Catering to the Romantics

‘Dream Café’ by RJ Gould

“Why on earth am I here?” David wonders as he observes the juvenile antics of ex-classmates at the twenty-five year school reunion. Then he sees Bridget.

David draws up a list of all that he hopes to achieve to kick-start a new life now that his wife has moved in with his best friend – his ex-best friend. A relationship with Bridget is top of the list, opening an arts café is a close second.

Formidable women – an unfaithful wife, a reckless teenage daughter, a boss from hell, a disapproving policewoman – seem like insurmountable obstacles.

But it’s still OK to dream, isn’t it?

I don’t think I’m giving too much away to confess that I have a birthday coming up in the next couple of weeks. A “big” one. One with a zero at the end.

As it happens, it is a “big” birthday which puts me in close proximity to David, the lead character of ‘Dream Café’. Having decided against attending my own school reunion (to paraphrase a friend’s response, he’d rather defecate in his hands and clap) I really felt for the character as half remembered school contemporaries lunge at him as the novel opens.

As the book progresses, we learn that poor David has quite the complicated back story, with all sorts of unpleasant behaviour having been dealt to this rather nice, if vague, protagonist.

Personally, I think a nice romantic comedy which nips along with ease of reading and light touch charm and ‘Dream Café’ has this in abundance. David is a hero we can root for and, even including the necessary ups and downs which must befall all characters in this genre, it is comforting to know that all will – up to a point – turn out right with the world.

Incidentally, I too have a secret dream to abandon my career and relaunch ala David – but perhaps I’ll have to wait until nearer his age to do so 😉

Purchase Links –

Author Bio –

Richard writes under the pseudonym R J Gould and is a (rare male) member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). His first novel was shortlisted for the Joan Hessayon Award following his participation on the RNA New Writers’ Scheme. Having been published by Headline Access and Lume Books, he now self-publishes.

He writes contemporary literary fiction about relationships, loosely though not prescriptively within the Romance genre, using both humour and pathos to describe the tragi-comic journeys of his protagonists in search of love. ‘Dream Café’ is his sixth novel, following ‘The Engagement Party’, ‘Jack and Jill Went Downhill’, ‘Mid-life follies’, ‘The Bench by Cromer Beach’ and ‘Nothing Man’. [It is a rewrite of ‘A Street Café Named Desire’].

Ahead of writing full time, Richard led a national educational charity. He has been published in a wide range of educational journals, national newspapers and magazines and is the co-author of a major work on educating able young people. He lives in Cambridge, England.

Social Media Links –

Website:                           http://www.rjgould.info

Twitter:               https://twitter.com/RJGould_author

Email:                                news@rjgould.info

Facebook:                         https://www.facebook.com/RJGouldauthor

Instagram:                        https://www.instagram.com/rjgould_author

Joy by Name, Skye’s the Limit for the Series

Other people writing about Clueless in Crotia today include www.quirkybookreads.wordpress.com and www.eatwell2015.wordpress.com

‘Clueless in Croatia’ by Joy Skye

D.I. Fierce always gets his man, but can he get his woman?

Actor Leonard Lupine is sick of his life, both on and off-screen, so when his agent suggests a luxury villa holiday in Croatia he leaps at the opportunity to escape. What he doesn’t realise is that his greatest mystery of all is waiting to be solved on the tiny island of Brač.

Does he have what it takes to follow the clues to love? 

You know how it is: sometimes you pick up a novel because you think, “well, I need to read something and this will fill a space,” and your expectations aren’t high but it’s the holidays and what else you going to do?

So, full disclosure – this was the attitude with which I approached ‘Clueless in Croatia.’ Not dismissive or grumpy about needing to read it, but with a half-hearted distraction.

Well. Boy, do I love being surprised and delighted? Joy Skye has crafted a charming world, vividly conjured and one in which the prose is as enticing as the seas off Croatia which I now long to dive into.

Leonard Lupine is the sort of conflicted arse one might expect to find in a romantic comedy and Skye does a lovely job of lampooning and satirising the personas and absurdities of influencer culture.

