Saturday, 27 December 2014

My favourite reads of 2014

Wow! How quickly 2014 has passed by! At the start of this year I was so ill, lost and totally useless. Its been a crappy year, but it has also been the year that I have not only re-discovered my passion and love of reading, but also a year that I have found out just how powerful and positive social media can be. You have given me hope, inspiration, laughter and escapism at times that have been incredibly bleak.

I have also gained the confidence to start this blog and share my love of books. Thank you to each and every one of you. Authors, publishers, bloggers and fellow book lovers, your company and support has been so amazing I cannot tell you how much it has meant. Thank you!!!

I have managed to read a whopping 112 books this year, so whittling down to my favourites has not been easy at all. But I have just about managed it. What I havent been able to do is rank these 10 in order. They are all special in their own way.

Hope you enjoy my list and I would love to hear what books you have enjoyed this year.

Beyond Grace's Rainbow by Carmel Harrington


Wow! What a book!! This was one of the first books I read this year and it has stayed with me ever since. An incredibly moving and powerful story of a young mother diagnosed with cancer. Ok, I admit it had me sobbing. But its not full of woe. It is also funny, with a strong cast of characters, as we as being uplifting and inspirational. It packs a punch and I found it a reminder of the importance of love, friendship, strength and family.

One Step Closer to You by Alice Peterson


This is the latest book I have finished, and am currently writing my review. Alice Peterson is one of my favourite authors. I love her strong storylines and characters, and how she never shies away from delicate subjects or gritty storylines. One Step Closer to You is no exception. I was gripped from the start and found it hard to put down. Filled with strong storylines and wonderful characters that I loved this book is close to perfection.


I'll Take New York by Miranda Dickinson



A beautiful cover, a storyline set in New York, and two people who are intensely likeable.....this is a recipe for a wonderful book in my view. I love Miranda and her books never disappoint, This being no exception. I not only loved the storyline, but I loved some of the quotes and events that I could relate to. Perfect book at the perfect time for me. A feel good, love story which whisked me on a romantic trip to New York.

The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman


This is one of the most moving and emotional books I have read. It follows a lady in her forties who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers. We follow not only her journey, but that of her family. I was an emotional wreck reading it, but it is written with such love and affection I couldnt put it down. It was so insightful to look at how life may feel for the person suffering from the disease, as well as for those coping with caring for them. I also passed this on to my Mum who loved it just as much. We both came away really caring about the characters, and an urge to check up that they were ok. I can see why it has been chosen as part of the Richard and Judy book club this winter.


The Dead Wife's Handbook by Hannah Beckerman


The Dead Wife's Handbook is a debut novel by Hannah Beckerman, and what an amazing debut this is. I am so excited about reading more from her. This book took me over and I honestly couldnt put it down. I lay up reading to the small hours more than once. The book is incredibly clever, not only following a family as they come to terms with losing their mother / wife / child. It also tells the story through the eyes of the young woman who has died. It follows the five stages of grief model and I was totally taken over by the emotion of each stage as though I was there experiencing it with them. Such clever and skilful writing told with love and compassion. I cant wait to see more from Hannah.


Another Night, Another Day by Sarah Rayner


Phew, this is a rollercoaster of a book. Another gritty book that doesnt shy away from difficult subjects. This book centres around mental health and it is fantastic. We meet three main characters who, for various reasons, are struggling with their mental wellbeing. They each begin attending a clinic to try and get some help. There they come across eachother as well as some other great characters. We follow their battles to overcome their demons. I loved One Moment, One Morning by Sarah so when I was offered a review copy of this book I almost leapt in joy. I would love everyone to read this book and understand more about mental health, and just how disabling it can be. Sarah obviously has a great understanding of mental health issues and this book was written with great insighr and affection. I loved it.


Letters to My Daughters Killer by Cath Staincliffe


I am a massive fan of thrillers and this was one of the best I have read this year. It had me totally engrossed and turned me into detective as I was trying to pull the pieces together. It also had some really likeable characters which connected me even more to the story. As a Mum the thought of anyone harming my daughter is unimaginable, so when this characters daughter is murdered leaving behind a young child I donned my detective hat and joined her on her quest for justice. A great, tense, and gripping thriller.


The Accident by C L Taylor


Another debut author who has blown me away with a fantastic book, so skilfully written. It is a mothers quest to find out what really happened to her daughter, who lies in bed unconscious after being hit by a bus. I was totally sold on solving the mystery with the Mum, and trusted no one. I spent the whole book trying to unravel the mystery, just like a massive game of cluedo. Totally loved it and cant wait to see her new book which I believe is out soon.


Ivy Lane by Cathy Bramley


This book is due to be released in paperback in Spring 2015, but being a kindle owner I have been lucky enough to read it this year as a four part serialisaion. I absolutely loved everything about it. The characters are wonderful, the storyline is brilliant, and it just gave me such a warm happy feeling when reading it. It revolves around Tilly who moves to the area after heartbreak. She gets a plot at the local allotment, and from then on we meet a load of wonderful characters, read some fabulous storylines and I fell in love with it. Each season ends on a massive cliffhanger, and I did find myself trying to second guess what has happened to Tilly to bring her to Ivy Lane. I loved it so much I have even begun gardening and will be out to buy a paperback copy on publication day for me and my friends.


The Guestbook by Holly Martin



What a clever and funny book this is. I was laughing right from the start. I loved the idea of this book. It is set in a guesthouse, run by a young lady who has lost her husband. However, what is so quirky is that the book follows not only this lady, but her guests, who each tell their story by filling in the guestbook when they stay. It made me laugh, had me fascinated, but also moved me and made me feel all gooey and warm. I loved it (and the other work Holly has published since - a great author!)

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Blog Tour: A Pear Shaped Christmas by Stella Newman


Today I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for Stella Newman's 'A Pear Shaped Christmas'.  The novella is out now and available from Amazon here.

Stella is author of Pear Shaped, and Leftovers, and her new book, The Dish is released next year.

Today Stella is talking to us about the distractions of Christmas.

The Distractions of Christmas by Stella Newman

I love my family, I love booze, I love eating too much and I love presents (both giving and receiving) – so theoretically Christmas should be my favourite time of the year.  But for whatever reason, it isn’t - and I find myself getting terribly bored and stir-crazy about halfway through Boxing Day.  Maybe this is normal?  I don’t know, but either way, this year I’ve prepared a list of distractions for myself - TV shows, books and a play – to get me through to the other side!  If you find yourself bored or at a loose end, you might enjoy some of these too.


TV

There’s been so much allegedly brilliant TV this year, which I’ve thought has only been so-so, or downright irritating:  The Missing, season 2 of The Fall (so sloooooooow).   Instead, I’ll be spending my hours in front of the box / computer screen, watching the following:

Transparent - on Amazon Prime.  A bold and brilliant comedy drama about a family in America, reacting to the revelation that their father is transgender.

Rewatching House of Cards, seasons 1 & 2 on Netflix.  This is quality TV: Robin Wright, playing evil personified, directed by David Fincher – what’s not to love?

Enlightened.  Another American comedy-drama.  I know precious little about this, but have bought the boxset on the basis that it stars Laura Dern as a 40 year old who returns home to live with her mother after a mini nervous breakdown.


Books

I’m going to reread Karen Joy Fowler’s brilliant We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.  I’ve read around forty books this year, and this one was the one I enjoyed most.  It’s original and funny and sad, and anyone who’s part of a family should read it.

Also, I’ll happily browse the two most exciting cookbooks of the year – Justin Gellatly’s Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding and Dan Doherty’s Duck and Waffle: Recipes and Stories.  I might not get round to actually making anything from either but I’d still get immense pleasure from just looking at the pictures and dreaming of all those lovely treats.

Theatre

King Charles III

If I hadn’t already seen it, and if I could be bothered to get out of my pyjamas during the days after Christmas Day, I would go to see King Charles III at Wyndham’s Theatre from now through till January.  It’s about what might happen once Prince Charles secedes to the throne, and it’s funny, sad and brilliantly written, with an amazing performance by Tim Piggott Smith.  Buy tickets via the Almeida’s website – they’re much cheaper, and try to sit in row Q.  Good legroom, a good view, and a bargain, (in theatre land terms, at least) at £20.



