Tag Archives: romance

#BookReview ‘A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting’ by @SophieHIrwin #romance

Just what I needed after finishing a more weighty and time-consuming read, A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin propelled me along on a wave of flirting and social waltzing. And I gulped it down like a mug of hot chocolate on an icy day.Sophie Irwin

Kitty Talbot is in need of a husband, quickly. After the deaths of first her mother then her father, Kitty, as the eldest of five girls, is left with the financial and caring responsibilities of her younger sisters and a huge debt. With 12 weeks to pay the money owed or vacate their childhood home Netley Cottage, Kitty decides a husband with the right amount of wealth must be sought. The twenty-year old problem solver, always pragmatic, heads to London with bookish sister Cecily in tow, to stay with an old friend of their mother. Aunt Dorothy is not their aunt and, Kitty fears, her history may not withstand close examination. But Kitty’s plan is to gain admittance to the London season – specifically the circle of ‘the ton’, the wealthiest and most aristocratic of London’s social scene – and find a man richer than is available to her in Dorsetshire. He must wipe out the Talbot debt and ensure the financial security of the five sisters. Aunt Dorothy is the only person Kitty knows, despite never having met the lady, who might help them.
A combination of scheming Becky Sharp and witty Elizabeth Bennet, Kitty occupies the fine line between being a fortune-seeker, a flirt and a liar. She is sharp-witted, charming, eager to learn and brave. The latter quality comes in useful as she must enter ballrooms full of people she knows she recently offended due in part to her lack of knowledge of social conventions and in part to the delicate sensitivities and prejudices of the offended. The social mores of ‘the ton’ are unpredictable, difficult to predict and often silly. So she holds her head high and seeks help from the most unlikely places. Lord Radcliffe, the elder brother of one of Kitty’s first flirtations, becomes an unwilling mentor. In a deal to ensure Kitty will not engage with his younger, naïve brother Archie, Radcliffe agrees to give Kitty guidance on London’s social minefield. Neither is wholly satisfied with their deal. Kitty, because Radcliffe is often unable to give her the most helpful information [how deep or shallow a curtsey should be to people of differing ranks, for example] and Radcliffe because he fears he will never be rid of her.
Funny and entertaining, complete with unpredictable siblings who get into trouble, embarrassing beaux, flirtations and elopements, gambling and pistols, I enjoyed this immensely. The plot moves on swiftly and, though the language and detail sometimes slips from period accuracy, I decided to ignore that and go with the fun.

If you like this, try:-
The Convenient Marriage’ by Georgette Heyer
The 20s Girl, The Ghost, and All That Jazz’ by June Kearns
The Girl at the Window’ by Rowan Coleman

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A LADY’S GUIDE TO FORTUNE-HUNTING by @SophieHIrwin #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Sq via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Thornyhold’ by Mary Stewart #romance #mystery

Browsing at the library I came upon a Mary Stewart novel I hadn’t heard of. Thornyhold. Of course, I couldn’t resist picking it up and putting it on top of my To-Read pile. It’s a small novel, only 212 pages and I read it in two sittings. Published in 1988, Thornyhold is one of Stewart’s last – her first was Madam, Will You Talk? in 1955 – and this is very different from the romantic suspense stories for which she is known and loved. Mary Stewart Gilly Ramsey inherits Thornyhold, a remote cottage, from her mysterious godmother Geillis. Now alone after the recent death of her father, Gilly plans to start a new life at Thornyhold. As she explores the cottage – its mysterious attic which doubles as a pigeon loft, a still room for drying herbs and making herbal cures – she learns more about her benefactor. There are more questions than answers. As a child, Gilly had always found Geillis enigmatic; she appeared when Gilly seemed to need her, one time producing a crystal ball from her bag. Now, as she meets her new neighbours, Gilly learns the history of the house and her godmother’s reputation as a herbal healer. But was she more, a witch or wise woman? Although odd dreams, a barking dog and strange messages sent by carrier pigeon, unsettle her, Gilly has an inner belief that she belongs at Thornyhold. Nothing will make her leave.
Having recently a read a lot of contemporary novels with dense repetitive emotional description and complicated plots, reading Thornyhold felt like drinking a tall glass of water when desperately thirsty. Such a wonderful turn of phrase, clever and thoughtful, but accurate and never over-done. Gilly meets a neighbour who she describes as having smooth rosy cheeks and ‘the wrong red too thick on a small mouth,’ and I know exactly what she means.
Beautifully written, not a word out of place, not a character too many. Delightful. An instant favourite.

