Monday, August 3, 2015

"Villa America" by Liza Klaussmann

When Sara and Gerald Murphy opened their home in the Cap D’Antibes in the 1920’s it became a place of legend.  A place where expat Americans - artists, and writers - gathered for parties, glamour, and love.  The champagne flowed as did the ideas, and the Murphy’s loved the charmed life they were living.

But when a tragic accident brings a man named Owen into their lives, the Murphys find their world upended.  An American aviator who fought in the Great War, Owen is a private man whose presence unsettles the Murphy’s.  And as the strength of their home is put at risk, their marriage is put to the test.  

Villa America, by Liza Klaussman, is a beautiful and stunning story about a golden age and the glamour of the French Riviera that became the stuff of legend.  The story of the real life couple who inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is The Night, readers will instantly be drawn into this gorgeous novel.

Following in the footsteps of other novels about the stories of real-life inspirations of some of the great 20th century artists, this is a wonderful novel that drew me right in.  It is a story of a world filled with vibrancy and fun, yearning and wanderlust, ideas and artistry.  And yet, it is a world full of secrets, ones that expose the humanity beneath all of the glitter.  Klaussman captures this perfectly, making these characters worth our adoration and sympathy at the same time.

This is a genre that is sort of hit or miss for me, as the time period is one that I haven’t really had much interest in.  But this book, starting in 1898 and continuing through 1935, changed all of that for me. Klaussman’s beautiful writing and elegant descriptions made me absorb everything I could of this time and place.

One of my favourite parts of this book was the letters written between Gerald and Sara leading up to, and during, their marriage.  What a lost art those letters are, the love and longing jumping off the page at the reader.  The letters in this book may not all be the real ones, but that does not matter, it is the tone and the romance of them that were so lovely to me.

I can’t speak to what is truth and what is created for this book but that does not matter to me. Others may be interested in that or have intense feelings about it but for me, it was about the story, the world that is inside the pages and that all worked very well in this book.  I felt it started a bit slow, setting up the story of Sara and Gerald as well as Owen, but once the book moved to the French Riviera I was fully caught up in it all.  There is a large, and great, cast of characters in this book, all with their stories that both captivate and pull at your emotions. 


Romance, glamour, art, and history, this is what summer reads are all about.  Haven’t read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night? Neither have I, but this won’t stop you from thoroughly enjoying this book.  And it will make you want to go out and read Fitzgerald right after you finish it.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Month In Review

July was a slow reading month once again.  Usually I get a lot of reading down while on vacation but this year, our trip was just so busy there wasn't too much time for reading by the pool.  Actually, it was too hot to sit outside the pool and read, I spent all my time in the pool.  And even at home it's been too hot to do anything but veg out on the couch.

Here are the books I read this month with their GoodReads Ratings:

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan *****
Life or Something Like It by Annie Lyons *****
Villa America by Liza Klaussmann ****
For the Love by Jen Haymaker ****
Seinfeld FAQ by Nicholas Nigro ***

Challenges

Diversity on the Shelf (1)

What I'm Looking Forward to in August

My plan is to tackle my TBR pile as best as I can ahead of September aka Canadian literary awards season.  It's a big pile but I think I can make a big dent in it.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Non-Bookish Things Month in Review

Fun Stuff

We spent Canada Day at the Blue Jays game which is always a fantastic experience.  So much patriotism and it was a great game as well.

July is also the month that our family takes a road trip.  This year we spent a few days in Washington DC (our first time there) and then went to Myrtle Beach for a week (second time there.)  Highlights:

Udvar-Hazy Center (National Air and Space Museum) - my husband is a space and flight geek so he was in his element here.  It was awesome to see the Discovery Space Shuttle and of course the Canadarm.  I loved seeing the pod that Felix Baumgartner jumped out of and my husband was obsessed with the Lockheed SR-17 Blackbird.

Nationals-Dodgers Game - Ok, so the game ended up being suspended because a few of the lights went out.  But we've decided to do the Major League Baseball stadium tour and that is stop #6 for me.  Nationals Stadium is pretty cool.

The Beach - it is hot as all get out down in South Carolina but that doesn't matter when you're at the beach right?  We had a lot of fun boogie boarding, despite every. single. person warning us about sharks when we told them we were heading to Myrtle Beach.

Now it's time to plan next years vacation!

Watching

Television

Before we headed off for vacation I watched the first season of Orange is the New Black. I resisted for such a long time but now I wish I hadn't, I see what everyone is talking about.

Another thing I love about travelling to the US is watching the television I don't have at home.  Any time we were in the condo, I had Bravo on.  Let's just say, even my husband wants to know what's going to happen next on Real Housewives of Orange County, Married to Medicine, Flipped Out, and Million Dollar Listing San Francisco.

