered the quick briefing he received from two officers right before he left for the Rider’s Inn. They had told him the Venom Sect was recently active in this area, but no one knew why. Feng recalled asking the local government to involve themselves, saying that the military shouldn’t interfere with civilian criminals.
The Venom Sect was a powerful group of poison users rumored to be four hundred members strong and headed by a ruthless leader named Red Cobra. The officers told him yesterday that Red Cobra was also spotted in the area. Feng laughed and asked how much snake venom it would take to poison an army.
Then they informed him that the Silencer had killed Tiger General Lo. They had expected this news ever since he was ordered to invade Mongolia and capture the undefeated barbarian king known as the Silencer. General Lo walked into Mongolia with only two hundred men in an apparent act of suicide. As of yesterday they still hadn’t found his body. All his men were dead, and the Silencer took no prisoners. Some even said the Silencer was spotted killing off the Chinese soldiers by himself. General Lo guarded the easternmost fortress in the empire facing the Khitans. For the emperor to order him to march away from the barbarian nation he was guarding against to attack an undefeated Mongol king made no sense at all.
None of these events should have had anything to do with what happened that morning. The bandits were clearly not members of the Venom Sect. They were thugs carrying steel weapons they didn’t know how to use, fighting in plain view instead of killing from the shadows.
It was almost noon by now, and Feng was rapidly approaching the City of Stones.
The Redcrest Prequel

Giveaway – win a paperback copy of the book – open internationally.

 As a lifelong student of martial arts, and growing up watching martial arts flicks in the 80s and 90s, Yu decided early on that he would write in this genre. Inspired by George RR Martin’s work, he decided he would write a series in English in this centuries-old Asian genre. Yu has written three previous novels, The Legend of Snow Wolf, Haute Tea Cuisine and Yin Yang Blades. Yu has a BFA Film and Television from NYU Tisch School of Arts. He was born in Guangzhou, China, but presently lives in New York City. Fred Yu  

My thoughts: a lot happens to Feng very swiftly in this story – he loses everything but finds so much more as he tries to unravel the plots and schemes surrounding him. He meets great heroes who come from nothing, while he as the son of a great general had everything. He learns so much and uses his highly strategic brain to save the lives of his friends and halt the enemies in their paths. An action packed story inspired by Chinese history and mythology. I really enjoyed this, I liked how Feng grows up and becomes less spoilt after he meets the Poison Sect and then his blood brothers. It will be interesting to see how this series unfolds as he takes on even greater enemies and faces the greatest betrayal.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: Last Girl Ghosted – Lisa Unger

Secrets, obsession and vengeance converge in this riveting thriller about an online dating match turned deadly cat-and-mouse game, from the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions on the 7:45.

Think twice before you swipe.

She met him through a dating app. An intriguing picture on a screen, a date at a downtown bar. What she thought might be just a quick hookup quickly became much more. She fell for him — hard. It happens sometimes, a powerful connection with a perfect stranger takes you by surprise. Could it be love?

But then, just as things were getting real, he stood her up. Then he disappeared — profiles deleted, phone disconnected. She was ghosted.

Maybe it was her fault. She shared too much, too fast. But isn’t that always what women think — that they’re the ones to blame? Soon she learns there were others. Girls who thought they were in love. Girls who later went missing. She had been looking for a connection, but now she’s looking for answers. Chasing a digital trail into his dark past — and hers — she finds herself on a dangerous hunt. And she’s not sure whether she’s the predator — or the prey.

My thoughts: this was really interesting and a compelling read. Balancing Wren’s past and present, while also giving tiny glimpses of the women she’s searching for – hoping she wasn’t in love with a serial killer. The things she learnt growing up, they might just save her life.

Wren is an interesting figure too, a woman with a past she’d love to forget, a past that’s snapping at her heels, despite how much she desperately wants to believe she’s moved on. Working as an anonymous agony aunt in print and podcast, she’s happiest helping other people. But then she meets Adam, he seems like her perfect guy, if a little mysterious.

