Christmas novel recommendations!

merry christmas

Today I’m posting a round-up of Christmas books that I’ve read and reviewed this festive period in case you’re looking for a last minute Christmas read or Christmas book gift!

merry mistletoe

I’ve read some wonderful and magical Christmas books this year so it’s near impossible to pick my favourites. I do have a real soft spot for Emma Davies’ Merry Mistletoe as it was different to any Christmas book I’ve read in a long time, not just this year, and I loved all the comforting imagery around feathers and robins. This is a short novel and I highly recommend it, especially to anyone looking for a comforting read this Christmas.

The Boy Under the Mistletoe by Katey Lovell

I also adored Katey Lovell’s latest Meet Cute short story The Boy Under the Mistletoe. It’s a delicious five-minute read that will warm your heart and will instantly having you feeling more festive!

One Wish in Manhattan

One Wish in Manhattan by Mandy Baggot became an instant favourite of mine and I know it’s a novel that I will come back to for many Christmases to come. It’s a gorgeous novel set entirely in the build up to Christmas, it has elements of A Christmas Carol running through it and won’t fail to make anyone feel festive.

the mince pie mix up

The Mince Pie Mix-Up by Jennifer Joyce was brilliant! It’s perfect for anyone who loves films like Freaky Friday – I love body-swap books where characters become someone else and literally have to walk in their shoes for a period of time and setting this over the festive period just made it even better. It’s a fab read!

The Winter Wedding

Abby Clements’ latest novel The Winter Wedding is more of a winter themed book than a Christmas one and yet it made me feel so festive. I think it’s the build up to a winter wedding – snow combined with romance is such a magical mix!

Holly Martin released two Christmas novels this year, both set in White Cliff Bay (Christmas at Lilac Cottage and Snowflakes on Silver Cove) but featuring different characters (although if you read both you may spot some familiar characters popping up). I adored both of these novels – Holly just writes with a perfect mix of humour, romance, and festivity!

winter's fairytale (1)

Winter’s Fairytale by Maxine Morrey is such a perfect Christmas romance. The whole novel is set in the couple of weeks before Christmas so it’s as festive as can be!

What Happens at Christmas_FINAL

T. A. Williams Christmas novel What Happens at Christmas is a lovely Christmas novel. It’s set in a beautiful village, with Chocolate box cottages and friendly locals. I loved it.

how to stuff up christmas

I adored How To Stuff Up Christmas by Rosie Blake. It’s a perfect mix of being hilariously funny and incredibly heart-warming!

Christmas wishes and mistletoe kisses

I read Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses by Jenny Hale as part of Bookouture Christmas and am so glad I got the chance to read this novel. It’s a really sweet story about what is really important at Christmas and how spending time with other people can really help us be better versions of ourselves.

The Christmas Joy Ride by Melody Carlson

I just read The Christmas Joy Ride by Melody Carlson this week and I loved it. It’s all how opening yourself up to new experiences can lead to unexpected and wonderful things happening.

Snowed in for her Wedding

Snowed in the for her Wedding by Emma Bennet is a short novella, but it’s a lovely story. I loved how a whole community pulled together at Christmas to help their local girl Gwen have her Christmas Eve wedding despite the heavy snow.

christmas at cranberry cottage

Christmas at Cranberry Cottage by Talli Roland is a lovely novella. I most enjoyed the nostalgia in this story, as the main character tries to save her Gran’s cottage and reminisces about growing up there and all the Christmases spent in that lovely home.


 

**Amendment 23 December 2015**

every time a bell rings

Last night I finished reading Every Time A Bell Rings by Carmel Harrington and it simply has to be added to this list, it’s such a gorgeous and utterly perfect Christmas read! It’s inspired by It’s A Wonderful Life and is just magical, go read it! It’s up there with my all-time favourite Christmas reads!


 

I hope this helps you find the perfect Christmas read for over the next week or so. You really can’t go wrong with any of the above books, they’re all wonderful.

Wishing you all a very happy and book-filled Christmas!

 

Review: The Christmas Joy Ride by Melody Carlson

The Christmas Joy Ride by Melody Carlson

 

Joy is in her late 80s and has decided to make one last trip in her beloved RV before moving across country to be nearer her two sons. Miranda is Joy’s neighbour and good friend, and she is very down on her luck at the moment – her husband has left her and her home is facing imminent foreclosure so she has nothing to hang around for and decides that she will accompany Joy on her trip. This is a trip with a difference though – Joy runs a Christmas website and has recently had a competition running for people to win the chance to have Joy spread some Christmas joy in their lives.

I love that Joy had this plan to spread Christmas cheer to the six competition winners but that she also had plans for Miranda. Joy made sure that Miranda would accompany her on this trip and that it would change her friend’s life for the better.

Miranda and Joy set off on Route 66 and stop off at various points along the way to decorate homes and businesses. Joy begins to find the driving extremely tiring and so Miranda steps up to take her turn. Miranda soon finds her confidence growing at driving the RV and with life in general.

I found this novella a little slow to get going but once as I found out more about Joy and Miranda I found myself engrossed. I love how Joy was so wily and that she subtly made sure that Miranda would go on this trip with her. It’s always wonderful to read about older people who are still feisty and who still have ambitions and dreams for the future. The idea of an octogenarian planning to drive Route 66 in an RV is just fabulous, I want to be just like this when I’m old!

I was willing Miranda on as she began to realise that she could move on from the hurt in her past. It was lovely to see her come out of herself as she took on more of the Christmas decorating and organising at each stop. I was very much hoping that Joy might give the RV to Miranda so that she wouldn’t have to return to her old town, I became so invested in wanting Miranda to have a happy ending.

Melody Carlson’s novels always have an element of faith in them but she has such a delicate touch that this novella will feel fulfilling for readers of faith but it is done in such a way that readers who are not religious themselves will not feel it is being forced upon them. I tend not to read Christian fiction and yet have always enjoyed Carlson’s novels, as she strikes just the right balance.

The Christmas Joy Ride is a wonderful and heart-warming novella. It won’t fail to spread Christmas joy to everyone who reads it this festive period.

I rate this novella 4 out of 5.

The Christmas Joy Ride is out now and available from Amazon.

I received a copy of this novella from Revell via Amazon in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: Snowed in for her Wedding by Emma Bennet 

Snowed in for her Wedding

I have never read anything by Emma Bennet before but when I was offered the chance to read and review Snowed in for Wedding, I couldn’t refuse. I love a Christmas story and when Christmas is combined with a wedding I tend to find them irresistible!

Snowed in for her Wedding is a sequel to Green hills of home but Emma gives a recap at start, which makes this novella work as a standalone.

Gwen is due to marry John on Christmas Eve in the village of Tonnadulais, where they both live, but the morning of the wedding heavy snow begins to fall and soon they are in danger of being snowed in. Guests start phoning to say they won’t be able to make it, and even worse, John is driving back to Wales from London the morning of the wedding and Gwen can’t get hold of him on the phone so has no idea if he will make it in time.

I have to be honest and say that I found the beginning of this novella a little slow but once the snow started falling I very soon became completely engrossed and lost track of everything as I was willing this wedding to take place.  As obstacles keep being thrown in front of this couple on the day of their wedding, I became more and more invested in wanting this wedding to take place.

There were little bumps in the road between the bride and groom. John was quite secretive and often absent in the run up to the wedding, which causes Gwen to begin to worry that he’s having cold feet. Once the snow starts falling and the power goes off, and Gwen can no longer contact John by phone, her anxieties grow. She wants to believe that he won’t let her down but it’s not easy.

I loved how the people of Tonnadulais began to rally round to help local girl Gwen get her wedding despite all the obstacles being thrown in her way. It was heart-warming the way the whole community, even people who weren’t invited to the wedding, went out of their way to do their bit to make this wedding happen.

There’s something extra-magical about a wedding at Christmas and this story stole my heart. It has romance, and snow, and it’s entirely set in the days before Christmas, which is wonderful. This is a lovely, romantic novella that will definitely warm your heart over this festive period.

I rate this novella 4 out of 5.

I received a copy of this novella from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Boy Under the Mistletoe by Katey Lovell

The Boy Under the Mistletoe by Katey Lovell

It’s no secret that I adore this Meet Cute series, so I was very excited to discover that there was to be a Christmas story in the series! I had hoped to read and review it before now but with being ill I just haven’t been able to. It was the perfect story to get me back into reading though!

This latest Meet Cute is a gorgeous Christmas short story all about Chelsea, who is home from University for Christmas but she’s exhausted and fed up after working long hours in her family’s flower shop; the last thing she feels like doing is putting on a Christmas jumper and going to her Gran’s annual Christmas party with the rest of her family.

We briefly meet Chelsea’s Gran and because of Katey’s wonderful, succinct writing I felt like I knew her even though she was just in the story fleetingly. The way she tries to feed Chelsea up shows how caring she is. I loved the descriptions of the antique baubles on her Gran’s Christmas tree too. The scene brought back lovely memories of my own Nan, and of the beautiful and fragile tree ornaments she had.

The description of Chelsea looking like a Refresher bar with the combination of her auburn hair and her face blushing red with embarrassment made me properly laugh out loud. As someone who is similarly auburn-haired, I have been there many times. I’ve not heard this description before but it’s definitely one I’ll remember and laugh about next time I show myself up!

I loved how Chelsea’s meet cute moment happened and how it was like a fairy tale but with added feistiness! It was just perfect how Chelsea had wanted to watch a certain popular Christmas film and instead got her own moment that was just like one that could have quite easily occurred in said film. Yet again, Katey has somehow managed to get so much detail into the story about Chelsea and Simeon to leave me feeling completely satisfied that these characters will be happy together. I swear there is something magical to Katey’s writing in the way she manages to convey so much in such short stories!

This Christmas story has everything you could possibly want to warm your heart this festive period. It’s a perfect read to curl up with when you just need a few minutes away from it all. Grab a hot chocolate (or Baileys), a mince pie and escape into this gorgeous romantic story!

I highly recommend this book and rate it 5 out of 5.

The Boy Under the Mistletoe is out now and available from Amazon.

I received a copy of this story from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Here are my reviews of The Boy in the Bookshop and The Boy at the Beach, two of the other short stories in this fab series.

Review: The Mince Pie Mix-Up by Jennifer Joyce

the mince pie mix up

The Mince Pie Mix-Up is a gorgeous festive novel. Calvin works hard at the office and thinks his wife has it easy with her part-time job in the local cafe and looking after their two children. Judy thinks her husband could help her out a bit more instead of coming home from the office and going out to football or down to the pub with his mates. They each think the other has a much easier life and one night, just two weeks before Christmas, they both wish to swap places and in the morning they find that their wish has been granted. This novel is in the vein of Freaky Friday and 13 Going on 30 and is a wonderfully funny novel.

I can never resist a body swap film or book, and this novel is up there with the best of them – I loved it. I think just about everyone at one point or another in their life has wished they could swap places with someone else; it’s human nature. I don’t think we ever think through all the consequences of such a thing happening though, which is what makes this novel so entertaining.

During the time they’ve swapped bodies some very funny situations occur and it makes for a very entertaining read. I found myself giggling quite a few times while reading this book. It was very amusing when Judy or Calvin would forget they were in the other’s body and would speak as if they were themselves. I loved how Calvin decided to ignore his boss’s swearing and replace all the swear words in his head with Christmas words, it was very funny at times and had me thinking I may well do the same!

I loved how it was obvious all the way through this novel that Calvin and Judy still love each other very much, they’ve just got set in their ways and have begun to take each other for granted. This wasn’t about a marriage that was in trouble, they’re just a couple that needed a reminder of all that the other does for them. It was a wake up call to what they’re missing out on or not making time for.

Ultimately, this novel is all about how everyone could do to put themselves in someone else’s shoes from time to time to try and understand life from another’s perspective. This works so well as a Christmas novel because this is the season where we’re urged to be kind to each other and to be more giving.

The Mince Pie Mix-Up is set in the two weeks leading up to Christmas and so is very festive. It’s a funny and very heart-warming novel, and I highly recommend it. I rate it 4.5 out of 5.

I received this book from Carina UK via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Mince Pie Mix-Up is out now and available from Amazon.

Author Interview with Lynda Renham

I was very lucky to have the opportunity to interview the lovely Lynda Renham recently. Lynda has got a new Christmas novella out, A Christmas Romance, written under the pseudonym Amy Perfect. So, I took the opportunity to ask about her writing routine but also what Christmas is like for her.

 

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

My name is Lynda Renham and I write romantic comedies. I recently released a Christmas novella titled ‘A Christmas Romance under the name of Amy Perfect. It’s full of romance and festive spirit. I loved writing it so much.

What is your writing routine?

Oh dear! Truthfully? I have my own writing room known as ‘The Beach Hut’ At 9 in the morning Bendy and I wander in. Bendy is my cat and constant companion during the day. It’s really quite disgraceful how we faff about. Bendy will spend a bit of time playing with the rug while I while away the time on Facebook. I may then move onto Twitter and Bendy will move onto the wicker trunk and have a good scratch. By now it is 11 and we are both in need of distraction. So he has treats and I have a mince pie with a mug of coffee. Then we go back and attempt some serious stuff. Bendy usually go to sleep and I attempt to write. Although, this is interspersed with trips to the fridge as I find food really helps with the writing process.  I’m a terrible procrastinator that I am amazed I’ve written nine books in less than five years.

What inspired you to write a Christmas book?

Oh, I have wanted to write a Christmas book for years. Every August I say I’m going to write one but I never seem to find the time. This year, however, I developed writer’s block while trying to write my new comedy romance. I stopped and had a go at a Christmas novella. This became ‘A Christmas Romance’ which I adored writing. It’s full of romance and Christmas spirit.

How do you get in the Christmas spirit early in order to write a festive book

We don’t put our Christmas tree up until Christmas Eve so I think I can safely say I’m not one of those people who gets into the spirit of Christmas early, aside of course, from eating mince pies and I start very early with those and  continue way past Christmas. But as I wanted to write a book full of Christmas spirit and merriment I had to play lots of Christmas songs which very quickly put me in the mood. In fact so much so that now it feels like Christmas has been and gone

What’s your favourite thing about Christmas?

