Thursday, 26 December 2013

Review - Coming Home For Christmas by Jenny Hale

Well, Christmas has been and gone for another year. I had a really wonderful day and I hope you all did too.

by Jenny Hale
Publication Date - 1st October 2013
Publisher - Bookouture

Amazon description :- Christmas is a time for family... isn't it?
Allie Richfield loves Christmas, so when she lands a job as House Manager for the amazing Ashford Estate—which includes organizing the Marley family festivities—she is in her element. With a budget bigger than her life savings and a team of staff, how hard can it be?
As one-by-one she meets the Marleys, she’s about to find out...
Allie’s new boss, Robert, might be gorgeous, but he’s also colder than the snow outside and refuses to come home for Christmas. Robert’s playboy brother, Kip, flirts with her relentlessly; and his sister, Sloane, arrives home with baggage—both the divorce-kind and the Louis Vuitton kind. Their ninety-two year old grandmother, Pippa, spends her day grumbling at them all from her mobility scooter.
With Robert intending to sell Ashford, it’s the Marley’s last chance to create some happy memories in their family home—and Allie is determined to make it happen... even if it takes a little Christmas magic! With the festive spirit in full swing, she might even discover a little happiness of her own...

Yet another Christmassy book which I've read this year! It was an easy read, chick-lit with a bit of Christmas thrown in. Because of the location, a massive house owned by someone with lots of money, I thought that this would have such a Christmassy feel but to be honest it didn't really do it for me. The storyline was pretty non-existent and it was so predictable. I knew what was going to happen almost as soon as I started reading.

I didn't feel like Allie's feelings were explored very much, apart from when she was fawning about over men. She was apparently close with her mother and sister but when she couldn't spend Christmas day with them it was barely mentioned that she'd missed them or wanted to spend the day with them.

It also really annoyed me when her previous job as a nanny was put down. I have often found that a nanny is viewed as a glorified babysitter. Allie is described as just being a nanny to get some money, to fill a job gap. I have never met a nanny like that. To work so closely with children you have to love it and love them, and it's not just sitting around playing with kids all day. It's a hard job, physically, emotionally and mentally. Many people don't have enough respect for what nannies do and books which portray nannies like this really annoy me because it gives people the wrong idea about a really wonderful, much needed job.

It was okay, the main positive in my book was that it was Christmas themed but other than that I didn't feel like it had much going for it.Two stars (2*)

Sunday, 22 December 2013

I'm Home!

I came home on Friday and it finally feels as if Christmas is here. My mum came to pick me up from London because last year the trains were horrendous, this year the weather wasn't as bad as it was last year but I am so glad that I didn't have to drag the world's biggest suitcase across to Paddington station. I don't go back to London until Saturday 4th January so I have two glorious weeks to spend with my family and friends, I am SO excited.

I'm seeing my bestie tonight for the first time in about seven months and I can't wait. A night of mulled wine and chatting. Isn't that the sign of a brilliant friend? The fact that you don't see each other for ages but when you do it's like you've never been apart? My brother's passed his driving test too so I get to utilise his driving skills by getting him to pick me up, payback for the last four years of lifts! It's great though because public transport is pretty non-existent down here and I hate driving the morning after a night out.

Other than that I don't really have any concrete plans for my time in Pembrokeshire. I'm planning on seeing my Gran a few times, spending a night or two at her house puppy visiting. I'm taking my cousin (who was thirteen the other day, where does the time go??) for a girlie day of shopping and cinema as a birthday/Christmas present so I'm really looking forward to that. I hope to go to the beach a few times with our dogs, it's freezing but that's the best weather to go in my opinion. Also, you don't have any of the summer tourists! There are a few friends I'm planning to catch up with over the two weeks but that's about it. A time for family, friends, lie-ins, baking, reading and relaxing. Perfect.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I'll be putting a couple more posts up before Christmas Day but I'll take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas. I have a feeling that 2014 is going to be great!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Interview and Review - Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop by Jenny Colgan

by Jenny Colgan
Publication Date - 7th November 2013
Publisher - Sphere

As I have mentioned before there is nothing which gets me into the Christmas spirit quite like curling up with a great festive read, preferrably with a mug of hot chocolate or an open fire but these romantiscised ideas come from reading so many of said festive books. Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan has become on of my fail-safe Christmassy books so when I saw that Jenny was releasing another Yuletide novel, Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.