Movies

We're in the middle of a heat wave and after a few days of staying inside we got a little stir crazy and where better to head during the heat than to the movie theatre? So off the family went to see Pixels. We're a family of gamers so it was a great pick for us.

And we already have our tickets bought and seats reserved for tomorrow night's premiere of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

Listening

Our music of choice when on long road trips is reggae.  My husband is more of a dancehall guy, while I prefer conscious/roots reggae so we always have a good mix of the two, plus old and new music.  There were a few great songs we recently discovered (that aren't necessarily new) including Romain Virgo's version of Sam Smith's Stay With Me and Mr. Vegas' version of Ed Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud.  And I also recommend checking out Tarrus Riley's Superman.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"China Rich Girlfriend" by Kevin Kwan

Our favourite socialites, billionaires, and eligible bachelors are back!  And this time, there’s even more shopping, secrets, and scandals.

American-born Rachel Chu is about to walk down the aisle and marry the heir to one of Asia’s greatest fortunes, Nicholas Young.  Nicholas, who is willing to sacrifice his inheritance to marry Rachel, hasn’t spoken to his mother in months and has been keeping his wedding a secret from his family.  But something like that isn’t going to stop his mother, especially when she has news that will turn everything upside down.

Rachel has never known who her birthfather is.  But when she discovers his true identity she is thrown into a world she could have never imagined.  The upper echelon of Singapore is about to gain a new member.

China Rich Girlfriend, by Kevin Kwan, is the follow-up novel to the wickedly fun Crazy Rich Asians and this sequel is just as fun and outrageous.  

When I reviewed Crazy Rich Asians, I pointed out how the book was like the television shows Dallas or Beverly Hills 90210 but on a much richer scale.  And if you read the book, you would know what I mean and believe me when I say that this new book is the previous one on a much richer scale (did that make sense?)

While the characters of Rachel and Nicholas are again to be the focus of the book, we are introduced to the lives of even more colourful characters. There is Carlton, a Ferrari-crashing bad boy whose mother will do anything to cover up his bad deeds and Colette, a beyond rich fashion blogger and celebrity girlfriend.  Our favourites from the previous book are back, including Astrid whose husband Michael has begun making his own billions and has the attitude to match. And Kitty Pong, the former soap opera actress, has married into a fortune and has no problem splashing the cash around for everyone to see.  

Have you ever what it would be like to just hop on a private jet and fly to Paris for a mini shopping spree - and by "mini" I mean only millions of dollars?  Wonder what it would be like to live in a condo that has its own private car elevator?  Think you could handle being on the floor of the auction of centuries old artifacts?  Then this is the book for you.  Because all of that, and more, is in it.  Think of the most ridiculous things a person could do with their wealth and this book will surpass that for you.

Now, all of that being said makes this sound like some sort of gossipy, shallow book.  And gossipy for sure, but shallow it could never be.  This book also takes you behind the wealth and introduces you to the people.  I find it very interesting to read about the people who have lived only ever knowing this wealth, and the people who started from nothing to amass it.  It’s a very interesting world.  

As with the previous book, I found that the story of Rachel and Nicholas became overshadowed by all of the other characters.  This doesn’t make it a lesser novel.  It’s just that rather than seeing the world through their eyes, I thought there could be more time spent on their story throughout the entire novel.


Crazy Rich Asians is being adapted into a movie which is exciting but I really wish it was going to be e television show.  I want to spend time in this world and with these characters every week.  Two hours just isn’t enough.  Just like two books isn’t enough.  I sincerely hope there is more to come because Kevin Kwan has a winning formula here.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher, Penguin Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Author Interview: Annie Lyons

I recently reviewed the book Life or Something Like It by Annie Lyons, which I named as one of the best books I have read this summer.  And today I'm excited to share that Annie agreed to answer a few of my questions!  Here's what she had to say:

What books influenced you?
I can remember my mum reading The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder to me and being completely caught up in a world that was so unlike my own - I love books that transport me far away from my own four walls.  

As a teenager I was obsessed with Wuthering Heights and actually very surprised when I first read it. It wasn't what I expected at all - so dark, passionate and often very disturbing but completely absorbing.

My dad introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse and I can remember gorging myself on his books one summer. The observations on life are witty and wise, and the characters are comic perfection. I've always had a secret ambition to win the Wodehouse Award for comic literature because apparently you actually win a pig as well as a complete set of Wodehouse books and a Jeroboam of champagne - basically all you need for a happy life.

I discovered Anne Tyler in my late twenties and completely fell in love with her writing. It is effortlessly brilliant - no-one conveys the emotion or inner feelings of characters better than she does. I met her a couple of years ago and she was everything I wanted my writing heroine to be.

