Anita's Haven

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NICI’ S CHRISTMAS TALE by Jean Gill – my review

SOMEONE TO ADMIRE, INDEED

And I am not talking about Nici the dog, the main character in this short story. Although I may as well, all things considered. I am talking about the author, Jean Gill. As a long-time fan of Jean Gill’s writing, I can honestly say this lady is one of the few people who leave me speechless and grateful to be able to witness their genius at work. She respects her characters and readers, and does her absolute best every time, without being arrogant or smug about it. This story is yet another proof of it. It is written just as it should be, wholesome, decent, discrete and revealing at the same time, offering you the life of a character in all its humbleness and relevance. I am not going to retell the contents to you, just offer my views on its creation.

The way this story is written is such a clever way of fitting a prequel into a spin-off sequel, to use the words so often used for various series of stories, be they movies or books. It can be read as a stand-alone, but, in my opinion, its richness will best be appreciated by fans of The Troubadours series (this reader included), as it tells parts of the original stories from the point of view of the main heroine’s loyal canine companion Nici, a character and protagonist of all the 4 books in the series in his own right. It will be like watching a familiar movie filmed with a different camera, from a different angle, and discovering things you hadn’t noticed before.

Reading Nici’s tale, at first, my mind must have felt like that of a dog’s, when it sniffs trails and traces around, looking for nothing special yet waiting eagerly to hit that special spot and then follow it through. And it did, of course. As Nici tells his story to his puppies, and you read about him hearing a girl sing, the entire thing just leaps into its rightful place and you blaze through the text with your heart warm and that feeling of peace in your chest. The tone is evocative of The Troubadours, the details and events well-paced, and overall – it is a wonderful haven for fans of the Troubadours series… As you reach the end, and I mean the very final line, it is just perfection. Full-circle for me, as the last line of the story links to the first book by Jean Gill I had read and fell in love with.

What I love about Nici’s Christmas Tale, as well as all of Jean Gill’s writing, is the way you can relate to the characters and events, regardless of the time or species in the book – she has that amazing, effortless ability of sneaking in lines about life and its timeless issues that just stop you and make you think, not just about the story, but about life and your own choices. I will try to explain, without giving away any spoilers. At one point, Nici tells his children about a herd tragedy, and you can feel his survivor’s guilt in the words, just as you would a human’s. It might even help you understand somebody in your surroundings.

We can all learn a lot from Nici, and from Jean Gill, too. About how to respect all life, how to cherish friends, family and kindness, and how to learn from our mistakes and appreciate our own growth.

I will leave you all with just one quote this time, with the author’s permission, but this one speaks to me the most.

‘Such a small thing to cling to, hope.’

(On a more personal note…

This story arrived to me last Christmas and it would have been a delightful read even then, were it not for the fact that I was unable to see then, due to a health mishap. As many of Jean Gill’s reader fans, I am delighted with her newsletter every time it hits my inbox (one of the few I actually do read and even answer sometimes), and this tale was the author’s gift to readers. See? Delightful surprises sometimes lurk in newsletters, where you least expect them;). I am happy to have been able to read it now. So well-fitted to the entire timeline.)

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The 9th Hour by Claire Stibbe – my review

Detective stories have been among my favourites ever since I can remember. This book is the first in a series, so, although its lead detective Temeke is quite an acquired taste, burdened with plenty of faults and not many likeable habits, his pitbull-like persistence and dedication might just make you a fan and follower of his further cases. Although my personal favourite would be his assistant partner Malin, as I found her more relatable at times. It will be interesting to see them grow in further books.

The crime in The 9th Hour is a series of particularly gruesome killings of teenage girls, with much to stomach – at one point it reminded me of The Silence of the Lambs. The author displays a veritable knack for telling parts of the story from the killer’s point of view, and, as disturbing as they may be, they impressed me the most. The villain is vile and fascinating, powerful and disgusting. His victims are shockingly naive, yet perfectly plausible, and not all of them what he expected them to be (yay!).

It is a risk for an author to let us know who the killer is from the start and then let us wait it out to see how, when or if he will eventually be caught, but intriguing and engaging just the same. Like me, you might find yourself having all these brilliant ideas on what you would do and who you would call; you, that is, or any other famous detective you’ve already met/read.

But Stibbe makes the detectives painfully human and susceptible to mistakes, just like the rest of us. Temeke and Malin are given no superhero powers, extraordinary abilities or phenomenal gadgetry and financial support to solve the crime. At times, even their own police department is a questionable resource of support, be it due to resentment, envy, laziness or mere inability to fathom the extent of malice in the crime itself. What is memorable, especially in the final showdown, is their tenacity, persistence and a sheer need to catch this mentally brilliant and emotionally damaged killer, also a fallible human being but unpardonable.