A massive thank you to Stella for taking time to tell us about her distractions. Do you find yourself feeling the same? Would love to hear how you distract yourself too.

Have a great Christmas!

Jill

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Kiss Before Midnight by Sophie Pembroke


Out now
Published by Harperimpulse
Purchase from Amazon here


The Blurb:

Heading home to Liverpool for Christmas, Molly Mackenzie isn’t just looking forward to the mulled wine and mince pies – she’s got high hopes for who she’ll find under the mistletoe this year!

Unable to forget the delicious near miss with her brother’s best friend, Jake, last New Year’s Eve, Molly’s got a new resolution at the top of her list: seduce Jake and get this crazy chemistry out the way before it has serious repercussions on the rest of the Mackenzie family.

Only Molly has underestimated the magic of the holiday season… The more stolen moments in the snow that she shares with Jake, the more determined she is to make it a whole lot more than just a kiss before midnight.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without the festive warmth of a heart-meltingly romantic novella from Sophie Pembroke!


My Review:

I am loving all the Christmas stories around at the moment, and this is no exception. Its romantic, festive, and uplifitng. It definitely left me feeling that warm happy feeling, But it's also very touching, both from a loving family perspective, but also from following two people who obviously really care about eachother but both unsure.

Molly has moved to London and is about to go home for the family Christmas and new year. We meet her at the office drinks and telling her friend, under duress, about Jake and their kiss last New Year's Eve.

Ahh Jake. I loved Jake. He is best friends with Molly's brother, and has been part of their family unit for many years. He has lost his parents so spends Christmas Day and new year with their family. But things feel different this year after kissing Molly last year. He hasn't seen Molly since and has avoided her, but realises that he doesn't view her like a sister...definitely not!

Molly is also thinking along the same lines and with some encouragement from her friend she decides that she is going to seduce Jake over this break. This flirtation and seduction starts sooner than expected when he is roped in to collect her from the train station when bad weather affects the trains.

We spend much of the story watching the cat and mouse chase. They both very much want to take things further but the family are wary of what may happen, and Jakes motives. This continues until finally something happens.....but will it be a happy ending? I can't possibly tell!! It's worth reading to find out though!

My favourite character is Jake. I loved him from the start. Although portrayed as a nit of a player I didn't see that. I felt like he was vulnerable and genuine in his feelings. I felt so sorry of him as I could see that he was worried that he was imposing and out of place being there for Christmas. I just really liked him and wanted him to be happy.

I also enjoyed Molly. She felt like she could be a bit of a live wire with a naughty glint in her eye. But she was very well written in also showing her insecurity and questions. She seems like a great young lady who you would love to go out for a night with and just hang out with. I liked seeing her questioning her decisions, and it was well written in how things change and come together.

The family are so sweet in their traditions, and it did feel like I was viewing a family's perfect Christmas. All together, totally united and happy, making merry and joining together with family and friends to show how important they all are to eachother. It made me quote sad to think of those who dream of these scenes and are dreading their own Christmas for whatever reason.

This is a really enjoyable novella packed with fun, flirtation, love and family. I would recommend this book to get you all loved up and ready to enjoy the festive period. I will be looking out for more of Sophie's work - definitely!

Thank you to Harperimpulse who kindly provided a copy in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Mistletoe & Mr Right by Lyla Payne


Out Now
Published by Bloomsbury USA
Purchase from Amazon here

The Blurb:

From USA Today bestselling author Lyla Payne, a snowy and heartwarming new adult romance . . .

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring … but lust refused to settle in for a long winter's nap.She might be all nestled, snug in her bed, by why, oh why, do visions of the wrong guy dance in her head?

Jessica, (not Jessie), figures that nothing could be better than a trip to the Emerald Isle for Christmas break. So she takes a flying leap and follows her boyfriend home for the holidays, not only sure that he will finally agree they're destined for each other, but also that Ireland will provide the perfect backdrop to the beginning of their happily-ever-after.

But it turns out his family—and his gorgeous ex-girlfriend—don't feel the same way, and even the family goat seems to be conspiring against her well-laid plans. The only person making the trip worthwhile is the very last one she should be thinking about, but Grady, the local farmhand, has a way of showing up when Jessica needs him most . . . and least.
USA Today bestselling author Lyla Payne wraps up the perfect holiday novella, ties it with a ribbon of romance, and tops it with a light dusting of snow. Perfect to curl up with under the tree. Just add hot cocoa!


My Review:

I love Christmas, romance, and Ireland. So when I read the blurb for this book I was drawn to it, and having now finished it I was right. Ok, so you can guess pretty early on how the story will end, it is cute enough, and with enough substance to keep you interested.

Jessica and Brennan have been dating for a few months and in Jessica's mind it is all very serious and going great. Brennan has gone home to Ireland for Christmas when unbeknown to him, Jessica decides that she will surprise him and fly over to spend the festive season with him and his family.

Oh dear....Jessica is not quite met with the welcome she expected. Infact things start off in quite a calamitous way when she hits the family goat with the car. That's before she has even reached the front door! To say that the family are surprised and underwhelmed by her arrival may be a slight understatement.

Hooray for Grady, the farmhand who sounds not only like a lovely bloke, but I can imagine him being easy on the eye too! He comes to the rescue from the start and with the immediate attraction between them you can almost write the perfect ending from early on.

What kept me interested wasn't just the attraction between agency and Jessica, but also watching how the family, and particularly Brennan were treating Jessica. I felt quite angry on her behalf that they didn't seem to have any interest in her, and that Brennan didnt stand his ground more with them. I felt he was a weak and not very likeable. I really wanted Jessica to tell him what he could do with the relationship.

To complicate matters even more up pop Katie, Brennan's ex girlfriend who the family all adore. She is also staying for Christmas which makes Jessica feel more awkward, particularly as she knew nothing about her. We get to know Katie more and question whether she and Brennan are actually over eachother.

I swung between feeling sorry for Jessica and the way she was being treated, and wanting to shake her for allowing Brennan and the family be so mean to her. I felt like I could empathise with both of these. I had no time for Brennan who to me was a total waste of time. I felt quite angry on Jessica's behalf.

My saviour was Grady. You can see that Jessica tries not to like him, or feel any attraction, but they seem like they would be perfect together. Ok, I may be biased from the way he is portrayed and the fact he is Irish, my ideal for a man! But he just came across as a really nice and genuine guy, better than that horrible Brennan.

I was quite closed minded and had made up my mind on what I thought of each of the characters, and what I found really clever in the book, was how a turn of events made me start to change my mind. I thought it was really skilfully done and I felt quite emotional reading it. This changed it from being a run of the mill love story to something a bit different for me.

I really enjoyed this novella. It wasn't too long so it didn't feel like it was strung. It packed a punch as it was fast moving.  It is very well written with some real thought and emotion put into each to the characters and how they interact and relate to eachother. The ending was lovely and it left me feeling warm and fluffy. An easy, uplifting story perfect for the Christmas period.

Thank you to Bloomsbury USA for providing a copy in return for an honest review.

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Great Christmas Knit Off by Alexandra Brown


Out now
Published by Harper Collins
Purchase from Amazon here


The Blurb:

Heartbroken after being jilted at the altar, Sybil has been saved from despair by her knitting obsession and now her home is filled to bursting with tea cosies, bobble hats, and jumpers. But, after discovering that she may have perpetrated the cock-up of the century at work, Sybil decides to make a hasty exit and, just weeks before Christmas, runs away to the picturesque village of Tindledale.

