A Room at the Manor by Julie Shackman

A Room at the Manor by Julie Shackman is a delicious romantic romp set in contemporary Scotland and which tells the story of Lara McDonald who, after a relationship fails, returns to her home town of Fairview, near Glasgow. Broken-hearted, she takes a job with the catty Kitty Walker in her tea room called True Brew. Unhappy, but determined to heal, Lara befriends the local, elderly laird, Hugh Carmichael, sharing with him her hopes and dreams for a future she fears will never come to pass. When Hugh suddenly dies, Lara finds herself in a strange position: one of her dreams is about to come true, but as it unfolds, in ways she never could have imagined, she begins to wonder if the price is simply too high.

Filled with love lost and won, amazing recipes and descriptions of cakes, breads and slices which, I confess, had me rushing to the kitchen to bake (and eat) myself, the greatest threat this light, fun and always heart-rich tale poses is to your waist-line! The relationships Lara forges and those she resists are wonderful to behold, especially the one she has with her best friend, Morven and her prickly, militant mother. Slowly, as Lara begins to repair her heart, she finds it under threat again, only this time, she seems powerless to prevent herself repeating the same mistakes…

Told with pathos and humour, the story moves at a good pace and the characters crackle with vigour. The Scottish town of Fairview and the grand manor, Glenlovatt, and the food Lara and her friends make and consume also become characters and you’ll find it hard not to fall in love with them as well. As I was reading, it struck me that this would make a terrific Hallmark movie – which is interesting as one of Shackman’s roles (apart from author) is to write for greeting cards!

Recommended for lovers of romance, and those who want to escape into a good book, curling up by a winter fire or in some sand, beneath golden sun and heat, Shackman’s novel is a great companion.

Thank you very much to Allen and Unwin for sending me a copy. 🙂


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The Little Book of Slow by Sally Wise and Paul McIntyre

y648When was the last time you not only stopped and smelled the roses, but pruned them too? When did you last host a dinner party for friends you might eagerly text or follow on FaceBook but haven’t seen for months or years? When did you last listen to a vinyl record with all its scritches, scratches and layers of sound? When did you last bake a cake, bread or dog treats? Play a board game with your kids, partner or friends? Hand write a letter or card instead of tying it or emailing?

If you answered, “I don’t remember” or “never” to any of these questions, then do yourself a favour and read this marvellous, gem of a book with a gorgeous cover. Written by well-known writer, Sally Wise, and award-winning, international playwright, ABC radio senior producer, and first time author (and a friend of mine – I declare it now), Paul McIntyre, The Little Book of Slow is packed full of not only ideas about favourite past-times, but also how to pass the time in meaningful, mindful and often relaxing ways, and really appreciate this in a world where we so often cry we’re time-poor.

Whether it’s op-shopping, keeping a dream diary, or cultivating good manners and being civil or making your own curry pastes and powders, pickling veges and planning a picnic, this “little” book is big on caring about ourselves, the planet and each other. Reminding us to live mindfully and meaningfully, the prose is sweet and gentle but the messages are so important, especially in a world of cyber and other distractions that mean we too often disconnect – not only from others, but from ourselves.

As I read this book (and I did cover to cover, though it’s designed to dip in and out of with ease) I found myself reflecting on how and why I have forgotten or not allowed myself the time to enjoy the simple things, and put the stresses of a beeping, whirring phone, blaring TV or computer aside for a few hours if not days.

Great as a gift, or to lose yourself in while luxuriating in a hot bath, trying out one of the many delicious recipes, or curled up in armchair under a lamp with the TV off and the music on, this book is timely and simply lovely. Furthermore, both Sally and Paul practice what they don’t preach – they live life in the slow and rewarding lane, reminding us we can too and be all the richer for it.

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