One Day by David Nicholls was the book that made me want to write. I loved everything about this book and felt utterly bereft when I'd finished it. The characters stayed with me for a long time afterwards and I think there's some kind of magic in a book that can do this.

What is your writing space like?
We moved house last year and I now have my own writing room! It's small but perfectly formed. It needs a little work as there are still Buzz Lightyear stickers on the wall from the previous inhabitant but I find his presence rather reassuring. I look out over the garden towards field beyond, which is often filled with either swearing footballers (colourful) or crows (amusing). I love it.

Do you have a writing schedule?
Sort of. It goes: take children to school, come home, make huge pot of coffee (writing fuel), write until lunchtime (aiming for 2000 words if possible), do social media and correspondence after lunch, pick up children, try and fail to help them with their increasingly tricky homework.

Which actors/actresses would you cast in the movie of your book?
Olivia Coleman, David Tennant and Dame Judi Dench because I will watch anything with them in and I want to be BFFs with them too.

What is your dream vacation?
Lanzarote in the Canary Islands - it is beautiful, always sunny and the food and wine are wonderful.

What tv show would you love to do a cameo in?
Modern Family - Phil Dunphy is my hero.


About Annie
After leaving university, Annie Lyons decided that she 'rather liked books' and got a job as a bookseller on Charing Cross Road, London. Two years later she left the retail world and continued rather liking books during an eleven-year career in publishing. Following redundancy in 2009 she realised that she would rather like to write books and having undertaken a creative writing course, lots of reading and a bit of practice she produced Not Quite Perfect. She now realises that she loves writing as much as coffee, not as much as her children and a bit more than gardening. She has since written another two novels and is about to start work on her fourth. She lives in a house in south-east London with her husband and two children. The garden is somewhat overgrown. One day she hopes to own a chocolate-brown Labrador named John and have tea with Mary Berry.

Monday, July 13, 2015

"Life or Something Like It" by Annie Lyons

Cat runs a very successful PR company with her best friend, and secret crush, Jesse.  She is renowned in the celebrity world for the work she does and how good she is at it.  She loves nothing better than seeing her clients in the spotlight, even if it comes through sacrificing her personal life.

But as everyone knows, when a celebrity falls from grace, they fall quickly.  And when one of Cat’s footballer clients ends up looking bad in the press, her career is put on hold.  Without her job, Cat doesn’t know what to do.  So when her brother calls her in urgent need of someone to watch his kids for two weeks, she agrees to help him out.

“Auntie” isn’t exactly a role Cat has been keen on taking on in the past.  She’s never wanted kids and doesn’t know a thing about looking after them.  And her niece and nephew, Ellie and Charlie, know it.  But Cat isn’t completely alone at this.  She has hunky Finn, Uncle to Ellie’s friend, to help her along, even if he does infuriate her at every step.  And when Cat and Finn take their charges on a two week beach holiday, she may end up realizing that this life may not be so bad after all.  Too bad it’s just temporary….right?

Life or Something Like It, by Annie Lyons, is a lovely and fun novel about what we think we want out of life and finding out what we really want.  

I absolutely adored this novel.  I’m a sucker for a novel where the main character gives up one life to go live another.  And while this is a plot we have seen time and time again, it is still possible to make it fresh.  And Annie Lyons does just that in this book.

I thought that all of the characters in this book were great. Cat is very loveable in both her old and new life.  The children are great and Lyons captures very well the struggles of both children today as well as their caregivers.  And Finn? Well, it took me a little while to warm up to him.  I guess I could really see him through Cat’s eyes.

This book is a great summer read, especially because of the trip to the beach part way through.  How much do I want to hit an English beach now?  The book flows wonderfully and once again, because this is a story line we may have seen before, that shows how wonderfully written this book is.  

I really don’t like to give much away about books when I review them but I must say, I absolutely loved the way this book ended.  At first I thought the ending was going to be rushed and obvious, but it it gave me a great surprise to see what happened and I know that is what Lyons was going for.


I can’t help but gush about this book.  This is one of the best novels I have read so far this summer.  I breezed through it, not because it was simple, but because I was enjoying it so much.  I definitely did not want to put it down and I don’t think you will want to either.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

*First Chapter* Fairytale Beginnings by Holly Martin

Last month I reviewed a lovely novel called Fairytale Beginnings by Holly Martin (read my review here).  I adored it and if you’re a fan of the chick lit genre, I know you will too.  This is Holly’s 4th novel and it is just as enjoyable as her first three, all of which I absolutely loved.  