There, Sybil discovers Hettie’s House of Haberdashery, an emporium dedicated to the world of knitting and needle craft. But Hettie, the outspoken octogenarian owner, is struggling and now the shop is due for closure. And when Hettie decides that Sybil’s wonderfully wacky Christmas jumpers are just the thing to add a bit of excitement to her window display, something miraculous starts to happen…


My Review:

What an absolutely gorgeous book this is. I loved it! I have finished it with a warm, fuzzy, festive feeling...and a strong desire to move to Tindledale! My only disappointment is that there isn't another book in the series to read next (I so hope there will be in the future).

The main character is Sybil. She has been jilted at the altar, not only that, but her twin sister is involved. There is a major problem at work where she may have made a big big mistake. Life really isn't going well for her at all. Her one respite and enjoyment is knitting and she seems to have knitted items all over the place.

Things all seem to be too much for Sybil so she decides to escape London and visit her friend who manages a pub in the village of Tindledale. So, along with her dog Basil she packs a bag and leaves in haste. Things start of badly when the car breaks down and she has to get the train. Little does she know just how much the train journey and arrival in Tindledale will change her life.

She arrives in this remote village in vile weather and no idea where she is going. But straight away we start to meet the village folk who are the complete opposite of Londoners, and help her out. As soon as she arrives at her friends pub I felt the warmth of the characters and almost instantly wanted to transport myself there to join her. Her friend is away on a training course so she has to find her own amusement for the weekend. This brings me to my favourite part of the book.......her new friends and the spark it all brings back to her. Perhaps life can come good....

Lawrence runs the local B&B and when she books in he quickly becomes agony aunt and confidante. He has a large warm heart and I could imagine him just taking you under his wing and nursing your broken heart. He has a beautiful soul and I imagine a wicked sense of humour.

Sybil decides to wander round to the local haberdashery store to pick up some wool and needles. This is where she meets Hettie, an elderly lady who owns the shop. She is ageing and frail and the community are worried about her. They click and very quickly Sybil picks up on just how vulnerable Hettie is and wants to help her. It seems that Hettie has quite an exciting past but over the years life hasn't been as kind to her. Her business is failing and her nephew wants her to go into a home. The nasty nephew, and some bailiffs bring the boo, hiss baddies into the story. Sybil warms to Hettie and wants to help her turn things around. They start knitting together and as Sybil makes small changes the shop becomes (very quickly), a gathering place for the community who are roped in to help Hettie get back on her feet, as well as enjoying knitting and nattering!

Hettie has some very sad tales from her past and I felt quite emotional following her story. I wanted to join them, get to know her and make her smile and make life nice for her. Although vulnerable she has a very strong mask and is stoic which makes her even more admirable and likeable. I was desperate for her to be happy.

And I can't not mention the dashing village doctor, Dr Ben. Not only does he sound gorgeous but he is Irish.....perfect in my eyes!!! I have built up a clear image in my mind as to what he looks like. There is a spark between him and Sybil, but will they ever act on it, or get a chance to?

The story is set primarily around Hettie and her shop, and Sybil's quest to get it back on its feet. We also focus on Sybil discovering  what she really wants in life, and finding her feet again. It all felt very exciting and I was totally bought in to it. I actually want to get some knitting needles and wool and learn to knit after reading it. I loved the fresh ideas that Sybil came up with, such as launching an online website and store.

I loved the Japanese tourists who visit Tindledale every Christmas. They find out about the store and place an order which brings everyone together to be able to deliver in time. The reason for the order made me laugh out loud (I won't tell you why and spoil it for you).

There's a mixture of fun, but also emotion and soul searching about the future. I liked the balance and way it was handled. We see Sybil's sister turn up and things become alot clearer around what happened on her wedding day, and what her fiancé was really like. I really enjoyed seeing Sybil come out of her shell and develop the confidence to realise she is a lovely and worthwhile person who has to find out what makes her happy in life. It is something I am also working hard on, so it resonated strongly with me.

After reading this fantastic book I really want to move to Tindledale, or somewhere similar myself. I love the idea of village life and would happily live amongst them. This definitely helped me become so engrossed in this book. It is so well written I found myself totally hooked by the end of the first couple of chapters and found it hard to put down. It is beautifully written with what seems like genuine affection for the characters. I only hope there will be more books so we can visit them all again.

I would definitely urge you to go and pick up a copy, sit back and escape to the beautiful village of Tindledale. A wonderful and uplifting story.

Thank you to Harpercollins who kindly provided a copy in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Guest post from Sophie King - Author of Do You Take This Man?

Hi there

I am delighted to have been asked to host some information, and a guest post for Sophie King, to co-incide with the publication of her new book 'Do You Take This Man?' which came out on 8th December. You may have heard of Sophie from her earlier book 'The School Run' which was very popular.

Featured in this post is the blurb for the new book, along with a guest post where Sophie chats about her first love, and what may seem bizarre...but how she came to be his bridesmaid. It is a really good read. Hope you enjoy.



Out Now
Published by Corazon
Purchase from Amazon here


Whats the book about?

Katie is getting married to Alec ... or is she? Have you ever wondered "what if..." you had made a different decision in life, and would things have gone down a totally different path? Would life have been better or worse? In "Do You Take This Man?" we follow Katie's two lives - what happens to her if she says "I do" and what happens if she stands up her groom. Katie's two separate realities are very different, but we also see how there are some things you can't avoid, whatever choices you make in life. In the tradition of the classic film "Sliding Doors", "Do You Take This Man?" will keep you gripped and guessing to the end!




A BRIDESMAID – TO MY FIRST TEENAGE LOVE

When I first met Chris at a school dance, aged 15, I never dreamed I would end up as his future wife’s bridesmaid! I thought Chris was the most handsome boy I’d ever seen. He actually had a moustache and had a lovely deep voice that made me melt.

In fact, our relationship was very innocent and went no further than a passionate kiss on top of Harrow on the Hill. It lasted three long months and I was heartbroken when it ended. But life goes on. Fast forward two years and I found myself going out with a friend of his.

By then, Chris was seeing a girl who became a friend of mine. Strangely, I didn’t feel jealous of her.  The four of us went out together and when I was eighteen, I got engaged to the friend. So too did Chris and his girlfriend. But the biggest surprise was when they asked me to be their bridesmaid!

Now all my life I’d wanted to be a bridesmaid. All my friends had, in turn, been dressed up in gorgeous dresses and followed sisters or cousins down the aisle. So at the age of twenty, I’d resigned myself to thinking it would never happen. You can imagine how excited I was when I finally realised my dream was about to come true!

There was just one problem. My straight hair. Both the bride-to-be and her mother were determined that my naturally blonde hair would curl for the day. Unfortunately, despite an entire can of hair spray and several sets of pin curlers, my locks refused to play ball. It almost made us late for the wedding ...

Eventually, however, we got there. And that was when it struck me. As the happy couple said their vows, I had a flash of that kiss on Harrow On the Hill. What, I asked myself, would have happened if we hadn’t broken up...?

I’ve no idea where Chris and his wife are now. I hope they’re together and happy. Meanwhile my own romantic life has had its ups and downs although now I’m settled. (Touch wood.) Mind you, one of my middle-aged friends is about to get married again. And I can’t stop hoping that I might be asked to be matron of honour ...

HAVE YOU GOT ANY FUNNY BRIDESMAID STORIES? IF SO, PLEASE EMAIL SOPHIE. sophie@sophieking.info  

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

A Christmas Horror Story by Sebastian Gregory


Out now
Published by Carina
Purchase from Amazon here


The Blurb:

On the night before Christmas, lock the doors to the house…

Forget the jolly old man in his red, big-buttoned suit. Because another creature is up on the roof, preparing for his annual visit to little children everywhere.

With a belt of knives round his waist, a writhing bag on his back and a Santa-sized appetite, he’s a little…different to the St Nick you might be expecting.

And you can leave out all the carrots and mince pies you like…but it’s you he’s after.
A horrid Christmas to all, and a terrible night.

Every white Christmas has a dark side. Don’t miss A Christmas Horror Story, the gruesomely festive new story from Sebastian Gregory.


My Review:

What a brilliantly dark story, very well written. Prepare to meet a horrible creature who for years has come along the night before Christmas and to steal children. He lands on the roof and searches for a way in to get hold of his prey and whisk them away. We flit between the past and present day as we watch him on his travels. His mark is a lump of coal which he leaves.