Click the title to read my reviews of other Mary Stewart novels:-

If you like this, try these:-
The Diabolical Bones’ by Bella Ellis
Ferney’ by James Long
The Good People’ by Hannah Kent

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THORNYHOLD by Mary Stewart #BookReview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Rn via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Postcard from Italy’ by @Angela_Petch #WW2

I’ve never been to Puglia in Italy, the south-eastern coast down to the heel, except in the pages of The Postcard from Italy by Angela Petch. Vividly she brings to life the coastline, the stone-built trulli houses, the caves. It is a magical setting. Stretching backwards from today to the closing months of the Second World War, this is an enthralling family story of love and separation. Recognising love when it’s there, but also understanding when it’s absent. Angela PetchIn 1945, Puglia, a young man awakes, injured, disorientated. He doesn’t know who he is or how he came to be in a trullo, a rural stone house, cared for by strangers. The teenage boy Anto explains how his grandfather Domenico saw him fall from a warplane. Called ‘Roberto’ by his rescuers, his memory stubbornly refuses to return. He can speak English and Italian but knows nothing about fishing or farming. As he helps them in their daily routines, gathering food, catching fish, tending vegetables, repairing the trullo, his nights are full of confusing dreams.
In present day Hastings, England, Susannah mourns the recent death of her father Frank and the descent of her grandmother, Elsie, into the clouds of dementia. Clearing Elsie’s house, Susannah finds a yellowing postcard of a beautiful farmhouse in Puglia and a message of love. Realising this is the same farmhouse in a painting by her father but unaware of family links with Italy, she can’t reconcile this message of love with her brittle, acidic grandmother who always preferred Susannah’s blonde-haired younger sister Sybil. So, while a friend looks after her antique bric-a-brac shop at home, Susannah takes a holiday in Puglia. Determined to find the house in her father’s painting, she learns to heal herself, to speak a little Italian and in so doing falls for two handsome men.
Petch uses conventional wartime story themes – amnesia, separation of loved ones, the vulnerability of loneliness and grief, and the fear of those who exploit war for gain – and adds the twists and turns of flirting and love. Petch has written four novels set in Tuscany, so Puglia is a new setting for her but her knowledge of Italy shines on every page. Susannah’s holiday is extended as she turns detective but the clues, when she finds them, bring more questions rather than answers.
Susannah is the spine of the story but my favourite character was Anto, so complex, so brave, so intriguing. This is a wonderful book to sink into, a perfect holiday or weekend read.

Here’s my review of THE TUSCAN SECRET, also by Angela Petch.

If you like this, try:-
Another You’ by Jane Cable
The War Child’ by Renita d’Silva
The Tuscan Contessa’ by Dinah Jefferies

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE POSTCARD FROM ITALY by @Angela_Petch #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Qk via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ by @ajpearcewrites #WW2 #romance

Sometimes I hear about a book when it is launched but somehow miss the tide. Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce was published in 2018 and two weeks later became a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. In 2019 it was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club. The first few pages are fresh and engaging, light humour at a time when people when people were living day to day in the Blitz. My only doubt was that I would find the jolly tone too much if it continued for the whole novel. AJ Pearce

It is 1941 in London and Emmy Lake applies for a job as a war correspondent and  instead finds herself typing up letters for the problem page of a distinctly faded women’s magazine, Woman’s Friend. The premise is fascinating. The tone is full-on jolly which at times is irritating. The strength of the book for me lies in the second half.