I live in a small village so there are a lot of Christmas parties. I also love the feel of Christmas in the village. The lighting of the tree on the village green and the Christmas fete. My Christmas novel is very much based on my village. Christmas in a village is a very warm, cosy affair. I enjoy buying and giving presents. Although I tend to avoid the shops and do most of my shopping online, which is easier. I also love mince pies, have I told you that already, chestnuts and Christmas cards.

What is a Christmas like at your house? 

Busy, although this year my husband and I are spending Christmas Day together but the weeks before that I have my family coming. On Boxing Day my stepchildren come with their children and a few days after Boxing Day I have my husband’s family visit. There will be nine of us that day. I will cook and I enjoy it. Family gatherings are lovely and of course there will be no shortage of mince pies.

Do you have Christmas traditions?

Aside from eating mince pies? No, Not really. We take each year as it comes. Although the village has traditions like the tree lighting, carol services, and so on.

What are your favourite Christmas films, books and songs?

My favourite Carol is ‘Silent Night’ and I played it a lot while writing the Christmas novella. I love Michael Bublé’s Christmas songs. They really cheer me up and get me in the mood for Christmas.  I love ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Dickins. I don’t really have a favourite film.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading ‘Fools Gold’ By Zana Bell. I haven’t got very far but I’m enjoying it.

How can people connect with you on social media?

I have a Facebook author page and am on Twitter. Also I can be reached through my blog www.renham.co.uk

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1X4Er1p

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Lyndarenham

Thank you very much, Lynda for answering my questions.

I will be reading and reviewing A Christmas Romance on my blog in a couple of weeks time so look out for that.

A Christmas Romance is out now and is available from Amazon.

christmasrom2

 

Lynda Renham is also the author of Fifty Shades of Roxie Brown

RoxieBrown

Review: Christmas at Cranberry Cottage by Talli Roland

 

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I’m a huge Talli Roland fan, I’ve read all of her novels and novellas and loved them so when I spotted she had another Christmas novella out I couldn’t resist buying it immediately! I have to say that this is more of a short story than a novella – I read it in under ten minutes but it is still a lovely, festive read.

Jess is a high-flying photographer who is currently working in New York but is looking forward to getting back to her childhood home in the UK to spend Christmas with her Gran. A phone call from her Gran with news that Cranberry Cottage is going to be demolished as part of a new high-speed rail line causes to Jess drop everything to return home to try and save it.

I loved this story but I can’t help but wish it had been longer – I think it could have made a perfect novella or even full-length novel. There are glimpses of characters that I wanted to know more about. There is a love interest that held such potential and I enjoyed what there was of the chemistry between Tom and Jess but I would have loved to hear more about the past and to see how their story might have developed further. I adored Jess’ relationship with her Gran, I just wish we could have heard more about the two of them and this gorgeous cottage.

The cover of this short story is so festive and the combined with the description of the decorations inside the cottage just made me want to go there! The descriptions of the kitsch decorations that were years old and often falling apart reminded me so much of my Nan’s home and all of her wonderful Christmas ornaments.

This short story is absolutely worth buying and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a very quick, Christmassy read. I so badly want to rate it higher because I did enjoy it but I was left wanting so to know so much more. I rate this 3.5 out of 5.

Christmas at Cranberry Cottage is out now and is available as an ebook from Amazon.

Blog Tour|Review & Excerpt: What Happens at Christmas by T. A. Williams

TAWilliams-Christmas-BTBanner copy

What Happens at Christmas_FINAL

Today I’m thrilled that it’s my stop on the What Happens at Christmas by T. A. Williams blog tour. I have my review of the book to share with you and also an excerpt from the book. There is also a giveaway as part of this tour to win a copy of one of T. A. Williams other books, What Happens in Cornwall!

Review header copy

What Happens at Christmas is a gorgeous, feel-good novel that has some real depth to it. Holly Brice has recently found out that her estranged father has died and that she has inherited his cottage in a quaint little village in Dartmoor. Holly makes a trip to the remote village to clear the cottage out to get it ready for selling and it ends up being a real trip down memory lane for her. Holly also discovers that not only has she inherited her father’s home but also his lovely one-year-old labrador, named Stirling.

Holly ends up on a real journey of discovery as she gets to know some of the locals in the village and also as she begins to clear her dad’s cottage out. She discovers that she may not have known the whole truth about her dad and starts to see him in a different light. I found some of the things Holly finds out about her dad incredibly moving. It was lovely to to see how Stirling was so in tune with Holly’s emotions and was always on hand to offer comfort.

Stirling was the star of this book for me, he was such an affectionate dog and so well-behaved that it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. He was a character in his own right and I really loved how an animal could be written into the story in such a big way.

Holly soon meets the desirable men in the village: Jack the handsome and lovely next-door neighbour, who is a bit mysterious; Justin, who is also a very attractive man but who has issues of his own to work though; and Howard who is lovely and just a little flirtatious in a harmless way.

I love that this book was set in the few days leading up to Christmas, it really did make me feel festive. Often with Christmas novels they are set in the months or year leading up to Christmas but there is something really lovely about a novel where the whole book is set in the immediate run up to Christmas.

This novel has everything you could possibly want in a Christmas story! It’s set at Christmas, it’s in a gorgeous location, it’s heart-breaking but more so it’s heart-warming, it has romance, it has crackly log fires, and it has snow!

I rate this book 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a heart-warming Christmas novel.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

What Happens at Christmas is out now and available to buy from Amazon.

Release Date: October 22, 2015

Genres: Chick Lit

Publisher: Carina UK

Excerpt copy

She woke up at seven o’clock next morning with somebody trying to strangle her. A heavy weight was pinning her to the pillow, while a muscular arm pressed down upon her windpipe. She opened her eyes, but it was still pitch dark in the house. As the panic began to build, a long, warm tongue began to lick her cheek.

‘Oh, God, Stirling, stop that, will you. And your breath stinks. Get off this minute. Please, Stirling.’ With difficulty she managed to dislodge the dog from her throat and tip him over the edge of the bed onto the floor. He landed with a thud. Staying under the duvet, she shimmied across to the edge of the bed to check that he hadn’t hurt himself. She peered down into the dark. A large back nose appeared right in front of her and he would have licked her again if she hadn’t retreated. She lay there for another five minutes, conscious of the dog’s staring eyes, before accepting the inevitable. She pushed back the covers and climbed out of bed. Reaching for the matches, she lit the candle and looked down at the dog.

‘You’re a pain in the backside. You know that, don’t you?’ Delighted to hear her talking to him, he jumped to his feet and started wagging his tail. ‘God, it’s bloody cold.’ She pulled her jeans and jumper on over the top of her pyjamas and slipped on her warmest shoes; a gorgeous pair of Jimmy Choo ankle boots she had found in the Harvey Nicks sale last January, at less than half price. She took the candle and followed the now very excited dog downstairs into the kitchen. It was equally cold in there, so she put the candle down on the table and set about lighting the stove.

Once she had got a good fire going, she plucked up the courage to go to the loo. As she feared, the bathroom was freezing cold. She came back downstairs, went across to the window and looked out over the back garden. Dawn wouldn’t be for another hour, but it was not totally dark out there. The moon had disappeared, but there was still enough light from the stars for her to be able to distinguish shapes of bushes and trees in the garden. Closer to her, Greta the Porsche was sparkling with frost, the starlight reflecting in the host of ice crystals that covered all the horizontal surfaces. As Holly looked out, she ran her fingers across the inside of the glass. She wasn’t surprised to see them come away with a thin layer of ice on them. She went back over to the stove and packed another couple of logs into it.

‘I’d give my eye teeth for a cup of tea.’ She gazed wistfully at the electric kettle on the worktop, idly wondering to herself what eye teeth were. Stirling was standing beside his basket, unsure whether he should be gearing up for a walk or whether he would be told to go back to bed. Holly gave a little smile as she saw that he had somehow collected her father’s old jumper and brought it downstairs. A grey sleeve was hanging over the side of the basket. She stared at it for a few seconds before taking a deep breath and deciding she had better take the dog for a walk. He was delighted.


Blurb copy

For the perfect Christmas…

When career-girl Holly Brice learns that her estranged father has died, she decides to take a trip down memory lane and find out about the man she never knew. Arriving in the sleepy little Dartmoor village, she’s shocked to discover that she’s inherited the cosy little cottage she remembers so fondly, a whole load of money –and her father’s adorable dog, too!

Head to snow-covered Devon!

And as the first snowflakes begin to fall and Holly bumps into her gorgeous neighbour, Jack Nelson, life gets even more complicated! Men have always been off the cards for high-flying Holly, but there’s something about mysterious writer Jack that has her re-thinking her three-date rule…

A fabulous, feel-good festive read, perfect for fans of Debbie Johnson and Carole Matthews.


Author Bio copy

TAWilliams

Firstly, my name isn’t T A. It’s Trevor. I write under the androgynous name T A Williams because 65% of books are read by women. In my first book, “Dirty Minds” one of the (female) characters suggests the imbalance is due to the fact that men spend too much time getting drunk and watching football. I couldn’t possibly comment. Ask my wife…

I’ve written all sorts: thrillers, historical novels, short stories and now I’m enjoying myself hugely writing humour and romance. Romantic comedies are what we all need from time to time. Life isn’t always very fair. It isn’t always a lot of fun, but when it is, we need to embrace it. If my books can put a smile on your face and maybe give your heartstrings a tug, then I know I’ve done my job.

I‘ve lived all over Europe, but now I live in a little village in sleepy Devon, tucked away in south west England. I love the place. That’s why you’ll find leafy lanes and thatched cottages in most of my books. Oh, yes, and a black Labrador.

I’ve been writing since I was 14 and that is half a century ago. However, underneath this bald, wrinkly exterior, there beats the heart of a youngster. My wife is convinced I will never grow up. I hope she’s right.

Social Networking Links

Website: http://www.tawilliamsbooks.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TrevorWilliamsBooks

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TAWilliamsBooks

Goodreads: http://bit.ly/GRTAWilliams

Amazon Author: http://www.amazon.com/T-A-Williams/e/B00FDVNVMA/


GIVEAWAY BANNER! copy

what happens in cornwall

As part of this blog tour the organiser Bliss Book Promotions are giving you the chance to win One ebook copy of What Happens in Cornwall by T. A. Williams

Please click the link below to be taken to the competition entry page:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/c48fa52743/?

Good luck!

Review: How To Stuff Up Christmas by Rosie Blake

how to stuff up christmas

How To Stuff Up Christmas is a brilliant novel that is both hilariously funny and incredibly heart-warming, I enjoyed reading it so much!

Eve recently split up with her fiancé after she accidentally spotted a rather incriminating photo on his phone. After spending a couple of months feeling heartbroken, Eve realises that she can’t face spending Christmas with her family this year as there will be too many reminders of how happy she was the previous Christmas when she and Liam got engaged. Eve considers lots of options for her break but in the end she rents a narrowboat for a month so that her dog, Marmite can go with her. She also signs up for pottery classes to keep her occupied while she’s away.

Greg is a man of mystery for quite a lot of the novel. He is obviously a lovely man, he’s a vet with a heart of gold who not only wants to do the best for the animals he cares for but he shows real kindness to their owners too. Greg has something in his private life that he doesn’t want to talk about and it’s weighing heavily on him.

Greg and Eve meet when he comes to her rescue, there is obviously a mutual attraction between them but they’re both wary of getting involved. They become friends and Greg helps Eve learn to cook. At some points in the novel the story is told from Eve’s point of view and then in the next chapter there is the same scene told from Greg’s perspective. It was great to see how they were both really feeling, and it really showed how they were putting their guards up to protect themselves from getting hurt. It made me want to climb into the novel and tell them to give each other a chance, I was willing them to get together!

I loved Eve’s friendship with Daisy. The way they were together at work finding ways to run rings around their boss, the way Daisy supports Eve through her break up with Liam. It’s the kind of friendship we’d all love to have; the kind of friend who’ll forgive you for giving them food poisoning! I spent the novel hoping that Daisy didn’t know anything that could hurt Eve, it was worrying because sometimes even your best friends can let you down.

The closer it got to Christmas the more I was willing Eve’s broken heart to heal faster. Her family have always made a big deal of Christmas, like most families they have their traditions and they stick to them every year. Eve’s family really don’t want her to go away for Christmas and her mum especially doesn’t want to face the fact that she really isn’t planning on being there. It made me sad to think that Eve, who had always had such wonderful, big happy Christmases could feel they were completely ruined by Liam. It made me hate Liam even more for what he’d done!

There are some brilliant characters in this novel. I especially loved Eve’s colourblind dad and all his wacky outfits, and I nearly spat my drink out laughing when we met Minnie at the art course and she describes to Raj what she’s making in the pottery class! I just wasn’t expecting her to say what she did, it’s hysterical! I have to mention the crazy geese too, they were funny (and also a little bit terrifying!).

I also loved the recipes at the start of some of the chapters; the recipes always relate to food that is mentioned in the chapter. I thought it was brilliant how in amongst recipes for chocolate biscuit cake and gingerbread were recipes for making a Pot Noodle and beans on toast – this made me laugh so much. It just said so much about Eve’s ability to cook!

This is such an enjoyable novel and I highly recommend you buy it! It’s heart-warming, it’s hilarious, it’s just a perfect book to curl up with on these cold autumn/winter nights!

I rate this book 8 out of 10, it’s such an enjoyable read. This is the first novel I’ve read by Rosie Blake but I’ve already bought her previous book, How To Get A (Love) Life and hope to read it very soon.

Thank you to Corvus for very kindly sending me How To Stuff Up Christmas.

How To Stuff Up Christmas is out today and available on Amazon.

Review: Merry Mistletoe by Emma Davies

merry-mistletoe

I loved this novella, it was just the kind of gentle and heart-warming book that I want to be reading at this time of year.

Freya Sherborne runs her family mistletoe business from her childhood home, but this year is her first Christmas running it alone after the death of her beloved father. The debts are mounting up and Freya knows she’s going to have to sell up very soon.

The novella is set out as a countdown to Christmas, starting 29 days before. I loved how it was set so close to Christmas and had the build-up, it meant it really was a proper festive read and that is my favourite kind of Christmas book!