Likewise, down to earth young widow Isabella is lovely counterpoint to Lupine. Her genuinely tragic backstory contrasting with his poor-little-rich-boy, but-Mummy-I-don’t-want-to-be-typecast-as-a-tv detective-with-only-all-my-money-to-count first world problems schtick.

So, we have an exotic location, a contrasting pair of confused but essentially loveable central characters and a smattering of supporting characters – the children primarily – who speak more sense than most of the adults put together. Which also adds a nice verisimilitude to the proceedings.

In short, ‘Clueless in Croatia’ was just what the post-lockdown Summer ordered – I’m off to dream of swimming in lagoons, eating an entirely cuisine from a country I’m yet to discover and also to research Joy Skye’s other novels.

I now feel less clueless about Croatia – and far more excited to visit. Joy is certainly an aptly named author. Bravo!

Purchase Links

Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/Clueless-Croatia-feel-good-romantic-Retreats-ebook/dp/B08X1QC7B7

Amazon.co.uk – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Clueless-Croatia-Joy-Skye/dp/B08X6DRPLC

Apple – https://books.apple.com/us/book/clueless-in-croatia/id1554657700

Nook – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/clueless-in-croatia-joy-skye/1138863706

Kobo – https://www.kobo.com/gr/en/ebook/clueless-in-croatia

Universal Link – https://books2read.com/Clueless-in-Croatia

Author Joy Skye

Author Bio –

Joy lives on the seductive island of Corfu with her four dogs and an embarrassing number of cats.

Her many years working in the tourist industry on this sunny isle and her love of all things literary inspired her first novel Corfu Capers which recently hit the #1 spot in Parenting and Family humour much to her delight.

She loves to cook, dance and drink wine, usually at the same time, and is currently working on book number three, due to be released later this year.

She also loves to travel, absolutely anywhere, and is looking forward to jumping on a plane!

Social Media Links –

Website – https://joyskye.com/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/JoySkye4

FB – https://www.facebook.com/JoySkyeAuthor

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/joys.kye/

Soaring Again

‘Flying Duo’ by Zoe May

Can true love go the distance?

London lawyer Rachel Watson has wound up in an Indian ashram with hippy heartthrob lover, Seb.

A high-achiever, Rachel has always lived life according to her Life List, ticking off goals along the way. But now that she’s in India, Rachel is going with the flow, or at least trying to…

Rachel’s visa is running out and it’s time to decide whether her relationship with Seb is a holiday romance or built to last.

The pair embark on a trip to Nepal for an Everest base camp trek, but will their relationship survive this gruelling expedition or is it time to part ways?

Flying Duo is the second romantic comedy in the ‘Flying’ series, following on from bestseller, Flying Solo, which was described by the Daily Express newspaper as ‘a must read that will appeal to fans of Sophie Kinsella, Beth O’Leary and Mhari McFarlane’ ★★★★★

As we enter what feels like week one million of lockdown, I am becoming more and more convinced that light romantic fiction is the escape route we all need to take advantage of.

And few offer as enticing a route map as the writing of Zoe May. Flying Duo is the second in the ‘Flying’ series and I’m yet to read the first. However, I can tell you that this won’t matter.

May offers vivid descriptions of picturesque locations, realistic travails of love and it’s many barriers  as well as the sort of happy ending that has you clutching the book to yourself and going, “ah.”

Flying Duo is a warm bath for the brain and a charming addition to my lockdown escapism shelf of books.

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08C8Q8FZM

US – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08C8Q8FZM

Author Zoe May with the ridiculously cute Bella

Author Bio –

Zoe May is an author of romantic comedies. Zoe has dreamt of being a novelist since she was a teenager. She worked in journalism and copywriting in London before writing her debut novel, ‘Perfect Match’. Having experienced the London dating scene first hand, Zoe couldn’t resist writing a novel about dating since it seems to supply endless amounts of weird and wonderful material!

‘Perfect Match’ was one of Apple’s top-selling books of 2018. It was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Joan Hessayon Award, with judges describing it as ‘a laugh out loud look at love and self-discovery – fresh and very funny’.