But he disappears, leaving more questions behind him. And that’s where the book really gets good, as she teams up with a PI to find Adam and the women who’ve disappeared in his wake.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Of Black Bulls & White Horses – Roland Ladley

Emily Copeland is a young teacher at an inner city school. And she’s good at it. One Christmas her mother shares a long held secret of a teenage affair with a French fisherman. Months later her mother is killed in a hit and run and Emily’s life is dislodged from its axis.

With the school summer holidays approaching, Emily decides on a cathartic journey to revisit the French seaside village where, all those years ago, her mother enjoyed her summer fling. Clutching a series of old holiday snaps, she sets off with the ambition of closure. However, the Camargue – where the mighty Rhône meets the Mediterranean – holds deep secrets. It’s a lawless place of cowboys and gipsies, of mudflats, lakes and meandering tributaries … and of black bulls and white horses.

Emily’s journey soon ends up being more than just a rehearsal of her mum’s past. As she traces her footsteps, the romantic memories she unearths of a previous summer paint an altogether more sinister picture of the present. And Emily’s trip turns out to be one of enlightenment and of deceit; and of abuse and of greed. Ultimately it’s a story that ends in death … and in love.

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Chapter One
Four months previously
Emily had her back to the class, facing the whiteboard. She had to stand on tiptoes to reach the top. Some bright spark from maintenance had fitted the new interactive boards last summer and she was sure they had purposely put hers a few inches higher than the original. She wasn’t short. Not short, short. At 155cm she was hardly legs up to your bottom tall, but she always considered herself to be an endearing height.
Whatever.
It made reaching the top shelf in her kitchen cupboards a struggle without a stool. And – on her feet all day with her spine contracting by the hour – after lunch the top of the whiteboard was an effort.
She bit her bottom lip as she wrote out, ‘Pythagoras’s Theorem’, in capitals. In blue. She underlined it. And then turned quickly on her heel. You didn’t want to have your back to Year 9D for any longer than was necessary.
‘OK, team, let’s recap …’ She stopped mid-sentence.
Something was up.
There usually was.
There were sixteen pupils in this, the fourth maths set of five in Year 9. When the classes had been divvied out at the beginning of term INSET training, her class had been described by her head of maths as ‘lively’. That was like calling a great white shark, ‘a bit bitey’.
But they were her Year 9 set. And, bless them, they weren’t nearly as bad as her predecessor had made out. Alison, who was now off on maternity leave, had taken most of Emily’s current class last year – and she hadn’t made it to Christmas. After weeks of staffroom tears, there had been an incident with a textbook that had mysteriously shredded itself and ended up out the window, its pages fluttering across the games field. Alison had, apparently, confronted a boy who was big for his age and had a tongue on him. The word ‘bitch’ couldn’t be ignored, even if it had been under the lad’s breath. As a result Alison had stormed out of the room leaving the class to fend for itself until the next door teacher recognised the noise of near-anarchy for what it was.
Alison didn’t teach her Year 8 set again.
So far though, Emily was keeping a lid on them. And they were learning something. Albeit in fits and starts.
With some classes you often just had to let kids’ frustrations play out. Especially in the last period on a Thursday, having come straight from PE where stale sweat was a stronger essence than even the spray-on, carcinogenic board cleaner.
Now looked like it was going to be one of those times.
Emily’s nose twitched. It was an instinctive reaction.
She looked up and down the classroom. Three rows of tables, each row broken into four so that she could navigate the room quickly and not get stuck top left when all hell was breaking out at the bottom right.
Like most teachers she designed her own seating plans. There were unwritten rules, borne of previous teachers’ experiences of the same pupils. Who should not sit next to whom. Who had learning difficulties. Which children were classified as ‘Pupil Premium’ and, therefore, came from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds. They needed special care and attention both in terms of the questions you asked them and the tone you used.
For example, it was no use asking Shaun to complete work using the internet as he lived with his gran, who didn’t have Wi-Fi … and, in any case, Shaun didn’t have a computer. Harriet, Mobina, Massimo and Darren couldn’t afford dinner money, let alone a calculator.
And there was Lauren.
She respected no one. As far as Emily knew, Lauren lived a half-itinerant life, moving from her aunty to a friend’s house, and back again. Her father was locked up for armed something or other, and her mother was either an alcoholic, or drugged up, or both, most of the time. So Lauren had no adults to respect. So she respected no adults.
Emily included.
But Emily was against wholesale, teacher-led segregation when it came to the seating plan. Other than her sixth form, where she allowed her students to sit anywhere they wished, she started the year with a best guess – putting kids in places she thought would suit them. And then she let the arrangement change as the year developed and friendships and conflicts emerged.