Here's the blurb :-
Curl up with Rosie, her friends and her family as they prepare for a very special Christmas . . .
Rosie Hopkins is looking forward to Christmas in the little Derbyshire village of Lipton, buried under a thick blanket of snow. Her sweetshop is festooned with striped candy canes, large tempting piles of Turkish Delight, crinkling selection boxes and happy, sticky children. She's going to be spending it with her boyfriend, Stephen, and her family, flying in from Australia. She can't wait.
But when a tragedy strikes at the heart of their little community, all of Rosie's plans for the future seem to be blown apart. Can she build a life in Lipton? And is what's best for the sweetshop also what's best for Rosie?
Treat yourself and your sweet-toothed friends to Jenny Colgan's heart-warming new novel. The irresistibly delicious recipes are guaranteed to get you into the festive spirit and will warm up your Christmas celebrations.

I really enjoyed this book. It is a sweet, cosy read which is just perfect for the run-up to the Christmas celebrations. Set in a picturesque village featuring small schools, rolling hills and corner shops. The location screams ideal Winter destination, even with the snowy disruptions. I think that the Rosie Hopkins series are my favourite Jenny Colgan books because it reminds me of my Pembrokeshire home, the positives (the community, the countryside) and the negatives (the gossip, the public transport...or lack of it!).

After reading Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams, the first installation of Rosie's adventures, I felt that everything had been rounded up nicely at the end of the story. I was a little bit worried that this book had been written purely as a Christmas follow on and that it wouldn't have much of a story line. I imagine that it would have been easy for it to become an 'everything's-great-and-wonderful-merry-Christmas-to-all' sort of book. Thankfully, I was wrong.

I won't give too much away but when the blurb says 'a tragedy' they don't just mean that Rosie runs out of candy canes on Christmas Eve! I had to read that chapter twice because I'd read it so quickly the first time round, too worried about what was going on and what was going to happen. Like Jenny's other cake, chocolate and sweet themed novels there are some wonderful recipies which I'm very much looking forward to trying out over the holidays. Recipes include fudge, candied peanuts and more which are perfect for Christmas time. As always, there was a strong humour throughout the book. There were lots of laugh out loud moments which earned me a few funny looks in the coffee shop but I really enjoy Jenny's humour and it has the ability to really lift some despairing parts of the story.

Yes, there were sweet, heart warming, tear-in-your-eye moments. Surely that's why we read Christmas stories? That's true for me anyway. But there were heart wrenching, worrying moments too. This is a brilliant book in it's own right, with a great storyline. Not a saccharine, sickly Christmas cringe-fest at all. This is another book which I'll be plucking from the shelf on December 1st for many years to come.

Jenny Colgan is the author of numerous bestselling novels, including Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe and The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, which are also published by Sphere. Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe won the 2012 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance and was a Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller, as was Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams, which won the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2013. Jenny is married with three children and lives in London and France. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions :-

How do you balance your writing with your home life and children? 
I cannot and will not lie- I have help!  A lovely woman comes in three mornings a week to help with cleaning and laundry, and the rest of the time they're at school. Before I had children I thought I'd be able to work whilst they were napping or playing- hahahah! NO! Of course not. So I pay for help. The best thing is the flexibility. 

Did you have any favourite authors or books as a child? Do you think they have inspired you when you write?
Yes, loads. Jo in Little Woman, of COURSE, I idolised her. And I loved Enid Blyton, who wrote in so many genres. James Heriot was a massive influence on me, you can see it in the Rosie books. Lipton isn't Darrowby, but they have their similarities!

Recipes feature a lot in your recent books, do you try them all out personally? And do you have a signature recipe?
Of course! I would never suggest someone cook something I hadn't tried. I change specialities all the time, but I make really really good fishcakes, and fabulous pissaladiere, which is a french pastry with slow cooked onions, olives and anchovies. I could eat it all day. Fortunately my husband hates anchovies so I don't make it that often. And I do like a nice light victoria sponge.

How difficult was it to get your first book published?
Well, I am not good at answering this question because I got my first novel published very easily, but you have to know that before that I had tried cartooning, stand up comedy, poetry and children's stories and failed dismally at all of them. 

Do you have a designated 'writing space'? If so, what is it like?
No I don't, I like to go to cafes and different places. My absolutely favourite place to write is on the train. I live in France, and there they come round the quiet carriage to make sure you've got your phone off! I have a specific seat I like on the TGV (high speed train) from Cannes to Paris, and I always get loads down there. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
It is so easy to publish now I would say, please don't rush to it. You don't want everyone seeing your very first, unpolished efforts on the internet for evermore. Practice and practice until you know you're ready (you'll know). And never stop reading. 

For more information about Jenny and her brilliant books, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop by Jenny Colgan is published by Sphere, it's available now in hardback, £12.99.

*I received this book in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

End Of The Year Read-a-Thon 2013 - Updates

If you would like to know what this End of the Year Read-a-Thon is all about, Check out my post here. This is where I'll be posting my daily challenges and updates.