This is not a detective story for the faint-hearted, make no mistake. But if you enjoy an intense thriller and a pair of detectives, which obviously grows as it goes, considering the awards the author has won for the sequel, meet Temeke and Malin by all means.

This book on Amazon

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Patches by Kathryn Curzon – my review

What a wonderful, soothing, therapeutic story for children, but also adults, on how to help someone dealing with sadness. A beautifully told narrative about a kind, loving woodland creature who finds someone so sad he or she is practically invisible, and then, bit by bit, day by day, not forcing it but being there… patch by patch, sadness is gone and friendship heals hope. Lovely metaphor with imagery suitable for children. I enjoyed reading this, and I congratulate the author on managing to sustain a picturesque and serene tone, inviting to be read, maybe not out loud, but with a loving whisper. Recommended to all.

This book on Amazon

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Stolen Gypsy by Elizabeth H. Newton – my review

Wow, what a ride! This is by no means the first thriller I’ve read by Elizabeth Horton Newton, nor will it be the last. Do not expect any spoilers from this review, or me retelling the events! Just grab it and read it. It’s worth it!
When you read an action thriller and feel breathless, as if you’ve just been there or at least watched it in a fabulous 3D cinema, that’s just perfection. This one had me biting my nails, staying up all night to get to the bottom of all plots and subplots, on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen to my favourite characters.

Much as I loved the villains in Riddle and Old Habits, I love, love, love the heroes and heroines of this book! Young Terza is adorable, just on the verge between a teenager and a woman, thrown into life’s adversity which forms her faster than she’d ever hoped. Tristan is strong, charming and supportive, and the balance Newton achieves between the two of them, and in developing their relationship, is wonderfully intertwined with the entire plot, filled with social issues, political intrigue and the criminal millieu. McCray and Nora, including Vanessa and the girls from Nora’s haven, they all paint a strong setting in which each detail makes a difference.

Feel like wandering into a breathlessly intense action story, with a fantastic couple at the centre and mind-blowing intrigue surrounding them? Grab this one.

https://amzn.to/2qBg0wr

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Bladesong by Jean Gill – my review

My only regret after having read book one in the Troubadour series by Jean Gill was not having read the sequel sooner.

Bladesong has been quite an adventure! The final chapters of the book whooshed by so intensely and so fast that I was almost out of breath when I finished reading them. It is an amazing feast for everyone who enjoys a great political thriller, historical fiction, romance (not in the traditional ‘swooning’ manner though) and fantastic characters. I can just bet the author felt it was an adventure, too, while writing it. It feels like an incredible journey in time, through countries, customs, culture and languages, and above all – human hearts, both at their worst and their best.

I have learned to love Estela and Dragonetz in Song at Dawn (book 1 in this series) so much that the author could have spent this sequel merely describing them having tea and that would have been a joy in itself. But she didn’t. Some readers of historical fiction sometimes complain of authors going into too much detail of fact listing, politics, intrigue and history. Memo to them – historical fiction is supposed to go into researched detail. What I love about this book is that, despite or because of such dedicated attention to detail, the author never once drops the ball and loses from her focus the main characters and their destinies, emotions and thoughts, despite how far they may actually be distanced geographically. (No spoilers for those who will read this, but they will be distanced and yet… Estela and Dragonetz separated by an ocean, numerous powerful people and huge ordeal, even chapters, looking up at the same starts with the same thoughts – that was so masterfully woven into the plot, and felt like a balm on this reader’s tormented heart.)

The author displays the characters with all their faults and virtues, providing timely background and explanation, but not making excuses. Their growth and development is remarkable, and even the villains got the attention and, as weird as it may sound, the respect they deserve. The fact that this is a series allows the author time and space to develop even the tiniest detail, but she uses her time and space with every respect for her readers, never squandering a single line. By chapter 8, I already had 8 favourite quotes marked, and that is saying something. Blending detail into the bigger picture, never losing the importance of either the big picture or the value of each detail, makes Jean Gill a great strategist and general of all the battles in this book, be they the ones in bedchambers, stables, battlefields, courts or the eyes of people when they meet or avoid each other.

History is alive in these books. Alive because you can hear the languages and music the characters use, the echoes and the hushed whispers of secrets, the drums and purposeful noise of those in public display of power, the clamour of dynamic battle, the breaths of those living their lives for their partners, friends, animal friends. You can smell the scents of food and beverages offered or denied, the fresh sea breeze turning sea-sickness into health, the strong odour of physical illness and human malice, of blood flowing queitly down the streets after a vicious, unnoticed murder. You can touch the silk and cloth of dresses and robes, the cold metal of armour and shiny curves of blades… You can laugh with them all, and cry with them all, and love. And when the book is finished, you might linger in that world for a while, not wanting to be torn away from it.