With just sixteen in this class and thirty-five chairs – the sets got smaller the further down the ability ladder you slid – she had been able to group her Year 9 class into enclaves of reasonable behaviour, which in turn sometimes encouraged half decent work. It was never easy.
Bless them, though. Apart from Madi, who should be moving up to Evan Jones’s set some time soon, maths was none of her class’s favourite. Every topic was a struggle. Every ‘x’ a smudge on the board. Every ‘y’ a question rather than a letter representing a variable.
No wonder they misbehaved.
‘I’ve lost all my pencils, miss.’ It was Ben. An almost adorable short lad who was the class clown. On his left was Will, son of a bricklayer, who was brighter than he thought he was. On Ben’s right, Karim, a Sudanese lad with an incongruously massive afro, who was definitely brighter than he thought he was.
‘Shu’ up, Ben.’ Lauren’s surly retort cut through rising tension from the other end of the classroom.
Triangulation was going to be difficult now. Ben was clearly making a play, which Emily would be happy to see through if it didn’t go on for too long. Lauren, who took no prisoners and scared the wits out of everyone in the class including the boys, was bored and might well kick off at any moment which would leave someone in tears.
And Pythagoras was still asking for all of their attentions.
Emily raised a gentle hand in Lauren’s direction.
‘Try not to use that language, please, Lauren.’ She shot the girl a half-smile and then almost in the same sentence, ‘Where are your pens, Ben? Tell me.’
Ben, Will and Karim were all smiles. Ben, who could be cute, cheeky and bloody devious all in the same breath, snorted, his eyes damp with suppressed laughter.
Where’s this going?
She had no idea. So she went on the offensive.
‘Can you borrow one? Say from Karim … or Will?’ Emily, armed with a straightened index finger, pointed at both boys, one after the other.
More sniggering.
‘... grow up, morons.’ The first part of Lauren’s sentence was a mumble, but it might have included the words ‘fucking’ and ‘well’. Emily knew she was close to losing control and might have to resort to a sanction; maybe even ask someone to leave the room. Early intervention was key. But, for her, sanction was always a last resort and she saw it as a failure. On top of that it disrupted the class and always shattered any ambience she had managed to create.
She waited for an answer.
Ben, who even sitting down was nipple-height to the much taller Karim, turned to his friend and said, ‘Can I borrow a pen?’
Karim stared straight ahead impassively. Lauren tutted. Loudly.
‘Say please,’ Karim said.
Will was also struggling to contain himself. Emily still had no idea where this was going, but so far it was pretty harmless … and might be very funny. They managed that sometimes.
‘Please,’ Ben replied, his shoulders lifting and falling below his soundless giggles.
Karim, still looking straight ahead and with a deadpan face, lifted a hand and pointed to his afro.
Emily could see it then.
Karim’s hair was full of pens and pencils. She could see the red rubber of a pencil sneaking a peep from the black, curly mass of Karim’s 80s-style hairdo. Alongside it was the silver top of a biro. You could hide the stationery store in there.
‘Thanks,’ Ben said, gulping down a snort.
He then stood and carefully and thoroughly removed six pens and two pencils from Karim’s hair. And still none of the three broke into laughter. But the rest of the class, who might well have seen the trick before, couldn’t stop themselves.
Apart from Lauren.
‘My mum’s taxes pay your wages, miss. D’you wanna start earning them?’
‘Sure, Lauren. Sure,’ Emily replied, smiling and shaking her head at the same time.
As the giggles lost their momentum and Ben finished systematically collecting the contents of his pencil case from Karim’s afro, Emily put up both hands to try to bring some gravitas to the situation …
… just as the classroom door opened.
And the headmistress came in.
‘Miss Copeland. May I borrow you for a moment?’
The headmistress never visited Emily’s classroom. Behind her was one of the deputy heads. This was odd … and ominous. Emily’s brain spun … and she noticed the class had gone unnaturally quiet.
‘Sure.’ Emily shook her head for a reason she didn’t understand.
‘You might want to bring your things.’ The head nodded at her rucksack which was by her chair.
What?
Was she being arrested? Was the head here to sack her? Images of failed bankers pushing open large glass doors with their hips, their arms overloaded with boxes full of personal possessions, flashed through her consciousness.
‘Ehh. Yes. Of course.’
The head smiled, more a grimace than a smile. The deputy was already in the room. He was looking up at the board.
‘Pythagoras,’ Emily said, as she loaded her rucksack.
‘Got it,’ was his reply. He was now looking at the class with trepidation.
‘Good luck,’ she whispered, and then she slipped out through the door the head was holding open. The corridor beyond was dark and faintly oppressive.
Emily heard the clunk of the door closing, stopped and turned back towards the head, who was a few feet behind her.
The head’s face told the story. Whatever news was coming next was bad. The worst. Emily instinctively knew.
‘Who?’ she said.
The head stuttered. She started to put her hands up to hold Emily by the shoulders, but the distance between them made the attempted hug impossible. So, she dropped her arms back to her side.
‘Your mum, Emily. I’m so, so sorry.’