We start in the present day where we meet Katie, Emily and Jake who are at home on the night before Christmas Eve. Their Mother is a nurse and is caught up at work with bad weather forecast. However they remain hopeful that she is will make it home in time. Their Father died a year ago after being involved in an accident. Since then Jake has carried round a book called Tome of the Dark and Mysterious and appears to cherishing almost like a bible.

We move between present day and the past, which includes a visit to 1944 and the Second World War, and also an orphanage in 1833. Both visits take place on Christmas Eve and as we hear the jingle of the Christmas bells approach as a reader I was left in no doubt that rather than Santa being on his way, something darker and more evil was about to arrive.

We follow all the children in their desperate attempt to escape this horrible creature.  But much of the book revolves around Katie, Emily and Jake. As eldest sister Katie has to burden alot of responsibility for keeping them safe, but my little hero is Jake whose book and knowledge may just be what saves them from a nasty fate.

I have previously read The Boy in the Cemetery by Sebastian, which I loved. So when this book came out I knew I wanted to read it, and it hasn't let me down. I love his writing style which flows naturally and builds the tension as it comes to a climax. The books are very descriptive and I felt I could visualise this horrible creature which was on the prowl. I almost finished the whole thing in one sitting because I became so engrossed and just wanted to know what happens.

I fear I may still be a big kid at heart because I did actually come away wondering if there could be any element of truth to the story. I fell for it hook, line and sinker. This book wouldn't be for someone of a nervous disposition, or younger people. But it would be a good read for older teens, and adults too.

A great alternative to all the Christmas romance books out there. The story of this Christmas beast could stick and feature in word of mouth stories for years to come. We have had the Grinch, but this creature is far more sinister and I could easily read more about him.

I will be checking that I don't get a lump of coal in my stocking this year....if I do you will hear me scream in terror!

I would also like to comment on the cover, which is just brilliant. Carina really do come up with some of the finest book covers out there.

Thank you to Carina who provided a copy in return for an honest review.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Cover reveal Conditonal Love by Cathy Bramley


Purchase from Amazon here

BLURB

A takeaway, TV and tea with two sugars is about as exciting as it gets for thirty-something Sophie Stone. Sophie’s life is safe and predictable, which is just the way she likes it, thank you very much.

But when a mysterious benefactor leaves her an inheritance, Sophie has to accept that change is afoot. There is one big catch: in order to inherit, Sophie must agree to meet the father she has never seen.

Saying ‘yes’ means the chance to build her own dream home, but she’ll also have to face the past and hear some uncomfortable truths…

With interference from an evil boss, warring parents, an unreliable boyfriend and an architect who puts his foot in it every time he opens his mouth, will Sophie be able to build a future on her own terms – and maybe even find love along the way?


An introduction by Cathy Bramley 

I am thrilled to announce that a new ebook* edition of CONDITIONAL LOVE is being published by Transworld on Friday 5th December.

I first published CONDITIONAL LOVE myself on Amazon in October 2013 but now it has had the full Transworld treatment.

It is essentially the same story, with the same characters and the same happy ending. So what is different about it?

Well, I feel like my writing has developed since I first wrote it almost two years ago and so when Transworld very kindly gave me the opportunity to re-write it, working closely as usual with my editor, Harriet Bourton, I jumped at the chance. I took on board her editorial comments, sharpened up the narrative, tweaked some of the characters and generally I’ve given the book a more punchy, fast-moving feel.

I asked Harriet to share her thoughts about this new edition of the book in her own words:

I first read CONDITIONAL LOVE before I’d met Cathy. I’d seen her on Twitter talking to bloggers I follow and I was impressed by her cover for the book and the reviews she had, so I bought it and started reading. That one casual purchase led to Cathy’s deal with Transworld and a creative, fun and rewarding new author relationship. Some happy months later, Cathy and I set about looking at CONDITIONAL LOVE with a fresh eye. I thought the novel was wonderful, full of Cathy’s trademark warmth, comfort and good humour, but being an editor we can never leave well enough alone, and I had some ideas for how Cathy could squeeze even more out of the story. The heart of the novel is still the same, and the over-arching plot and characters too, but I think of this new refreshed edition of CONDITIONAL LOVE as being the high-definition version: brimming with colour and romance, sharp witted and lively from beginning to end, and impossible to resist once you’ve taken a glance!

I am delighted with what Harriet and I have achieved together this year and I hope readers will approve too. And of course the most exciting bit— is the sparkly new cover!


I must admit I was a bit nervous about having a new cover; I’ve had so much lovely feedback from people about the old cover with the red umbrella. But I needn’t have worried. Illustrator, Kate Forrester, who has designed all the Ivy Lane and Appleby Farm covers, has done an amazing job and honestly can’t stop looking at the new look CONDITIONAL LOVE.

What do you think?!


Cathy Bramley – Author Bio
Cathy Bramley is the author of the best-selling romantic comedies Ivy Lane, a four-part serialised novel (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter), and Conditional Love. Both are being published as paperbacks in 2015. She lives in a Nottinghamshire village with her husband, two daughters and a dog.

Her recent career as a full-time writer of light-hearted, romantic fiction has come as somewhat of a lovely surprise after spending the last eighteen years running her own marketing agency. However, she has been always an avid reader, hiding her book under the duvet and reading by torchlight. Luckily her husband has now bought her a Kindle with a light, so that’s the end of that palaver.

Cathy loves to hear from her readers. You can get in touch via her website www.CathyBramley.co.uk Facebook page Facebook.com/CathyBramleyAuthor or on Twitter twitter.com/CathyBramley

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Skating at Somerset House by Nikki Moore




Publication date: 4 December 2014
Published by: Harperimpulse
Purchase from Amazon here



The Blurb:

The first short story in the fun & flirty #LoveLondon series from exciting new chick lit author Nikki Moore!

There’s nothing Holly Winterlake loves more than Christmas and skating, so working as an Ice Marshall at London's Somerset House is a dream come true.

Noel Summerford hates the festive season and is a disaster on the ice, so taking his godson to Somerset House is his idea of the nightmare before Christmas!

Things are bound to get interesting when these two collide…

With a forty foot Christmas tree, an assortment of well meaning friends and relatives, and a mad chocolate Labrador, will this festive season be one to remember … or forget?


My review:

Skating at Somerset House is a great pre-Christmas read full of fun, flirtation and festiveness. It is the first of a number of short stories being released as the #LoveLondon series and if this one is anything to go by they are going to be really enjoyable.

We meet Holly and Noel (even their names are festive), when  Noel takes his Godson Jasper skating at Somerset House. Holly is there working as an ice assistant. Noel, unlike Jasper cannot skate to save his life, and this is his idea of hell. However Jasper has a flair for it. Holly spots this and gets chatting to Jasper, offering him some help to improve. Holly used to skate properly before injury put paid to that dream so she is more than happy to help Jasper.

Holly and Noel seem so different. Noel seems standoffish and rude, whereas Holly seems kind and caring. Noel hates Christmas whereas Holly and her family enjoy celebrating. However, from the first meeting there seems to be something bubbling beneath the surface for them both and as they story goes on their relationship changes and we get to know more about why Noel is so unhappy, and what has happened to Holly's dreams.

For a short story this novella packed alot in. I felt I was able to become absorbed by the characters and if anything I would like to see them again to see what happens after the story ends.

The characters are written with warmth and Holly is particularly nice. I felt like she was quite vulnerable and innocent and hated seeing Noel being rude or dismissive to her. I think I was meant to dislike Noel at the start so that as his story unfolded I could realise not to always judge a book by its cover.

I really enjoyed this and read it in one go. It's a shame that we don't get to see what happens next, but I am looking forward to getting my hands on New Year at the Ritz which is released on 18 December and is second in the #LoveLondon series.

Monday, 1 December 2014

I'll Take New York by Miranda Dickinson


Publication date: 4 December 2014
Published by Avon
Purchase from Amazon here

The Blurb:

Have you ever given up on love?