I was intrigued by Amos Fry all through this novella, he’s a great character though. He was like a cross between Mary Poppins and Father Christmas and I loved how he seemed to be magically nudging things in the right direction for Freya to find happiness again.

I loved the symbolism of the white feathers that kept appearing throughout the novella, especially the one that appeared near the robin. This novella had a lot of symbols running through it, even the mistletoe itself and it was added an extra layer to the Christmas novel that I really appreciated. Christmas is forever changed when you lose a loved one but the symbols that are around can really offer comfort. I love how Freya and her father had bought a new tree ornament every year, and that Freya decided to continue with that after losing him. The tree ornament that she was helped to find for this year was so perfect, I wanted it to be from a real shop so that I could buy one!

This is the first book I’ve read by Emma Davies but it won’t be the last, it was wonderful. I’ve already bought Letting in Light and have it waiting for me on my TBR!

I rate this novella 9 out of 10.

I received this book from Lawsome Books via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Merry Mistletoe is out now and available from Amazon.

Christmas Q&A with Holly Martin

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Today on the blog I have a Q&A I did with the lovely Holly Martin about all things Christmas! I couldn’t resist asking her all about the festive season given that she has not one but TWO fabulous Christmas books (Christmas at Lilac Cottage, and Snowflakes on Silver Cove) out this year, both set in the wonderful White Cliff Bay. I love everything about Christmas so it was interesting to see what Holly had to say!

snowflakes at silver cove

What’s your favourite thing about Christmas?

I love everything about Christmas, the decorations, the music, films, the books. I love the smells and the hope of snow. I love buying presents and going to parties or dinner around a friend’s house. I love playing games and wearing Christmas jumpers. It really is my favourite time of year

What is a typical Christmas like at your house? 

Christmas Eve is round my friends, we play silly games and have a secret santa game, where we normally argue good naturedly over the rules, which we promise to write down every year and never do. Its also my goddaughters birthday so we try to keep that separate too. Its just me, Mom and Dad on Christmas Day. Dad normally cooks bacon sandwiches for breakfast then we open presents, have a full turkey lunch with all the trimmings and play games like Cluedo and Cranium and Jenga in the afternoon, whist gorging on after eights.  

Do you have Christmas traditions? 

We always play games on Christmas Day, never at any other time in the year so its nice that we do it then. We always give each other giant toblerones too and get crafty over how to disguise the distinctive triangular shaped box

What were the best and worst Christmas presents you ever got? Why were they the best and worst?

The best present was probably my nexus tablet, I do everything on it, my emails, facebook, twitter, searching the web, reading, listen to music. I take it everywhere with me as its small enough to fit in my handbag too. My worst present was probably a jigsaw puzzle, I’ve never been into them.

What are you asking Father Christmas for this year?

I am the worst person to buy presents for as I never know what i want and if I do want things during the year I just go and buy them myself. I guess that means I am happy with what I already have. New clothes are always great, i love sparkly shoes. 

Lilac Cottage

What is your favourite Christmas film, book and song?

I love The Holiday and Love Actually, My favourite Christmas book is probably 12 Dates of Christmas by Lisa Dickenson, favourite Christmas song is anything by Michael Buble

How do you get in the Christmas spirit early in order to write your Christmas novels?

A huge love of the season helps, listening to music, looking at Christmas pictures

Is White Cliff Bay based on a real place? I ask as I really want to go there this Christmas!

Sadly not because I think I’d like to move there too.

Thanks so much Holly! 


Author Bio copy

Holly_Martin_author

Holly Martin

Holly emerged onto the Chick Lit scene by winning the Belinda Jones Travel Club short story competition – and has not looked back since.

Her adult fiction debut, The Guestbook, hit number 5 in the Amazon chart and she has now written three books with Bookouture: Fairytale Beginnings, Christmas at Lilac Cottage and Snowflakes at Silver Cove.

www.hollymartinwriter.wordpress.com


Blurb copy

Lilac Cottage

Christmas at Lilac Cottage

Welcome to the charming seaside town of White Cliff Bay, where Christmas is magical and love is in the air…

Penny Meadows loves her home – a cosy cottage decorated with pretty twinkling fairy lights and stunning views over the town of White Cliff Bay. She also loves her job as an ice-carver, creating breathtaking sculptures. Yet her personal life seems frozen.

When Henry and daughter Daisy arrive at the cottage to rent the annex, Penny is determined to make them feel welcome. But while Daisy is friendly, Henry seems guarded.

As Penny gets to know Henry, she realises there is more to him than meets the eye. And the connection between them is too strong to ignore …

While the spirit of the season sprinkles its magic over the seaside town and preparations for the ice sculpting competition and Christmas eve ball are in full swing, can Penny melt the ice and allow love in her heart? And will this finally be the perfect Christmas she’s been dreaming of?

Like a creamy hot chocolate with marshmallows, you won’t want to put this deliciously heartwarming novel down.

Spend the perfect Christmas in White Cliff Bay this year.


snowflakes at silver cove

Snowflakes on Silver Cove

Come and spend a picture perfect romantic Christmas at White Cliff Bay

Libby Joseph is famous for her romantic Christmas stories. Every December, readers devour her books of falling in love against the magical backdrop of the Christmas season. If only Libby believed in the magic herself…

Struggling to finish her current novel, Libby turns to her best friend and neighbour George Donaldson to cheer her up. But George also needs a bit of support himself. Nervous about getting back into the dating saddle after splitting from his wife, he and Libby strike a deal. She will teach George how to win over the ladies, and Libby will in turn be inspired to inject her novel with a good dose of romance.

As Libby and George explore the beautiful White Cliff Bay on a series of romantic Christmas-themed dates, Libby finds herself having more fun than she’s had in ages and…discovers feelings that she never knew she had for George.

But is it too late? Will George win someone else’s heart or can Libby act like the heroine in one of her stories and reach for her own love under the mistletoe this Christmas?
Snuggle up with a piece of Christmas cake and mulled wine, and spend the festive season at White Cliff Bay.


Don’t forget to check out all of my previous posts from Bookouture Christmas week and enter all the giveaways! Here’s a link where you can find them, prizes include an ebook copy of Christmas at Lilac Cottage and of Snowflakes on Silver Cove!

Hope you’ve enjoyed what has been a really fabulous week!

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Review and INT Giveaway: Snowflakes on Silver Cove by Holly Martin

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Today, as part of BookoutureChristmas, I have a review of Holly Martin‘s second Christmas book of the season Snowflakes on Silver Cove.  Keep reading to the end of this post as I have another giveaway running today, this time you have the chance to win an ecopy of Snowflakes on Silver Cove!

snowflakes at silver cove

Snowflakes on Silver Cove is the second novel in Holly’s White Cliff Bay series. I read and reviewed the first book in this series, Christmas at Lilac Cottage a while ago and completely fell in love with the setting and the characters so the chance to go back there was irresistible! Snowflakes on Silver Cove is set in the same town and along the same time frame as the first book but it focuses on different characters (although you may spot some characters you recognise popping up along the way!).

Libby is a romance writer who never lives anywhere for longer then six months, George is her unlucky-in-love neighbour and they are the best of friends. So, when Libby suffers from a major case of writer’s block and needs romance in her life in order to be able to get into her characters’ heads, and George needs to build the confidence to ask their gorgeous new neighbour, Giselle, out on a date they decide they will date each other… but only for research purposes!

What follows is a series of dates that are Christmassy and full of romance but which then lead to misunderstandings galore between these two people who can’t quite admit what they’re beginning to feel for each other.

The way George and Libby’s relationship builds is brilliant, I loved every minute of it. At times I wanted to somehow climb into the book so I could yell at them both for missing what was staring them in the face, I so badly wanted them to get together. Libby and George are made for each other! It may take a good while for George and Libby to admit how they truly feel, but throughout the novel the love and care and adoration they each feel for the other just radiates off the page; it’s so beautiful to read and leaves you with such a warm, fuzzy feeling!

I loved that Libby and George had such a strong connection and how they could eventually laugh at everything that befell them every time they almost got together. I firmly believe that being able to laugh with your partner at everything life throws at you is the key to a long and happy relationship so I have high hopes for George and Libby!

Alongside this storyline, there is another budding romance between Libby’s other best friend Amy, and Seb. Poor Seb lost his wife five years earlier and since then he has honoured a promise he made to his mother-in-law, just after his wife died, that he will never fall in love ever again. Seb is ready to move on now though and is struggling to fight his intense attraction to feisty barmaid, Amy. The attraction is mutual but Amy wants a relationship that they can tell people about so they have to somehow win over Seb’s mother-in-law!

Amy is one of my favourite characters in this book, the things that happened to her were some of the funniest situations I’ve read in a novel in a really long time. I thought the purple hair dye storyline was funny but then came the costume she had to wear to raise money for a testicular cancer charity. Every single thing that happened to her while she was in that costume was utterly hilarious! I know I’m being a bit vague here but I really don’t want to spoil it for readers. Trust me though, it’s hysterical! I’m currently recovering from major surgery and almost did myself an injury from laughing so hard!

This is a very funny and highly entertaining novel that will have you laughing out loud from the very first page! It’s also full of Christmas romance and just so gorgeous – you will not be able to put this book down! I rated it 9 out of 10 and highly recommend it.

I received this book from Bookouture via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Snowflakes on Silver Cove is due to be published on 30th October and can be pre-ordered from Amazon now!


Blurb copy

Come and spend a picture perfect romantic Christmas at White Cliff Bay

Libby Joseph is famous for her romantic Christmas stories. Every December, readers devour her books of falling in love against the magical backdrop of the Christmas season. If only Libby believed in the magic herself…

Struggling to finish her current novel, Libby turns to her best friend and neighbour George Donaldson to cheer her up. But George also needs a bit of support himself. Nervous about getting back into the dating saddle after splitting from his wife, he and Libby strike a deal. She will teach George how to win over the ladies, and Libby will in turn be inspired to inject her novel with a good dose of romance.

As Libby and George explore the beautiful White Cliff Bay on a series of romantic Christmas-themed dates, Libby finds herself having more fun than she’s had in ages and…discovers feelings that she never knew she had for George.

But is it too late? Will George win someone else’s heart or can Libby act like the heroine in one of her stories and reach for her own love under the mistletoe this Christmas?
Snuggle up with a piece of Christmas cake and mulled wine, and spend the festive season at White Cliff Bay.

Snowflakes on Silver Cove is out on 30th October and can be pre-ordered from Amazon now!


Author Bio copy

Holly_Martin_author

Holly Martin

Holly emerged onto the Chick Lit scene by winning the Belinda Jones Travel Club short story competition – and has not looked back since.

Her adult fiction debut, The Guestbook, hit number 5 in the Amazon chart and she has now written three books with Bookouture: Fairytale Beginnings, Christmas at Lilac Cottage and Snowflakes at Silver Cove.

www.hollymartinwriter.wordpress.com


The Giveaway below is now over, please check this post to find out the winner:

Bookouture Christmas Winner Announcement!


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Bookouture have very kindly allowed me to run an international giveaway for one lucky winner to win an e-copy of this fabulous book. Please enter here and good luck! I am running giveaways for the four other books that I’ve featured on my blog over Bookouture Christmas week so please check those out as there is still time to enter!

Please click on this link to Rafflecopter to go enter my giveaway for Snowflakes on Silver Cove!

Over the course of Bookouture Christmas week I’ll be posting reviews, Q&As, guest posts, extracts and giveaways all to do with these fabulous books! Click here to find handy links to all my previous Bookouture Christmas posts and giveaways!

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Review & INT Giveaway: Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses by Jenny Hale

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On my blog today, as part of Bookouture Christmas, I have a review of Jenny Hale‘s wonderful Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses. Keep reading to the end of this post as I have a giveaway of an ecopy of this book up for grabs!

Christmas wishes and mistletoe kisses

Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses is a wonderful Cinderella story about Abbey and Nick.

Abbey is a single mum to six year old Max; she works as a nurse to Caroline but dreams of having her own interior design business. After she re-decorates Caroline’s home she is offered the chance to re-decorate and furnish Caroline’s Grandson’s mansion.

Nick is Caroline’s Grandson. He lives alone in his mansion and has done ever since he and his wife divorced. He puts all his time and energy into running the family business that his father left to him.

Abbey and Nick get to know more about each other as Abbey is re-designs the interior of his house and she begins to get under his skin. He feels a need to look out for her and make sure that she is ok. After Nick meets Max he begins to form a bond with the boy despite saying that he never wants children of his own.

This novel has all the elements you could possibly want in a Christmas novel: It has romance, it has snow, it has a storyline that will tug at your heartstrings. I loved seeing how Abbey and Nick’s relationship developed, it was lovely how it wasn’t all one-sided. Nick lavished gifts on Abbey but actually what she gives him is so much more important. She teaches him about the value of making time to be with loved ones and about following his dreams. It’s a wonderful reminder of what Christmas is really about.

One of my favourite moments in the novel was when Nick took Abbey and Max to meet the real Santa, it just made me melt and reminded me of those wonderful visits that I was taken on as a child to see Santa. It gave me goosebumps when Santa’s feet appeared down the chimney and reminded of the magical set up at the place where my mum used to take me.

This is the first book I’ve read by Jenny Hale but I’m absolutely certain that it won’t be the last, I’m now very much looking forward to reading her other novels.

I rated this book 9 out of 10 and recommend it to everyone who loves a cute, romantic and magical novel to read at Christmas.

I received this book from Bookouture via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses is out now and available from Amazon.


Blurb copy

An uplifting, beautiful story about never letting go of your dreams, the special magic of a family Christmas… and the rush of falling in love under the mistletoe.

Single mother Abbey Fuller loves her family more than anything, and doesn’t regret for a moment having had to put her dreams of being an interior designer on hold. But with her son, Max, growing up, when a friend recommends her for a small design job she jumps at the chance. How hard can it be?

Nick Sinclair needs his house decorated in time for his family’s festive visit – and money is no object. What he doesn’t need is to be distracted from his multi-million dollar business – even if it is Christmas.

When Abbey pulls up to the huge Sinclair mansion, she has a feeling she might be out of her depth. And when she meets the gorgeous, brooding Nicholas Sinclair, she knows that she’s in real trouble…

With the snow falling all around, can Abbey take the chance to make her dreams of being a designer come true? And can she help Nick to finally enjoy the magic of Christmas?