Yesterday was the release day for Fairytale Beginnings and today I am thrilled to be one of the lucky bloggers that get to share the first chapter of the book with you.  If you like what you read (which you will), you can download the book from Amazon and keep reading.  The Kindle edition is just $2 in Canada and the United States, and in the UK it's 99p for the next few days.

Fairytale Beginnings by Holly Martin

Milly drove up the steep, curvy, cliff top lanes with the warm sun on her back and the wind in her hair. From up here, she could see the sparkling blue of the sea below her stretching out for miles into the horizon. It was a beautiful day, made even lovelier by the endless yellow fields of rapeseed on the other side of her. It smelt wonderful but she wished it was clover instead as that might be some indication that she was going in the right direction. 

She was hopefully heading towards Clover’s Rest. The satnav had, of course, stopped working half an hour ago and all she was left with was a flashing question mark on the screen, indicating that the satnav had no idea where she was. Nothing seemed to be known about the village of Clover’s Rest or Clover Castle which presided over the tiny dwelling. It didn’t appear on any maps, and bizarrely there was no record of it on any kind of historical documentation. That in itself was a mystery and one Milly was keen to solve.
Dick, her beaten up old Triumph, was having trouble with the steep gradient of the inclines and she had spent most of the last fifteen minutes barely coming out of first gear. Her brother, Jamie, had begged her several times to buy a new car but her beloved white Triumph TR2 was her pride and joy. 

Up ahead, on the very summit of the hill, she suddenly saw a flash of a blue-topped turret from behind the trees and her heart soared. But no sooner had it appeared, it had gone.
Dick whined as she pushed him round a very steep corner and she leaned forward and gave him a little pat of encouragement. He spluttered and coughed, but thankfully didn’t cut out. The handbrake wasn’t the best and she wasn’t hopeful that Dick could cling to the road surface without sliding back to the foot of the hill again.
Steam started to appear from under Dick’s bonnet as she floored the accelerator and crossed her fingers and toes. She glanced down at her multi-coloured star bracelet and absently made a wish that she would make it to the top of the hill.

‘Just a little further, Dick, come on.’

Dick was barely moving at all now, Milly could get out and walk quicker. As she begged and pleaded with Dick to just last a little bit longer, a kid on his bike rang his bell and scooted round her, disappearing into the trees up ahead.

How insulting to be overtaken by a kid on a BMX. And Dick obviously thought so too as he suddenly found a last bit of energy and groaned and coughed up the last few metres, where the hill finally levelled out.

They shuffled into a tunnel of trees, which swallowed her up, shutting out all the bright daylight behind her and overhead so she was driving through a canopy of total green. It was very dark, with just a tiny pinprick of light ahead of her that she pushed Dick towards. Movement swirled in her rear view mirror; as she glanced up it almost seemed like the trees were closing the gap behind her, covering the road with their tangle of branches so there was no escape. 

Dick finally burst through the trees to the other side. Daylight temporarily blinded her, she briefly saw some houses and a village green and then a thick plume of white smoke burst from the engine and the village vanished from view. Dick let out what sounded like a really big fart and then died, smoke still pouring from underneath the bonnet.

Milly sighed. She had asked too much of him, she knew that. It had seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up; going out in her convertible along the seafront when the weather was so hot, and Clover’s Rest was only supposed to be an hour and a half away from where she lived. But Dick was over twice her age and was only really capable of short flat journeys, nothing like the mountainous terrain she had just traversed.

‘It’s ok Dick, you can have a few days to have a little rest and maybe we can find someone to tinker under your bonnet before we go home. And it’s all downhill from here so worst case scenario, we can just roll you home. Plus we’re on holiday next week, I promise you can stay at home every day. I intend to sit in the garden and do nothing but read for the entire week.’

Dick let out a sigh of relief and the smoke slowed and then stopped, revealing the most gorgeous, picturesque village she had ever seen.

Milly quickly got out and gazed across the village green, staring at the whitewashed cottages like a kid in a sweet shop. The roofs were topped with yellow thatch that glinted like gold in the sunlight. They were a hodgepodge collection; the nearest ones to her were timber framed and the ones on the far side were made from stone. But all of them came with their unique lumps and bumps, jutting out bits of stone or bent bits of timber indicating that these houses were hundreds of years old. 

She quickly grabbed her suitcase, gave Dick an affectionate pat, and abandoned him on the edge of the green as she walked in awe along the cobbled road. 

The historian in her picked out key features in the houses straight away. Of course without certain dating tests it would be hard to be specific, but the first house on the green had to be at least four hundred years old, which meant it should be a listed building. But there had been nothing in any historical documents or files that even indicated this place existed, let alone had listed buildings.