When her boyfriend lets her down for the last time, Brooklyn bookshop owner Bea James makes a decision – no more. No more men, no more heartbreak, and no more pain.

Psychiatrist Jake Steinmann is making a new start too, leaving his broken marriage behind in San Francisco. From now on there'll just be one love in his life: New York.

At a party where they seem to be the only two singletons, Bea and Jake meet, and decide there’s just one thing for it. They will make a pact: no more relationships.

But the city has other plans . . .


My Review:

Miranda Dickinson....I love you! What a wonderful book I'll Take New York is (although I expected nothing less!). It is perfect, so perfect i actually hugged it after the last page. I have devoured the pages and was so sad when I got to the final one as I just didn't want it to end. I am definitely a member of Team Bea and such a fan of hers! I feel a massive book hangover coming on.....I am not going to be able to do this book justice with my review.

So, I'll Take New York tells the story of Bea and Jake. As we meet them Bea is living in New York and dating a guy called Otis. She owns a bookshop with her friend Russ and loves her job. Her family have all been gathered together for dinner and Bea is suspecting that Otis is about to pop the big question.....that is if he ever shows up.

Jake on the other hand is moving back to New York after splitting up with his wife, Jessica.  She called time on their relationship and he is devastated. He is moving back to New York, closer to his family, where he hopes to start life over and open up a new practice (he is a psychiatrist).

When things go bad between Bea and Otis she goes along to an engagement party with a friend where she and Jake meet up for the first time. During the evening they get talking and find out about eachothers predicaments. This is when they come up with'The Pact' which swears them off getting into new relationships and risking any more heartbreak or misery. The next day they both realise they never exchanged numbers and regret this, especially as they could both use a friend to hang out with.

Ahh but NYC has other plans for them! At the party Bea also got talking to Rosie who runs a florists and they clicked. Rosie gave Bea her number and suggested they keep in contact. As luck would have it is engaged to Jakes brother Ed so when Bea takes Rosie up on the offer of friendship they end up reunited.

Jake and Bea start a friendship which I lapped up. They have both been badly hurt and need to regain faith in the opposite sex, but also just really need someone to be there and who they can have fun with. Even typing about them brings a smile to my face. What brings another equally big grin to my face is that this all takes place in New York, my favourite city in the world. I just adore it! They decide to take eachother to their favourite spots and this was just fantastic for me to be a voyuer. It took me back to my trip to New York a few years ago and places such as Central Park which I had only ever read about or seen on TV, and dreamt of visiting. New York is my perfect location for a book.

 Are they destined to be the best of friends or can it become more? And how will their ex's feature in their future? Oh I would so love to tell all but I know that would ruin it for you and I would be livid if anyone had spoilt it for me!

Each chapter tells you the venue it is taking place in. I didn't take much notice of this at first, but as the story progresses and you get to know places such as the book shop, or Jakes office, or tourist attractions better this was the first thing I was drawn to....where were we visiting and what might be about to happen.

The book might seem predictable...a man and woman, both who have been scorned, become friends and live happily ever after. Yeah yeah, we see this all the time. What makes this book any different? The characters and the way they are written. They are fantastic and I loved them! Bea and Jake are so cute and vulnerable. I just wanted them to be happy and knock their heads together that they are a perfect couple. But also as great are the supporting characters who add so much more. I won't name them all, but a couple that stand out are Russ, who is a great friend, if not somewhat intense at times. And Ed and Rosie who are a gorgeous couple. Their wedding is one of my favourite chapters of the book. I was swooning and all emotional!!

But......my star of the show is Grandma Dot. I just love her to pieces. She lives back in England but when Bea is down she starts to send packages to her, just like when she was a child. These packages contain books with passages highlighted, and the most wonderful and moving letters. She is such a wise woman who imparts so many words of wisdom, from the heart. i simply adored her and I couldn't wait to read more about her. I would so love a package like that to land on my doorstep. So magical!

The book is more than a 'chick lit' boy meets girl story. There are some real snippets of wisdom and food for thought when exploring the characters. It is so cleverly written. I  ended up bookmarking some quotes or situations as they felt really powerful and I could relate them back to how I behave or view myself and others. One particular quote 'the longer you hide from what you fear, the more seemingly insurmountable it becomes.......when you put yourself in challenging situations you find you have what you need to cope within you' was like magic medicine to me. Miranda is such a talented author and brings places, people and situations to live so easily. They are all so believable and have great, down to earth jobs and traits that it was very easy for me to relate to them (perhaps too easy for some, oops!).

I also warn you that I found myself holding my breath and at one point shouting out loud at the book, well the characters. It truly captivated me and I felt transported into their world. I would love to go and hang out in the bookshop or visit the florists. They feel like old friends and I really hope to hear more about them in a future book.

Thank you to Miranda for writing such a engaging, fun, warm and romantic book. It is perfect for reading at any time but is lovely to snuggle up with on these cold evenings and have some escapism into someone else's world. If you hadn't guessed I love this book and   I am already eagerly awaiting her new book. Oh, and finally I have to mention the cover which. Is stunning. I canf wait to see it on the bookshelves. I will be out buying a few copies to give as christmas presents and would highly recommend that you pick up a copy too.

In the meantime I will going to grab her other books for my fix.........

Thank you to the publisher who kindly provided a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Sealed with a Christmas Kiss by Rachael Lucas


Out Now
Published by Panmacmillan
Purchase from Amazon here

The Blurb:

Kate has taken to life on the remote Scottish island of Auchenmor like a seal to water: she's given a new lease of life to the Laird's estate in her day job; she's befriended the once-nosy locals; and even young Laird Roddy is not quite so grumpy these days.

Better still, Kate has just had her best idea yet: they'll turn the castle into the most gorgeous wedding venue in Scotland. The pressure's on as the first wedding is booked in for Christmas Eve - just weeks away. But with a mismatched bride and groom, a hysterical PR on her case, her own relationship woes and a huge storm blowing in, can Kate pull it off in time?

Escape the stresses of the Christmas season with this warm, funny and truly inspiring novella from bestselling author Rachael Lucas


My Review:

Aww what a beautiful, romantic story to get you in the mood for Christmas. I haven't read Sealed with a Kiss but I loved meeting Kate and Roddy. It didnt matter that I hadn't read the first book as this was really enjoyable, and a couple so clearly in love it was gorgeous.

It appears that Kate and Roddy became a couple a while earlier after she escaped to work in the castle which is on an island in Scotland. Kate has been looking for ways to use the home to generate income and has decided that it would be a fabulous wedding venue.

With the help of an old acquaintance from school who is looking to launch their own wedding website, she agrees to tie up and host the first wedding at Christmas. Oh dear, how can I describe the bride and groom? Ok, to be fair the bride is lovely. But oh my, the groom is awful. The man from hell and my worst nightmare. I defy you not to want to give him an almighty slap! Events take place whilst they are on the island that leave Kate desperately thinking of a plan b.

I loved following plan b! It was funny to follow Bridezilla in the build up and see it becoming more and more frenzied. I remember from my own experience of how stressful weddings can be, but this was far more enjoyable. Just as you think it can't get any worse a massive storm blows in threatening to scupper it all......

This is a short novella but it packs a great story into a small space. It made me laugh (more than a couple of times). It has romance, fun, some moving moments and is a great tale of love. I love Kate. She is written so well and I found it easy to connect to her emotions. She seems the sort of girl it would be fun to hang out with, and who would always have your back and be someone to turn to.

The novella made me feel all warm, loved up and full of festive cheer. I will be looking out for Sealed with a Kiss to find out more about Kate and her story.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

A Place for Us part 4 by Harriet Evans


Out now
Published by Headline
Purchase from Amazon here


The Blurb:

The FOURTH and FINAL of four exclusive part-serialisations of a A Place for Us by Harriet Evans. Steal a march on everyone and enjoy this magnificent conclusion to a beautiful novel.

The day Martha Winter decided to tear apart her family began like any other day.

