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.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Perfect Christmas by Kate Forster


Out now
Published by Harlequin UK, Mira
Purchase from Amazon here

The Blurb:

A holiday short story that proves that true love is forever, not just for Christmas…
Hollywood movie star Maggie and friend and manager Zoe need an escape from their complicated star-studded lives in LA. With its history and Christmas charm, London feels like the perfect getaway.

But can they truly leave their realities behind?

In their luxurious quarters, the girls meet Holly who is ideal at showing Maggie and Zoe the sumptuous sights and sounds of London in their most glittering light. But behind her bright fa├žade, Holly is hiding a secret: suffering from unrequited love, she’s looking for a Christmas miracle. Desperate to see an unattainable love story for Holly come together, will our LA starlets succeed in providing a Hollywood ending before the dawn of Christmas Day?

Packed to the brim with festive cheer, this is the only story you’ll need this Christmas…


My Review:

The Perfect Christmas is a short story that has already got me into the festive spirit. I'm sitting her humming carols to myself as I type! At 78 pages this novella is a great way of dipping into the Christmas period when you have some spare time.

I loved the two main characters. Maggie is married to Will and  has a step son who is waiting for a heart transplant. They usually spend Christmas at home together and Maggie is shocked when Will announces that they are off to Mexico for Christmas this year, without Maggie.

Zoe is Maggies friend and manager. They haven't seen eachother in a couple of months, but when Maggie hears about Wills plans she heads straight over to see Zoe. With neither having any plans they decide that they will escape all the madness and head to London. Zoe is always on the go working and it is Maggies intention for her to stop for a few days.

We follow them over to London where they check into The Dorchester hotel and the fun begins. Here we meet Holly who is assigned to look after them during their stay. Maggie spots that Holly has a, how shall I say....soft spot for Jack who is the hotel manager, and decides to take it upon herself to play Cupid. The rest of the story follows their trips out, and also their attempt to bring Holly and Jack together.

I really enjoyed this novella and read it all in one sitting. The characters are bought to life very quickly and I felt able to connect with them. The story felt like a great adventure which made me laugh and smirk almost all the way through. Maggie and Zoe are very likeable and I really wanted them to go out and have fun, so was willing them on. It was a bit like hanging out with a couple of friends. There is an air of naughtiness and mischievousness in Maggie which made me smile throughout.  I enjoyed the dynamics of their friendship, and seeing Zoe being forced to lighten up and let go. It also wouldn't be Christmas without a budding romance and the novella ticked that box for me.

A fun easy read, full of festive spirit. It even got me in the mood to think about my Christmas shopping and the smell of winter in the air without dread. I love Christmas time and this novella created a feeling of happiness and joy in me, and has me reaching for the mince pies!

Thank you to Harlequin UK, Mira who provided a copy in return for an honest review.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Home for the Holidays by Ellen Faith


Out now
Purchase on Amazon here


The Blurb:

When Lexi and Ryan make the decision to venture home for the Christmas holidays, neither of them can wait to catch up with their families. What the pair don’t anticipate is the series of life changing events their families have been going through while they’ve been continuing with their American adventure, including a newly nudist father.

As they try to weather the storm, they discover that being back in the UK is creating more questions than answers for them as a couple and their American dream is beginning to fade. Fast.

*This novel can be read as a follow on from The Story of Us or as a standalone*


My Review:

Home for the Holidays is the first book I have read by Ellen Faith and the first time I have met Lexi and Ryan. If you haven't read The Story of Us then don't worry, this book can easily be read as a standalone.

Lexi and Ryan are an engaged British couple living and working in America where they met. They are heading home to the UK for Christmas, to meet up and introduce eachother to family and friends, and also to consider wedding venues. It is no secret that Ryan has quite a bit of money and connections. I was jealous when they boarded a private jet to fly over to London. I have always wanted to fly like that....maybe one day!