Day 2
Well, it's day two of the read-a-thon and I'm doing okay, about three quarters of my way through Christmas At Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop. I've only challenged myself to read three books before the 22nd of December but with Christmas swiftly approaching work and my evenings off are going to get insanely busy so I'm happy with that amount!

Day 2 teaser challenge, hosted by Book Loving Hippo. Open the book you're currently reading to a any page and post two sentences from that page.

"Back at the sweetshop, she smiled at every child who came in, all of them bursting with secrets about what Santa was bringing them; all enraptured by the tiny train in the window; little cheeks rosy; eyes bright and round; parents tired but happy. She knew everyone now, and they knew her." - Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop by Jenny Colgan

Day 3
Day three and I've finished Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop. I really enjoyed it, it really got me into the Christmas spirit so bring on the festivities! I've started The Book Thief and it's unusually written, from death's point of view, but I am liking it so far.

The day three challenge is hosted by Jessica at Let Me Tell You A Story and it's a list of your top ten books read in 2013. This was a hard one, especially as I've discovered a few brilliant series this year but instead of putting all of them, I've just put my favourite one to represent the whole series.

In no particular order :-
  • Sea Sick by Iain Rob Wright
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  • Sanctum by Sarah Fine
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
  • Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson
  • These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs
  • The Boy From Baby House 10 - Adam Philips
Day 4
I'm still on The Book Thief an I'm absolutely loving it. I didn't like the way it was written at first, I didn't feel that it was very emotive, but I am so into it now. I stayed up way too late last night reading it, 'just one more chapter' hehe.

Today's challenge is hosted by Lori at Writing My Own Fairy Tale. It's a spine poetry challenge! For all of the rules, check out Lori's page. I mainly use a Kindle so I can't take a pretty picture of my spine poem!

Silent Tears fall
After The Fear.
Will You Love Me?
One Step Too Far.

It's a pretty feeble attempt I'll admit but I TRIED!!

Day 5
The day five challenge is hosted by Emily at Falling For YA and she wants to know your favourite book to movie adaptation. I loved The Hunger Games, book and film version. I found that the film was actually quite true to the book which made it much more enjoyable. I'm really looking forward to seeing Catching Fire as I imagine that it'll be really good too!

Day 6
Today's challenge is a seasonal one, hosted by Michelle at Book Briefs.

  • Recommend a good book for a snowy day :-
  • Recommend a good book for a rainy day :-
  • Recommend a good book for a beach day :-
  • Recommend a good book for a spooky night :-
Day 7
I finished The Book Thief today. My God. I'll write a full review on it soon but all I'll say is that it was amazing. I've started Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver and I'm enjoying it so far.

The day seven challenge is hosted by Cindi at Mommasez. You have to pick a book you read in 2013 and describe the book in only 166 characters. 

Foster carer, Casey Watson takes in a fourteen year old mother and her baby. They help Emma care for her baby whilst they care for Emma too.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

End Of The Year Read-a-Thon 2013

I have A LOT of books on my bookshelf and Kindle which have been sadly neglected and unread so when I saw Kimba's post on a December Read-a-Thon I was pleased to find something which will give me a little push to read some of the books which have been forgotten. The Read-a-Thon is hosted by Juliababyjen's Reading Room and Dana Square so head on over to their blogs to sign-up and read the rules. The Read-a-Thon is running from the 9th - 22nd December 2013 and the main goal is to read some great books but there will also be some challenges and prizes along the way. To get involved on Twitter, use the hashtag #ReadingCram

I don't really have anything which I have to read before a deadline but I have a few books which I would like to clear out of my library to make way for some new ones in the New Year.


All three of these books are for review and I might be able to squeeze in another but in the run up to Christmas we all know how busy it can get! I'm looking forward to this Read-a-Thon.

Review - Calling Mrs Christmas by Carole Matthews

by Carole Matthews
Publication Date - 24th October 2013
Publisher - Sphere

Amazon Description - Cassie Smith has been out of work for a while but she has an idea. Drawing on her love of Christmas, she begins charging for small things: wrapping presents; writing cards; tree-decorating. She's soon in huge demand and Cassie's business, Calling Mrs Christmas, is born.
Carter Randall wants to make Christmas special for his children, so he enlists Cassie's help, and his lavish requests start taking up all her time. Thank goodness she can rely on her loving partner Jim to handle the rest of her clients.
When millionaire Carter asks Cassie to join his family on a trip to Lapland, she knows she shouldn't go . . . Suddenly Cassie finds herself facing a heart-breaking choice that could change her entire life.
Join Cassie as she takes you on a romantic and emotional rollercoaster ride in Calling Mrs Christmas.

For me, Christmas films just don't cut it. Of course, I have a few favourite festive movies I like to watch with my family. Oliver! is an absolute must in the run up to Christmas. But they aren't what I rely on to get me into the Christmas spirit. Christmassy books are what I love, the things which make me feel the most festive and excited. As soon as December the first comes around (I make myself wait until this date, it's very difficult) I buy about five books with the world 'Christmas' somewhere on the cover and get lost in a soppy, sickly, snow-covered world.

