Venice – It Surprised Me

XmasAtTiffanysGuest Blog by Karen Swan, author of Christmas at Tiffany’s

When I think of this book, it’s this scene in Venice that I tend to think of. The sequence in Venice had come as a bit of a surprise to me when I was writing, to be honest, as the book is firmly and clearly set in three cities: London, Paris and New York. However, I had realized I needed somewhere where both Cassie and Henry went off-plan, free-range- if you like, from the lists and Venice had such a different vibe to the other cities – it’s not at all urban in the way that the others are, it’s a city for people walking hand in hand down the lanes and across the piazzas, drifting in gondolas along the canals – and it felt absolutely right for Cassie and Henry to be there as they begin to transition from being old friends to the first inklings of something more. In this scene particularly, Cassie has so much fear of getting it wrong, there’s confusion and crossed wires about what is really going on between them and beating beneath it all, is this powerful, pent-up sexual tension. For me, this is the scene upon which the entire love story pivots.

‘…The clock read 3.43am when she felt the mattress dip behind her and Henry’s body heat gradually emanated across the white-sheeted expanse to her side of the bed. She had slept fitfully, dreaming too vividly, her brain feverish and revving too hard. She had got up at midnight to get a glass of water and had seen his side of the vast bed was still cold and smooth. Where was he?

He wriggled into a comfortable position and she felt her heart punching against her ribs at his closeness, and she wondered whether he could feel it through the mattress, vibrating through the coils to where he lay.

‘Cass?’ His voice was quiet and low – but even in that one word she could hear the slur or sambucas – and she heard his hair rustle against the pillow as he turned his head.

She froze. She knew he was going to apologize to her, he was that kind of man: it had been ungentlemanly to slam a door in her face, to leave her abandoned in a foreign city, to have advanced upon her like a lover when she was just an old friend, to have made her want him and then left her hanging…

His apology would cover all those things, she knew, though they’d both leave the specifics unsaid. But she didn’t want it now. Not here, lying in the dark together, the smell of him covering her though his hands wouldn’t.

He turned over fully and she could literally feel the weight of his stare. She wondered whether he could tell she was feigning sleep. She struggled to keep her breathing slow and steady but it was tricky with her heart pounding like a jackhammer. A deafening silence contracted between them in the blackness. She heard his hand rest on the sheet behind her, and she could feel it glowing like an ember between them….’


About the Book

In the wake of a heartbreaking betrayal, a young woman leaves the Scottish countryside to find her destiny in three of the most exciting cities in the world—New York, Paris, and London—in this funny and triumphant tale of fulfillment, friendship, and love.

Ten years ago, a young and naïve Cassie married her first serious boyfriend, believing he would be with her forever. Now, her marriage is in tatters and Cassie has no career or home of her own. Though she feels betrayed and confused, Cassie isn’t giving up. She’s going to take control of her life. But first she has to find out where she belongs . . . and who she wants to be.

Over the course of one year, Cassie leaves her sheltered life in rural Scotland to stay with her best friends living in the most glamorous cities in the world: New York, Paris, and London. Exchanging comfort food and mousy hair for a low-carb diet and a gorgeous new look, Cassie tries each city on for size as she searches for the life she’s meant to have . . . and the man she’s meant to love.

Buy: Christmas at Tiffany’s


Karen Swan began her career in fashion journalism before giving it all up to raise her three children and an ADHD puppy, and to pursue her ambition of becoming a writer. She lives in the forest in Sussex, writing her books in a treehouse overlooking the Downs. Her first novel, Players, was published in 2010, followed by Prima Donna and Christmas at Tiffany’s in 2011.

Twitter: @KarenSwan1



Review: Urbino, Unexpectedly by Maria Chiara Marsciani

urbino unexpectedlyReviewed by Sandra Scholes

Synopsis: Twenty-two year old Clara is a student in Milan and wants a future as a lawyer, but is that all she wants in life? Even though the backdrop of everything that is beautiful about Italy, its alps, romantic hamlets, Rome and Milan, she soon discovers she hates everything about Italy due to her parents expecting too much of her. For her, meeting Leonardo is the best thing that has happened to her even though her parents do not approve of her wanting to marry him later on.

Review: Though Clara is from an upper class background she feels she doesn’t fit in wherever she goes. Her father is someone who is also influential and to be feared, while her mother tries to organise her life from the start. For her, her grandma is the only one who she can talk to, that is until she meets Leonardo who shows her she can enjoy herself without being trapped in her parents’ morals, and lifestyle. You would think that Leonardo being a doctor would make her parents approve, but for her parents, no one she chooses to be with is ever good enough for their high standards. In order to be her own person, Clara knows she has to break away from the parents she soon realises are stifling her creativity and general life, and it will be a big problem for her to do this as her parents have been controlling her for so long.