Author Bio copy

Jenny-Hale-Contemporary-Romance-author

Jenny Hale

When she graduated college, one of Jenny’s friends said “Look out for this one; she’s going to be an author one day”. Despite being an avid reader and a natural storyteller, it wasn’t until that very moment that the idea of writing novels occurred to her.

Sometimes our friends can see the things that we can’t. Whilst she didn’t start straight away, that comment sowed a seed and several years, two children and hundreds of thousands of words later, Jenny finished her first novel – Coming Home for Christmas – which became an instant bestseller.

www.itsjennyhale.com


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Bookouture have very kindly allowed me to run an international giveaway for one lucky winner to win an e-copy of this fabulous book. Please enter here and good luck! I will be running more giveaways throughout Bookouture Christmas week so please stop by each day for your chance to win!

Please click on this link to Rafflecopter to go enter my giveaway!

Over the course of Bookouture Christmas week I’ll be posting reviews, Q&As, guest posts, extracts and giveaways all to do with these fabulous books!

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Extract, Int Giveaway: Christmas at Lilac Cottage by Holly Martin

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Today on my blog as #BookoutureChristmas continues, I have an extract of Holly Martin‘s first Christmas book of the season, Christmas at Lilac Cottage! I recently reviewed this book on my blog so if you’d like to read that the link is here! I absolutely loved the book though and highly recommend it! Make sure you keep reading to the end of this post as I have a fabulous competition offering you the chance to win an ebook copy of this very book!

Lilac Cottage

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Chapter 1

The timer went off on the oven and Penny quickly dropped her sketch book and grabbed her oven gloves. Opening the oven door released a waft of gorgeous, rich fruity smells into the kitchen, making Penny smile with excitement. The mince pies looked golden, crisp and perfectly done. She quickly transferred them to a wire rack to cool and gave the warm mulled wine a quick stir as it simmered on the hob.

She looked around at the green-leafed garlands that covered the fireplace and the white fairy lights that twinkled from in between the leaves, the lights that lined the windows also lending a sparkling glow to the room in the dullness of the late winter afternoon. She knew that next door, in the annexe, looked equally inviting now that she had spent hours decorating it in suitable festive attire ready for the new arrivals.

Everything was perfect and Penny couldn’t wait to meet them.

Henry and Daisy Travis had been referred to her by the agency in charge of finding tenants for her annexe. Although Penny would have preferred a single woman like her, the young couple came with great references and no children.

Not that she had an issue with children; she loved them. She had even thought at one point in her life that she might have some of her own but that had passed her by. She just wanted to make friends with people who were at the same point in their life as she was.

One by one all her friends had got married and had children and each time a new child in the town was born it seemed to add weight to her solitary existence. Everyone had someone to love and look after. Penny had a fat, lazy dog called Bernard. The loneliness inside her had grown recently to an almost tangible thing. Whenever people asked if she ever felt isolated up on the hill on her own, she always batted it away with a cheery smile and talk of how she never had time to feel that way with her job. And while it was true that her job as the town’s only ice carver did keep her very busy, she knew she took on a lot of work to try to distract her from how utterly alone she really felt.

She had always lived in Lilac Cottage and she could never imagine living anywhere else. The view over the town of White Cliff Bay and the rugged white coastline that lent the town its name was stunning; she could look at it for hours and never grow tired of it. But the hustle and bustle of the town was a good ten minutes’ drive from where she lived and, although she loved the remoteness of her home, she was starting to hate it too.

Renting the annexe out would be a good way to make some new friends and, even though they would still lead separate lives, Penny hoped they would be able to chat from time to time.

Penny checked her watch again, a nervous excitement pulsing through her. She had cooked lasagne for them and she hoped they could spend the night chatting over the wine and a good meal and really get to know each other.

It was going to be perfect and she couldn’t wait to start this next chapter of her life.

*

Henry slammed his hands on the steering wheel as another red light forced him to stop. In a town that was probably no more than a few miles long they seemed to have traffic lights on every corner and every single one of them had been red so far.

This had to be the worst moving day ever. The expression of you get what you pay for couldn’t be more true today. As the annexe he was moving into was fully furnished, he only needed a small van to bring his other belongings. He’d stupidly hired the cheapest company to move his stuff and now the van was sitting in White Cliff Beach in the furthest reaches of Yorkshire instead of White Cliff Bay in rural Devon.

And what was with the people in the town? They asked so many questions. Stopping for petrol in the town’s only petrol station, stopping at a supermarket, and then a café for lunch with Daisy, he had been accosted by about thirty different people who wanted his whole life story. Daisy was lovely and sweet and would chat to anyone and everyone, the complete opposite to him who just wanted to tell everyone to sod off and leave them alone.

Daisy was staying with his sister tonight, which was a good job too as he was in a foul mood. All he wanted now was to get to this house, unpack the few things he had brought with him and fall asleep in front of the TV or over a good book.

He just hoped that Penny Meadows, his landlady, wasn’t a talker. Living up on the hilltops all by herself and completely cut off from the town, he presumed she was some kind of hermit and liked to keep herself to herself. That suited him fine. He didn’t want to make friends, he didn’t want to chat to anyone. He just wanted to be left alone.

He turned onto the long driveway leading up to what he hoped was Lilac Cottage. He had got lost three times trying to find the blasted place and when he stopped to ask directions, people seemed to close ranks and send him the opposite way as if they were trying to keep the place hidden. As he drove over the crest of the hill he saw it. The house was a pale purple colour. He had presumed the name Lilac Cottage would come from nearby Lilac trees not the actual colour of the house. It looked like somewhere Barbie might live. With the lights twinkling happily in a multitude of colours from every tree, bush and fence surrounding the home, it just added to the sickeningly cutesy feel. Daisy would love it. He glared at the lights as if they were causing him great offence. Bloody Christmas. Humbug.

*

A silver Range Rover pulled up on Penny’s drive and she nearly cheered with excitement. She ran to the front door to greet her new tenants, but then held back for a few seconds. Yanking the door open before they’d even turned off the engine might seem a bit over-enthusiastic. She didn’t want to come across as too keen. She counted to ten, quickly, then opened the door. The man standing on her doorstep with light snowflakes swirling around him was… beautiful. He was so tall, she had to crane her neck to look him in the eyes, slate grey angry eyes hidden underneath long, dark eyelashes. He was muscular too. He had dark, stubbly hair and a deep frown that was marring his otherwise gorgeous features.

‘I’m Henry Travis.’

Penny supposed she should say something but annoyingly any coherent words seemed to elude her. His frown deepened some more at her inadequate silence and she finally found her voice.

‘Penny Meadows, pleased to meet you. Come in, I’ll show you your new home.’

She ushered him in but, as she looked out, Daisy was nowhere in sight. Maybe she was coming later. She closed the door and stepped back into her front room, which seemed so much smaller all of a sudden now Henry was filling it with his enormous size. She tried to get past him to lead him into the kitchen but he was too big to squeeze past. He stared down at her with confusion as she tried to slide through the tiny gap and then finally he stepped to one side.

She walked into the kitchen, feeling awkward and clumsy in his presence.

‘This is the connecting door,’ Penny said lamely, showing him the obviously connecting door. Next she’d be saying things like, ‘This is the door handle and this is the sofa.’

‘But we have our own separate front door, don’t we?’ Henry said.

‘Of course, but this will always be open so feel free to pop in any time.’

Henry’s scowl deepened so much she could barely see his eyes. He stepped through the door banging his head on the low door frame. He swore softly as he rubbed his head.

‘Oh god, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise it was that low.’

He glared at her as he stepped into his lounge. ‘Jeez, it’s tiny.’

Penny had always thought it was cute and cosy, but with his massive build the place looked like a doll house.

‘Erm… through there is your kitchen and your front door which leads out on to the back garden. So I suppose technically it’s your back door.’ She giggled, nervously, mentally slapping her forehead with how stupid she sounded. ‘Upstairs are the two bedrooms and the bathroom.’ Penny winced at how small the bathroom was going to be for Henry. He’d have to bend almost double to fit his head under the sloped roof of the shower.

He took two giant steps and ducked into the kitchen, shaking his head incredulously, probably at the size of it.

He looked back at Penny and must have seen the desperate hope in her eyes as his features softened slightly. ‘It’s lovely, and it’s only for a few months so I’m sure I can remember to duck when I walk between the rooms until we find somewhere bet… bigger.’

Penny’s face fell. ‘You’re not staying?’

Henry shook his head. ‘We have our name down for a house in the town. Rob at the agency said he thinks he will have somewhere by March or April at the latest. Did he not tell you this was short term?’

Penny swallowed down the disappointment and shook her head. She had been trying for months to rent out the annexe without any success and in the end left it in the hands of the agency and even they had struggled to fill it. Now it seemed that, in a few months, Henry and Daisy would be gone, leaving Penny all alone again.

She forced a smile on her face, determined to make those months count. ‘So I’ve put a bed in the second bedroom but if you wish to use it as a study or something else, then I can easily remove it.’

Henry looked at her as if she was stupid. ‘No, we’ll obviously be needing the second bed.’

Penny blinked. Maybe they had separate bedrooms. She knew lots of couples who slept apart for one reason or another. She could never imagine sleeping apart from her husband but then she didn’t have one of those so who was she to judge?

‘That’s fine. I, erm… made some mince pies and some mulled wine if you wanted to have something to eat before you unpack.’

‘No, I’d rather just get everything in before it gets dark. Most of my stuff won’t arrive until tomorrow, the bloody removal people got lost and ended up in a different part of the country.’

‘Oh how frustrating for you,’ Penny said. Maybe that explained the almost permanent frown. ‘Well, I can help you bring things in from the car and I’ve made a lasagne for later so if you didn’t fancy cooking, you and Daisy are more than welcome to come round later to share it with me.’

‘Daisy is staying with my sister tonight.’

‘Well, you can still come over…’ Penny trailed off. Was it inappropriate to share dinner with another woman’s husband? It was just dinner but the cosy night in with her new neighbours was suddenly turning into something a bit more intimate now it was just the two of them. Henry obviously thought so too as his eyebrows had shot up at her suggestion. ‘Or I can plate some up and bring it here for you to have on your own.’ There was something even sadder about that, both of them sitting in their separate kitchens eating by themselves.

‘I need to get unpacked tonight. Get it all out the way before all Daisy’s rubbish gets here. She could fill this whole annexe with all her junk so I better get my stuff put away first. I’ll probably just get a pizza and eat it whilst I work.’

Penny felt her shoulders slump in defeat, though she kept the bright smile plastered on her face. ‘Well, let me help you with all your boxes.’

‘I’d really rather…’

‘It won’t take too long with the two of us at it and as it’s starting to snow now, maybe the quicker we get it in the better.’

Henry reluctantly nodded. She followed him out to the car and couldn’t help her eyes wandering down to his bum before she tore them away. What was wrong with her? He was married.

She was disappointed that he hadn’t even glanced at the incredible view yet, the sun covering the waves with garlands of scarlet and gold. He opened the boot and grabbed a box, passing it to her. With the easy way he handled the box, she wasn’t expecting it to be so heavy, but the weight snatched the box out of her fingers and it tumbled to the floor, sending a pile of books over the gravel driveway.

‘Oh god, I’m so sorry.I didn’t realise it was so heavy.’

He stared at her incredulously. Penny sank to the floor and started scooping the books back up into the box, noticing wonderful delights from Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, James Lee Burke, classics from Dickens and Thomas Hardy intermingled with Tolkien, Dan Brown and Iain Banks. She loved a man who liked to read.

Henry sighed, softly. ‘Here, I’ll get these, you take this. It’s pillows so it should be a bit lighter for you.’

Penny took the box, unable to miss the sarcasm in Henry’s words. This wasn’t going well at all. She walked back into her house and into his lounge. She wondered where would be best to put the box that would be out of his way, but everywhere was going to be in his way, he filled the whole room. As it was pillows, she thought she could just put them straight upstairs for him. She turned and walked straight into him as he ducked into the room. She bounced off him, hit a plant on the shelf behind her and watched in horror as it fell to the floor, sending dirt cascading all over the cream carpet.

He rolled his eyes and sighed, heavily.

‘Oh crap, I’ll get my Hoover, I’ll clean it up.’

‘Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think it’s best if I just unpack myself. This place is small enough without the two of us banging into each other.’

‘Of course, sorry, I’m not really helping, am I? Let me just clean this up for you and—’

‘Just leave it.’ Henry was clearly trying to stay calm when he was well and truly pissed off.

Penny nodded, stepping back out into her own kitchen. ‘Well, feel free to cut through my house, it will probably be quicker—’

‘I think I’ll just use my own front door, start as we mean to go on.’

Disappointment slammed into her at that obvious statement of segregation.

‘Shall I run through a few things with you, how the oven works and—’

‘I’m sure I can work it out and I know where to find you if I get stuck.’ He forced a smile onto his face. ‘Thanks for your help, I’ll see you around some time.’

He closed the door between them and Penny stood staring at his shadow in the frosted glass.

She rolled his words around her head. ‘I’ll see you around some time.

She swallowed, sadly. Of course it was stupid of her to expect they might use the connecting door as their front door, that they would let themselves in through her kitchen and they’d chat over a cup of tea or dinner on a daily basis. They would have their own lives to lead. They had rented a property and that was it. Making friends with her was clearly not on the top of their to-do list, especially as they were planning on moving out soon.

She watched Henry look around the room and then he moved away. She heard the sound of furniture being dragged across the floor. The huge shadow of the bookcase was pulled in front of the door, blocking out all the light from the window and then it stopped, resting against the door. He clearly had no intention of ever using the connecting door, now or in the future. He had made a blockade to keep her out permanently. Penny felt the tears that sprang to her eyes at this gesture and she dashed them away angrily. She had been rejected.

*

Penny zipped up her jacket and walked into the cool room that was attached to the kitchen. The heating was on very low in here and she felt the cold envelop her straight away, but in her warm clothes she didn’t feel it too much on her body. It was only her face and hands that felt it.