Emmy lives with her friend Bunty on the top floor of Bunty’s grandmother’s house. Both girls have daytime war jobs and volunteer in the evenings. Emmy is frustrated by her boss Mrs Bird’s dismissive rules about letters from emotional young women and starts to reply directly to the women, hiding the letters and posting her replies in secret. When she doesn’t get found out, she becomes bolder, and prints one of her replies in the magazine. Dumped by telegram by her boyfriend, Emmy agrees to go out with Bunty and her boyfriend William and finds herself set up with a blind date. As Emmy’s love life takes a turn for the better, the girls’ friendship is tested as it has never been tested before. Inevitably, Emmy’s letter writing catches up with her in spectacular fashion and she is sent home.

The book is at its best when examining the relationship between Emmy and Bunty, the depth of their loyalty, and what happens when cracks begin to appear. This is a lightweight, cozy war romance which takes a serious tone towards the end. An easy weekend read.

Read how AJ Pearce researched London in World War Two for Dear Mrs Bird.

If you like this, try:-
Please Release Me’ by Rhoda Baxter
You’ll Never See Me Again’ by Lesley Pearse
One Step Too Far’ by Tina Seskis

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#BookReview DEAR MRS BIRD by @ajpearcewrites #WW2 #romance https://wp.me/p5gEM4-49f via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Love in a Time of War’ by @adriennechinn #WW1

Love in a Time of War by Adrienne Chinn is the story of three sisters during wartime, how the inconveniences of war can shatter dreams and promises, disguise lies, hide secrets and offer opportunities previously unimagined. Adrienne ChinnIn 1913, Cecilia Fry, eldest of the three Fry sisters, is nineteen when this story starts. She has fallen in love with her young German teacher and must decide whether to spend the summer with Max in Germany or in London working for the suffragist movement. Eighteen-year old Jessie is studying at nursing school and has been offered an amazing opportunity of which her mother disapproves. Jessie’s twin Etta visits the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts where she meets an Italian artist. All three sisters have dreams for the future, but those dreams are to be thrown into disarray by the Great War.
Love in a Time of War starts with a Prologue set in Italy in 1891. A young Englishwoman called Christina, visiting her Italian family on the island of Capri, falls in love with a young tourist. What happens during this Italian summer reaches through every page of this novel with its themes of the life of women at the dawn of the twentieth century, the new possibilities for women, promising independence, a voice and freedom of expression, weighed down by society’s traditional expectations of their role and behaviour. This is a view of a prosperous middle-class family, though the plight of working-class women is glimpsed via Milly, the Fry’s maid of all work who leaves to work in a munitions factory, and Jessie’s nursing friend Ivy. The three sisters choose completely contrasting paths in life and their stories are followed as war is declared and the family separates. Each in turn faces a difficult choice and then must learn to live the life they have chosen. Little do they realise how their own decisions echo the choices their mother also faced at a similar age.
Towards the end there are number of coincidences which enable the tying up of loose ends, these felt awkward and abrupt. But the Acknowledgements at the end explains how the novel was inspired by the author’s own three great-aunts and grandmother who lived in Britain, Canada and Egypt. So perhaps real life does provide coincidences that are presumed good, or bad, luck.
A gentle, romantic war story, ideal for reading on holiday. As the first book in a family saga series, ‘The Three Fry Sisters’, this book ends as life after war begins and the sisters face the new lives they have chosen. Book Two will cover the Twenties and Thirties, while Book Three will span World War Two into the Seventies.

