Friday 29 August 2014


Giveaway: One Step Closer To You by Alice Peterson (proof copy)

*** GIVEAWAY ***

After Polly ends her relationship with the father of her young son, Louis, she is determined to move on. All she wants is to focus on her job, her friends and to be a good mum. No more looking over her shoulder. No more complications…

Then Polly meets Ben.

Ben is guardian of his niece, Emily. They become close, with Polly teaching Ben how to plait Emily’s hair, and Ben playing football with Louis. Their friendship is unexpected. Polly’s never been happier.

But when Louis’s dad reappears in their life, all Polly’s mistakes come back to haunt her and her resolve weakens when he swears he has changed.

Will she give herself a second chance to love?

Recently I have received some review novels in the post more than once. Rather than forcing them upon my friends (I've had a lot of clear-outs this year and I think everyone's bookshelves are pretty full by now) I thought I'd hold giveaways for you guys each Friday for the next few weeks ^_^

The first giveaway (now closed) was for a paperback of Paper Swans by Jessica Thompson and this week's giveaway is for a special proof copy of One Step Closer To You by Alice Peterson (out September 25).

I am super excited to start reading this novel myself (don't worry, your copy will be unread!). Last year I reviewed Alice's stunning By My Side (read my review here) and I even had the privilege to meet her at Quercus headquarters! She's such a lovely person and I am positive that this novel will be another fantastic read by her hand.

If you're the winner it'd be brilliant if you can write a review for the novel on your blog or a bookish site such as Amazon and Goodreads, but you don't have to if you don't want to :)


For your chance to win a special proof copy of the novel, just follow me on twitter (@zarinatweets) and retweet the tweet linked below:

RT & FLW for your chance to #win a paperback proof of One Step Closer To You by @AlicePeterson1! T&Cs @QuercusBooks

Terms and conditions:

• Giveaway closes Thursday 4 September at 11.59pm.
• Open to UK residents only (sorry, postage is expensive!).
• Only those who retweet the Tweet linked above will be entered (manual RTs or copied Tweets do not count).
• The winner is selected at random and will be contacted on Twitter within 48 hours after the giveaway has closed.

This giveaway has now closed, the winner is @Beadyjan!

Thursday 28 August 2014


Book review: The Story of Us by Dani Atkins

My edition: paperback, published on 14 August 2014 by Head of Zeus, 391 pages.

Description: Emma Marshall can't wait to marry her childhood sweetheart, Richard. But then a tragic accident changes everything, and introduces a stranger, Jack, into her life. Gorgeous and mysterious, Jack is like no-one Emma has met before. But Richard is the man she loves...

Two different men.

Two different destinies.

How will Emma end her story?


Wednesday 27 August 2014


Book review: Love, Lies and Lemon Cake by Sue Watson

My edition: ebook, published on 27 June 2014 by Bookouture.

Description: Faye Dobson has lost her sparkle. Living on film star fantasies and vague memories of a marriage that once was, she can’t help feeling that life is passing her by. She dreams of being whisked to Paris for dinner, making three wishes at the Trevi fountain and having sex under the stars. But the wrinkles are multiplying, her husband’s passion is for plumbing, and the nearest she’ll get to Rome is a take-away pizza.

So when Faye meets Dan the gorgeous Australian surfer guy working in the local deli she can’t help but wonder what it would be like to see the world. He is blonde, tanned, ten years younger and bakes the most amazing lemon cake. Unlike her husband Dan actually listens to Faye, his smile makes her feel fizzy inside, and when he smiles... Oh. My. God.

But is Faye being silly? What would Dan see in someone like her? Even if he did have feelings for her, could she give everything up to be with him?


Tuesday 26 August 2014


Book review: Will You Remember Me? by Amanda Prowse

My edition: Paperback, published on 17 July 2014 by Head of Zeus, 345 pages.

Description: Poppy Day is an ordinary woman. She’s 32 years old, an ex-hairdresser, now a stay-at-home mum for her two gorgeous children while her husband Mart tours with the army. She’s loved Mart ever since she was a girl, growing up poorly cared for in East London. Nowadays, her simplest pleasure is having her family together in a clean and happy home.

But Poppy is too busy caring for others to notice the fatigue in her body and the menacing lump growing on her breast. If there’s anyone strong and deserving enough to defeat cancer it’s Poppy. After all, she’s fought harder battles than this. But does life really work like that?


Friday 22 August 2014


Giveaway: Paper Swans by Jessica Thompson

*** GIVEAWAY ***

Ben Lawrence seems to have it all - the hot job, the flashy car, the luxurious apartment. But one tragic day in his past mars his future. Since the events of that day he hasn't truly got close to anyone. He made a promise that love was the price he would pay for his mistakes. When Effy Jones - a bright, ambitious charity founder - walks into the PR firm where Ben works, neither realise that their lives are about to be turned upside down.

Paper Swans tells of how love can conquer all, and how when everything is broken one person can help to put the pieces together...