I could write essays about the faulty and powerful queens, the admirable leaders, the courageous lieges, the unyielding nursemaids, the incredible horses and dogs… but you’d better read the book(s). Book three is next for me. There is so much more to know.

Jean Gill’s website

As a reviewer for the Readers’ Review Room, I gladly give this book a gold bookworm. Might as well be diamond.

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The Rejected Writers’ Christmas Wedding by Suzanne Kelman – my review


There is something melancholic about reading the final part of a book series. I’ve now read all the books in The Rejected Writers’ Southlea Bay series, and reading the final pages was like saying goodbye to old friends, or at least very good acquaintances. You know those people you always look forward to meeting again at the vacation spot you like to revisit with your family? Yes, them. This series has been like that fun vacation for me – a witty and warm account of extraordinarily ordinary friendships in small towns, where people still care about what happens to you if you miss an appointment, and where their noses are still just a little bit too much in other people’s business but, then again, their nosiness can sometimes literally save your life or marriage.


This last part in the series, so appropriately ending with a wedding, although not quite in a way you might expect, may have started off slower than the other parts, but if you have met the characters before, you will enjoy the little hints the author drops every now and then about their previous adventures. The author skillfully lets the group of local ladies, The Rejected Writers’ Club pals, prepare a wedding for their youngest member, gets her blackmailed into running away, and then allows them all to rescue the bride and groom in their own, unorthodox, ridiculous and loving way. The characters and humour are relaxing, quirky and precious – the best quality of this book and the entire series. If you are new to Southlea Bay novels, Doris will make you go bananas with her controlling obsession, but we all know people like her – a bit too pushy, and yet their hearts in the right place eventually. 


The aged Southern belles, the Labette twins, with their contradictory nature and funny dialogues, will make you laugh till you cry – I am so glad those two have a bigger role in this book. For those who have read the previous parts, the reappearance of some characters from books 1&2 will make you smile and warm your heart. The twin babies, on the other hand, add that realistic element of drama and fun, which every family goes through, especially on holidays such as Christmas. The crescendo of comical scenes towards the ending, as the plot thickens and then unwinds, is simply adorable. The sleigh ride scene had me giggling out loud, vividly described and well-timed. One thing I must mention (again) are the pun-filled chapter headings – those are a pure joy in themselves – like a funny menu, just asking to have a pop tart or cupcake made after them, or at least a cocktail. I can easily see the Southlea Bay series as a TV series, and would enjoy watching it and rereading the books.

This book made me laugh, which is a treasure in this day and age, and it is the perfect Christmas gift for people who enjoy clean, witty, light comedy with warmth and friendship, and people’s little quirkiness and prejudice dealt with through humour and kindness.

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DANCING QUEEN by Charlotte Roth – my review

This book took me a while to get into, and, when I finished it, it took me a while to decide how to review it. Here is why.

The story of Fiona, an overweight 35-year-old girl stuck in a boring job, and her colleague and semi-accidetal friend Stu, who struggles with being skinny, is a warm one, written with heart and introducing some memorable characters as their friends, family members and dance competition.

What originally drew me to the book was the title, and having loved dancing all my life, the possibility of Fi and Stu changing their lives through dancing showed lots of promise. Along the way, the author also shows us the difficult family situations and past secrets which haunt them both, and manages to develop a deep and lovable friendship, not just between the two of them, but more people than they may have expected. Fiona’s growth as a person is a commendable motive and leaves the readers with a sense of accomplishment and optimism. References to popular music and descriptions of dance costumes added a light touch to the serious issues which are resolved in the second half of the book. This is not a light chicklit with the promise of a romance, although there are funny situations, fun and friendships throughout. The silly, kind-hearted aunt stuck in the 80s, a best friend with a sweet-tooth ritual, Fi’s brother-in-law living in the shade of his ambitious wife – they all add to the charm and are the best part of the story. 

However, this feels more like a family drama for me, and would have been much more if treated as such all the way. As it is, the book does not live up to its full potential. There are some inconsistencies in character speech patterns, several vulgarisms which do not blend in but stand out as unnecessary, the buzz word ‘like’ is used too often, and certain relevant plot twists could have been introduced with more pace and care (avoiding spoilers here). Telling the story in first person is also a tricky thing – the author’s opinion sometimes blends into the character’s, and there are times when you are not quite certain if it’s the character thinking something or actually retelling it. I missed some of the characters from the beginning of the story in the end; it seemed logical they would be there. The tone changed from witty to dramatic abruptly, as if changing genre mid-book. Having dropped hints sooner, about some deeply rooted issues the characters deal with, would have made them more relatable, the plot more convincing and the story would send its otherwise wonderful message (of chasing dreams and not giving up) with much more impact than it does for me.