Her toes curled with pleasure at the prospect of what this mysterious Clover Castle looked like. Was it possible that she was going to round the corner of the green and see a sixteenth century undiscovered jewel?

She approached the nearest house and ran her hand appreciatively up the oak timber frame. There was something incredible and humbling about touching something that had been around for hundreds of years. What had this building seen and heard, what stories could it tell?

She leaned closer to the wood and sniffed it. The rich smells of smoke, wood and earth engulfed her and she smiled.

She suddenly realised she wasn’t alone. Milly looked up from the wood into the bulbous eyes of an old man, dressed in a tatty suit. His skin seemed to have shrunk against his bones, making his eyes seem more bulging and protruding. He was chewing on what looked like a small stone, rolling it around his mouth and back again as if he was trying to work out what it tasted like. His white hair stuck out making him look like he was a crazy scientist but he was looking at her as if she was insane, which she supposed she was, standing on someone’s front lawn stroking and smelling the side of the house.

He took a drag of his cigarette and then flicked it into the nearby bushes. She winced at the desecration of such a historic place but chose to ignore it as he still had the moral high ground at the moment, being the slightly saner one of the two.

‘You can’t leave your car there,’ said the man, indicating poor Dick, who looked so deflated and exhausted that even his headlights seemed to be drooping. ‘It’s double yellow lines.’
Sure enough, double yellow lines covered the roads on both sides, as if it was a main road through a busy city rather than a tiny remote village with probably no more than thirty houses. But closer inspection showed the lines to be very wobbly and most likely hand painted. Who would do such a thing? Traffic clearly wasn’t a problem up here, there wasn’t even another car in sight and Dick wasn’t blocking up the road, which was wide enough for two cars to pass easily in both directions.

‘Well unfortunately my car broke down, so it will have to stay there until I can get someone to have a look at it.’

The man sucked air through his teeth and shook his head. ‘Igor won’t like that. It’s likely the car will be towed.’

Igor? Wasn’t that the name of Dracula’s assistant?

‘Sorry, what did you say your name was?’ Milly asked, deliberately.

‘Danny.’

‘Danny, I’m sure Igor will understand that a broken down car is not my fault. I’m a guest of Lord Heartstone, so if there’s any problem Igor can come and see me at the castle.’

Milly hoped that using Cameron’s name and title would be enough to get Danny to leave her and Dick alone, but that wasn’t the case. Danny’s face suddenly filled with disdain.

‘He isn’t exactly Mr Popular round here at the moment. He’s only been back here a few months and he’s sacked all the staff already. Grumpy sod, too, keeps himself to himself.’

‘Well it’s a big responsibility to suddenly inherit a castle, I’m sure it will take a period of adjustment. I’m here to see if I can help him.’

She spotted a flag flying above the trees and grabbed her suitcase and started walking towards it, hoping that Danny wouldn’t follow her, but he did.

‘It’s the Summer Solstice this weekend, we always have a big celebration and he won’t even be a part of it.’

‘Well maybe I can talk to him.’

She squinted at the flag, it wasn’t like any she had ever seen before. It was hard to see from this distance what was on it, but it looked like a dragon eating a heart. 

‘Are you staying up there?’ Danny yelled after her, finally giving up following her.

‘Yes, for a week.’

‘You’ll never leave. Those that stay there never leave.’ 

She stared at him. These sinister words sent shivers down her spine.

‘And whatever you do, don’t go out after midnight. The Oogie will get you.’

‘The Oogie?’

‘A sea monster who eats unwanted visitors.’

‘That’s a local myth, surely.’

Danny shook his head. ‘The village has lost lots of victims to the Oogie. Just don’t go out after midnight and make sure you keep all the doors and windows locked at night.’

He was clearly joking or just insane. Danny wandered off and she stared after him, realising he was only wearing one shoe. Definitely insane. She looked around at this calm, tranquil little village. With the bright sunshine beating down on the little houses, the scent of the roses that twisted round all the doors, she wasn’t going to let some crazy nonsense about a sea monster bring her down.

She had a castle to look at and she couldn’t wait to see it.

Milly walked round the corner into the trees. Up ahead she could see some large, highly decorative wrought iron gates, with swirls and flowers. The gate was probably Victorian or Edwardian. It was very pretty but her heart sank a little bit. It didn’t necessarily mean that the castle was from that era, but she hoped it wasn’t. Castle Heritage, who she worked for, would have nothing to do with the castle if it was from the Edwardian era. They were only interested in ancient relics, particularly those from the medieval period.

She wanted to help Cameron, she really did. She had spoken to him a few times on the phone and he’d sounded desperate. He had this deep, rich, voice that sounded velvety and she guessed he was about fifty years old. She had a way of accurately estimating people’s ages too, not just the age of houses.