So opens A Place for Us by Sunday Times bestselling author Harriet Evans, a book you'll dive into, featuring a family you'll fall in love with ... and never want to leave. If you devour Rosamund Pilcher and Maeve Binchy and have discovered Jojo Moyes, you'll be thrilled to add Harriet Evans to your collection of favourite authors.

The house has soft, purple wisteria twining around the door. You step inside.

The hall is cool after the hot summer's day. The welcome is kind, and always warm.

Yet something makes you suspect life here can't be as perfect as it seems.

After all, the brightest smile can hide the darkest secret.

But wouldn't you pay any price to have a glorious place like this?

Welcome to Winterfold.

Martha Winter's family is finally coming home.


My Review:

I was really looking forward to reading the fourth and final part of this serialisation to find out what happens to the Winter family, and I was not disappointed. I often struggle with serialisations as I have a memory like a sieve but I was able to get straight back where we had left off from part three.

If you havent read any of the series, it revolves around the Winter family. Martha has sent them all invitations to a party to celebrate her forthcoming birthday. We follow them coming together and the revelations that are made to the family. We also see some of what has happened to each of them in the past. The telling of the past and the present is a really clever way of telling each persons story and developing a good understanding and empathy with each of them. They have all been through personal battles and I really wanted to see what happens to each of them.

My favourite character since early on has been Cat and so I was pleased to see how much of this final installment follows her story. Cat has had a tough few years and has a lovely young son who she has been raising alone in France. When we catch up with Cat she is still in France but very unhappy. Martha comes over and brings her back home. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when this happened as she comes across as a genuinely good person who deserves happiness.

There are lots of loose ends that need resolving. I wasn't sure what was going to happen with Florence and whether we would see a happy ending or heartbreak. Likewise with Karen and Joe. The last we had seen them Karen was pregnant and leaving her husband to move in with Joe. I always saw an attraction between Cat and Joe and wanted them to live happily ever after....but life isn't always that simple!

This fourth part was by far my favourite as it focused more on the here and now and bringing them all to the end of their journey. It has been very cleverly written by the author who successfully combined the past and the present, through some complex situations but managed to keep me clear on what was going on, and how it was affecting the characters.

I have really enjoyed the mix of laughter, happiness, sadness and mystery. I think it will work really well when released in one book with the complete story next year.

Thank you to Headline for providing a copy in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

We've Always Got New York by Jill Knapp


Out Now
Published by Harper Impulse
Purchase from Amazon here


The Blurb:

The second book in Jill Knapp’s fabulous series about dating in New York picks up after Amalia Hastings returns to Manhattan from her trip to Brazil – and finds that life has indeed gone on without her.

Fresh off the plane, Amalia’s feeling anxious and unresolved; left alone to pick up the pieces and deal with the repercussions of choosing her own path over Michael.

Without an apartment, without a job, and starting to wonder if she’s even without a best friend, she finds herself holding on tightly to the one thing she is familiar with, New York City.

Sometimes you have to let go of who you were to become who you will be…


My Review:

I was really looking forward to the second installment in this trilogy and it was get to see what Amalia was getting up to. This picks up as Amalia returns from her travels and prepares for her return to study. Her most immediate problem is having a place to stay as she gave up her apartment before she left. I assumed she would stay with her best friend Cassandra, but she has become incredibly rude and nonchalant about having Amalia which really leaves her with no choice but to look elsewhere.

Amalia temporarily moves in with Olivia whilst looking for somewhere more permanent. Olivia is still dating Alex and we follow them through ups and downs during this book. I really like Olivia and Alex. Whilst Olivia is like many of us, looking to be loved, and doting on the man she loves she doesn't leave her friend in the lurch. Olivia is a great friend and I enjoyed learning more about her and her relationship with Alex. They are so sweet!

Anyone who has read the first book will know the story with Michael. Would he turn out to be the big romance once they see eachother again? Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell. But that doesn't stop Amalia who starts dating Hayden. Hayden is obviously very into her, far more than the other way round it seemed to me. It is clear she still holds a flame of hope for Michael throughout the book, and the feeling seems to be mutual. It all gets quite complicated and things with Hayden hit the rocks. Will there be a happy ending with Michael? I can't decide if I want there to be or not. Hayden treats Amalia so well and clearly likes her alot,  but there felt like a spark missing. The spark that is so important. But I am not sure if Michael is the answer to all her dreams. Time will tell if I change my mind I guess.

Cassie, Amalia's best friend is just awful in this book. She is a downright cow in the way she treats Amalia and as readers we are as clueless as Amalia to the reason why. I found myself getting really angry with her for being so horrible. I was desperate to find out if there was a good reason behind it, or if she had just turned into a witch in Amalia's absence. I wanted Amalia to stand up to her from early on, but could empathise why that might be so hard.

There are so many spoilers I could give and which I am itching to share but I won't. I don't want to ruin the story for other readers. I think I enjoyed this book even more than the first. We know the characters better now, and the storyline is very well written and played out.


I love New York even more than I did before and would so love to be young enough to go over there as a young thing, and maybe even study there and experience the student life. Unfortunately I will have to live vicariously through books such as this.

This book delivered, as expected lots of laughs, fun, adventure and romance. It also shows the more challenging emotional sides of relationships and friendships. I love Amalia and her friends and am already waiting excitedly to check in with their shenanigans in the third part.  

Thank you to Harper Impulse who kindly provided a copy in return for an honest review.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Hush Hush by Gabrielle Mullarkey

I was very pleased to be offered the opportunity to review Hush Hush, the new release from Gabrielle Mullarkey. It is a great story of loss, love and learning to live again. It has some really interesting characters and some twists I didnt see coming! I am happy to be able to share my review with you, along with a guest post that Gabrielle has kindly taken the time to write.

I hope you enjoy the post, review and book as much as I have.


Out Now
Published by Corazon books
Purchase from Amazon here

Guest post from Gabrielle

Returning to a book I’d written some years earlier felt like revisiting an old friend. But it was more than a question of updating and editing my novel for a new audience. As I read Hush Hush again, I reconnected not only with much-loved characters, but also with the person I’d been then, and all the hopes, dreams and fears I’d nurtured as I wrote.

I’d been in a very different place – literally – when I first conceived the idea for Hush Hush. I was living in Ireland and earning my keep as a freelance journalist and short story writer, contributing fiction and features to magazines and newspapers, mostly in the UK. 

I had taken a risk and moved to Ireland after meeting an Irishman while on holiday there with a friend. So when I got the idea for Hush Hush, I was inspired by the notion of just such a happenstance meeting, and where it might lead – in the case of my characters, between Angela, a widow taking her first holiday abroad alone, and Conor, the bluff but wryly funny Irishman who plonks down in the plane seat next to her. I then let the pair of them get on with it, and decide where they wanted to go from there.

Soon, Angela’s mum, her best friend Rachel, and Conor’s son Shane were all demanding their share of the spotlight, while Conor’s ex-wife and Angela’s late husband hovered in the background, one refusing to go quietly, the other a spectre at the feast. It gradually became clear to me, as the writer, that both Angela and Conor were damaged by the past in different ways – and in Angela’s case, in a way she hadn’t even imagined. 

After a flurry of publicity around the book, which was also serialised in a magazine, I went on to write a second, and the steady steam of stories and articles continued. 

But my life has changed beyond all recognition since then. It’s almost as if Hush Hush was both a way station and a buoy, tethering me to one time and place, while pointing me towards destinations yet to come. Since I wrote it, I have moved back to the UK, moved house five times, had a host of fascinating freelance jobs, and faced all the upheavals, trials and triumphs in my personal life that everyone experiences. All grist to the writing mill.

But, I am happy to report, I am still with the Irishman I met on that fateful holiday. I like to think of the story of Angela and Conor continuing to run alongside ours, in a similarly life-affirming, unpredictable and slightly muddled way!