Recently I have received some review novels in the post more than once. Rather than forcing them upon my friends (I've had a lot of clear-outs this year and I think everyone's bookshelves are pretty full by now) I thought I'd hold giveaways for you guys each Friday for the next few weeks ^_^

The first giveaway is for a paperback copy of Paper Swans by Jessica Thompson. I am absolutely in love with the cover, the picture doesn't do it justice but there are little foil details on it as well. As a result my copy has been stroked extensively, but don't worry the one I am giving away has not been!

If you're the winner it'd be brilliant if you can write a review for the novel on your blog or a bookish site such as Amazon and Goodreads, but you don't have to if you don't want to :)


For your chance to win the beautiful paperback pictured above, just follow me on Twitter (@zarinatweets) and retweet the tweet linked below:

RT & FLW for your chance to win a paperback copy of Paper Swans by @JThompsonauthor! T&Cs @HodderBooks @BookBakeryUK

Terms and conditions:

• Giveaway closes Thursday 28 August at 11.59pm.
• Open to UK residents only (sorry, postage is expensive!).
• Only those who retweet the Tweet linked above will be entered (manual RTs or copied Tweets do not count).
• The winner is selected at random and will be contacted on Twitter within 48 hours after the giveaway has closed.

This giveaway has now closed, the winner is @BookAddictUK!

Thursday 21 August 2014


Book review: The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

My edition: paperback, to be published on 25 September 2014 by Michael Joseph, 414 pages.

Description: With the Wife Project complete, Don settles happily into a new job and married life in New York. But it's not long before certain events are taken out of his control and it's time to embark on a new project . . .

As Don tries to get to grips with the requirements of starting a family, his unusual research style soon gets him into trouble. To make matters more difficult, Don has invited his closest friend to stay with them, but Gene is not exactly a prime example of marital happiness, and as his life with Rosie continues to be unpredictable Don needs to remember that emotional support is just as important as his practical expertise . . .


Wednesday 20 August 2014


Book review: What Would Mary Berry Do? by Claire Sandy

My edition: paperback, published on 31 July 2014 by Pan Macmillan, 420 pages.

Description: Marie Dunwoody doesn't want for much in life. She has a lovely husband, three wonderful children, and a business of her own. Except, her cupcakes are crap. Her meringues are runny and her biscuits rock-hard. She cannot bake for toffee. Or, for that matter, make toffee.

Marie can't ignore the disappointed looks any more, or continue to be shamed by neighbour and nemesis, Lucy Gray. Lucy whips up perfect profiteroles with one hand, while ironing her bed sheets with the other. Marie's had enough: this is the year it all changes. She vows to follow - to the letter - recipes from the Queen of Baking and at all times ask 'What would Mary Berry do?'

Husband Robert has noticed that his boss takes crumb structure as seriously as budget sheets and so puts on the pinny: serious redundancies are on the horizon. Twins Rose and Iris are happy to eat all the half-baked mistakes that come their way, but big brother Angus is more distant than usual, as if something is troubling him. And there is no one as nosey as a matching pair of nine-year-old girls . . .

Marie starts to realise that the wise words of Mary Berry can help her with more than just a Victoria Sponge. But can Robert save the wobbling soufflé that is his career? And is Lucy's sweet demeanour hiding something secretly sour?


Tuesday 19 August 2014


Dinner at Benito's Hat Covent Garden

Most people may associate tapas with the flavours of Spain, but Mexican restaurant chain Benito's Hat in London believes this fun way of sharing food can be adapted for other cuisines too. This is why the eatery primarily known for its quickly served burritos and tacos has introduced a new sharing menu, which is available after 5pm and on weekends and is comprised of 'Mexican starter tapas'.

Mexican food is not the only thing the restaurant is known for, their margaritas take a prominent spot on the menu too and we couldn't resist the sound of the frozen strawberry version, which was of course the first thing we ordered when visiting their central London location hidden on the reasonably quiet New Row, a street which connects the tourist hubs of Covent Garden and Leicester Square.

We heard the margaritas being freshly made in the kitchen and they were served in big glasses with a fruity decoration on its rim. Ice cold (it is the frozen margarita after all) this is a perfect drink for hot summer evenings in the city, though we can definitely be tempted to return on a colder day as well for another hit of the delicious drink.

While we ordered our starters and mains at the same time, the first to arrive were the dishes from the main mezclar y combinar (mix & match) menu. Service was slow on the night we visited, with people ordering burritos and tacos for take away being attended to much quicker than the sporadic diners sitting down at the tables for a leisurely evening out.

It seemed there were no specific waiters for the restaurant, other than those standing behind the counter helping all patrons, and this was unfortunately very noticeable. Our mains eventually arrived after waiting over thirty minutes and finishing our first round of margaritas.

As the menu is meant for sharing, we made one order which was served on big dishes for us to pick from. We'd opted for two meat options from the principales; slow-braised pork with balsamic vinegar & cinnamon, and the chicken tinga with chipotle & garlic. To accompany these we also had the chipotle coleslaw with pomegranate seeds from the al lado section and finally four small flour tortillas from the basicos. All of this was served with salsas, pico de gallo (tomato, onion & coriander), Monterey Jack cheese and lettuce.