If you like this, try:-
Waiting for Sunrise’ by William Boyd
The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing’ by Mary Paulson-Ellis
My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young

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LOVE IN A TIME OF WAR by @adriennechinn #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Pd via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Tea for Two at the Little Cornish Kitchen’ by @janelinfoot 

I’m not a great reader of novels described as ‘heartwarming’, particularly with cheerful pastel-coloured covers. But as an impulse read for a winter day when I was feeling under the weather and in need of comfort, Tea for Two at the Little Cornish Kitchen by Jane Linfoot proved to be a bit of a surprise. Jane LinfootSecond in the Little Cornish Kitchen series, I hesitate to call this a ‘cosy romance’ but it is fun, flirty and funny. Novels set in Cornwall are almost a genre of their own and the fictional seaside village of St Aidan with its pastel-coloured houses set on steep windy streets leading to the beach is ideal for a ‘community’ novel with a strong list of characters.
There are lots of alliterations, hashtags and cute names starting with Cressida Cupcake, the social media name for hit online baker Cressy Hobson. Dog and apartment-sitting for her brother Charlie [owner of the Little Cornish Kitchen Cafe and star of the first book in Linfoot’s series, one of a collection set in St Aidan] Cressy will be at Seaspray Cottage for six weeks. She’s glad to escape London and the embarrassing fallout after an online baking disaster. She’s trending on social media as #CrappyCupcake, her book deal has fallen through, her blog sponsors have disappeared and she is short of cash. But when confronted with her sister-in-law’s circle of best friends, she hides the truth and is determined to work things out on her own.
Inevitably she is soon pulled into the community and joins the fundraising plans for the financially-struggling Kittiwake Court community care home. Cressy’s private baking parties take off, as do her sales of bake boxes via the local Facebook group. Add in a meeting with her handsome teenage crush, assorted sheep to be fed and eggs to be collected, a collection of adorable cats and dogs, various cute children and babies, and the scene is set for Cressy to lurch from disaster to triumph to embarrassment and disaster again and again. There are serious themes too – miscarriage and infertility being the main two – but in general there’s a light hand when it comes to the reality of seaside living, seasonal unemployment, online hate, poverty and the struggles of an ageing population. This is romantic comedy, a getaway from the real world. In this pastel-coloured village, reality is pushed firmly to one side.
Not my normal reading but great for the time when a Bakewell tart blondie is preferable to a single digestive. Oh, and if you enjoy baking there are some great recipes at the end.

If you like this, try:-
Girl in Trouble’ by Rhoda Baxter
Butterfly Barn’ by Karen Power
59 Memory Lane’ by Celia Anderson

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
TEA FOR TWO AT THE LITTLE CORNISH KITCHEN by @janelinfoot #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5wE via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Tempted by the Runes’ by @PiaCCourtenay #romance #timetravel

Having visited Iceland and loved the wild beauty, I was pleased to discover Tempted by the Runes by Christina Courtenay. A time-travelling Viking romance combining Sweden, Iceland and Ireland in the 21st and 9th centuries, this is a light romance which skips along nicely. Christina Courtenay
Geir Eskilsson is a Viking adventurer who sets sail from Sviariki [Sweden] in AD875 in a ship bound for Iceland, loaded with fellow travellers, livestock and tools. During a stopover in the port of Dyflin [Dublin, Ireland] to buy thralls [slaves] to work the land, he sees a strangely dressed woman being attacked.
In 2021 a nineteen-year-old Swede, Maddie, is visiting Dublin with her parents and brother to attend the Clonarf Viking Festival. Maddie’s father is an archaeologist, her mother a conservator, so she and her siblings have attended Viking re-enactments since they were small and have learned the practical skills of Viking life at workshops. When Maddie explores Dublin on her own, she finds steps down to the shore of the River Liffey where she sees a knife half-buried in the mud.
From the beginning it’s necessary to ignore the large number of conveniences and coincidences that occur; just abandon the questioning voice in your head and enjoy the story. Maddie is incredibly naive for her age and makes many impulsive questionable decisions; for example, she leaves the hotel still wearing her Viking outfit so is appropriately dressed when she finds herself in 9th century Dyflin. There she just happens to bump into Geir, not some anonymous Viking who would have treated her differently; to explain why will spoil the plot.
The Norse legends run throughout and it felt good to understand references to Odin, Loki and Thor’s hammer. I realised at the end that I read the whole book seeing Geir as Thor in the Marvel movies and hearing his spoken voice as Chris Hemsworth. The description of Iceland’s beautiful scenery, coastline and wildlife is also well done. After the early clash of culture – Maddie is horrified when Geir returns from a hunting trip with Great Auks, birds now extinct through over-hunting – it soon settles into a will they/won’t they romance, threatened by violent visitors and a Viking femme fatale.
I admit to being irritated to discover, on starting the book, that it’s actually part of a series which is not clearly stated. After hovering, I decided to go ahead and read it. It turned out not to matter too much but I’m not sure I will now read the earlier books. Some characters from the earlier Runes books are mentioned in Tempted by the Runes so I know the outcome of their story arcs. It’s a shame this mystery is lost, as this was an entertaining romance to read on holiday.