The Blurb:

Widowed a year ago, thirtysomething Angela has retreated into her shell, reluctant to dip a toe back in the job market – let alone the dating game. Between them, her bossy mum and her best friend gently nudge Angela back to life, persuading her to find a job and even try a solo holiday – which ends with a luggage mix-up and an encounter with a rugged Irishman called Conor.

Back home, Angela resolves to take her new romance slowly, particularly as Conor’s (non-holiday) baggage includes the original ‘child from hell’ and a temperamental ex-wife with Pre-Raphaelite hair. Since Angela’s never liked winging it, is a future with Conor too uncertain to contemplate?

But as she’s about to discover, her old life was far less secure than she thought. And the past won’t let go until she confronts its long-buried secret.

My Review:

Hush Hush tells the story of Angela, a woman in her thirties who, after losing her husband, is venturing into the big bad world again. With some encouragement from her Mum and best friend Angela blags her way into a new job with a magazine. When offered the job and asked if she can start immediately Angela panics and lies saying she has a holiday booked. She takes advantage of this time to go off on her first holiday alone. On the way back she is sat next to a man called Conor. Conor, thanks to a luggage mix up and visit to her doorstep becomes a key character in the story and a new love interest.

However things arent plain sailing! Given all the sorrow that Angela has suffered after losing her husband as a reader I just wanted her to find a nice job, a good man, and some happiness. Enter Shane, Conor's son who isn't quite as happy about his Dad meeting Angela as Conor is. What a little brat!!! I could quite happily have given him a good shake a few times. It seems that no matter how much of an effort Angela makes his is determined to be as mean as possible.

Just as things seem to be settling down enter Conor's ex wife with another spanner in the works. She wants to move back to the UK and live with Conor and Shane again. When she doesn't get her own way her actions become more dramatic. Will the relationship between Angela and Conor survive?

I wasn't quite sure what to make of Conor. I can appreciate that your children are your number one (I know my daughter is and always will be), but I wanted him to stand up for Angela a bit more, and show her some more consideration, particularly after all she has been through. There are times when I found his behaviour quite cold and I am still not certain I like his character.

This is not just a book telling the story of a woman finding a new job and man. I found it alot more compelling than that. I really enjoyed the complexity of some of the relationships in the book. There were twists and turns that I didn't see coming at all. Not only the relationship with Conor and Shane, but also with her Mum, her best friend Rachel, and surprisingly her husband. There are secrets that emerge that had me going 'oh wow, I didn't see that coming'. I can't say too much as it will spoil it for other readers, but it made you realise you don't always know someone as well as you think, and sometimes you should trust your gut instinct. Oh, and that even though its not always obvious, Mums love you and will always look out for you.

There is also another element of intrigue as I tried to work out what had happened that had caused Angela to quit her job in London a few years earlier. We know that it's an incident relates to the underground, and since that time she is reticent to travel which of course rears it's head when she gets the new job that is in London. I automatically assumed she had witnessed a person on the tracks....but not necessarily so. It is clear how much her ordeal has affected her, and I was willing her to face it and overcome her fear. As someone who has suffered from anxiety I could strongly connect with her feelings and wanted to jump in and help her out.

I really grew to like Angela. Not only has she had a terrible loss, but there are lots of niggling doubts and regrets about the argument they had the night before her husband died. I was rooting for her throughout to find happiness, overcome her fears and insecurities and be treated with respect and love. Her journey has many surprises on the way which added more layers to the story and kept me as a reader interested.

I very much enjoyed this book. It kept me turning the pages and trying to second guess what was going to happen / what had happened and I loved the fact I didn't see it all coming so there were good elements of surprise.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

My Story of CFS - Warts and all

Hi All

The beauty of having a blog is my ability to share whatever I feel like sharing with you. I know I use it primarily for book reviews, but I would like to take this opportunity to share something a bit more personal with you. I would like to share the story of my last 15 months. Please do not feel obliged to read on.

I really want to say that I am not sharing this as a woe me, looking for attention or pity. I am doing it because there is still so much mystique around  CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Its symptoms can differ from person to person, and in the time I have been ill I have found it hard to find much out there about how it really affects people day to day.

I have spent the last 15 months scared, unsure of what was happening to me, and feeling like everything was falling around my ears. I have literally been in the biggest fight of my life so far. I realise how that I am a total perfectionist and have such high expectations of myself that I have been putting myself under so much pressure to 'snap out of it' I wasn't allowing my body time to relax and get better.

I hope that by sharing my story I might be able to help someone else who is going through this too. If I can spare someone even 5 minutes of angst or fear it will be worth it.

The journey down

I thought that it all started in the summer of 2013, but looking back now this started for me in January 2013. I got flu for the first time ever and was in bed for 3 weeks. That was an utter disaster for me. I was supposed to be strong, I couldn't stop and let people down, or show them any vulnerability. So rather than ease back into things slowly I went bang back into juggling a hectic and demanding job, running a local branch of a bereavement support group, volunteering at football at weekends, being a Mum, girlfriend and daughter. I thought I was invincible, and I loved doing it all.

By summer I was running on adrenalin. I remember now never being able to sit still, even rocking when typing on the computer at work, or constantly fidgeting. My sleep was in decline and I was down to about 5 hours a night. My appetite was insatiable as I was constantly looking for energy, but all I could stomach was McDonald's, and junk food. But behind all this adrenalin I could feel myself creaking. I was utterly exhausted and just wanted to sit down, cry and have someone spoon feed me nutrients and look after me. But I wouldn't admit defeat so kept my mask in place and carried on at full pelt without letting on to anyone how awful I was feeling.

That was until I got a heavy cold that just would not shift. My throat was swollen and I felt awful. I would come in from work and go up to bed. I couldn't carry on anymore. I went to the GP who ordered blood tests. They all came back clear. I was about to have a week off and they gave me a course of antibiotics as a precaution,

The 1st October 2013 I took the first one. I will never forget the date. They made me as sick as a dog and I couldn't get out of bed. Little did I know that this was just the start of 12 months of being bed bound.

Even after I stopped taking them I was lethargic, vomiting, upset stomach, couldn't stomach food, I ached, noise and lights began to bother me and I just had no energy or enthusiasm for anything. I stopped sleeping and could only manage about 90 minutes a night.

As time went on things got worse. I was up and down to A&E as no one was listening or believing me. I was so scared that I was seriously ill. Either that or losing my mind. I had so many blood tests but nothing. I was clinging on to every bit of hope. My B12 levels are very low, my cortisol levels are too high. Anything that might explain why I felt so awful. But nothing. I was starting to despair.

Rock bottom

By mid November I could no longer leave the house. I was constantly eating as my body felt like it was frantically looking for energy. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't get out of bed for the dizziness and feeling like I was going to faint. I couldnt bear to have any lights or sound. I was a total recluse in my bed. I couldn't bear having company because the noise of their voices was painful. I hated being on the phone as it was so painful and irritating. I could barely even lift a fork to feed myself, as the pain was so intense. I had constant double vision and tinnitus which was horrible.

Things that people take for granted became a massive task. I didn't have the energy or stamina to have a bath or shower. I couldn't even find the energy to wash or brush my teeth some days. I was only able to shower or wash my hair every week or 10 days, and not both at the same time. My pulse when even standing would be up at over 130 beats per minute. Simple tasks were like an aerobic workout. Going to the toilet would require sunglasses to shield me from the light and at times I would use a bowl when I couldn't get the 30 foot or so to the bathroom. Going downstairs might be a weekly treat and I couldn't prepare a drink or meal for myself. It was like being a baby all over again.

I tried cutting out wheat and gluten, then dairy, then corn. I was eating the worst diet of gluten free bread, boiled rice, roast chicken and oats. Each time I tried to introduce something different my body would make me so sick and by this time I had constant heartburn, was on the toilet up to 15 times a day and vomiting daily.

My lowest point came just before Christmas and I have never told anyone other than Simon about this as I feel so ashamed. But I think I need to share it so others don't feel ashamed of how their symptoms affect them. I hope people wont be repulsed by me for telling you, and will still like me.