While the pork was adequate, the chicken was delicious. Perfectly seasoned (not too spicy, but not boring either) and very succulent that dish was quickly emptied and we wish we'd ordered more. The coleslaw was a refreshing accompaniment and the pomegranate seeds were a delightful crispy and fruity touch to the combination. The only thing we would recommend changing from this order, is to get more tortillas. Two small ones each was not enough for a main meal, so be sure to get two orders of these from the basicos menu when you visit.

After we'd finished our mains, our starters still hadn't arrived so when we eventually managed to catch the eye from one of the servers we were reassured it was yet to come, and indeed over 45 minutes after we had ordered them it did. At this stage we were unfortunately slightly rushed as we had tickets to go to the theatre that night and couldn't fully appreciate the huge antojitos served.

The sharing dish was comprised of a generous portion of nachos alongside potato & oregano taquitos, spinach & cheese quesadillas, chicken tinga tostadas and black bean & feta tostadas. We tried at least one each of the various tapas on the board and our favourites were definitely the spinach & cheese quesadillas and the chicken tinga tostadas. The nachos were a bit too salty for our liking, but then again they did taste well with the frozen margaritas.

We'd ordered our desserts before the starter came and they arrived fairly quickly after. I'd chosen the tres leches cake, which is not something I was familiar with and it sounded very intriguing. It turned out to be a fairly plain sponge cake, but soaked in different types of milk making it incredibly moist and appealing. Shows that sweet treats don't always have to be made up to the nines with swirls of chocolate and other decorations to hit the spot just right.

The food, when it came was tasty and exactly what we expected from Mexican street 'tapas'. However, for a more enjoyable experience visiting the restaurant we'd advise the employees to pay better attention to their patrons sitting down and not just those queuing up for a quick takeaway fix.

The only time we were asked how the food was, was before any had arrived at all and the waiting time for the dishes to arrive was simply too long. After all, they're located smack-down in the West End, so we won't have been the only customers paying a visit before heading off to the theatre.

Having said that, their delicious frozen strawberry margaritas made it worth the visit and this delightful drink is perfect both before and after seeing a show.

Benito's Hat Covent Garden, 19 New Row, London WC2N 4LA.


Theatre news: Made in Dagenham

After a few slow months for the West End there are some very exciting shows opening soon that I absolutely cannot wait for. Memphis, White Christmas and The Scottsboro Boys, to name but a few, though the one I'm most anticipating is Made in Dagenham.

Directed by Rubert Goold, with a book by Richard Bean, music from David Arnold and lyrics by Richard Thomas this new musical is based on the British film of the same name.The comedy will start previews at the Adelphi Theatre in London on the 9th of October and the official opening night is on the 5th of November.

It has found its star in former Bond-girl Gemma Arterton who plays the role of Rita O'Grady, a brave woman who leads her friends against the might of Ford's Dagenham car plant, battling the corruption of the Union that is degrading their rights as female workers.

It's been a tough year for British musicals with both Andrew Lloyd Webber's Stephen Ward and Tim Rice's From Here to Eternity opening to lukewarm reviews in London and closing not long after. But after already obsessively listening to the three Made in Dagenham songs released so far (you can listen to and download them here), I feel positive that this bad luck for British shows is about to change.

For more information and to book tickets visit the Made in Dagenham official website

Monday 18 August 2014


Blog tour: Extract from Summer at Castle Stone by Lynn Marie Hulsman


Today I'm very excited to be sharing with you the entire first chapter of Summer at Castle Stone by Lynn Marie Hulsman as part of the HamperImpulse blog tour.

* * * * * *

Chapter One

“I’m so sorry I’m late!” Maggie came barreling into the vestibule, and down the wide aisle in geisha-like steps. Even in her towering heels, she managed to overtake the hostess. Smoothing her long, curve-hugging skirt, she lowered herself into the chair opposite me, and gave a satisfied sigh. “There!”

“You look amazing,” I told her. And she did. Maggie may have grown up in the middle class beach town of Spring Lake, New Jersey, AKA “The Irish Riviera,” but she’d adapted to Manhattan flawlessly. Her chic Bumble and Bumble haircut (done by a student stylist during her lunch break — I covered her desk at work) was none the worse for wear from the rain, and she had on the exact right shade of MAC lipstick (“buy drugstore mascara and powder, Shay, but drop real money on your lips”).

In the beginning, I represented something to Maggie. You could say that my parents belonged to the intelligentsia, but that word makes me uncomfortable. Money or no money, they traveled in circles with innovators, movers, and shakers. Maggie’s parents, and their parents before, worked with their hands and functioned in the practicality of the here and now. Whereas Maggie had lived in a dormer bungalow situated in a neighborhood filled with people who only drove into the city for the Rockefeller Center Christmas show or to consult with medical specialists, I’d grown up in a high-rise surrounded by writers, editors, and those who had the money to see that magazines, newspapers, and books got printed. Even my grandparents had been schoolteachers, professors, and artists. Maggie absorbed every story about being sent to camp at the artsy Usdan Center, and the noted personalities at the cocktail parties thrown at our Upper West Side apartment when I was a kid. Rough around the edges, Maggie tried to blend in with this kind of society. So it didn’t take long before she realized I’d been trying to blend in my whole life. We kept each other’s secrets. How much we needed each other went unspoken. Maggie was reared to be tough and hard, and I was reared to keep my failures under my hat. I loved her, temper and all, and she protected me.