Roger Lancelyn GreenFor an easy guide to the Norse myths, read Myths of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green.

If you like this, try:-
‘Ferney’ by James Long
Winter of the Heart by EG Parsons
Fatal Inheritance’ by Rachel Rhys

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
TEMPTED BY THE RUNES by @PiaCCourtenay #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5wu via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘In a Summer Season’ by Elizabeth Taylor #classic #love

What a painful, heart-wrenching read is In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor. It is about love – giddying heart-spinning young love, the intensity of teenage crush, the love and companionship of friendship, parental love, second love, age-gap love, tragic love and lust-love. Elizabeth TaylorWidow Kate is seen by friends and family to have married again, unwisely, to a younger man, the charming and feckless Dermot. Kate’s sixteen-year-old daughter Louise hates the way Dermot speaks to her mother, while Kate’s son Tom struggles to make his way in his grandfather’s business and retired teacher Aunt Ethel fears for the new marriage which she believes is founded solely on sex. As Kate adopts new hobbies to fit in with her husband – going to the races, the pub – Dermot feels excluded by the things he doesn’t know, and by Kate’s shared experience with first husband Alan. The household exists in an uneasy alliance. For the first half of the book, this calm is layered with a troubling current eventually brought to the surface by the arrival of Alan’s oldest friend, Charles, and his beautiful daughter Araminta. Tom becomes too caught up in his own calf love for Minty to worry about his mother, Lou falls for the local curate, while Ethel tells all in sensational letters to her friend Gertrude. ‘Ethel had a way of bending her head at closed doors, not listening, as she told herself, but ascertaining.’
None of the characters are endearing. Their paths to the truth, or not, about love – their own love and that of others – their assumptions, misjudgements and blindness, are beset with challenges. Some I forsaw, others I didn’t. Elizabeth Taylor draws a delicately coloured picture of life in a middle-class English family in the Home Counties in the fifties. Times are changing, post-war, particularly the role of women. Kate drifts, used as she was to being the junior partner to her first husband Alan, now she finds herself acting as both mother and lover to her second, younger, husband. Neither are truthful to the other.
More a story of consecutive scenes than a novel with increasing tension, In a Summer Season was published in 1961 and so combines the slower classic style of the older novel, injected with the new sexual tension appropriate to the times. The ending, so long awaited, finally arrived abruptly. My favourite Taylor novel, to date, is A View of the Harbour.

Read my reviews of other books by Elizabeth Taylor:-

If you like this, try:-
Touch Not the Cat’ by Mary Stewart
My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young
The Confession’ by Jessie Burton

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IN A SUMMER SEASON by Elizabeth Taylor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5tQ via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Gabriel Hounds’ by Mary Stewart #romance #suspense