So why bother writing a review if I decide to be this picky? Well, because I kept reading to see what happens in the end, because I am sure there are girls out there who will be motivated by Fi’s story, because I love how the author plays with the detail of the dancing shoes (linking past, present and future), because Stu and Lance are just so lovely you’d hug them, because I could see Annie in her legwarmers and I could hear the music. So yes, this book shows a lot of promise. It may not be perfect, but then again – none of us are. It has heart, it has charm, it shows promise.

This review was written for Readers Review Room and its potential earned it a blue bookworm from me.

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FORTUNE KOOKIE by Jean Gill – my review

Well this was a surprise! Quite an unexpected turn of events in book 2. I read Left Out and loved it, so I eagerly awaited to read book 2 in the series. Mind you, even if you skipped book 1, you will have no problem reading this one.

The well-loved characters of Jamie and Ryan are back, along with a bunch of others – their families, friends and teachers. They have continued their development, and I relished the tiny nuances in character changes the author displayed. I was happy to see Kelly return, and little Sam’s addition to the cast is wonderful. Sorry to say little about him here, but I hate spoilers in reviews. Let’s just say he will put Ryan’s empathy to the test and earn your sympathies.

This time the story starts off with Jamie involving Ryan in yet another one of her projects. This time it involves saving her mother from her addiction to fortune-tellers, psychics and horoscopes, which mum spends tons of money on and hides from the rest of the family. 

Touching on very important issues of modern life, alienation, delusion, family secrets, fame searching, etc. the author could have just followed that storyline and her exquisite writing would have made it a great story. But she takes a risk and leads the story in quite a different direction, one twisting reality and magic, fact and fantasy, playing tricks with the characters and readers alike, which is a huge difference from book 1 in which the story revolves around their reality. I have to admit I hadn’t expected that, but I actually could not put the book down once Jamie discovered the power of her subconscious, and Ryan’s inquisitive nature led him into psychological experimenting with their friends. To put it briefly – keeping the story on the borderline between reality and fantasy is far from disappointing when Jean Gill wields the writing wand. 

Jamie’s confidence, instincts, intuition and strength will be tested in ways she could never have imagined, and yet – perhaps it is just the mind playing tricks on her, and us. When you set out to battle something and then find out that perhaps you yourself are part of it, it makes you question all your values, which is what happens to teenagers on a daily basis, even without the extra, paranormal challenges. As Ryan and Jamie search for a good career choice, it seems life finds it for them, just like the rest of us.

What I most admire is how the author weaves it all into a rich tapestry, leaving some to the interpretation (perhaps even to book 3?), and manages to logically connect issues such as young romance, hereditary faults and virtues, history, parental concerns, staleness in marriage, town traditions, tested friendships, science and magic, life, death and afterlife… and all this in a YA novel. Jean Gill makes you question, wonder, guess, feel, cheer for the characters. I want to know what Jamie plans to do next. I am interested in whether Ryan will manage to balance his intellectual side with his feelings. I wonder if Kelly and Gareth will remain together on their way to fame. And what of their parents, and Sam, and granny?
And on top of everything, was it all real;)? Shhhhh, no spoilers. Looking forward to book 3 and recommending this book to all teenagers, young adult readers, parents and educators, especially those with a flare for a bit of the paranormal in the normal.

This review was written for Readers Review Room and deserves a gold bookworm from this reader.

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MARGOT GETS AN UNEXPECTED VISIT by Lieve Snellings – my review

This book is a lovely approach to combining a children’s nature encyclopaedia of animals with a children’s story. 

Getting children to actually meet and communicate with Margot the Groundhog, thus being acquainted with forest animals, and also introducing the animal to human activities such as sports can easily be used in a classroom, or as fun reading for children who truly love nature. There is enough plot here for two separate books, so I do believe it would profit from being split into two parts or two books, and it would strengthen the focus of children on each of the aspects. The characters are lovely and children can relate to them.

Two aspects of the book give it that special flare – 1. beautiful photos of the nature and animals instead of illustrations (some are filtered and have additional sticker effects which the kids will find fun), 2. the obvious love the author has for nature and animals, and wants to convey that love to the children. The text is placed on the photos which sometimes makes it slightly difficult to read, but not so much it would deter you from the story. Considering the fact that the author is turning it into a series of adventures, this is a very promising start.

The overall layout and the intent of the book are commendable, and I can easily see it as a well-loved gift for any child aged cca 4-10 who enjoys nature and loves to discover facts about animals.

This review is written for the Readers Review Room, awarding the book the blue bookworm.

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No dillydallying – reading 2 review

Happy to say I am one of the reviewers’ team on Readers Review Room site. You can see my book recomendations here. I kindly invite authors in search of honest reviews and book support to contact Traci Sanders from http://readersreviewroom.com  and all those who enjoy reading ebooks of all genres and can offer a brief review, to join our review team. 

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