It was the stuff of dreams to wake up one morning and find that not only were you a Lord but one that owned a castle too, yet from speaking to Cameron it seemed it was more like a nightmare than a dream.

He’d spoken to her about burst pipes, broken windows, rotting walls, crumbling masonry and a severe damp problem. It wasn’t the inheritance that he had hoped it would be.

If the castle was old enough, Castle Heritage would probably buy it off him or, at the very least, pay to have these things repaired and maintain the upkeep of the place. They might even make it into a tourist attraction if they thought it was a viable option. If she thought it was a viable option. That’s what she was here to assess. The steep incline of the hill was definitely a negative point. Thousands of people every year visited the big castles in the UK. The road she and Dick had driven up earlier couldn’t sustain that many visitors, nor could the tiny village. But if the property was worth it, her company would pay to improve the road too.

She ran her fingers over her multi-coloured star bracelet, as she always did when she wanted something really badly. Most of the time the bracelet let her down but occasionally her wishes came true. Singing the first few lines of the song ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ in her head, she closed her eyes and made a wish. ‘Let the castle be something truly spectacular,’ she whispered.

She opened the gate and it creaked in protest. Clouds skittered across the sun, casting long shadows across the curved drive. As she stepped through the entrance, a cool wind whipped around her, dragging her blonde hair into her face. The wispy summer dress she was wearing hardly seemed appropriate all of a sudden, she should at least have worn a jacket or a cardigan. English weather was always so unpredictable.

She shivered and walked round the corner, pushing the hair out of her eyes so she could get her first glimpse of Clover Castle. And suddenly there it was.

Her heart soared. For someone who had grown up obsessed with all things Disney, and still loved Disney now, years after it was socially acceptable for her to do so, seeing what was quite obviously a real life Cinderella’s castle in front of her was something out of her wildest dreams. Turrets jutted out from all parts of the castle, some protruding out of other turrets. There were four towers, all topped with conical blue spires. From her position at the foot of the drive, she could see twenty-three blue spires, some of which topped the turrets, some that were simply large conical topped pinnacles that didn’t seem to have any purpose other than for decoration. Each spire had a long, gold flagpole on the top with a scarlet banner, apart from the large flag in the middle that had that weird dragon design. She stared at the flag for a moment, although very different in its design, the theme of the dragon wrapped protectively around the heart was eerily similar to the tattoo she had on her right side.

The castle was beautiful but her heart had already plummeted into her shoes. This couldn’t be any more than a hundred years old. It looked Bavarian in its design and was built purely for enjoyment and certainly not to protect.

There was a splendid drawbridge in the middle of the front castle wall but as she walked up the drive she could see there was no moat for the drawbridge to go over.

It seemed as though, at some point over the last hundred years, someone had decided to build a castle, looked at what features other castles had and decided to have one of everything – whether it was needed or not. Or in the case of the spires, twenty-three of them. 

Standing on the hilltop with the sea framed dramatically behind it, the castle was an incredible sight. It was magical and arrogant and wonderful all at the same time and … Castle Heritage wouldn’t come anywhere near it. 

She might as well turn round and head home now. Her birthday was later this week, and she didn’t really want to be working on her birthday. If she left now she might even be able to start her holiday a few days early. But she had promised Cameron she would stay for a week to do all the tests and surveys. He had already paid Castle Heritage quite a significant sum for her time and services and although she could refund the money there must be something she could do to help him. At the very least she could stay for a couple of days in order to get a feel for the place.

She couldn’t feel too disappointed at her wasted trip, the place was spectacular and she got to sleep here, hopefully in a room fit for a princess in one of the tallest towers.

As she stared up in wonder at this thing of beauty, she heard two deep barks. She turned in time to see a heap of black, shaggy fur before she was knocked to the ground.

‘Gregory, NO!’ a deep voice yelled out.

But Gregory, if that was indeed the beast’s name, was not to be dissuaded. Standing over her, Gregory started bathing her face in pungent wet licks, his coarse tongue tickling her face and making her giggle.

Suddenly the dog was snatched from over her and she was yanked to her feet. She slammed into a hard wall of muscle and looked up into a pair of eyes that were so dark they were almost black. Dark, curly hair topped his head, but she was too close to see any other features. He smelt amazing though, all woody and earthy and wonderful.

‘Oh God, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise I pulled you so hard.’ He took a step back and Milly stared up at him, aware that her throat was completely dry. This guy was frigging hot. Dark stubble lined his jaw bone. He was huge too, muscles screaming from every single part of him. He was wearing a suit that was very tight around his broad, muscular shoulders. She felt very under-dressed all of a sudden in her beach dress and sparkly pink Converse trainers.