As well as writing, Zoe enjoys walking her dog, painting and, of course, reading! She adores animals and if she’s not taking a photo of a vegan meal, she’s probably tweeting about the dairy industry. She is half Greek and half Irish and can make a mean baklava. Zoe has a thing for horror films, India, swimming, hip hop and Radiohead. She has an encyclopaedic knowledge of handbags having spent several years working in fashion copywriting and could probably win Mastermind if this was her specialist subject!

Social Media Links –

https://www.instagram.com/zoe_writes

www.facebook.com/zoemayauthor/

www.zoemayauthor.co.uk

A Villa of Secrets Served with a Timely Reminder of the Power of Sun

‘Villa of Sun and Secrets’ by Jennifer Bhonet

It’s never too late to live the dream…

Carla Sullivan’s 50th birthday is fast approaching when her whole world is turned upside down. Discovering her feckless husband is having yet another affair and following her mother’s death, she is in need of an escape. Finding an envelope addressed to her mother’s estranged sister Josette in the South of France gives Carla the perfect plan.

Seizing the moment, she packs her bags and heads to Antibes to seek out the enigma known as Tante Josette. But as the two women begin to forge a tentative relationship, family secrets start to unravel, forcing Carla to question her life as she has always known it.

A heart-warming tale on the beautiful French Riviera, which will keep you guessing.

The charming cover of Jennifer Bohnet’s novel ‘The Villa of Sun and Secrets’

People who don’t know me that well are sometimes surprised that I’ve always been a sucker for a nice romantic story, especially one set in a hot place.

I’ve written reviews on the genre here before (and sometimes I feel like I’m the last Peter Mayle fan out there.) After all, this is classed as “women’s fiction” so a man can’t enjoy it. But, you know, I like what I like.

This one, though, caught me by surpise.

To be honest, this was not really the novel I had expected it to be. I was expecting some comic misadventures and a women recovering from the swings and arrows of ill fortune with a glass of rose in her hand and a bevy of swarthy Frenchmen sniffing around rejuvenating her dormant passion.

 While readers do get almost all of that, what they are also treated to is a much more serious, much better written and much more engaging story than that style of synopsis would suggest.

Carla’s appalling treatment at the hands of her bone headed philandering husband almost had me punching the air with joy when she tells him, “No, I deserve better.” It leaves one quietly grieving for the years of suffering which people have had to put up with without the courage to escape and find their own happy endings.

After all, don’t we all deserve to be the lead characters in our stories?

Additionally, the story which reveals itself may not be startlingly innovative – I think most readers will have sussed where it is going by about a third of the way through, Jennifer Bohnet does a wonderful job of peeling away the layers and explaining why these sort of revelations hit so hard and take so much time to heal.

Bohnet also does a fine job of reminding us that the mores of the sixties were not quite the free flowing, free love bonanza people have been retroactively allowed to believe.

 ‘The Villa of Sun and Secrets’ is a lovely read for a pandemic. Layered, unexpectedly moving, narrated with wit and charm by the talented Julia Franklin, this does offer the escape and the dream of villas with swimming pools and a cool glass of nice French wine so tantalisingly out of reach to us in our rather sombre modern age. A lovely audiobook.

Purchase Link – https://bit.ly/VillaofSSAudible

Author Jennifer Bohnet, now living her own good life in rural Brittany.

Author Bio –

Jennifer Bohnet is the bestselling author of over 14 women’s fiction titles, including ‘Villa of Sun and Secrets’ and ‘A Riviera Retreat. She is originally from the West Country but now lives in the wilds of rural Brittany, France.

Social Media Links –

http://www.jenniferbohnet.com/

http://facebook.com/Jennifer-Bohnet-170217789709356

http://instagram.com/jenniebohnet

Newsletter sign up link: http://bit.ly/JenniferBohnetNewsletter
Bookbub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jennifer-bohnet

Just Like You. And, probably, me…

I have always loved Nick Hornby. I fell in love with his prose when Fever Pitch came out and was suitably skewered by his analysis of insecure, introspective young men with High Fidelity. I was, of course, charmed by About a Boy.