A rollicking, sensuous tale set at a rundown Lebanese palace involving two cousins, an eccentric great-aunt, various chases and subterfuge, The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart is a classic 20th century suspense romance. The hounds of the title are a legend saying that when the dogs run howling around the palace of Dar Ibrahim in the gloriously-named Adonis Valley, death is sure to follow. Mary StewartChristy Mansel leaves her guided tour of Syria and Lebanon to visit the palace of her Great-Aunt Harriet. When she arrives at the beguiling, almost Gothic building, she finds a staff who are incommunicative and protective of their boss who prefers her solitude and will not receive visitors until dark. Waiting to hear if her relative will see her, Christy sets out to explore the passages, gardens, walls and secret places, trying to ignore the glares of the servants and avoid the saluki hounds she has been warned are guard dogs and aggressive to strangers.
The descriptions of Lebanon make the story come alive as do the stories of legends researched by the great-aunt’s assistant, John Lethman. Published in 1967, the story develops slowly compared with current publishing tastes but the settings are luscious and the pace picks up in the second half when the vague suspicions of Christy and her cousin Charles that all at Dar Ibrahim is not as it seems begin to feel real.
This is Beirut and the Lebanon pre-Civil War, pre-the kidnappings of John McCarthy and Brian Keenan, pre-Isis. In creating the character of Great-Aunt Harriet and Dar Ibrahim, Stewart acknowledges her debt to the real life of Lady Hester Stanhope, 19th century traveller and adventurer. ‘She finally seems to have believed in her own mystical destiny as Queen of the East who would one day ride crowned into Jerusalem at the side of the new Messiah.’
I read Mary Stewart as a teenager and remember my delight at the romantic, other-worldly stories in destinations so far from my own life. The Gabriel Hounds is definitely worth re-visiting.

Here’s my review of Stewart’s TOUCH NOT THE CAT.

If you like this, try these:-
The Seventh Miss Hatfield’ by Anna Caltabiano
The Forgotten Sister’ by Nicola Cornick
The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell

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THE GABRIEL HOUNDS by Mary Stewart #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5s3 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The War Child’ by @RenitaDSilva #WW2 #historical

Two women, two generations apart. In The War Child, Renita D‘Silva explores the connections between a mother and child, through danger and separation, self-sacrifice, unstoppable events and the pressures of modern life. D’Silva tells the dual timeline stories of Clara and Indira over many decades, setting the strength and promise of women across four decades against the twentieth century prejudices of chauvinism and racism. Renita D‘SilvaIn London, 1940, teenager Clara is woken by her mother as their home is bombed. Her mother presses into Clara’s hand a necklace, a St Christopher’s medal, with the promise that it will always protect her. Orphaned, Clara is taken in by her aunt and begins helping at a local hospital treating injured soldiers. When nurses and doctors ignore a wounded Indian soldier because of the colour of his skin, Clara nurses him to health. When the war ends, she decides to fulfil a long-held promise to herself. Inspired by sitting on her father’s knee and listening to his stories of India, Clara takes a job as nurse companion to a delicate boy whose parents are re-locating to India. And there, she falls in love.
In India, 1995, 33-year old Indira is chairing a board meeting when she gets a message to ‘go to the hospital’. Fearing her young son is dying – he is in hospital for a minor surgical procedure – she finds her husband and son both well. The message refers to Indira’s father who has had a heart attack. Indira returns home to her parents, somewhere she hasn’t been much of late as she seeks to avoid their simplistic boring life, resenting their dissatisfaction with her life choices.
Sometimes raw and painful, always emotionally complex with surprising twists that make you gasp, The War Child is another brilliant book by my first-choice author for Indian historical romance. D’Silva is such a visual writer that India is a real place on the page, the colours and scents are both beautiful and challenging, her descriptions as full of contrasts as fresh guava sprinkled with chilli powder.

I’ve loved every one of Renita D’Silva’s books I’ve read to date, so far my favourite is The Orphan’s Gift. Click on the title to read my reviews of A Mother’s Secret, Beneath an Indian Sky, The Girl in the Painting and The Orphan’s Gift.

If you like this, try:-
The Tea Planter’s Wife’ by Dinah Jefferies
Heat and Dust’ by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
The Sapphire Widow’ by Dinah Jefferies

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THE WAR CHILD by @RenitaDSilva #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5mW via @SandraDanby