Good Bits:

  • Leonardo – he sounds very attractive in this book
  • Readers get to appreciate Clara’s cramped life and can come to the conclusion that having money and connections isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Bad Bits:

  • It can be dull at times

Summary: As everything crumbles around her parents’ lives and their control is lessened due to Leonardo’s influence, the story changes from being one of depression and doom to being a more positive outlook on her life, but the depression element has to be ground in so that the changes can show later in the story. There is a lot of romance in this story, and it is one not to be missed.

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy: Urbino, Unexpectedly: a story of love and self-discovery

Get into Bed with Maria Chiara Marsciani (Author Interview)

urbinounexpectedlyKeira: What made you choose Italy as your setting in Urbino, Unexpectedly? Have you recently vacationed there?

Maria Chiara Marsciani: I was born in Rimini, Italy, a mid-size town on the Adriatic Sea eighty miles down by Venice. I left Italy when I was twenty-four to come to the US, but my whole family is still there and I visit them once a year. I chose to set the story in the places where I grew up. They say the first book is usually autobiographic, and, even if “Urbino, Unexpectedly” is not a diary or a detailed report on my own life, I can definitely say that there is a lot of me in it. Starting from the setting.

Keira: Have you ever felt like Clara, the heroine of the novel – as if you were trapped in a life you didn’t want?

Maria: Yes. In the past I felt a lot like Clara probably because figuring out who I was and what I wanted from my life wasn’t easy for me. Many of my friends are very attached to their twenties and really miss that time of their life a lot. I’m much happier today. Perhaps I have more wrinkles and more ailments, but I’m also much more in tune with myself even if I’m still looking to understand who I truly am. In some ways, the writing process and the decision to finally publish one of my works is an attempt to know myself better.

Keira: How does one get the courage to shake things up? How does Clara?

Maria: I truly believe that decisions come by themselves when a situation becomes truly intolerable and when one has the courage to see life with all the potential. Clara is lucky because she meets a person who shows her that, at the end of the tunnel there is a light and she reacts the only way she can: risking everything she is and everything she has. A big jump in the dark is always scary, but it doesn’t necessary mean recklessness. If we have the courage to do it, it can be a new and better beginning and no matter what, a fantastic learning experience.

Keira: Clara finds herself in conflict with (almost) everyone who should be a part of her support structure. Does this mean she’s no longer a good girl or can you be a good girl even if you’re changing the way you use to behave, react, and act?

Maria: I think that Clara needs to change the perspective from which she looks at herself and others. Clara needs to understand that she is not a good girl because she blindly follows her parents’ rules or because she indiscriminately adapts to her country’s tradition. It is not easy, there are family expectations and thousands of years of culture on her shoulders, but she has to learn that finding the courage to act accordingly to her own nature doesn’t necessarily mean she is not a good girl anymore. In order to be able to break loose from cultural impositions, especially in the beginning, she needs to react and sometimes even overreact.

Keira: Do you think love can change a person? For the better?

Maria: I don’t think love can change us, but I think that love, true love, makes us feel appreciated and accepted, and for that reason it can definitely give us the strength to look inside ourselves and to find out who we truly are. Hopefully, we’ll find out we can be better persons.

Keira: How do you define love (romantic)?

Maria: Romantic love is first of all irresistible chemistry and attraction, then it is finding that behind and beyond all of that, there is your best friend, a companion you want to spend your life with, and the person that can see life through your eyes as you can see life through his. Dreams change as life progresses, but that person will keep on dreaming with you until the end.

Keira: How does romantic love and familial love influence the novel?

Maria: Romantic love gives Clara a new perspective on life. It unlocks her inner self and teaches her not to be afraid to appreciate life with her own sensitivity instead of continually adapting to external guidelines. Familial love influences the novel because Clara is surrounded by people whose ‘love’ has trapped her in rules and values she doesn’t believe in.

Keira: If you could go anywhere and do anything with money being no object – where would you go and what would you do?

Maria: Wow, this is hard and tricky. My gut answer is I wouldn’t go anywhere and I wouldn’t do anything, but if I think deeper, I don’t think that would be the case. It’s true that I like my life as it is right now and there are not many things I’d like to change, but it is also true that there are still a lot of places in the world I’d want to visit and many things I want to do. I think I’d like to stop time. But that is not a matter of money, isn’t it?