“Thanks,” she said to the waiter as he handed her a linen napkin. She signaled to the waiter and whispered something in his ear. “Now then, I want to hear everything about your book deal. Start from the beginning, and don’t leave anything out.” She reached across the table and squeezed my hand. “Twins in success!”

“What?” I asked.

“You go! Then, I’ll tell you my news.” She beamed at me, eyes wide open.

“Right, about that. Well, Brenda said no.” I drained my glass, and held it out to a busser.

“What?” She spat, biting off the end of the word. “Are you telling me that she didn’t pick up The New Adult’s Guide to Making it in the Big City? That’s ridiculous!” Did she see your two articles in the Observer? How to Be an Adult at Work and How to Be an Adult at Weddings? Pure genius! Did you tell her that they’re thinking of making How to Be an Adult a regular column?” Her eyes blazed.

“Never mind,” I said. “You win some, you lose some.” I didn’t want to ruin our night out together with a pity party. Changing the subject would do me good.

“Anyway, how was your day, Mags?”

“It was, you know…” she tapered off and her eyes got really big. She was looking over my shoulder, shaking her head “no” in small, twitchy movements. I turned around in my chair, and caught the back of a waiter carrying champagne in a silver bucket, heading in the opposite direction.

“What was that?”

She shrugged.

“So what about your blog, Shay? The writing is solid and witty, and your timing couldn’t be more on the money. It’s so current.”

“To be honest, my blog hasn’t gotten much traction.”

“It still might. You’ve proven yourself with the book contracts Brenda’s given you. And for almost no money! After all those Dumbass Guides you’ve ghostwritten for her? The Dumbass Guide to Picking a College, The Dumbass Guide to Getting Him to Propose…You could write The Dumbass Guide to Writing a Dumbass Guide! Did you offer her the alternate title? Adulting? That’s so fresh! I can see the short-haired girls starring in the HBO series now! Why would she think twice about putting your name on a cover as sole author?”

“Well, the phone call didn’t last long…”

“And after you swooped in, cleaned up that mess of a green smoothie book that that idiot personal trainer slash diet guru, slash cable TV personality couldn’t write? OK, tell me this: Are you getting your name on the book as co-writer or not?” She took a greedy gulp of water. I shook my head. I hated giving Maggie the disappointing news.

“Wait, what? Brenda, your agent, told you no on the phone? She didn’t give you the courtesy of delivering the news face-to-face?”

“Well, you know how busy she is,” I said, my face heating up. “To be fair, it was a quick conversation. I shouldn’t have called on a Friday.”

“She’s your agent! Evan would never treat me like that. You’re allowed to call her.” Maggie shook her head. “I’ve been saying for a year that you need to let me talk to Evan about you. He’s a big fan of Hank’s. I think that’s why he signed me, because I dropped both your names. He’d snap you up in a heartbeat.”

I shifted in my chair. The waistband of my skirt was bunching up from the dampness. “You know, Brenda’s been pretty good to me. Like she said, tons of writers would kill to do this ghosting.”

“Bullshit. How many people out there write as well as you? This should have just been done and dusted. Your proposal is brilliant. I bet she didn’t even read it. Does she know who your father is?”

“Probably, but we’ve never talked about it. I want to get a deal on my own merit. You know it wouldn’t count in Hank’s eyes if I got it through him.”

“That’s on you, not your father. He never said that. Look, first thing Monday, you need to just show up there and insist that Brenda pay attention to you.”

I snorted. “I can’t just barge in.

“Yes, you can. Even if I have to drag you in by the hair, you are going to see Brenda Sackler on Monday. And she’d better give you the kind of book deal you deserve!”

Maggie finished the rest of her water, and her shoulders relaxed. Thank God. I just wanted to move on, and stop talking about books. Le Relais wasn’t where I wanted to be tonight, but it was wonderful to spend time with Maggie. Ever since we met on Day One as slave-assistants for HPC Publishing, we’d clung to each other. I found her in the copy room, cursing out a notoriously volatile senior editor who cut the line in front of her. She had her fist raised to punch him. The words, “you’re fired” sat on his lips when I intervened to usher him out to the hallway. I “explained” that she’d just had a scare with an ovarian biopsy. The mention of gynecology and cancer will cow any man. Maggie appreciated that I’d risked my job for hers. That kind of loyalty meant something, and from that day forward, she had my back. It was just a matter of time before she forced out her dippy, model-wannabe roommate, and moved me in to our tiny, illegal sublet Hell’s Kitchen.

A busser appeared and set a basket of assorted artisanal breads before me. He must have read my mind. I was starving. “Can I get another vodka and soda, and can she have a dirty martini, up, three onions?” He nodded and glided toward the bar. I sighed with pleasure. My blood had begun to warm. The first drink did me a world of good, and another was on the way. Being out on a Friday wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, I was starting to enjoy myself.

“You never answered me. How was your day?” I asked, dragging a slice of dark, grainy bread through the modernist ramekin of the bed oil the olives were lounging in.