She looked around her newly converted room; it was so much nicer and roomier to work in here than it was before. The room was large with the ice-block-making machines up one end that made the metre-long blocks of ice and there was a large space in the middle for her to work. The floor and walls were tiled to maintain the coolness of the room and for easy cleaning.

She opened up one of the block machines; the water was oscillating slowly inside to keep the ice pure and clear. The water was partly frozen at the bottom, the perfect time to add some of the decorations her clients had asked for. This particular one wanted fairy lights, interwoven with snowflakes. She placed the glittery snowflakes in a rough pattern in the middle of the block and weaved the fairy lights in between them, weighing them down so they didn’t float to the top of the water and taping the cable for the lights to the side. It looked magical and she knew it would look even more so once the piece was finished.

The walk-in freezer was up the other end and she opened the door. Several blocks stood along the back wall, waiting patiently to be turned from large ice cubes into masterpieces. Along the side were about ten sculptures that were finished and ready to go out.

She had been carving ice for about ten years and she never tired of seeing the finished pieces, never failed to feel proud of turning a block of ice into something beautiful. She even enjoyed creating her most commonly requested piece, the swan, which almost every wedding party asked for.

She grabbed one of the ice blocks, which was resting on a wheeled platform, and pulled it out into the cool room, closing the freezer door behind her. She snapped the brakes on the wheels and looked at her blank canvas.

This one was going to be a Christmas tree. She had already stuck the template on a few hours before, now she was going to carve it. She pulled on her gloves, slid her safety goggles over her eyes and picked up the die grinder to trace the outlines of the template. The thin drill bit on the end was the perfect tool to sketch out the design. She pressed very lightly because the main detail would come later.

She could lose herself for hours in here, spending time perfecting each curve, swirl, feather or leaf. When she was in here, the only thing that filled her mind was carving, chiselling, scraping, sawing and creating something intricate and beautiful. That was why she loved it so much, because there was no time to think about how the whole town of White Cliff Bay seemed to be moving forwards with their lives while Penny’s life had stagnated, frozen in time, there was no time to focus on her loneliness or that heartbreaking feeling that her loneliness was probably going to last a lifetime. She could get lost in a sculpture for hours and never have to think about these things. It was only when she stepped out of the cocoon of her cool room to warm up that the real world invaded her thoughts.

Having finished marking out the lines of the template, she picked up the chainsaw and started lopping off the big pieces she wouldn’t need. She wouldn’t think about Henry and his slate grey eyes and she wouldn’t think about how her loneliness had seemed to have inexplicably doubled since he had pushed the bookcase in front of the connecting door.

*

Henry hovered at Penny’s back door, unsure whether to knock or not. As he raised his hand to tap on the door, Penny stepped out from some room off the kitchen. She was wearing black waterproof trousers and a black jacket which clung to all her wonderful curves, making her look sexy as hell in it. She looked like she was about to get on a motorbike and drive off into the sunset. She pulled off a pair of workman’s boots and unzipped the jacket. He quickly looked away in case she was naked underneath. After a few seconds he chanced a very brief look back and was relieved to see she was wearing a tiny vest and, as the waterproof bottoms came off, he could see she was wearing black leggings underneath too. She hung the clothes up in a closet and pulled on a huge, oversized hoodie, obscuring that sexy body from view. Her conker brown hair that had cascaded in curls down her back earlier was pulled up in a messy ponytail. She looked dishevelled and messy and utterly adorable. Her green eyes looked sad and he wondered whether he’d put that look there or whether she always carried it with her.

He looked down at the white roses he was carrying and wondered whether it was too much. He didn’t want her to attach any romantic motives to the gesture.

Penny suddenly spotted him and he waved. She didn’t wave back; the cheery persona she had presented earlier had vanished, the sparkle in her green eyes had gone out. She visibly sighed and then came to open the door

Tiny flakes of snow swirled around them, settling on her eyelashes and in her hair. There was something about her that he felt drawn to. She was beautiful, there was no denying that, but there was much more to it than that.

Henry offered out the roses. ‘I wanted to apologise for my behaviour earlier. As moving days go, this had to be the worst. Even before I got here, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I was grumpy and tired and I’m sorry. I was wondering whether that offer of lasagne and mince pies was still open.’

Penny stared at him in confusion. ‘I, erm…’ She looked around as if an excuse would suddenly present itself. She didn’t want him there and he felt like an utter ass. He had a lot of making up to do. As she clearly couldn’t think of somewhere important that she had to be, she nodded reluctantly and stepped back to let him in.

He handed her the roses and she took them.

‘I see you moved the bookshelf,’ Penny said, trying and failing to keep her voice casual as if she didn’t care. He had hurt her with that too.

‘I can move it back, I just… I’ll move it back.’

‘No it’s fine, it’s your home, do what you want.’ She shrugged.

He hadn’t even thought what Penny would think about him blocking the door – of course she would be upset by that.

‘Listen, the last place we lived, we not only locked all the doors and windows at night, but we locked the bedroom doors too and I slept with a baseball bat under my bed. We moved here because it’s a better area, it’s better for Daisy. It’s just going to take a bit of getting used to that everyone is so friendly and helpful. I’m sorry if I upset you. I’ll move it back tonight.’

Penny stared down at the flowers and clearly softened. ‘I’ll put these in some water and make us some dinner.’

Henry breathed a sigh of relief.

‘Would you like a glass of mulled wine, while you wait?’ She filled a vase with water and plonked the roses in some haphazard arrangement.

‘Yes please, it smells wonderful,’ Henry said, sitting down at the large dining table. He watched her as she moved around the kitchen. There was something so captivating about her, he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

‘It’s my own recipe, I just sort of threw some ingredients together.’ Penny lit the hob under the saucepan and gave it a stir. ‘It’s sort of a Sangria and mulled wine mix. Red wine, rum, brandy, fruit juice, fruit, some spices.’

‘Sounds very potent.’

Penny laughed and he liked that he could see the warmth and spark back in her eyes.

‘Yeah, it might be. I haven’t tried it. At least neither of us are driving.’

A giant, deep red, shaggy beast ambled into the kitchen, sniffing at the lasagne that was warming in the oven. Henry laughed; he had never seen anything so ridiculous-looking in his entire life.

‘Wow, what breed is he?’

Penny laughed. ‘I don’t think even he knows. Half red setter, half English sheepdog, half Newfoundland maybe.’

‘That’s a lot of halves.’

‘I know. He thinks he’s a tiny lap-sized dog too, always climbs on my lap for a cuddle and then squashes me to death, he must weigh seven stone. Seriously, he could give pony rides to small children.’

‘He looks like a Muppet.’

‘Don’t say that, you’ll upset him, but yes I know. The vet says he has never seen any dog so red before and with his shaggy fur he does look as if he’s just walked off Sesame Street. Henry, meet Bernard. Bernard, this is Henry, our new neighbour.’

Bernard came and sniffed him with a vague interest. Clearly Henry met with Bernard’s approval as he sat on Henry’s feet demanding to be stroked. Henry stroked his head and rubbed his chest. He looked up to see Penny smiling at him and then she quickly looked away.

He watched as she poured two large glasses of the mulled wine concoction and brought them to the table. She passed Henry his glass.

‘Should we make a toast?’ she asked.

‘How about… to new beginnings.’

She stared at him and then smiled, chinking her glass against his.

*

His grey eyes were so intense, like he was studying her, searching for answers to some unanswered question. He took a sip without taking his eyes off hers and she noticed straight away that he didn’t have a wedding ring.

‘Thank you for decorating next door for Christmas by the way. Daisy will love it.’

‘My pleasure. I didn’t get you a tree. I guessed that you and Daisy would want to get one together.’

‘She’d like that, thank you.’ Henry smiled and Penny felt her heart leap. She had never been the sort of girl to fall in love with a smile before, but there was something about his smile that filled his whole face. He was married, she had to remember that.

She focussed her attention on Bernard for a moment so she wouldn’t have to look at the smile.

‘So what brings you to White Cliff Bay?’ Penny asked, taking a sip of the wine.

‘Work mainly. I have a job at the White Cliff Bay Furniture Company, starting after Christmas.’

Her eyes widened. ‘As a carpenter?’

He nodded. That at least explained the lack of a wedding ring; he worked with tools like she did and wearing jewellery could cause injury.

‘Wow, they are so selective about who they take on,’ Penny said. ‘I hear they have something like five hundred applicants every time they advertise. Isn’t there some crazy interview process?’

‘Yes, it kind of felt like The Generation Game with all these tasks that we had to do. We were showed once how to do a process and then had to replicate it within a certain time with the utmost quality and care. It was a whole day thing with the woodwork skills demonstration in the morning and a panel of seven interviewers grilling me for over two hours in the afternoon. I came out feeling like I had run a marathon.’

‘They only take on the very best so you clearly did something to impress them. It will be a huge feather in your cap if you ever decide to move on. Everyone knows how prestigious the company is.’

Henry took a big swig of the wine. ‘We don’t intend to move on. I hope to stay in White Cliff Bay for some time.’

The way he said that, staring right at her, sent shivers down her spine. Was he flirting with her? She shook that silly thought out of her head, taking a big gulp of the wine. It was spicy and fruity and, as Henry said, very potent.

She tried to tear her eyes away from Henry’s gaze but struggled to do so. She quickly turned away from the table to dish up the lasagne.

‘Have you always been a carpenter?’

‘Yes, I love it. There is something wonderful about creating something beautiful with your own hands. I’ve made and sold my own furniture but I’ve also made wooden jewellery and statues too. That’s more of a hobby, though, but it’s something I like to do in my spare time. I know I asked the agency about this, but they said you would be happy for me to use the shed as a sort of workshop?’

Penny nodded. ‘Yes, it’s huge and I only really use a small part of it. Feel free. I would love to see some of your jewellery and statues. My job is quite similar.’

‘What is it you do, Penny?’

‘I’m an ice carver.’

‘Oh, that’s cool. And do you get enough work in that line of business?’

She placed the plate of lasagne down in front of him and sat down to eat hers. ‘Do I get enough to pay for this place, you mean?’

Henry’s eyes widened slightly. ‘Sorry, that came across as very nosy, didn’t it? Ignore me. I hate it when people ask me about my work and my money. It’s absolutely none of my business.’

‘The house belonged to my parents, I grew up here, but they emigrated to Italy several years ago and left the house to me and my brother. He lives in the next town and I bought him out of his half of the house. I’m the only ice carver for miles and there are weddings every weekend, business functions, parties. I have to turn down many jobs because I just don’t have enough time to do them. It pays very well.’

Henry looked surprised but she’d got used to those comments by now; no one took her job very seriously and certainly didn’t believe that she could support herself on it.

‘And, erm… is there a Mr Meadows?’

Penny stabbed a piece of pasta with her fork. Why did people assume that she needed a man to keep her happy? She was perfectly fine on her own.

‘I’m presuming by the way you are murdering that piece of lasagne that I’ve stepped on a sore nerve there. My apologies.’

Penny smiled as she looked at the massacred piece of lasagne.

‘I only asked because that hoodie looks way too big to belong to you,’ Henry said.

‘I just like big jumpers or hoodies. They’re comfortable. There isn’t a Mr Meadows, there never has been. Everyone in the town says I should be married with babies by now so it gets a bit wearing. I… I’ve had my heart broken in the past and I guess I’m wary of falling in love again.’

She stared at her dinner in horror. Why did she feel the need to divulge that to him? She barely knew the man. How much wine had she drunk to loosen her tongue that much? It wasn’t even true. She wasn’t not with someone because she was scared of falling in love again, she was just happier on her own. It was easier this way. She took the last sip of wine in her glass and went to the stove to pour herself some more.

‘So you’ll have to go to the Christmas Eve ball now you’re a resident of White Cliff Bay,’ Penny said, desperately trying to change the subject. ‘Daisy will love it, there’s music and fine food and dancing, there’s also a big ice carving competition there this year.’

‘I’m not sure a ball is really my sort of thing. I’m too big to dance gracefully.’

‘Everyone goes, you have to go. It’ll be a great way for you to meet people and I’m sure Daisy will be upset if you don’t take her.’

Henry still seemed undecided.

‘It’s for charity, you sort of have to go.’

He smiled at her again and she cursed herself for reacting like a silly schoolgirl with a crush.

‘Well, if it’s for charity then I can’t say no, can I?’

Penny grinned and shook her head. Noticing he had finished his lasagne, she stood up and took his plate to the sink. ‘Shall we go into the front room? It’s a bit cosier.’

What was she doing? She didn’t need to get cosier with this beautiful man, with this beautiful married man. But Henry was already standing up and moving in there, taking his new best friend Bernard with him.

She watched him go. She could do this, be in the same room with a man she was insanely attracted to without launching herself at him. A giggle burst from her throat at this thought. She had never launched herself at anyone in her entire life; it was unlikely she was going to start now. She was rubbish when it came to approaching men or even talking to them. Henry was easy to talk to. Although she was attracted to him, being married meant he was safe and she had spoken more to him tonight than she had to almost any man recently. She would just enjoy his company tonight and hopefully tomorrow she could pick up in the same place with his wife too.

She plated up two mince pies and followed him. She stopped when she saw him on all fours in front of the fireplace trying to light the fire. Good lord, his arse was a sight to behold. She couldn’t help but stare at it as he wiggled it around setting twigs and papers in between the bigger logs.

Bernard seemed transfixed by his arse too and she quickly grabbed his collar before he decided that humping Henry was a good idea. She had almost forgotten that Bernard liked to hump most of the guests who came to the house. She didn’t get too many visitors up here, but poor Jill, her cleaning lady, had been humped several times over the years, especially when she got on all fours to dust or clean. Bernard thought the whole thing was clearly a game and the more his victims tried to wiggle or escape, the more Bernard clung on for dear life, like he was riding a bucking bronco.

‘Bed!’ Penny said, pointing to Bernard’s basket. Bernard seemed to sigh theatrically at having his fun thwarted. ‘Bed, now.’ Bernard slunk off with disappointment and climbed into his basket.

‘Erm, that’s a very nice offer, but we’ve only just met,’ Henry said and then laughed as he watched her flush.