‘Oh God, your dress, I’m so sorry.’ He stepped forward and brushed her breasts, trying to wipe off the two muddy paw prints that had been imprinted onto the material. His face immediately turned pale as he realised what he had done. He leapt back, looking horrified. 

‘I’m so sorry. I … God, I’m so sorry.’

Milly couldn’t help but take pity on him.

‘It’s not the usual greeting I get, normally a handshake would suffice.’

He stared at her for a moment, then laughed, a deep, booming laugh. He offered out his large bear paw of a hand, and she shook it. ‘I’m Cameron Heartstone.’

This gorgeous man was Cameron Heartstone? She had expected someone so much older, probably smoking a pipe and wearing tartan slippers.

‘Milly Rose. We spoke on the phone. It’s good to finally meet you.’

‘Yes of course, come in.’ He bent down to pick up her discarded suitcase. ‘Gregory, Sit! Stay!’ He commanded the black, hairy beast by his side. Gregory was so big Milly thought she might be able to ride him. His eyes were lost under a mass of fur, his pink tongue lolling out the side of his face. He gave a wag of his tail before running off and disappearing round the side of the castle. Clearly very obedient. Cameron sighed and ushered her through a small side door, with his hand in the small of her back. ‘He’s not my dog, he sort of came with the castle. The first day I arrived he turned up and hasn’t left since. He doesn’t belong to anyone in the village, so I guess I’m stuck with him.’

He was clearly nervous, though she wasn’t sure why. He pulled at his collar, obviously not comfortable wearing a shirt and tie. Had he dressed up for her?

She stepped through into a warm kitchen, with a large wooden table standing in the middle and wooden benches either side. The walls were painted a cosy terracotta. Delicious, tangy smells reached her and her stomach gurgled appreciatively. An Aga stood at one end of the room and something was bubbling away in a huge pot on top.

‘I’ll make us some lunch. Will your boss be joining us soon?’

‘My boss? I don’t really have one. Well, the board of directors at Castle Heritage are sort of my bosses, but I mainly work for myself.’

Her heart sank a bit. He had been expecting someone older, too.

‘Oh, well, the science people, the historians, the ones who will do all the tests?’

‘That would be me.’

He stared at her, disappointment registering on his face. He looked her up and down disdainfully. ‘They’ve sent me a child, is this someone’s idea of a joke? Your idea of history is probably what happened in EastEnders last week.’

Milly felt her mouth fall open. She was used to getting some prejudice when she turned up at these historic places. With her long blonde hair, large blue eyes and Mary Poppins style rosy cheeks, no one thought she was capable of having any knowledge of history at all. She knew she didn’t help these first impressions by having pink tipped hair and sparkly clothes and shoes, but generally the comments she got were little jokes. That remark about her historical knowledge hurt. And she had never been called a child before. This man couldn’t be any more than five years older than she was, although, being so short, she knew she looked a lot younger than her actual age.

She drew herself up to her full height, which did nothing to diminish the height difference between them.

‘I am not a child. I’m twenty-eight years old. You judgemental ass. You see the blonde hair and the pretty dress and automatically assume that I’m some kind of bimbo. I have a Doctorate in Archaeology and Historic Architecture. I have a Master of Science degree in Heritage Conservation and a Bachelor of Science degree in Medieval History. I have extensive experience in dendrochronological and geophysical surveying and my PhD studies required detailed research into archaeological remains, excavation and historic building construction. I guarantee I know more about this castle than you could possibly ever know but if that isn’t good enough for you, I will quite happily leave right now and take every chance of you ever working with Castle Heritage with me.’

She stormed to the door but he beat her to it, slamming it closed before she’d only opened it an inch.

‘You can’t leave.’

‘Just watch me.’ She tugged at the door but he leaned against it, so it didn’t budge. She tried again.

‘I’m sorry.’

She stopped tugging, but didn’t let go of the handle.

‘I really am.’

She looked up at him and his eyes were honest and concerned. 

‘I’ve hurt you and it really wasn’t my intention to do that. It’s been a really bad couple of weeks, well, a bad couple of months if I’m honest. Since my dad died and I inherited this place, it’s been one problem after another. He was in so much debt and that debt doesn’t appear to have died with him. There is no money in this estate, none at all, and he was still paying all the staff here right up till he died but I can’t see how or where the money came from. I’ve had to let them all go, which means everyone in the village hates me and I’ve been going through all his paperwork and keep uncovering more and more problems. 

Without the staff the place will fall into ruin. I have no money for any of the repairs or to pay any of his debts and quite frankly the idea of selling the place to Palace Hotels and making it into a five star resort is looking very appealing right now. You are my last hope. I looked at you and thought …’

‘You thought wrong.’