I always try to make more of an effort when Simon is home. Unlike parents who love you unconditionally  I know that if you don't make that effort in a relationship you cant expect someone to stay with you. I knew I had to get into the bath and have a wash. The effort of getting out of bed and running the bath left me shattered. I was lying there and realised I couldnt get back out again. I was too proud to ask for help so I just lay there. I tried again to get out but it was just too much and I couldnt do it. I lost bowel and bladder control with trying so hard and vomited all over myself. I had no choice but to lie there in it all. I think that was the bleakest day I have ever had, and the scariest too.

I became a total recluse and my body just shut down. I would lie in darkness, with the tv for company and couldnt see any way out. I felt a total burden and was so ashamed that the person I was had gone and been replaced by this unrecognisable mess.

How anyone could stand by me or love me will always amaze me. I was a nightmare. I was so snappy, couldnt listen to anyone's advice and just wanted to be alone or better.

Things pretty much carried on like this until March,

The ascent starts

In late March I had had enough. I had heard about the Lightning Process and seen many success stories so I enrolled. It was a three day course and I didnt know how the hell I was going to manage it. But manage it I did. And I began to see results straight away. I could sit in light, my double vision went and the tinnitus eased.

Unfortunately at the same time my Boyfriends Dad took seriously ill and passed away. This was an incredibly difficult time and I didnt utilise the skills I had learnt as I should have. That said, I was able to go and see him in hospital. I was able to go to the house when his sister needed me, and I was able to go to the funeral. But they knackered me more than I have ever let on.

My regret is that I had so much going on for me that I couldnt support my boyfriend in the way I would have expected and would have liked to. I wanted to be involved and offer help to him and his family, but wasnt capable of going up there or doing lots of the practical stuff. I felt impotent and I have always been the do-er so not being able to do anything to honour his Dad, who I adored, or help Simon was a massive blow. My insecurities came to the fore and I know I was more critical than supportive of him at times. I will never be able to make it up to him.and hope that one day he will realise I did love him.

June came along and the good weather. I started to be able to sit in the garden and have short walks. I then went to see Stevie Wonder in concert on Clapham Common and ended up back at square one.

My heartburn also got worse and I ended up on long term medication waiting for an endoscopy.

The summer was pretty miserable and my relationship has been tested to the core.

October this year is my turning point. I am determined and there is a shift. I got my referral the CFS clinic and have started CBT. I have only had 2 sessions but he has taught me to let go of the fear and more importantly my perfectionism. I am a good person deep down, and these symptoms might never go, but I can learn to live with them.

My endoscopy shows that I have a hiatus hernia. But oddly since the day of the procedure the heartburn has lessened and I have taken the bull by the horns and am moving back to eating properly. I love vegetables - something i never thought I would say!

I have been for kinesiology, an alternative therapy I very strongly believe in. I am taking some natural supplements which my body asked for, and my energy levels are rising.

I now get out of bed every day and get dressed. I am out of bed all day, and go for a walk every day. I even went to the shops this week and went out with Simon to visit his Mum.

I know I have a long road ahead, but for the first time I am not afraid. What will be will be. I am not going to strive for perfection, I am looking to be happy. Who knows what that looks like now. I am looking forward to finding out.


Thank you

I dont think I would be sitting here today typing this if it wasnt for some very special people.

First and foremost my Parents. Their love and support has been unwavering. They have done so much for me that I will never be able to repay. I love them with all my heart.

Simon. Thank you for not giving up on me, even when others said you should. I know it would have been easy to walk away, and I know I am not good at listening and taking advice but I love you and know you have always had my best interests at heart. I will be a proper girlfriend you can be proud of again one day I promise

My daughter. You have your own battles but you have been patient with me when I have been a crap Mum. I will always love you and will make it all up to you.

My family and friends. Thank you. You have no idea how much your support has lifted me and meant to me. I cant wait to see you again soon.

Book bloggers and authors deserve a special mention. You gave me hope, a purpose and many laughs over this time. I would find things alot harder without your kindness. It is a fantastic community and I love being a part of it.

Fellow spoonies: wow guys. You are all amazing and such an inspiration. Thanks for all the advice, listening to my rants, and for the humour that makes the day bearable. Special shout out to Sian, Charlotte and Anna. You are awesome princesses!!




I really hope anyone still reading has found this useful. Please never give up hope or feel alone. If I can ever do anything to help let me know. life can be lonely without friends and I am glad to have you

Take care

Jill xx


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Blog Tour: The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas

Happy Wednesday! I am really pleased to be part of the blog tour promoting the fabulous book The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas, published by Headline. I am hearing so many readers and bloggers raving about this book.

I dont know about you, but as the weather is turning colder I am reaching for warm comfort foods such as soup and stews. It is therefore very exciting that Jo has shared two recipes created by Mairin and Kevin in her book, The first is for mushroom and oyster pie as created by Mairin. The second is for oyster and Guiness beef pie as made by Kevin. I have never tried oysters but will be attempting to make these recipes in the near future. My mouth is watering just at the thought!

I have also included some details about The Oyster Catcher which is highly recommended as a warm and lovely read.

Enjoy and I would love to hear if you try the recipes for the soup or pie.

Synopsis

Kindle Bestseller and RNA Joan Hessayon Award Winner The Oyster Catcher is Jo Thomas's irresistibly feel-good Irish novel of facing the past, finding your feet and falling in love.

Dooleybridge, County Galway. Population: 482 (or thereabouts). The last place Fiona Clutterbuck expects to end up, alone, on her wedding night.

But after the words 'I do' have barely left her mouth, that's exactly where she is - with only her sequined shoes and a crashed camper van for company.

One thing is certain: Fi can't go back. So when the opportunity arises to work for Sean Thornton, the local oyster farmer, she jumps at the chance. Now Fi must navigate suspicious locals, jealous rivals and a wild, unpredictable boss if she's to find a new life, and love, on the Irish coast. And nothing - not even a chronic fear of water - is going to hold her back.

Join Fi on her romantic, unpredictable adventure as she learns the rules of the ocean - and picks up a few pearls of Irish wisdom along the way...

You can purchase The Oyster Catcher from Amazon here


Mairin and Kevin's recipes for mushroom and oyster soup


In The Oyster Catcher my heroine Fi makes a mushroom and oyster soup. This is Mairin’s recipe;
Ingredients
12-18 oysters , shells removed, juices strained and reserved.
25g/1oz butter
225g/8oz onions, grated
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small pieces
225g/8oz button mushrooms, chopped
225 ml/8fl oz milk
225 ml/8 fl oz cream
Dash of Tabasco
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Paprika to garnish and fingers of hot buttered toast.
Instructions
Melt the butter in the saucepan. Saute the onions over a moderate heat. Add potatoes and mushrooms until tender. Pour in the milk and mix well. Add the cream and carefully bring to the boil, mixing gently.
Reduce the heat. Add the oysters, juices, Tabasco, and seasoning and heat for 4-5 minutes.
Serve in warm bowls, sprinkle with paprika and serve with toast.
(Mairin says you can add a little white wine if the soup is too thick).

Or how about trying Kevin’s oyster pie (oyster and Guinness beef pie)
Ingredients
12 oysters, shells removed, juices strained and reserved.
2 tablespoons plain flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
700g/1 ½ lb rib beef, cubed
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1-2 onions, finely chopped
225g/8oz mushrooms, chopped
423 ml/15 fl oz Guinness
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
200g/7oz ready-made puff pastry
Serve with green salad or baked potatoes
Instructions:
Season the flour and toss the beef in it. Heat the oil and when hot, add the beef to seal it. Remove the beef and fry the onions and mushrooms and then return the beef to the pan. Add the Guinness, Worcestershire sauce and oyster juices and season. Cover and simmer for about 1 ½ hours and then remove and allow to cool. Add the oysters.
Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/gas mark 6. Grease a deep pie dish. Pour in the mixture and cover with pastry. Crimp the edges and cut an air vent in the centre.
Bake for 15 minutes in centre of oven and then reduce heat to 180 C/350 F/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 30 minutes until the meat is heated through.