I am an ex-British Army colonel with operational service in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. I was subsequently a secondary school maths teacher for 8 years. And since 2014, my wife and I have been itinerant, driving around Europe in our motorhome, penning the Sam Green thriller series.

In 2020, during lockdown and on advice from a publisher, I wrote of Black Bulls and White Horses, my first and only non-Sam Green novel.

Book 2 in the Sam Green series, Fuelling the Fire, won a Kindle Scout publishing contract. And, the as yet unnamed, book 8 in the series will be published in 2022. Roland Ladley | Goodreads Amazon

Enter for a chance to win the entire Sam Green collection (7 Books- Digital) International.

My thoughts: what starts as a gentle story about an English teacher retracing her late mother’s footsteps in Southern France becomes something much darker as Emily seeks out her mum’s former lover – Marc Dupont. Dupont is a restaurant owner with a hidden life, a career criminal involved with people smuggling on the Mediterranean. But while he’s a terrible man, his son Luis is not and between him and waiter Gbassy, with Emily’s help, they might just put an end to Marc’s crimes.

I liked Emily, she was resilient and resourceful, even when faced with some truly awful things, she finds ways to survive. Even when she’s warned off, she knows her mum’s involvement is innocent and is determined to get to the bottom of things, and even solve her mum’s death in a hit and run.

At first the story was a bit slow, but as Emily starts to dig into the goings on in this small French town, the plot picks up pace and pieces start to slot into place. I also really liked Gbassy, a good man caught up in terrible things, a man trying to help his home village and having endured more than most could bear, he continues to try to preserve his innate kindness.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: A Little Piece of Paradise – T.A. Williams

The inheritance of a lifetime… with a catch.
When Sophie’s uncle leaves her a castle in the Italian Riviera in his will, she can’t believe her luck.
The catch? She and her estranged sister, Rachel, must live there together for three months in order to inherit it.
Having worked in Rome for four years, Sophie’s excited to revisit to Italy, even if it reignites memories of a cheating ex who soon learns of her return and wants to rekindle their spark. Sophie realises that distance does indeed make the heart grow fonder – but for her friend back home, Chris, who she discovers is more to her than just a friend.
With the clock ticking, can Sophie and Rachel stick it out and heal old wounds, or are the sisters destined to go their own way at the end of the three months? And does Chris feel the same way about Sophie as she does for him?
A beautiful story of romance and sisterhood, perfect for fans of Alex Brown and Lucy Coleman.

Amazon UK
Amazon US

I’m a man. And a pretty old man as well. I did languages at university a long time ago and then lived and worked in France and Switzerland before going to Italy for seven years as a teacher of English. My Italian wife and I then came back to the UK with our little daughter (now long-
since grown up) where I ran a big English language school for many years. We now live in a sleepy little village in Devonshire. I’ve been writing almost all my life but it was only seven years ago that I finally managed to find a publisher who liked my work enough to offer me my first contract.
The fact that I am now writing escapist romance is something I still find hard to explain. My early books were thrillers and historical novels. Maybe it’s because there are so many horrible things happening in the world today that I feel I need to do my best to provide something to cheer my
readers up. My books provide escapism to some gorgeous locations, even if travel to them is currently difficult.