Keira: Tell us about Leonardo – Clara’s beau! What makes him special?

Maria: Leonardo has a very pure vision of life, he can see Clara’s potentials and he is determined to help her see them too. Unlike all the other people around Clara, who judge her based on cultural stereotypes and therefore find her ‘peculiar’, he has a free, non judgmental and open mind, and for that reason he is able to make Clara feel that there is nothing wrong with her. She just has to find her own way.

Keira: Who would you cast in the roles of Clara and Leonardo if your book was turned into a film?

Maria: My totally biased answer is I’d like Rooney Mara to be Clara and Tom Hiddleston to be Leonardo.

She is an exceptionally eclectic actress able to believably play totally different roles. She can play sweet and cruel, frail and determined being almost unrecognizable in the different roles. I think she could be the perfect naïve Clara who slowly comes to life becoming a resolute woman. Tom Hiddleston is a very talented actor, he has a refined look, but at the same time something in his eyes says he can be a bad boy too and that is how I see Leonardo.

Buy: Urbino, Unexpectedly

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Review: Paris in Love by Eloisa James

Reviewed by Karin

I absolutely love this memoir! J’adore! It is a book to be enjoyed and savored — and one I will likely reread either if I am visiting Paris again or only hankering to visit Paris again.

The book is made of little sound bytes — or if you will, word bytes — of the small daily events that occur in a family uprooted to a new city where the teenage boy who is bilingual goes to Italian school and finds it more difficult than his previous school, and where the city sparkles with the Eiffel Tower and pastry shops and little known shops, restaurants, and pastries. Yum!

I love the honest interactions of family, raising an 11 year old daughter and a teenage son. Eloisa James is married to an Italian man who grew up in Florence. That is interesting to read also.

My advice: run out and buy this book. Or get it from Amazon. ( not sure if available for Kindle.)

Rating: ★★★★★

Buy: Paris in Love: A Memoir

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Review: To Marry for Duty (The Husband Fund, Book 3) by Rebecca Winters

This is the last book in the The Husband Fund trilogy.

Heroine: Piper Duchess is the last remaining single Duchess triplet and she’s feeling it. At the advice of her shrink she bucks up and firmly places her feelings of abandonment and loneliness behind her and dives headlong into her commercial art business. She gets a partner and expands it globally, proving once and for all that she didn’t need a man and she especially did not need Italian aristocrat Nic de Pastrana.

Hero: Nic de Pastrana has wanted Piper from the first time he saw her, but circumstances made it so he could not and he had to be cruel to get the message across. Now free of his year long formal mourning for his late fiance, Nic is determined to win back her trust and love and prove to her that she does need a man — him! Like his cousins, he plans to trick her with partial truths to get her to come to him. And a little marriage of convenience wouldn’t hurt his chances either.

Review: The story was too wrapped up in details from previous books of the series and I felt a lot of good to know background for Piper and Nic was missing. Readers were suppose to recognize and have knowledge of conversations/scenes the two shared previously and while they were briefly elaborated on it was dismissively instead of extensively. The excuse for the MOC was just that an excuse and overall the story was pretty flat. There was little chemistry between hero and heroine.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Buy: To Marry for Duty: The Husband Fund (Harlequin Romance)

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Review: Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange


Amanda Grange picks up where Pride and Prejudice ends. Jane and Elizabeth are getting ready for their double wedding, both eager and anxious about the life spreading out before them. On the way to the wedding, Elizabeth experiences a brief foreboding chill but shrugs it off as wedding nerves. The ceremony goes smoothly, Darcy’s vows stirring deep emotions in both.

It’s when they leave the reception that things start taking a turn for the worse. Through the reflection in the glass of their carriage Elizabeth spies a flash of torment crossing Darcy’s features, but a quick look at the real man shows smooth features. Elizabeth believes she has imagined it… unexpectedly he changes their wedding tour plans and routes them from the Lake District to a direct route to France over the channel.

Elizabeth is unconcerned about this change, but wholly concerned with Darcy. She can’t help but compare her expectations to the reality of her marriage to Darcy. He does not visit her bedchamber the first night or the next or the next. When they are together during the day Darcy is everything attentive, kind, and devoted, but at night he disappears.

As Elizabeth struggles to find reasons for this strange behavior, she meets a dizzying array of friends, family, and strangers over the continent. Some people and places inspire a great deal of trepidation in Elizabeth and she spills her worries to Jane in a series of letters.