She sat down on the sofa and to her surprise he sat down next to her. There were three other chairs that he could have sat in but he chose to sit next to her. She wanted to get up and move away from him but that would have appeared rude. His smell was intoxicating, sweet but spicy like cinnamon, zest and cloves. He smelt of Christmas, of the pomanders she used to make with her parents when she was younger and hang over the fire. She wanted to press her nose to his neck and breathe him in.

He didn’t say anything, he just stared at her like a starved man would stare at steak.

He suddenly leaned forward and brushed his finger across her cheek. Electricity sparked through her at the softest of touches and she leapt back away from him.

Henry’s eyes widened in horror. ‘I’m so sorry, I’m not normally this creepy, I promise. I don’t normally go round touching strange women. You had sauce on your cheek, I was just wiping it off. With hindsight I probably should have just told you.’ He stared down at his wine. ‘What did you put in this thing? It’s gone straight to my head.’

Penny tried to find her voice, to try to say something to put him at ease, but she could still feel his touch on her cheek. Had it really been that long since she was touched by a man that her body reacted this insanely over a simple graze of her cheek?

She cleared her throat. ‘I didn’t think it was creepy.’

‘You didn’t?’

‘A bit inappropriate maybe but not creepy.’

‘Very inappropriate, I’m sorry.’

Silence descended and sparks seemed to crackle between them like the flames in the fireplace.

Penny passed him a mince pie, suddenly feeling nervous around him for the first time that night. He took it and bit into it, obviously still embarrassed by his overly tactile moment earlier.

‘Mmm, this is delicious. I’m so rubbish at making mince pies, I just can’t seem to get them right.’ He took another bite and moaned softly with pleasure. ‘So tell me more about this ball, will I have to wear a suit?’

She was relieved to move the topic back onto safer ground, although the sudden vision of Henry in a suit was doing nothing to stop these inappropriate thoughts from swirling around her head.

‘Erm, yes, everyone gets dressed up in their best clothes.’

Henry pulled a face.

‘I’m sure you’ll look very sexy in a suit.’ Good lord, what had she put in the mulled wine, some kind of truth serum? His eyebrows shot up, the mince pie frozen halfway to his mouth. ‘I’m sorry, I’m rubbish around men, I really am. I’m trying to say things to you that I’d say to my girlfriends. “Oh you’d look beautiful in that dress, those shoes look so good on you.” Please don’t take it the wrong way, I’m not chatting you up.’

He resumed eating his pie and Penny was surprised to see what looked like a brief flash of disappointment cross his face, but then it was gone.

She took a sip of the wine.

‘What charity is it for?’

‘It changes every year. This year we’re raising money for research into miscarriages, stillbirths and premature babies.’

‘That sounds like a very worthy cause. My sister, Anna, miscarried, I know how utterly heartbreaking it can be. She just has her second child, but I don’t think the pain of it ever really goes away.’

She stared at him, a huge lump forming in her throat. He understood. He stared right back, narrowing his eyes slightly. When he spoke his voice was soft. ‘I’m guessing you’ve lost a baby too.’

She swallowed. ‘You’re very astute. It was a long time ago, eight years in fact. I was only twenty-one.’ It had been a long time since she had spoken about it too but he seemed to command so much honesty from her. ‘You’re very easy to talk to. I never talk about this with anyone. Chris and I had only been going out for three or four months but I just knew that he was my happy ever after, that we were going to be together forever. Then I fell pregnant. He didn’t want to keep it, he wanted to travel the world, not be tied down by a baby. But there was no way I could get rid of it; from the moment that I found out, I loved that baby with everything I had. I was nearly four months when I lost it. Chris was so relieved, he practically cheered when I told him. I couldn’t stop crying, for the baby, for his reaction to it. He left me a few days later. I was heartbroken.’

‘I’m so sorry.’

‘It’s fine. Well, it’s not but it was a very long time ago. And looking back now, I’m so glad we never stayed together. He was wrong for me in every way. I cannot even begin to imagine raising a child with him. He was an ass. So maybe in some horrible way it was for the best.’

‘I went through a similar thing myself when I was sixteen, got my girlfriend pregnant. She was horrified, kept saying that she wanted an abortion, that the baby would ruin her life. I couldn’t bear the thought of that – this was my child and I couldn’t believe that she hated this baby so much when it hadn’t even been born. Thankfully her parents were Catholic and wouldn’t let her have an abortion but they blamed me entirely and I wasn’t allowed anywhere near her. They moved away and said the baby was going to be put up for adoption. I was absolutely gutted. I suppose I should have been relieved, a drunken fumble that turned into a pregnancy, I was sixteen years old with my whole life in front of me and her parents were giving me a way out, but I never saw it like that. I never saw my girlfriend again. Last I heard she ran away to Australia not long after the baby was born.’

Penny stared at him in horror. Was it worse that Penny had lost her baby or that Henry had a baby somewhere that he wasn’t allowed to see? ‘What happened to your baby?’

Just then Bernard leapt up from his position at the window and started barking furiously at something unseen outside.

Henry quickly moved to the front door as if he was ready to take on the world. She giggled at his over-protectiveness as he flung the door open and Bernard ran out into the night.

‘It’s just rabbits, Bernard hates them.’

She followed Henry to the door as he stood on the doorstep with his fists clenched, scanning the darkness for any threat. Bernard was sniffing round the rabbit holes, clawing at the grass with his big paws, with the obvious hope that one day one of the rabbits would run straight out the hole and into his mouth.

Clearly seeing that there was no one waiting outside ready to kill them, Henry turned back and banged into her, nearly sending her flying. His hands shot out and grabbed her arms. She looked up at him, silhouetted against the night sky, tiny flakes of snow fluttering around him like icing sugar, his sweet, spicy scent washing over her as he was standing so close. She had bared her soul to this man tonight and, for the first time in a very long time, she wanted nothing more than to reach up and kiss him. Weirdly enough he looked like he wanted the same thing, as his eyes darkened with desire and then scanned down to her lips. What the hell? He was married. It was bad enough that she was having inappropriate thoughts about a married man; it was absolutely not OK for him to be having those same thoughts about her.

She took a definite step back. ‘Well, it’s getting late and I have to be up early tomorrow so maybe you should go.’

He stared down at her with confusion and she knew she had been sending some very mixed messages that night.

‘Yes, of course. I’ll let you get to bed,’ he said, softly.

‘And I look forward to meeting Daisy tomorrow,’ Penny said, waiting for the guilt to cross his face at the mention of his wife. But there was no remorse there at all. He just nodded, walked through her kitchen and out the back door, not giving her a single backward glance.

She breathed in the cool night air, determined to clear her mind, then called Bernard in. He ran in, shook wet snowflakes all over her and then launched himself at the sofa where they had been sitting just moments before. She sighed and went into the kitchen.

How unfair was it that the first man in years that she’d had any kind of feelings for was beautiful, intriguing, intelligent, worked with his hands, kind and … married?

She was better off alone – that had been her mantra for the last eight years and she was sticking to it.

She jolted at a sudden noise from next door and she watched as the bookshelf was pushed away from the connecting door. He’d done that for her and she wanted to hug him and shake him in equal measure. He was married and it seemed he needed reminding of that even more than she did.

Daisy would be back tomorrow; hopefully that would stop any of that chemistry that was sparking between them.

*

Henry turned the downstairs light off and wandered upstairs to bed. There was something so attractive about Penny. Even wearing that oversized hoodie over black leggings and her hair pulled up in a messy ponytail, she looked adorable. She was fascinating too, he could have chatted to her all night. But she didn’t seem to know what she wanted. Flirting with him one moment and completely back-pedalling the next. He didn’t need another complicated woman in his life, Daisy was his entire world. But as he lay down in bed, it was Penny’s smile and those intense green gold eyes that he thought of before he drifted off to sleep.


Blurb copy

Welcome to the charming seaside town of White Cliff Bay, where Christmas is magical and love is in the air…

Penny Meadows loves her home – a cosy cottage decorated with pretty twinkling fairy lights and stunning views over the town of White Cliff Bay. She also loves her job as an ice-carver, creating breathtaking sculptures. Yet her personal life seems frozen.

When Henry and daughter Daisy arrive at the cottage to rent the annex, Penny is determined to make them feel welcome. But while Daisy is friendly, Henry seems guarded.

As Penny gets to know Henry, she realises there is more to him than meets the eye. And the connection between them is too strong to ignore …

While the spirit of the season sprinkles its magic over the seaside town and preparations for the ice sculpting competition and Christmas eve ball are in full swing, can Penny melt the ice and allow love in her heart? And will this finally be the perfect Christmas she’s been dreaming of?

Like a creamy hot chocolate with marshmallows, you won’t want to put this deliciously heartwarming novel down.

Spend the perfect Christmas in White Cliff Bay this year.

Christmas at Lilac Cove is out now and available from Amazon.


Author Bio copy

Holly_Martin_author

Holly Martin

Holly emerged onto the Chick Lit scene by winning the Belinda Jones Travel Club short story competition – and has not looked back since.

Her adult fiction debut, The Guestbook, hit number 5 in the Amazon chart and she has now written three books with Bookouture: Fairytale Beginnings, Christmas at Lilac Cottage and Snowflakes at Silver Cove.

www.hollymartinwriter.wordpress.com


XMAS BC GIVEAWAY copy

Bookouture have very kindly allowed me to run an international giveaway for one lucky winner to win an e-copy of this fabulous book. Please enter here and good luck! I will be running more giveaways throughout Bookouture Christmas week so please stop by each day for your chance to win!

Please click this link to Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway for your chance to win an copy of Christmas at Lilac Cottage!

Over the course of Bookouture Christmas week I’ll be posting reviews, Q&As, guest posts, extracts and giveaways all to do with these fabulous books!

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Review & Int Giveaway: One Wish in Manhattan by Mandy Baggot

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Today I have a review of Mandy Baggot‘s fabulous One Wish in Manhattan as part of Bookouture Christmas! Don’t forget to read the whole post as there is a chance for you to win an e-copy of this book!

One Wish in Manhattan

I knew I was going to love this book from the very first page, it just drew me straight in and never let me go. It was completely and utterly wonderful!

Hayley and her daughter Angel go to New York, supposedly on holiday but Hayley really intends to try and find Angel’s father. They stay with Hayley’s brother Dean. On their first night in New York Hayley meets a very attractive stranger and life becomes a lot more fun, and a lot more complicated.

I loved Hayley and Angel’s relationship, the bond between them and the way they were with each other felt so realistic and lovely. They seemed like real people to me from the very beginning and I was quite sad when I finished the book and had to leave them behind. I miss them already!

I couldn’t help but see parallels between this book and one of my favourite classic Christmas books – A Christmas Carol. Oliver is a hard-nosed business man, he’s self-centred and doesn’t like form to form relationships with women. In his work environment he doesn’t know the name of many of his colleagues and it becomes apparent that a lot of his staff are quite wary around him. Clara, his assistant, is a great character, she’s strong-willed and says what she thinks to Oliver. She’s the Jacob Marley character, except she does make her feelings clear and isn’t fearful of her boss. Having said that, Clara’s home life could be considered a teeny bit like the Jacob’s.

Oliver’s father and brother have recently died and he believes that he is about to die of the same heart defect that kills them. Each time he has a collapse and the closer he gets to Hayley the more he begins to thaw. She is like the ghost of Christmas present, showing him what he could have if he just lets her into his life. HIs father and brother are ghosts of Christmas past, and his belief that he will die soon and alone is his potential future because it is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy if he doesn’t slow down a bit at work. Hayley and Angel show Oliver that life can be completely different if he just relaxes the tight reins a little bit. The way Oliver’s character develops throughout the novel is rather Scrooge-like!

This book is not a re-telling of A Christmas Carol but the parallels between the two books made my enjoyment factor even higher, and now this brand new book has won me over and will take its place beside an old favourite in Christmases to come, and what can be better than that for a book lover? All of this combined with One Wish in Manhattan being about Christmas in New York, which is one of those experiences that always seems magical and beautiful, make this book sheer perfection!

Christmas is a part of this novel from beginning to end and I adored that. I loved how, from the minute they arrived in New York Hayley and Angel kept stopping and saying how whatever they were doing was another reason why Christmas is better there. It kept the Christmas spirit all the way through!

I rated this book 10 out of 10 and highly recommend that this book makes your Christmas reads list this year!

One Wish in Manhattan is out now and available from Amazon.


Blurb copy

Christmas: it’s the most wonderful time of the year … to fall in love
The temperature is dropping, snow is on its way and Hayley Walker is heading for New York with one wish … to start over.

With her daughter Angel, Hayley is ready for adventure. But there’s more to New York than twinkly lights and breathtaking skyscrapers. Angel has her own Christmas wish – to find her real dad.

While Hayley tries to fulfil her daughter’s wish, she crosses paths with billionaire Oliver Drummond. Restless and bored with fast living, there’s something intriguing about him that has Hayley hooked.

Can Hayley dare to think her own dreams might come true – could A New York Christmas turn into a New York Forever?

Travel to the Big Apple this Christmas and join Hayley and Oliver as they realise life isn’t just about filling the minutes … it’s about making every moment count.


Author Bio copy

Mandy-Baggot-author

Mandy Baggot 

Mandy Baggot is an award-winning author of romantic women’s fiction and a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. A contributor to writing blogs and short story anthologies, she is also a regular speaker at literary festivals, events and women’s networking groups.

Mandy loves mashed potato, white wine, country music, Corfu and handbags. She has appeared on ITV1’s Who Dares Sings and auditioned for The X-Factor and lives in Wiltshire, UK with her husband, two children and cats Kravitz and Springsteen.

www.mandybaggot.com


XMAS BC GIVEAWAY copy

Bookouture have very kindly allowed me to run an international giveaway for one lucky winner to win an e-copy of this fabulous book. Please enter here and good luck! I will be running more giveaways throughout Bookouture Christmas week so please stop by each day for your chance to win!

Please click on this link to Rafflecopter to enter for your chance to win!

Over the course of Bookouture Christmas week I’ll be posting reviews, Q&As, guest posts, extracts and giveaways all to do with these fabulous books!