And, although I feel like these are going to the three books on his tombstone, even his less well known/popular books are, at worst, always readable.

The cover of ‘Just Like You’ by Nick Hornby

Love Across the Brexit Barricades

I can’t quite decide if this book is going to get him in trouble or not. It certainly tap dances into some pretty heated areas: this is a novel of love across Brexit barricades, splintering society, race. Not too many hot button issues for a white, middle class writer of a certain age to try and tackle.

Except it isn’t really. Because it’s Hornby and he’s just so good at what he does. In Joseph and Lucy he seems to have the only two people in the world prepared to admit that they don’t understand issues and don’t have all, or indeed any, of the answers.

Plot Summary

Lucy is a divorcee in her early 40s with two kids. Head of English at a not particularly good north London comprehensive, she juggles a trying-to-reform alcoholic ex, a good group of friends and some fairly shambolic blind dates with good humour and a resignation that this might be what life has left in store for her.

Into this fairly acceptable world comes Joseph. A 22-year-old man who dreams of a making music while paying for himself through football coaching, a part time job in a leisure centre, a bit of babysitting and tutoring and a Saturday job in the butchers of Lucy’s gentrified area.

With the Brexit referendum looming in the background, these two magnetically attracted people must decide where they stand and whether their race, their income, their education and their very different worlds can be surmounted by love.

Fragmentation

What the novel definitely does do is a fantastic job of demonstrating the divisions within which our society works now.

Joseph and Lucy inhabit different worlds, by dint of race, age and income but – crucially – the flow of information is literally different. 

Joseph gets his information from Instagram, chasing rabbit holes of information inaccessible to Lucy.

However, her white, middle class privilege means that both characters are ensconced in their own unintentionally echo chambers. If not comfortably then at least unquestioningly for a big chunk of the novel.

Hornby’s description of Lucy’s awareness of the difference between her generation is very well done and, frankly, scalpel sharp:

“Lucy was beginning to suspect that he might be what the girls at her school would refer to as a ‘fuckboy’, a word she discouraged them from using because of its first four letters but which in all other ways seemed an entirely welcome neologism. There had always been tarts and slags and sluts, and now there were fuckboys, and the contempt with which the girls spat the word out gladdened her heart.”

Astonishing Achievements

And yet, possibly its most astonishing achievements as a piece of work devoted to the present is that this is a novel from which anger is absent for the most part.

In fact, possibly the weakest aspect for the reader is that Hornby chooses not to show the arguments even when they do happen. They are reported but we don’t hear the words, we are merely told the fall out and left to decide for ourselves.

For a novel in which race is an enormous factor and at this moment in history, that’s a phenomenal achievement.

Hornby is still the best and most accessible of modern observers. He is razor sharp on the gentrified areas of north London where one normally encounters his characters. 

There’s a definite lineage between High Fidelity’s Rob and his DJ ambitions and 22-year-old Jospeh and his tracks. Of course, whereas Rob ran a slightly dilapidated record shop which his partner was a corporate lawyer, here we have a partner who is Head of English at a bog standard comprehensive and a young man with a portfolio career, scratching a living working multiple jobs.

The fact that this makes him better off than his peers at university is one of the quieter and depressing twists of Hornby’s knife.


Witness Joseph’s musical mentor and school friend. Zech.

“Americans used the dollar sign to look flash, but PoundMan sounded cheap, like Poundland. Zech meant it to sound cheap, too. It was, he said, a celebration of Haringey consumer culture.”

A Tale of Simple Things

Yet, at heart this is a novel of simple things. In a complicated world in which both characters come with baggage, make mistakes, there is a simple message.

“If you’d asked him…what made him happy, he wouldn’t really have understood the relevance of the question. Now he knew the answer: sleeping with Lucy, eating with Lucy, watching T.V. with Lucy. And maybe there was no future in it, but there was a present, and that’s what life consists of.”