It’s not until the last one hundred pages that things really begin to unravel and Darcy’s mysterious behavior is revealed. I was surprised by how flawless the transition was from Austen’s Regency romance to Grange’s Gothic flavored romance. Grange has a talent with words and uses this talent to create a believable paranormal filled with stunningly chilling atmosphere and mystery.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Buy: Mr. Darcy, Vampyre

Review: The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale

The Prince of Midnight was recommended to me by Anime June while guest blogging about My (Not-So-Secret) Favorite Romance Character Types because the hero was damaged and delicious.

I believe this romance also fulfills my lust of big age differences. I can’t remember how old the heroine was (17 maybe?) but the hero’s retired at 33, painting and sculpting in an old castle in France with Nemo a tamed wolf for company by the time Leigh Strachen tracks him down to help her avenge her family’s brutal destruction and murder.

Sophocles Trafalgar (poor guy, luckily he goes by the initials S.T. most of the time) Maitland is a partially deaf ex-highwayman who couldn’t walk a straight line if his life depended on it. When caught in an explosion he lost not only part of his hearing but also his balance. He’s prone to headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

S.T. is a completely charming, dashing, tripping all over himself hunk of a hero. He’s the romantic in the relationship as the heroine is an emotionally walled-off ice princess. With Leigh constantly sneering at him, holding him in contempt, mocking his efforts, and telling him he’s useless I’m surprised S.T. stuck with her, but he does because he knows she’s been hurt and needs a champion.

In fact the more she puts him down and humiliates him the more S.T. is determined he is to go with her, protect her, and prove her wrong. He wants to be her hero and against all odds he manages to steal her ice cold heart and warm it with his own.

There’s some religious cultism in the novel, which one should be aware of before starting. The bad guy, the Right Reverend James Chilton, sets himself up as some great religious man with a direct line to God. He has convinced through trickery, showmanship, and charisma the rest of the town—which consists mostly of TSTL females and a dozen or so men—to follow him and do all that he says. It reminds me Jonestown Massacre where everybody was following Jim Jones blindly and drinking the Kool-Aid. Lucky for Chilton’s followers, the Prince of Midnight was there to protect them from their own stupidity.

The Prince of Midnight is an emotionally intense read as both the hero and heroine have transformations. I almost cried reading S.T.’s pleading to not pour acid in his remaining good ear. When Leigh found out and beat the crap out of the Dove of Peace for following this order I cheered her on… it was so sad thinking that Leigh finally admit to herself and to S.T. that she loved him only for him not to be able to hear the words.

Another intense scene which comes earlier in the novel is his taming two badly mistreated horses. He does it once on his own and then instructs Leigh on how to do it with the more hurt of the horses. When the abused horse begins to trust her, she cracks and falls to pieces realizing she loves the horse… and possibly though she won’t admit it yet, S.T. too.

It’s too good to miss. Thanks AJ!

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Buy: The Prince of Midnight

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Review: The Mermaid Garden by Santa Montefiore

by Marcia, guest reviewer

The Mermaid Garden is the story of two women who are desperately longing for love and fulfillment told with beautiful, sumptuous prose as well as witty, wry humor and a touch of mystery.

Ten-year-old Floriana is a lonely, lost child, yearning to have something worthwhile and beautiful in her life.  Her mother ran off with a tomato seller, taking her baby brother and leaving Floriana with her worthless alcoholic father.  She is drawn to La Magdalena, an elegant mansion just outside town, and meets eighteen-year-old Dante.  La Magdalena and Dante are everything that is missing in Floriana’s life and she is determined that she will have them both.  Unfortunately, Floriana does not ‘belong’ with either.

Clementine has come home to live with her father and stepmother in a beautifully quaint family run hotel in Devon.  She is angry, bitter, discontented and still carrying the childhood angst leftover from her parent’s divorce. The hotel is buried under a mountain of debt but Clementine is too self-involved to help.  Marina, her stepmother, hires Rafa as a resident artist in an effort to attract new and repeat guests.  Rafa, who is also a gorgeous and charming Argentinean, is happy to help but he has a secret agenda.

Montefiore creates characters that are tangible, real and accessible so that we feel their yearning, hope and joy as they discover how to overcome life’s harsh and beautiful lessons.  She draws her readers into a bittersweet atmosphere with joy and wit, capturing the breathtaking scenery of Devon and Tuscany with such skill that the readers feels that they are there, in each and every scene, as a silent observer.

The deftly interwoven plot and complex characters finely crafted prose make The Mermaid Garden a must read.  This is a book that will stay on readers shelves for years to come, to be reread an appreciated over and over again.

Rating: ★★★★★

Buy: The Mermaid Garden

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