BC BOOKS BANNER (MINE) copy

Guest Post, Extract & Int Giveaway: Bella’s Christmas Bake Off by Sue Watson

#BC banner

Today is the first day of Bookouture Christmas I am very lucky to have a guest post from none other than Sue Watson, whose fabulous new book, Bella’s Christmas Bake Off, is out today! As today is publication day it seemed a perfect chance for to Sue to share  how she celebrates this special day.

Over to you Sue…

Guest Post banner copy

I wish I could tell you that on publication days I am drenched in champagne and Ryan Gosling takes me out and toasts me with champers to celebrate the release of my latest tome. Sadly that’s not the case because by the time publication day comes around I’m already writing the next book and busy at my desk… alone (which is why Ryan doesn’t take me to lunch…and it’s the ONLY reason).

When Bella’s Christmas Bake Off emerges golden and warm from the Bookouture oven on 22nd October I will probably celebrate with a cup of coffee, a slice of cake, and get back to writing the next book. Once everyone’s home from school and work I do receive cards and pressies and as this will be my seventh novel we have developed some ‘publication Day’ traditions. My husband always gives me flowers and a bottle of my favourite fizzy pink stuff and my daughter gives me a box of ‘book day Maltesers,’ which are my favourite (but you have to eat them by the box, bags are for wimps).

On the evening of the release on 22nd October – by coincidence – I happen to be giving a talk at ‘Mim’s Book Club in Cannock, Staffordshire. If you don’t live too far away everyone is welcome, coffee and cake is available and it doesn’t cost anything to come along. I will be talking about my life as a BBC Producer, how I became a writer and I’ll also be signing copies of my books. Then and only then, will Ryan Gosling turn up and take me out for a champagne dinner to celebrate the release of Bella’s Christmas Bake Off!

Thank you so much Sue! And a VERY happy publication day to you once again!


bella's christmas bake off

And here is the very first chapter of Sue’s brand new book Bella’s Christmas Bake Off for you all to read now! Keep reading to the end as there is a wonderful International giveaway giving you the opportunity to win a copy of this very ebook!

Extract Banner copy

Chapter One

Naughty Custard and Severely Whipped Cream

I was icing the Christmas cake when he told me.

‘Amy…I have to talk to you,’ he said.

I lifted the palette knife to create a snowy effect on the soft, mallow frosting and stood back, then turned to him.

‘What?’ I was gazing at my beautiful frosty white cake. ‘Silent Night’ played on the iPod, and it was just three weeks before Christmas. I glanced up at Neil standing next to me, and the look in his eyes scared me so much I put down the palette knife.

‘What is it? Are you ill…has something happened?’

He nodded, slowly, his eyes still cold, like they belonged to someone else.

‘I was going to leave it until after Christmas to tell you, but I’ve…I can’t go on like this. Amy, I’m sorry but it feels like a charade to go through the whole Christmas thing and…I’ve met someone.’ He was standing in front of me now, making eye contact, ensuring the message was clear and there was no room for misunderstanding. My mind went blank. The pink tie I’d bought for him was loosened at his neck. He’d just come home from work.There were pork chops in the oven.

‘Is this a joke?’ There were no words for this. I’d sometimes imagined a scene where we parted, but it was usually the other way round and me telling him I was going. I wasn’t ready for this, now –ever.

‘Why?’

‘Because I can’t live a lie any longer, Amy,’ he said, his speech obviously well prepared, learned by heart. I could see by his set jaw and steady gaze he was damn well going to say every word without interruption from me.

‘You’ve been so busy with work, you’ve got your friends and your life and I feel like there’s no room for me…’ he started.

‘Oh no, Neil. You sleeping with someone else is not my fault, so don’t even try to pull that one,’ I snapped, moving swiftly from shock to anger, aware I was spitting in his face– not pretty…or festive.

‘I’m sorry, I’m not blaming you, but I just…I want to be with her. She loves me, she cares what happens to me, asks me about my day…I’m sorry, Amy…’ He stood there, ashen-faced.

‘So after twenty years you’re just walking out on your marriage because some other woman asks if you’ve had a nice day?’ I was becoming irrational, but who could blame me? ‘Perhaps I should have made more like an American waitress and said ‘have a nice day,’ when I ‘served’ you your evening meal.’

The panic was rising in my chest, I couldn’t deal with people leaving, the thought of being on my own scared me. Things hadn’t been great for a long time between us, but he didn’t have to go and throw it all away– not now, just weeks before Christmas. I glanced through the living room door at the Christmas tree, the lights twinkling, gifts from relatives and friends already underneath.This was a time for being together, for rekindling love and family, not abandoning it.

‘I don’t understand?’ I asked, trying to calm down and not to bare my teeth like a wild animal. I didn’t know how I felt about Neil, but I wasn’t ready for this and I didn’t want him storming off into the night and leaving me alone. I needed to keep everything on an even keel, especially myself.  ‘I know we’ve had our problems Neil, but all marriages have problems, we just have to work at them.’

‘That’s what I thought too, but…she’s special.’

‘Special? More “special” than the woman you married, who you’ve been with for over twenty years,’ I snapped, losing any chance of staying calm at this.

‘No…of course you’re special too, but we both want different things, Amy.’

‘Yeah, you want someone else.’

‘It’s not like that…I care about her.’

So this really was it? After several years of our relationship hanging by a thread, one of us had finally decided to do something to end it, but now it was finally here I felt sick. I was about to throw up, but swallowed hard to prevent it. Whatever I might think about him, I didn’t want my husband’s last moments with me to be infused with the sight and smell of me vomiting noisily in the kitchen.

‘Who is she?’ I heard myself croak.

‘Someone at work, she works in the Legal department…you don’t know her.’

‘Well I do now, don’t I?’I started. ‘Because it looks like this woman who I “don’t know”has been playing quite a big part in my life without me even realising …’

He just stood there with his head down like I was reprimanding him. He reminded me of one of the teenagers I taught at school who’d been found smoking or downloading porn on their iPhone.

‘Neil, the kids will be home from Uni in three weeks…and I made a cake…’ I gestured towards the snow-topped, perfectly iced confection like it would make a difference to his planned departure. Three minutes ago this beautiful fruit cake had, along with the Christmas Tree, been the centre and beginning of my pre-Christmas world. We both stared at the cake as though it held the answers and if we stared for long enough all the bad things would go away. But they didn’t, and when I looked back, the eyes staring out of my husband’s face were a stranger’s eyes.

‘When are you going?’ I asked, trying to bring myself round.

He shrugged, ‘Tomorrow…?’

I suddenly couldn’t bear another minute of this and as another wave of anger engulfed me, I called his bluff. ‘How about now? Go now,’ I said.

‘You think I should go now?’ He looked almost relieved, which hurt and angered me even more.

‘You can’t wait to leave, can you?’ I spat incredulously.

‘No, no… I don’t want to upset you…neither does Jayne; she’s so upset and feels terrible about everything.’

That did it.

‘Oh poor, poor Jayne is upset? Why didn’t you say? You must go to her, how selfish I am thinking only of me when she’s the one who’s devastated…I feel awful for keeping you.’

He made an awkward move towards me and I picked up the palette knife in a threatening manner like I’d seen crazy people do in crime dramas on TV. In that moment, with the panic rising in my chest, I felt just as mad as those wild murdering types, slashing around with a cleaver. It was just as well my weapon of choice was only a round-edged, blunt decorating tool and not a big, sharp chef’s knife,especially when I started waving it at himaggressively.

He edged back along the kitchen wall like the wimp he was, flinching as I punctuated my harmless but dramatic palette waving with swearing and ridiculous threats.I couldn’t stop and the more he cowered, the more I flailed my ‘weapon’ around while starting on a detailed personality assassination. As therapeutic as this was,I had to stop because I was reaching volcanic levels and could feel a panic attack coming on. I stood back, put down the knife and leaned against the kitchen unit to get my breath back. Just as I put my head in my hands and he thought I wasn’t looking, the little coward made a bid for freedom. He weaselled his way out of the kitchen and ran upstairs to pack his pyjamas and toothbrush, without even asking if I was okay.

‘I could have died,’ I yelled at him as I heard his tentative steps on the stair carpet before he put his head round the door like a rabbit in the headlights.

‘I’m going to go now, because I think you need to calm down and me being here might just make things worse,’ he said, like he was dealing with a petulant child.

Too late. I had a brown paper bag over my mouth (which I always kept at hand in the event of a panic attack) whilst continuing to ladle a thick layer of snowy frosting on the cake on auto-pilot like a woman possessed. In my state of shock all I heard was him mutter something about calling me ‘tomorrow’, and as he walked out of the front door I cracked, picked up the cake and blindly chased him down the hall. Halfway down the drive he turned back and I saw the fear in his eyes as he spotted my frosty confection coming straight for his head accompanied by my season’s greetings;  ‘Happy bloody Christmas’, I screechedalong with other non-festive expletives I would rather not repeat. He ducked of course, but as the cake frisbeed past him and across the street the whole thing was witnessed by Alfie Mathews, the son of my neighbour, who also happened to be a pupil of mine. There was frosty icing everywhere, a large cake sliding down the garden wall, me standing in the doorwayscreaming like the madwoman in the attic …and one of my pupils filming the whole spectacle on his mobile.

It was all very surreal and I was so distressed and disorientated I couldn’t face tackling the film-maker sojust staggered back indoors.

Once inside I slammed the door, sat down on a chair, and marvelled at how in less than thirty minutes my life had melted like snow in hot hands. Everything I thought I had, everything I’d thought I was,had gone in a whirlwind…along with the now smashed Christmas cake.

Eventually, I stirred and picked up the TV remote without moving from my seat in the kitchen, and turned on the TV.

‘Ooh you have to have squidgy ones,’ the voice purred from the screen on the wall. Neil had put it up there a couple of years ago because I liked to watch cookery shows in the kitchen, particularly Bella Bradley’s shows, and the ‘squidgy ones’ to which she was now referring were chocolate brownies, which as always looked perfect – but then she had no need to throw them at anyone did she? I stared at the screen numbly. It seemed as though as my life was collapsing, while Bella’s was going from strength to strength. Each year she and her lovely home seemed to be glossier, more expensive, her Christmas cakes more ornate, her tree taller. Bella’s eyes glittered from her fairy lit kitchen, colour matched in red and green with a hint of classy sparkle. The long dark hair, luscious red lips and happy marriage made her look at least ten years younger than she was and despite loving her show I couldn’t help but sometimes feel a twinge of resentment. I wished my life had been as glamorous and successful as Bella’s and felt the envy and regret even more keenly after what had just happened. I found vague comfort in watching Bella add mixed spice to a bowl, stirring vigorously, causing the reindeers on her tight red ski jumper to frolic across her full bosom. I wondered for the millionth time what it would be like to have Bella’s Christmas, her marriage – her life.

What made the contrast in our very different lives so painful was that Bella Bradley used to be my best friend. We’d once shared everything, from secrets to perfume to clothes, we’d been best friends from our first day at school and watching her now on screen I found it hard to reconcile this well-groomed, accomplished woman with the crazy, funny friend I used to love. When we were kids Bella was the one who took risks while I stood on the sidelines watching in awe, and sometimes horror, while she got herself into the most horrific scrapes. Throughout her school days she had been involved in smoking, playing truant, swearing and writing obscene words on the gym wall – yet still she seemed to charm her way out of it all. I didn’t have her charisma or her daring; I suppose that’s why Bella’s a TV star and I’m a maths teacher, I thought, absently watching her whisk up a batch of chocolate brownies with the kind of noises one would associate with an orgasm.

‘Ooh that’s very, very naughty,’ she was saying, her eyes looking into the camera, a tight close-up of just her tongue licking chocolate-covered fingers I assumed were her own. Mind you, from the sounds she was making one had to wonder if her delicious husband was somewhere off camera reaching into her red-lipsticked mouth. Who knew what was going on behind that soon to be batch of warm bad boys?

Just thinking about Bella’s husband reminded me of my own, or sudden lack of – making my stomach churn. I tried to shake the thought of Neil having sex with another woman from my head while pacing around the house, wondering what to do, asking myself so many questions. Had I known, or at least suspectedhe was having an affair? Had I become lazy and complacent, not necessarily wanting Neil around, but not brave enough to make any changes? There were times when I’d doubted if Neil and I would make ‘forever’, but they were just blips weren’t they? Didn’t everyone go through times when they wondered if they’d married the right person? You just got on with it, which is why I was so surprised to find myself suddenly single. I wandered into the living room and stared at the Christmas tree I’d put up the previous week. It had been decorated with hope and anticipation for the season ahead. I’d hung each bauble imagining the four of us sitting round a glistening turkey on Christmas day lit by the glow of that tree. But looking at it now, days later, I felt nothing–just sad and disappointed.

It was an ancient white tree, and even the sparkly white fairy now looked less like a sparkly young girl and more like Miss Haversham, the ageing bride whose groom had left her on her wedding day.

I couldn’t take it in, I looked at the sad fairy seeing myself reflected back – Neil had gone and my Christmas was over before it had begun. Then my eye caught the icy blue bauble we’d bought together on a trip to Paris one Christmas. Carefully plucking the bauble from the tree I held it, feeling the cool Christmas roundness in my palm. There was a raised hand-painted picture of a glittery, snow-covered Eiffel Tower, a lovely memory I hung every year and went straight back to the French Christmas market where we’d bought it. Holding the bauble, watching it sparkle,I was on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées,more than twenty years before, a cold wind was swinging the lights on the stall and heavy rain splashed our faces. Neil and I had been so young and in love back then we only saweach other in the twinkle of fairylights in the rain. It was bustling with noise, festive music played and the air was heady with Christmas as we held hands and chose our special souvenir of our first holiday together. I was eighteen. Looking into the bauble now, watching the glitter change from white to pink to blue as I twirled it I felt sad for what we’d lost. Then I remembered with a jolt how later on that evening we’d argued about something trivial and Neil stormed out of the hotel. He came back very late and quite drunk and I cried all night while he slept soundly next to me. We barely spoke to each other all the next day, despite it being Christmas Day, and my dreams of Christmas in Paris floated off down the Seine. Funny how I’d forgotten about that, perhaps Neil’s leaving had made me more cynical, more aware of what we were, and not what I’d wanted us to be? I should have known then we wouldn’t last; if a couple fall out in the city of love on Christmas Eve then cupid’s trying to tell them something. We were such different people, Neil and I, and in those early days I’d naively thought he would change, but he never did.