“Well,” Maggie said fiddling with her cutlery, “It was really, really good. There’s something I want to tell you, but for right now, I just want tonight to be about us. We never go out together anymore. I’m always sleeping over at Eric’s, and you’re always staying late at the office. And we’ve both been pounding away on our own books.”

Our waiter floated up to the table, and set a pretty pink cocktail with a strawberry on the rim in front of me. “From the gentleman at the bar.”

“Well, well, well,” Maggie said, eyes twinkling. “Looks like your day’s about to get brighter.” “Oh my God, what do I do?” I leaned toward her, whispering. “Do I accept it?” I locked eyes with Maggie, willing myself not to look over at the guy. “If I do, what does that mean? Do I have to go eat dinner with him, then?” I panicked. What if he turned out to be boring, or a creep? Plus, I was here with Maggie. It was a girls’ night. “Should I clink glasses with the air, but in his direction? Like they do in the movies?”

Just then, the waiter reappeared. “My apologies, ladies.” He picked up the glass, moved it to Maggie’s side of the table, and bowed, sliding backwards from our table, and down the aisle toward the kitchen. Maggie looked down into her lap and sighed.

“It’s OK, Mags. Seriously.” I tried to laugh. “Did you think I thought that was for me? Pfft! I was joking! This is good. I mean, this is great! Now I don’t have to eat dinner with him. Oh no, do you? Have to go eat with him? You can, if you want to…”

“Shh!” Maggie raised her eyebrows at glasses guy. She held up her left hand, and pointed to her engagement ring. She toasted him with her glass, and mouthed “thank you.” He turned his broad back to us, and faced the bar.

“His butt’s flat. He’s not that cute,” she said, wrinkling her nose. I took a last look at his broad shoulders and shiny black hair. He kind of was that cute.

“You can do much better,” Maggie told me. I doubted it.

“Anyway, you have a date tomorrow with whatshisname, that hot guy from Ray Diablo’s book launch.”

“I know, right? So hot,” I said. I concentrated on forgetting about my ex-future husband at the bar and tried to recall what the guy I’d met at the launch actually looked like. And his name.

Hundreds of people had come and gone last night as I sat working the door at the launch. From outside, I listened to all the fun happening inside the ballroom at the Puck Building. Ray Diablo’s brand was the flavor of the moment, and there was a parade of A-listers from the food world, and plenty of television people to boot. Hundreds of people came and went, carrying plates of fancy nibbles. A trash can sat next to my station. I watched as dainty talk show hosts and botoxed second wives took only a demure bite of their spectacular canapés, and trashed the remains. The smell of food dizzied me. I had half a mind to dive in after some of the less sampled morsels.

I was told not to eat on duty, and by the end of the night the two white wine spritzers I’d sneaked had gone straight to my head. When Jaden (Bradyn? Devon?) laid his card down and said, “54 Below, Saturday, 9 p.m.,” it had felt more like a summons than an invitation. But maybe that was sexy, what did I know? “Really, really hot.”

“Come on, let’s order,” Maggie said, summoning a waiter, and we did. After the starters came and were eaten, I felt a lot better. By the end of the meal, I had forgotten my troubles and had moved on to enjoying myself. The restaurant was, after all, a feast for the eyes, and every bite I put to my lips was sublime. I can’t cook, but I adore fancy food. Besides, I was getting to spend hours gossiping and chattering with my best friend.

“Hey, it’s getting late and you never told me your big news! We talked a little bit about Eric’s new job, and then I talked the rest of the time about how Ray had that hissy fit, and fired his co-writer in the middle of the launch party.”

“Ray Diablo is a giant dick,” Maggie said. “I’m tired of seeing his smug face all over the Food Channel. I hope that poor writer got a ton of money for her trouble.”

“From what I hear, she did. And her name on the cover. She’s one of Brenda’s clients, but way up the totem pole from me.”

“Phht! You write better than she does.”

“Maybe, but she’s making country-house money writing for famous chefs, and I’m not. More to the point, no one knows my name.” Over Maggie’s shoulder, I saw a crowd gathering at the hostess stand. The hostess pointed to our table. A gorgeous girl in a gold dress, and matching silver wig and false eyelashes, and holding a bouquet of gold and silver balloons was being led down the aisle toward our table.

“Margaret Doyle?” the shiny girl asked in a loud voice. Maggie nodded.

“These are for you, from your father, Mr. Patrick Doyle: Congratulations on selling your novel!” She tied the balloons onto the back of Maggie’s chair, as the tables near us broke into light applause, and a mixed chorus of “congratulations,” “well done,” and “awww!”

Just as the back-patting and well-wishing died down, Maggie’s phone rang. She dove sideways to fish in her bag.

“Your novel sold!” A quick stab of jealousy lit up my ribcage, and it embarrassed me. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I felt dazed. “I mean, that’s amazing, Mags.”

She held up a finger, mouthing, “Sorry, one sec.”

“No, it’s fine. Take the call,” I said, forcing my face into what I could just tell was a twisted grin. It was just as well she wasn’t looking at me.