Maybe that is something we can all, in this most heated and divided of times, get behind.

ISBN9780241338551
PRICE£16.99 (GBP)

Train Ride

The 17:15 had one seat left. Tattered, and coloured in the paint factory explosion beloved of rail company liveries, it was tucked against the wall with an embarrassed air.

Tinny music leaked from cheap headphones seeping from behind her; an old woman tutted. A mother could be heard explaining why the train hadn’t moved. Two men in expensive suits spoke in incongruous accents about West Ham’s defeat.

Her shoes were off, balancing on the hardened edge of the seat. The must rose through her tights and she took off her glasses and massaged her temples in a clichéd pose.

She looked at the window. The smear of forehead grease, the nicks and scratches of countless tree branch scrapes and dashes. There was mould around the loosening putty of the frame and a creeping fog of condensation between the two glass sheets in need of replacement.

She scrabbled through the detritus of her bag for a book and she clutched at the bag as it nearly slipped, threatening to scatter tampons, lipstick, pocket book and purse onto the floor.

She heard the automatic door and began shuffling her feel, trying to tuck them back into her slip-ons.

He was tall. Tall, like he had to duck to move through the door, tall.

He raised an eyebrow of permission.

She opened her book at the same moment as the bells pinged. There was the three ring blast of closing doors and the train began to chug out of the station. She was self conscious now. He had wonderful eyes. She opened the chubby novel and shifted in her seat. She chanced a glance up from her page and saw this he was reading his newspaper, casually folded in on itself.

‘If it’s the Daily Mail, I’m giving up on men once and for all and visiting Sapphic island, that’s all there is to it’ she thought.

The newspaper was a curve ball. She had hoped for The Guardian – at best – at worst The Independent, if one really must take a newspaper fashioned in a dolls house. Obviously no one took The Times now it only came in comic size. But the International Herald Tribune was a surprising selection. American? Possibly.

The train ambled on. The motion not soothing enough for sleep, nor uncomfortable enough for complaint. She looked out the window. Darkness had drawn in whilst she’d been indulging her taste for amateur media analysis and now she was back to the harshness of her reflection, backlit by the firefly strength bulbs of the carriage.

She knew that he was watching her. Is it an animalistic, danger signal left over from prehistory that makes us sense being watched? Whatever, he was watching her so it would pay to check that her nose was clean and that her blouse hadn’t unwittingly fallen open.

She shuffled her eyes to the left and met his eyes in the reflection. They glistened even in the smudged reflection of the South Central service window.  She risked a look directly across at him. He still held her gaze. Smiled.

It was a good smile. Well judged. Not sleazy or louche nor honed and practiced to the point of confidence. His teeth were white enough to be attractive without speaking of masses of expensive cosmetic dental treatments and evenly spaced enough to be right, but not so regulation as to speak of teenage anguish and slurred sibilance.

She held his eye for a flirtatious fraction too long and went back to her book. When next she peeked up, he was sunk in his crossword. Yet she knew he was looking up too. A mating dance of apprentice peacocks. She wanted to fan herself like Elizabeth Bennett and be witty and coy, yet seductive at the same time. But wit, coyness and Jane Austen never feature highly on public transport so she, once again, returned to the novel.

As the adenoidal voice of the announcer gibbered the imminent arrival of the train into South Ruislip, she realized with horror that he was preparing to get up. He was fishing for his battered briefcase and pedantically clipped the lid back onto his fountain pen.

He caught her eye, stood and ducked as he moved through the panting of the automated door to wait for egress. Continuing on to West Ruislip, and the end of the line, she went back to her novel. From across the carriage, she watched the tall man bob his head as he walked briskly along the platform.

Idly, she reached across for the orphaned Herald Tribune which lay lazily folded on his still warm seat. She wondered how well he’d got on with the crossword. She frowned. He wasn’t as methodical as she’d have liked. Words were in the boxes but no clues had been scored through to denote completion. Very ill disciplined.

In the boxes, block capitals spaced evenly between horizontal and vertical, were the words:

“YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL. I SHALL NEVER FORGET YOU”