One of the first books I read this December was Calling Mrs Christmas. I must say that I wasn't expecting much from this book. I thought that it would be a quick, easy read, girl with horrible boyfriend, meets rich, lovely man, they fall in love and that's the end of that. No other stories in the background, not too much concentration needed. I was completely wrong. I won't give too much of the plot away but the ending was really not what I had predicted.

I really enjoyed this book. Cassie is a strong, likeable main character and I was willing her to do well for herself throughout the book. Jim was a kind, supportive partner and I thought it was nice that he was given a small story line of his own with the boys in the young offenders unit. It gave the story a bit more depth and threw an extra few weepy moments in too. That can never be a bad thing can it? I found Carter Randall to be quite pushy and annoying. He was a sweet and attentive father but the way he wouldn't take no for an answer really got on my nerves at times.

This book really was Christmas through and through. The trip to Lapland was written so beautifully that I really felt I was sleeping in the Ice Hotel and cuddling Huskies myself! It seemed like an amazing trip of a lifetime yet it stayed believable, the description of the scenery and Cassie's surroundings were in-depth enough so that I could totally imagine where she was but not to the extent that I was bored.

There were quite a few bits which made me cry, not a difficult task, and there were plenty of sweet moments but they didn't seem saccharine. I think this will definitely be going into the archive of Christmas books which I read every December. Four stars (4*).

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Blood Brothers Review

You may say that I'm a fan of this musical. Well, to tell you the truth I have now seen it four times! There have been a few musicals over the years which I've really enjoyed and wanted to see again but I always feel guilty buying a ticket for a show I've already seen rather than broadening my horizons a bit and trying something new. With Blood Brothers I feel absolutely no guilt whatsoever. Admittedly, I studied the text for my drama and English GCSEs so I went twice with school.

The first time I saw it was when I was about fourteen, in Cardiff with my Gran. Linda Nolan was playing Mrs Johnston and I was completely in love with the hilarious, often naughty and deeply sad musical. I saw that Blood Brothers, after spending 24 years in the West End and closing last November, was now touring and it was showing in the New Wimbledon Theatre. I persuaded a couple of my friends to join me and I eagerly booked the tickets.

The cast during 'Kids' Game' Source
Here is the description from their websiteBlood Brothers Musical is, at first, a heart-warming story of Mickey and Edward, two brothers separated at birth, brought together again through friendship. However, their familial relationship is concealed by their guardians who strive to keep them apart because of superstitious beliefs.
      Despite relocating, their lives continue to intertwine, although the deep divisions between the privileged life of Edward and Mickey’s poverty-stricken existence are wholly apparent. As they try to conquer the social divisions which hinder their friendship, they must deal with the harsh realities of class consciousness; Edward goes on to study at Oxford whilst Mickey is forced into a life of crime through unemployment.
      As adults, they are caught up in a vicious love triangle with Mickey’s childhood sweetheart Linda. Mickey’s imprisonment and subsequent depression pushes Linda into the arms of the conciliatory Edward. A desperate Mickey takes drastic action against his fraternal twin which will ultimately expose their true identities.

Mrs Johnstone (Maureen Nolan) and Mickey (Sean Jones) Source
Even though I have seen it quite a few times, I was definitely not disappointed by this production of Blood Brothers. Maureen Nolan played Mrs Johnstone and her voice was beautiful, protraying so much emotion during 'Tell Me It's Not True' that I (and many other audience members) were reduced to tears. Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson who played Mickey and Eddie were brilliant. I am always astounded at how two adult men can act so convincingly like children. It wasn't ridiculously over the top, as is so easily done with an adult playing a child. It's quite subtle, with body language and they way they talk. Pulling their jumper over their knees, an awkward wave or talking about an older sibling. I completely forgot that I was actually watching adults. I suppose it would be pretty hard to get children to swear like Mickey does too!

The music is wonderful. It's an album I frequently listen to, the songs are so funny and often rather rude. They are upbeat and jaunty with some real belting notes in there to give your vocal chords a good stretch in the shower! There is often an element of sadness and some of the songs are heart breaking, 'Easy Terms' is another song which is heartwrenching but still beautiful. The musical is based in 1960s Liverpool and there are a few cultural references throughout the show, giving it depth and making it part of the larger British story. I think it ticks all the 'musical soundtrack' boxes.

Sammy (Daniel Taylor) and Mickey (Sean Jones) Source
If you haven't yet seen this show then I thoroughly recommend that you do. I am absolutely in love with it. If you've already seen it before, go again! I'm not going to judge you ;)

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