“Yes, Daddy, they just arrived, this very minute. Thank you!” Maggie gestured helplessly, pointing at the phone with a knitted brow. I waved her off. “It’s fine!” I whispered. I sipped my drink and pretended not to be there in order to give her the feeling of privacy. I looked away, and caught sight of Mr. gorgeous from the bar descending from his stool and walking out.

“Well, I’m hardly a little girl! Yes, I’ll always be your little girl…I’m happy you’re proud, but Eric was naughty for spilling the beans…”

“Hey, Shayla. I didn’t mean to make a huge thing out of my book deal. It’s just…I thought we’d be celebrating together, shoulder to shoulder.”

No, it’s fine!” I insisted. “You didn’t know. I kind of set you up, I guess. I should never have said Brenda was excited about my book. I got carried away. ‘Don’t count your chickens till they’re hatched,’ Hank always tells me.” A lump rose in my throat. Maggie’s dad always told her things like, ‘You can do anything you want to do in this world,’ and ‘Go get ’em, Tiger!’

“This is your time,” I said. “I’m happy for you! Seriously. With the engagement, you know, and the book, and everything.” I reached across the table and squeezed her hand.

“Thanks for being so great.” She squeezed back. “You’re my best friend.” She was fizzing with nervousness, and smiling like a maniac. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll get the check. Dinner’s on me.” We looked up to find a waiter, but one was already swooping in for a landing. In his hands was an exquisite, sculptural cake topped with sizzling sparklers. “Here you are, ladies. Enjoy!”

On the top of the cake, in swirling script, it said “Wonder Twins.”

I held my hand up to shush my friend. “Don’t.”

We ate the cake in silence.

* * * * *

Do you want to read the rest of Summer at Castle Stone after this tempting first chapter? Of course you do! So get the ebook from Amazon, Waterstones or your own preferred retailer. For more exciting news and extracts from the novel, be sure to visit the other stops on the blog tour this week:

Monday 11 August 2014


Cupcake decorating class at Konditor & Cook

If there's I like, it is cake. And with Great British Bake Off having returned to the small screen, my love for the delectable baked treat has grown as strong as Mel and Sue's interest in whatever they can steal off the contestants' baking areas. So when an invite arrived for a Cupcake Decorating Class, I RSVP-ed as quickly as Mary Berry can spot a soggy bottom!

The course was to be held at the special cake school location of London-based baking heaven Konditor & Cook on Stamford Street, near Waterloo station, which I didn't have the pleasure of visiting before. Still spotting the shop's iconic Willie Wonka purple exterior and a range of cake examples on display, the shop was otherwise especially fitted for classes with a big table in the middle of the room and space for about ten seats around it.

When I arrived, the cupcakes for the night were already laid out for us baking enthusiasts. We received three chocolate cupcakes and three hazelnut cupcakes each. One of the other attendees on the night had a nut allergy, which she called about in advance but unfortunately it wasn't catered to on the night. Our friendly instructor fixed the issues by substituting the three nutty cakes for another three filled with chocolaty goodness, but I couldn't help but wonder why this wasn't organised better given they'd received advance notice.

Nibbling on the divine brownies and parmesan & chilli shortbread (Savoury shortbread! Why have I never thought of this before?) that was laid out for us, we watched how our instructor mixed a huge bowl of mascarpone with another huge bowl of icing sugar and a vanilla pod. She did it all manually, which seemed like a lot of hard work, and while she was mixing we chatted about a lot of things, most of which involved eating cake. Once the two were properly mixed she added butter and split the mixture, leaving one cream-coloured and adding a nutty chocolate flavour to the other half for a nutella-like frosting.

With the two flavours of frostings now ready to be used we were given piping bags and the choice of a lot of different nozzles that would create a variety of shapes and sizes on our cakes. A few of the options were demonstrated, making it look oh so easy but when I got to try it for ourselves it turned out to be a little harder than we thought. My first efforts weren't the greatest but I managed to cover it up with even more icing. With the cupcakes all frosted they went into the fridge to set and we got to the next stage of the decorating process: marzipan.

This was the part of the class that I unfortunately felt somewhat let down by. First of all there was no glitter or any other type of cupcake decorations I was hoping for, it was just the marzipan. This would've been okay in itself but there were hardly any demonstrations to show us how we could make interesting shapes and creations for our cakes. We were asked if there was anything in particular we wanted to see, but as we're not the cake experts we came up blank. Eventually the instructor did show us how to make a rose, before we were let lose on the table now set up with cutters, shapers and a lot of coloured marzipan.

If it wasn't for our own creativity (or in my case, looking at the clever constructions of my fellow attendees), we wouldn't have had much inspiration for the creations that ended up gracing our cakes. In the end we all had a wonderful time, despite the seeming lack of organisation or instruction. For me, most of this stemmed from how proud I felt that our cupcake concoctions didn't end up falling in the 'Nailed It' category, but actually looked pretty good. See below.

The seemingly unorganised atmosphere doesn't quite make the class worth £50. Yes, the cupcakes themselves tasted divine (you definitely don't want to be sharing those!) and the ingredients were clearly of a high standard, but for a class that advertises cupcake decorating, I'd been expecting to learn some actual techniques and tricks of the trade, rather than be given already baked cupcakes, watch the instructor make icing for the better part of 30 minutes and be given a plethora of different colours of marzipan and cutters to make what we please.