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My thoughts: I really enjoy T.A. Williams’ books, they’re joyful slices of escapism, full of drama and heartache, set in beautiful locations. And this is no exception. I read this book, set in sunny Italy while it was pouring with rain outside and felt completely transported with Sophie. I don’t have the best relationship with my sister so I empathised with her, having to find a way to spend several months with her estranged one – Rachel.

Throw in a complicated love situation with her best friend Chris (who’s back home in the UK), and it’s a real treat of a book. Plus there’s the lovely woofy Jeeves, which is an excellent bonus. A really enjoyable and relaxing read.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Spy Who Inspired Me – Stephen Clarke

For legal reasons, The Spy Who Inspired Me does not mention J-mes B-nd. Which is a shame, because it is a
comedy based on the idea that I-n Fl-ming’s famously macho spy might
have been inspired by a woman…
It is April 1944, and chic armchair naval officer Ian Lemming (sic) is accidentally beached in Nazi-occupied Normandy. With no access to a razor or clean underwear, and deprived of his cigarettes, Lemming just wants to go home. But he is stranded with a young, though hugely experienced, female agent called Margaux Lynd, who is on a perilous mission to unmask traitors in a French Resistance network.
So, as she bullies him across France, Lemming receives a painful crash course in spy craft, and starts to fantasize about a fictional agent – male of course – who would operate only in the most luxurious conditions, and lord it over totally subservient women. A world-famous spy is born …
Stephen Clarke said: ‘In World War Two there really were female undercover agents who were ten times tougher and braver than Ian Fleming. I thought it would be great fun to send him (or rather, someone very like him) on a dangerous mission with one of these women who would show him what real spies got up to.’
Stephen Clarke has combined his knowledge of French history with a fondness for Ian Fleming’s novels (despite their old-school machismo) to create The Spy Who Inspired Me, set in the complex background of real Occupied France.

STEPHEN CLARKE is the bestselling author of the Merde series of comedy novels (A Year in the Merde, Merde
Actually, Dial M for Merde et al) which have been translated into more than 20 languages and sold more than
a million copies worldwide. Stephen Clarke has also written several serious-yet-humorous books on Anglo-French history, such as 1000 Years of Annoying the French (a UK
number-one bestseller in both hardback and paperback), How the French Won Waterloo (or Think They Did), and The French Revolution & What Went Wrong. He lives in Paris.
For more information about Stephen Clarke please visit: Website
Follow Stephen on Twitter

My thoughts: this was a very funny, highly entertaining book and I loved how smart, resourceful and sarcastic Margaux was, not a woman any man could flirt into bed. She’s utterly ruthless when she has to be and ten times the spy a certain 007 claims to be. She’s definitely not going to talk, and won’t even tell her unwanted companion the real mission she’s on.

Lemming is a bit less useful, a military man with a nice desk job in London, the son of a former MP who has led a very nice life in the inter war years, all cocktails and tail coats, and is not exactly prepared for sneaking around behind enemy lines and avoiding Nazis. He gets completely thrown by Margaux’s brilliance and wishes for a different kind of woman, the fantasy kind who doesn’t laugh at him and efficiently murder people.

I went through a phase when I was about 11 or 12 where I watched all the Bond films from the beginning and got quite fascinated by the world they portrayed, a mostly made up one to be quite fair, of sophisticated men in dinner suits and woman who all appeared to have knee issues that meant they went all wobbly when a man in a tux appeared. I understood it was all a lot of nonsense and completely ridiculous. I knew there were women who worked as spies and resistance in conflicts all over the world. A man in a nice suit stands out, a woman, well she might catch the eye but you’d be less likely to suspect her. Besides James B needs to retire, he’s been doing his thing for so long, it’s time to collect his pension. Time for Margaux’s spiritual granddaughters to handle business instead.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.