‘I know, I’m sorry, I had no right to judge you by your appearance. I’m a terrible judge of character, I really am. I should have learned my lesson by now, not to judge a book by its cover. The people I’ve trusted have sold me out and betrayed me. I’ve had my share of model girlfriends, the types that look good on your arm but with not a lot else going for them and … I … Well, I’m really sorry. Please stay, at least have some lunch whilst I beg your forgiveness some more.’

Milly felt all the fight go out of her. She couldn’t hold a grudge for long. Besides, she was starving and the soup that was bubbling on top of the stove smelt amazing.

‘Ok. I’ll stay for lunch, but it depends how good the soup is whether I stay longer.’

His mouth lifted up into small, cautious smile and he gestured for her to sit down.

‘There’s a hell of a lot riding on this soup then. If I’d known that perhaps I would have thought about the recipe a little more carefully instead of just throwing everything into the pot with a bit of seasoning.’

She sat down on the bench and watched him fill two big bowls. There was nothing graceful about him. The soup splatted into the bowl and over the sides and he didn’t seem to care. There were big chunks of meat, large slices of potato, whole florets of cauliflower, all of which should have been blended or at least chopped smaller. He grabbed a large round loaf and tore it into chunks. He plonked the bowl down in front of her and left her half of the loaf on the table next to her bowl, not even on a plate. The man really had no finesse. He sat down opposite her and took a big bite of the bread. He was like a caveman and strangely she found his raw masculinity a bit of a turn on.

‘Do you normally have such gay abandon with your food?’

He paused with the spoon halfway to his mouth. ‘It seems to work.’

He gestured for her to try it and she took a small sip from her spoon. It was incredible, so thick and full of flavour. ‘It’s really good. Did you make the bread too?’

He nodded, before biting off another huge chunk from his loaf. ‘It’s potato bread.’

She took a small piece and bit into it. It tasted delicious. ‘You’re actually really good at this “throw it all into the pot and see if it works” method.’

He shrugged shyly. ‘It’s kind of how I write my books, too.’

‘What kind of books do you write?’

‘Children’s books, with magical forests and super powers and fantasy adventures. But I never plan anything or follow any set rules. A lot of my author friends will have post it notes and charts and character interviews or CVs but I never do any of that, I just sit down and write. People seem to like it. I mean, I have enough to live off and pay the bills but I’m not going to be buying an island in the Caribbean any time soon.’

‘Well if you have enough money to write full time, you must be doing something right.’

He shrugged again, obviously not keen to admit that he was any good.

‘I’d like to read them.’

He shook his head. ‘They’re just kids’ stuff, not your thing at all, I’m sure.’

‘As we’ve already established, my thing is very different to what you think my thing is.’

‘Right, of course.’ He swallowed a big lump of bread and didn’t look up at all after that.

She sighed. She didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable around her. She already regretted her little outburst earlier, she was normally much more professional than that.

‘Thank you for letting me stay, there was nowhere else anywhere near here apart from the tiny B&B I booked and when their pipes burst and flooded the house, I was at a bit of a loss for what to do.’

‘It’s fine,’ Cameron said, in a way that said it really wasn’t fine. 

‘Don’t feel that you have to cook for me or anything. This is lovely,’ she gestured to the soup. 

‘But I can look after myself. I presume the village has a shop. I can buy some food and make my own meals. You don’t have to worry about that.’

‘I have food here, it’s silly for both of us to be cooking separate meals, unless you’re on some weird diet,’ he glanced briefly at her slender frame. People always assumed she ate really healthily when the truth was miles apart. 

‘I eat anything.’

‘Then we might as well eat together.’

‘I don’t want to be in your way.’

‘You won’t. I have work to do and you’ll have tests and measurements to do so I hope … I mean I guess we won’t be getting in each other’s hair too much.’

He didn’t want her there and her heart sank even more at this. Well, if he didn’t want her to stay and she probably couldn’t help him anyway, maybe she would only stay one night after all.

‘Tell me about the castle.’

He looked across the table at her. ‘I don’t know a lot. I used to live here when I was very young, but my mum took me away when I was about six. I never saw my dad after that and I never came back here either. They were always arguing, mainly about the lack of money, even back then. Mum wanted to sell the place and move, my dad refused, so she left. I know it’s been in the family for hundreds of years, hence the rather obnoxious title of Lord that I’ve been bequeathed.’

Milly sat up straighter. The castle she had seen from the outside was not hundreds of years old, but that didn’t mean there hadn’t been some recent modifications to the original structure. Perhaps the Cinderella fa├žade was hiding something far more exciting and mysterious.