Regardless of this, if you go to the class with a group of friends you're guaranteed to have a wonderful evening; drinking wine, devouring delicious baked goods and getting your hands stuck into cake is never a bad thing. A little more in the way of demonstrations would have been nice though, so I could've transferred our new-found decorating skills to my own kitchens and bake up a storm in anticipation of the next episode of Great British Bake Off.

Konditor & Cook holds a variety of classes, from Flower Topper Modelling and Intro to Cake Decorating to Cake Tasting (this is definitely one for me!) and Masterclasses. The cake school is located on 63 Stamford St, London SE1 9NB.

Friday 8 August 2014


Book review: You Had Me At Merlot by Lisa Dickenson

My edition: paperback (proof), part 1 published on 14 July 2014 by Sphere, 280 pages (full book).

Description: Elle and Laurie are the last ones standing: they're single, they're not having babies any time soon and their weekends aren't filled with joyful meetings about mortgages. For Elle, this is fine - she likes her independent life, she loves her job, and she has no desire to walk down the aisle anytime soon. But Laurie wants love and she wants it now.

So when Laurie begs Elle to come with her on a singles holiday to a beautiful vineyard in Tuscany, Elle is reluctant. You Had Me at Merlot Holidays promises crisp sunshine, fun and a chance to stir up some sizzling romance. Elle has no intention of swapping her perfectly lovely life for someone else's idea of her Mr Perfect, but ten days under the Italian sun with her best friend and lashings of wine? How bad could that be?


Wednesday 6 August 2014


Book review: What a Girl Wants by Lindsey Kelk

My edition: paperback, published on 17 July 2014 by HarperCollins, 384 pages.

Description: Tess Brookes was the girl with a plan. Now she's the girl with a choice. Should she stay in London and start her own advertising agency with her best friend and potential boyfriend Charlie? Or should she head to exciting Milan to pursue both a new career as a photographer and a new man, the enigmatic and elusive (and highly irritating) Nick?

For the first time, Tess has to choose between the life she always dreamed of and a future she never imagined possible. With her heart and her head pulling her in different directions, Tess has to make a life-changing decision about What a Girl Wants.


Monday 4 August 2014


Dinner at The Noodle House

Shaftesbury Avenue in London is mainly known for the wealth of theatres located on the famous street, but there is an eclectic mix of restaurants to pick from too - which are perfectly located for a pre-theatre meal or some after-theatre drinks.

The Noodle House opposite the Palace Theatre caters to both, as it has a restaurant (which even does a special pre-theatre menu) and a separate cocktail bar located in the same venue.

We went for a pre-theatre visit and the incredibly quick service and turn-around meant that after finishing our meal we still had plenty of time to catch our 7.30pm play afterwards.

My guest and I ordered both a starter and a main each, but because of the policy at the restaurant - they serve the food whenever it's ready, regardless of which part of the menu you ordered it from - it arrived out of order.

This meant that while my friend had both two dishes and a drink waiting for her on the table, my entire order was still to come. Of course she couldn't wait too long, as that would mean her food would've gone cold, and so she started ahead of me.

Pad Thai is a classic South East Asian dish and the fact that there were different varieties on the menu, made it a perfect main for a vegetarian such as her. Rice noodles, beansprouts, eggs, peanuts, chilli and tangy tamarind sauce were complimented well by the broccoli and crispy tofu, and she ended up polishing off her plate.

The vegetable spring rolls she chose for her starter were another winner. The crispy hand-made rolls were large, bursting with flavour and she was particularly fond of the sweet soy dipping sauce it was accompanied by. So much so, that she even consumed some of the dip with her Pad Thai.

The first of my dishes to arrive was the Sweet & Sour. I'd opted for the crispy chicken, which was served with the sweet & sour sauce, wok-fried peppers and spring onions. While I liked the vegetables and the spicy flavour of the sauce, the chicken was unfortunately disappointing. Dry and hard it was difficult to separate and even harder to chew.

I was very glad then that the waitress had suggested I order a side, as on its own the Sweet & Sour was far too heavy and meaty. I chose the vegetable Fried Rice, which was a flavoursome wok-fried jasmine rice with peas, sweet corn, carrots and mangetout. It was absolutely delicious and I would've happily devoured the entire plate if I wasn't already getting quite full at this point.

My starter (while arriving after my main it wasn't much later so I tried these at the same time) was a generous plate of gorgeous Si Racha Prawns. The tempura style prawns were served with the restaurant's divine signature spicy mayo (which definitely lived up to its name) and were perfectly crispy and delicious.

To finish the meal only I couldn't withstand the temptation of the chocolate fondant with ice cream, but after having a taste of my delectable dessert, my friend ended up ordering one for herself too! Still warm and beautifully gooey on the inside, this was perhaps not a typical treat for an Asian restaurant but it was cooked very well and for us worth the visit alone.