I thought of all the Christmas Eves since then that the kids and I had waited for him to come home.They always wanted to wait for Daddy, but he was usually ‘caught up at the office,’ and I was so busy making Christmas for them I didn’t have the time or the energy to worry where he was. I did everything without him, not just Christmas,  but days out, barbecues in the garden, even parents’ evenings – it was usually just me and the kids. I lived like a single mum, with Neil working away, late at the office or on a golf course somewhere (though there were times I queried his ‘night golf’ sessions, which went on way too late for my liking). Suddenly, it dawned on me, perhaps he wasn’t busy or golfing – perhaps he just didn’t want to come home to me? While I was imagining pitch black golf courses and heavy late night meetings he was ‘going home’ to Jayne from the legal department. As my thoughts drifted back over my marriage to Neil, I realised I had stripped the Christmas tree until it was bare and everything was packed away. All trace of Christmas gone.

I was now alone, I had no husband and all I could think was ‘How will I tell the kids?’ My only consolation was that the twins were now both away at their respective universities and though the break-up of their parents’ marriage would hurt, it wouldn’t impact on their lives as it might have when they were younger. Resentment rose in my chest and I was glad Neil wasn’t there with me because I had a whole block of kitchen knives and who knew what might have happened? Neil and I didn’t have an idyllic marriage, we didn’t ravish each other passionately every night of the week, life got in the way. Neil needed new friends, sparkly objects and flashing lights in his life – whereas I was happy with the status quo and a nice cup of tea.

I returned to the kitchen, my Christmas was over, but Bella was still on the TV creating a Christmas heaven in her home.

‘People laugh when I put bananas in my trifle,’ she was saying, making her eyes wide, her mouth forming a soft O. ‘But I implore you, if you do nothing else this Christmas –have a go with a big banana.’ This was breathed into the lens rather than actually spoken, and was pure cooking porn. ‘Whisky soaked, damp with alcohol, crushed nuts, a scattering of sour cranberries to cut through that icky-stickiness and snowy peaks of cool, white, severely whipped cream. Oooh,’ she was now dipping her finger in the cream, eyes closed, licking slowly, she was no doubt engaging more viewers than just the country’s amateur chefs. Every straight male and gay woman in the UK must have been transfixed by Bella’s culinary Christmas spectacle. I bit my lip, she was too much. Even Nigella would baulk at ‘severely whipped cream’ to describe a bloody trifle.

‘Bella’s Christmas Bake Off’ always started in early December and for years had prepared me and the rest of the country for the culinary season ahead. Bella basted beautiful, golden turkeys, cooked crispy roast potatoes, baked magnificent cakes and biscuits, causing power surges throughout the country as people turned on their ovens and baked. She would sprinkle lashings of glitter, special olive oils, the latest liqueurs and all in a sea of Christmas champagne bubbles.

Bella’s style was calm, seductive, and gorgeous. Her very presence on screen made you feel everything was going to be okay and Christmas was on its way. She didn’t just stop at delicious food either – her tables were pure art and her Christmas decorations always the prettiest, sparkliest, most beautiful. Bella Bradley had an enviable lifestyle and she kept viewers transfixed all year round, but her Christmases were always special. Her planning and eye for detail was meticulous, from colour-matched baubles to snowy landscapes of Christmas cupcakes and mince pies – and soggy bottoms were never on her menu.

So in an attempt to forget my own life and fill myself with something like Christmas cheer,I watched Bella now, as she poured the whipped cream on ‘naughty’ custard. Oh if it were only the custard in my life that was ‘naughty,’ I thought as sheadded edible pearls for decoration, fingering each one as she pushed them firmly into the cream. I sat in my little kitchen just waiting for the Christmas sparkle to land on me, the frisson of Christmas baking, the preparation, the anticipation that always came with the first ‘Bella’s Christmas Bake Off.’ But this year I just couldn’t get excited by her baking or her beautiful, twinkly home or her magnificent tree. She had everything – and I had nothing…which had always been the case, but now I didn’t even have a husband anymore.

Bella’s husband, Peter Bradley, or the Silver Fox, as Bella affectionately referred to him, was gorgeous. He was a foreign news correspondent who, when he wasn’t making ‘impromptu’ appearances in Bella’s busy kitchen during the show, could be seen on battlefronts across the globe. He’d wander into Bella’s kitchen all five o’clock shadow and war-weary as she iced her voluptuous buns or titivated her tarts. He always looked quite out of place in this domestic idyll after doing a piece to camera in a war-torn city, but he was obviously happy to support his wife’s career by just being there. Unlike my husband, he hadn’t left her alone at Christmas for another woman – he’d stayed by her side, happy to brush the flour from her décolletage and stick his finger in her buttercream.

‘The Silver Fox loves my plump, tasty breasts,’ she was now saying while tearing at tender white turkey flesh with a knowing look. Peter was there in all his war-torn glory, taking her proffered morsels with a twinkle in his pale blue eyes, a crinkly smile on his well worn features. He was so handsome, fit for his late forties, and no doubt, given his career, very strong, intelligent and brave. He was the perfect accessory to Bella, bringing just the right amount of rough masculine charm and good looks to her glossygirlishness. And as a delicious bonus, the Silver Fox wasn’t afraid to show his feminine side judging by the previous year’s Christmas special, when he’d flown in from Iraq to whisk cream in nothing but combats and a tight vest. I was transfixed – trust me, Christmas had come early!

Bella was now informing us that we had to rehearse for Christmas Eve. Rehearse? As if one Christmas stress-fest wasn’t enough? She was wearing silk pyjamas and a girly grinwhich, given my current state, seemed to me like she was bordering on smug.

‘So, imagine it’s Christmas Eve – the turkey has soaked in something fabulous, and so have I, and now I’ve put my jim jams on,’ she giggled, shaking her breasts for no apparent reason – she did that a lot.  I noted with envy how her chocolate brown eyes matched the chocolate brown silk of her pyjamas and considered my own nightwear, a pair of frail pyjamas, once pale pink now edging towards grey after too many washes. If I needed any proof that her life was completely different to mine – it was all there in those ancient pyjamas.

‘Me and the Silver Fox just love a pyjama party at Christmas,’ she twinkled, a little wink and a sip from the crystal flute.‘But then, don’t we all?’

‘Speak for yourself,’ I said, turning off the TV and finishing the last of a bottle of cava I’d found in the fridge. Oh yes, Bella Bradley had always been the lucky one, even when we were kids – but it didn’t stop me loving her – she was my best friend. Then, when we were eighteen I did something stupid which affected her life so profoundly she left the area where we lived and I hadn’t seen her since. I tried not to think how our friendship had been destroyed by what I’d done all those years ago. I still felt guilty about what had happened and longed for her forgiveness. Watching her on screen was the nearest I would ever get to her, and despite the odd twinge of envy I found it therapeutic to see her in a wonderful new life, knowing she was okay… even if I wasn’t.


Blurb copy

Two best friends. One big lie. The best bake off EVER.

Bella Bradley is the queen of television baking – a national treasure. Her Christmas specials have been topping the ratings for years and her marriage to Peter ‘Silver Fox’ Bradley is the stuff of Hello magazine specials.

But this year things are going to be different.

For Amy Lane, Bella’s best friend from school, life hasn’t held quite the same sparkle. And when Amy’s husband walks out three weeks from Christmas, it seems their lives are further apart than ever.

Amy has watched Bella’s rise to fame fondly, despite the fact Bella was always a terrible cook. But when she realises that Bella’s latest Christmas book is made up entirely of Amy’s mother’s recipes, the gloves are off…

After winning a competition to appear on Bella’s TV show, Amy is going to make sure that for Bella and her viewers, this will definitely be a Christmas to remember…

A hilarious, heart-breaking and feel good read about best friends, baking and the magic of Christmas.

Bella’s Christmas Bake Off is out today and available from Amazon.


Author Bio copy

Sue-Watson-Author-pic-120px

Sue Watson

Sue Watson was a journalist on women’s magazines and national newspapers before leaving it all behind for a career in TV. As a producer with the BBC she worked on garden makeovers, kitchen takeovers and daytime sofas – all the time making copious notes so that one day she might escape to the country and turn it all into a book.

After much deliberation and copious consumption of cake, Sue eventually left her life in TV to write.  After a very successful debut novel, Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes, Sue signed with Bookouture and has gone on to write four fabulous books.

www.suewatsonbooks.com


XMAS BC GIVEAWAY copy

Bookouture have very kindly allowed me to run an international giveaway for one lucky winner to win an e-copy of this fabulous book. Please enter here and good luck! I will be running more giveaways throughout Bookouture Christmas week so please stop by each day for your chance to win!

Please click this RAFFLECOPTER LINK and it will take you to their page where you can enter my giveaway! Good luck!

Over the course of Bookouture Christmas week I’ll be posting reviews, Q&As, guest posts, extracts and giveaways all to do with these fabulous books!

BC BOOKS BANNER (MINE) copy

Bookouture Christmas week (22 – 27 October)

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Bookouture Christmas starts TODAY!

I’m so excited to be taking part in Bookouture Christmas! This is being organised by the lovely @ThisChickReads on twitter and the fab publishers, @Bookouture.

Bookouture have published some brilliant and magical Christmas books this year and over the course of the next few days fifteen bloggers, including me, will be posting lots of exciting reviews of these books, Q&As with the authors, author guest posts and some fabulous giveaways of the books.

Here are the bloggers taking part so please follow everyone to see all the exciting posts and giveaways that are happening:

Bookouture bloggers

Reviews are welcome from anyone who wants to join in, just use the hashtag #BookoutureXmas on twitter.

On my blog over the course of Bookouture Christmas week I’ll have a range of posts on these books and every day for FIVE days I’ll be running an international giveaway – each day my blog will host a giveaway where you can enter for the chance to win whichever Bookouture ebook is featured on that particular day!

BC BOOKS BANNER (MINE) copy

I’ll be posting on my blog and then tweeting links from my twitter account @hayleysbookblog. Please tweet me or comment below regarding all things BookoutureXmas!

Wishing you all a very merry BookoutureChristmas!

Review: Get Yourself Organized For Christmas by Kathi Lipp

Get Yourself Organized For Christmas

I couldn’t resist requesting this book when I spotted it on Net Galley recently because I’ve previously read Kathi Lipp’s book Clutter Free and her ideas really have helped me have a much more organised (and streamlined!) home.

This is a guide to getting organised for Christmas and it’s really useful. In short, easy to follow chapters Kathi explains how to be much more organised in the run up to Christmas. Each chapter is dedicated to a different element of Christmas planning and everything is broken down into easy to manage tasks. The idea being that the planning is started early so that there is no last minute rushing to cause stress as Christmas gets closer.

Get Yourself Organised for Christmas contains chapters on a variety of Christmas tasks. It may be that not all the tasks are relevant to how you spend the holidays but the book is set out in such a way that you can mark the chapters that will be helpful to you and then focus on those. My favourite chapter, and one I will frequently refer back to, was about making a Christmas binder that I can then amend each year but will basically contain all of my lists, recipes, gift ideas etc all in one place. It’s such a simple idea yet one I’d never come up with myself.

Kathi encourages working out what the most important aspects of Christmas are to you, and your family, and then to just focus on those. She also encourages sharing tasks so that one person isn’t stressed out doing everything, and if you’re someone (like me) who isn’t good at accepting offers of help when you’re stressed, Kathi has suggestions for how to deal with this which are practical and helpful.

It’s lovely that the book includes a reminder to plan all the things that you love to do in the build up to Christmas but often run out of time for – like driving around the local area to see all the Christmas lights or making time to go into the town centre to drink a hot chocolate while mooching around soaking up the Christmas atmosphere. I always want to do this but usually remember when it’s too late so it’s good to have a reminder that these kind of things should be scheduled in if they’re important to you and your loved ones.

Kathi’s emphasis on prioritising the people who are most important really struck a chord with me and has actually helped me finally make the decision not to send any Christmas cards this year.

Kathi offers suggestions throughout this book on how to make every aspect of planning Christmas easier and much less stressful. This book just really makes you feel like you’re in good hands, that you are capable of having the relaxing, fun Christmas you’ve always dreamt about.

I rate this book 7 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who finds getting organised for Christmas difficult or stressful.

I received a copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Get Yourself Organized for Christmas is out now and available from Amazon.

Review: Christmas at Lilac Cottage (White Cliff Bay book 1) by Holly Martin

Lilac Cottage

I have to admit that it felt a little strange to be contemplating reading a Christmas book in September, but I opened up this book and started reading and within the first page I was lost in the story. I ended up reading the whole book in one sitting as I just couldn’t put it down!

Penny is an ice-sculptor; she loves her job, her gorgeous cottage and her lovely dog Bernard but she is lonely. She’s been hurt before so looking for love is not high on her agenda yet it is obvious she would love nothing more than to find her Mr Right. Henry and Daisy rent Penny’s annexe and after an amusing misunderstanding before Daisy arrives, they all hit it off brilliantly. The course of true love never did run smooth though, and it is very difficult for these three to form different relationships with each other leading to misunderstandings galore.

The chemistry between Henry and Penny just radiates off the page from the word go; it seems very apparent that these two simply have to get together. I can’t think of many other couples in contemporary fiction who were more suited to each other than these two!

I love the many characters in this book, they all know about Penny’s past heartache and just want her to fall in love again. The way they help her at times leads to very embarrassing but hilariously funny situations, like the time Penny went to buy a toothbrush. I actually laughed out loud at that bit!

The setting of this novel, White Cliff Bay, is described in such vivid detail that I could completely picture it and I really want to go there for a holiday. I’m so happy to discover that Holly has written a second Christmas book set in the same location and that is out very soon (30th October, I believe). I already cannot wait to be back in White Cliff Bay!

I highly recommend this book, it’s wonderful. It’s one of those books that you can curl up with on a cold day and just escape, and when you’ve finished reading you feel all content and warm and smiley.

I rated this book 10 out of 10.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, but I’m going to buy my own copy too as I want to be able to revisit White Cliff Bay again next Christmas!

Christmas at Lilac Cottage is out today and is available from Amazon