With a cocktail bar in the basement there is a plethora of delicious sounding alcoholic drinks to pick from on the menu as well, like the one pictured above. The two sugary sweet ice cubes in the glass provide the fruity flavour to the cocktail, whereas the bottle of alcohol on the right gives it a boozy kick. You can combine the two and the longer you wait - and the more the ice cubes have melted - the sweeter your drink will be; a very fun concept.

The establishment's policy to serve dishes whenever they are ready, makes this a great place to go to share platters with a group of friends. Don't get too focussed on what is supposed to be a main and what is supposed to be a starter, but just take the food as it comes and enjoy the tempting spicy flavours of Asia (and a very French, but not any less delicious, chocolate fondant).

The Noodle House, 117 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8AD.


Blog Tour: J. Paul Henderson's ultimate road trip

At the start of this year I read a fantastic literary novel by the name of Last Bus to Coffeeville (you can find my review here). I was very impressed by this debut from author J. Paul Henderson and as the months have passed by I've found myself becoming an unofficial campaigner for the book (go #TeamCoffeeville!). So when I was asked to be a part of a virtual roadtrip to celebrate the novel, I of course immediately said, "Yes"!

For this blog tour stop I asked author J. Paul Henderson if - like the characters in his novel - he was travelling on a tour bus once stolen from Paul McCartney, what would be his top places to visit and who would he take along for the ride?

J. Paul Henderson's ultimate road trip

The road trip would start in Savage, Minnesota and end in Death Valley, California; a journey of some 2,000 miles and a blend of big scenery and oddball cities. I’d travel with the five friends I meet up with for a long weekend every year; they’re proven travelling companions and would suit the confines of a tour bus well. We’d take our own coffee – Percol Guatemala – drink it black and eat the occasional biscotti.

Savage is a place I’ve been to, but never actually seen: I once boarded a towboat there in the middle of the night. That was in 1973, and ever since – and somewhat inexplicably – I’ve always been curious to know what the town looks like. It also has the advantage of being close to Minneapolis, and this would be our first stop. The city was the backdrop for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which aired from 1970-1977 and blew every other television sitcom out of the water. There’s a statue of Mary in the Nicollet Mall and we’d go visit her: it would be an act of pilgrimage.

We’d then drive west into South Dakota and stay over in Rapid City. We’d tour the Black Hills and roam the Badlands; pay our respects to the surviving bison in Custer State Park and then go to Mt Rushmore and stare at the presidential heads. We’d journey through Wyoming to the geysers and waterfalls of Yellowstone National Park in Montana, and then head south to Salt Lake City, the world headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [LDS]. (Its founder, Joseph Smith, suffered hallucinations; he dug up plates of ancient writing and translated them by wearing a special pair of glasses. Timothy Leary pioneered LSD and Joseph Smith LDS. The boys could have been brothers!)

On to Las Vegas: a city of misshapen hotels and a wonder of the artificial world. We’d roll our eyes and roll the dice; stay for a night and wonder if it was daytime. We’d be all the poorer for having stayed there, but all the richer for having left. Death Valley would be like a breath of fresh air.

The valley was named in 1849 by prospectors heading for the gold fields of California. Oddly, despite Death Valley being the lowest, driest and hottest place in North America, only one prospector ever died there. At its lowest point (282’ below sea level), we’d abandon the tour bus and phone for a taxi. It wouldn’t be a particularly fitting tribute to Death Valley to have Paul McCartney’s tour bus parked there for any length of time, but for us the act would be symbolic and – as we’d all be out of the country by the time anyone noticed it – also one without consequence. Which, after all, is what Paul McCartney’s music is these days.

Thank you very much to Paul for this fantastic enlightening post! Last Bus to Coffeeville is out now and you can purchase a hard copy from Waterstones,, or your own preferred retailer.

Last Bus to Coffeeville synopsis

When the moment for Gene to take Nancy to her desired death in Coffeeville arrives, she is unexpectedly admitted to the secure unit of a nursing home and he has to call upon his two remaining friends to help break her out: one his godson, a disgraced weatherman in the throes of a midlife crisis, and the other an ex-army marksman officially dead for forty years.

On a tour bus once stolen from Paul McCartney, and joined by a young orphan boy searching for lost family, the band of misfits career towards Mississippi through a landscape of war, euthanasia, communism, religion and racism, and along the way discover the true meaning of love, family and – most important of all – friendship.

#CoffeevilleRoadTrip bonus offer!

Throughout the summer, you can buy Last Bus to Coffeeville on Amazon Kindle for just 99p! What are you waiting for? Buy your copy here! ▶

Saturday 2 August 2014


Book review: Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

My edition: paperback (proof), published on 31 July 2014 by Penguin, 450 pages.

Description: She could hear men and women shouting. Angry hollers crashed through the soft humid salty summer night. It was somehow hurtful for Mrs Ponder to hear, as if all that rage was directed at her . . . then she heard the wail of a siren in the distance, at the same time as a woman still inside the building began to scream and scream . . .

When a harmless quiz night ends with an act of shocking violence, the parents of Pirriwee Public School can't seem to stop their secrets from finally spilling out. Rumours ripple through the small town, as truth and lies blur to muddy the story of what really happened on that fateful night .