Their first stop is to heavily pregnant Rosie and her husband Jason. We meet Rosie in a flustered and moody state and this hilariously continues throughout the book. The woes of being a 9 month pregnant lady are so funny, even when they probably shouldn't be! However Rosie and Jason are a wonderful couple and I loved them. They are so warm and just the sort of friends you can imagine hanging out with. It is apparent how much they care about eachother, and just how much Lexi fits in to that too. As well providing warmth, humour and affection there is a real heart stopping moment in the book when there is a complication with Rosie's pregnancy. Because of how well the book is written and the way I connected with the characters this really got to me. I was reaching for the tissues and frantically reading on.

We also meet Luke who grew up with Lexi, Rosie and Jason and was Lexi's boyfriend until a move of France at 17  tore them apart. He has since married and has a baby. It is clear that he was an integral part of their group, but moving and then his marriage has distanced this. His wife is a piece of work and I really disliked her. She doesnt appear to want Luke to have anything to do with Lexi or the friendship group. This makes it all rather awkward when they are invited to, and attend Lukes babys christening. His wife and her friends are just awful to them all and I was livid with them.

Throughout the story we also meet both sets of families. A special mention for Ryan's Dad who since he saw his son last has dispensed to wearing clothes around the house, hilarious! Again, they are all loving and warm characters in their own way and meeting them felt like a real pleasure.

We also got to tour some potential wedding venues both in the UK and America. I am an old romantic at heart so love building up an image of beautiful weddings. One venue in particular had me getting goosebumps at the thought of it. I could conjure up an image of me walking down the aisle to the man of my dreams. I will let you guess which venue if you read the book.

Being reunited with family and friends gets Lexi and Ryan thinking about the future, and you see them start to question their decision to live in America, so far way from their family and friends......will events make them reconsider and move home again? I was rooting for home all the way, perhaps because I couldnt imagine not being on the doorstep to Rosie every day.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and it was the characters that made it so fabulous. They are all so well written, and so strong in the way Ellen portrays their characteristics. Lexi and Ryan are at times nauseatingly loved up (I'm not jealous...honest!!!), but it isn't offputting because of the humour in the book. But they literally cant keep their hands off eachother. Oh to have a romance like that!! Rosie is wonderful and my favourite. She brings another dynamic to the story with her pregnancy, grumpiness, but also funny and loving side. It is clear that she and Lexi are friend for life and she is like a sister. I adored the scenes where they are up with Lexi's family and all so together and happy. That is what christmas is all about, not presents and all the stress, about being together and sharing special times.

The book wasnt all laughter though. A couple of events were far more serious and evoked both anger and also fear in me. Luke's wife could definitely be nick named the wicked witch of the west with her frostiness and nasty side. I couldnt stand her or her nasty friends at all, and the scenes at the christening party made me really cross (yep, I was totally engrossed by this point). I won't tell you what happens and spoil it for you, but she is vile!

I was almost in bits towards the end of the book, and on the edge of my seat when there are some complications with Rosie's pregnancy. You might want to have some tissues and chocolate handy. It was late at night when I got to that bit but I knew I just couldnt stop until I found out what was going to happen.

I will have to look out for a copy of The Story of Us now as I need another fix of Lexi and Ryan, and to find out how they met etc. I have really loved this book and would love to read more of Ellens work. I think she is a talent to keep our eyes peeled for in the future.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I have. It's full of fun, love, friendship, family and Christmas. Happy reading!



 

Secret Santa by Scarlett Bailey


Out now
Published by Ebury
Purchase from Amazon here


The Blurb:

A self-confessed Christmas queen, Sue Montaigne prides herself on organising the annual nativity pageant in her small Cornish village of Poldore.

But this year, what with having to deal with the repairs on Castle House after it was wrecked by a terrible storm, training a new – and frankly flighty – Virgin Mary and managing a Joseph who is allergic to sheep, she is distinctly lacking a little bit of ‘me time’.

And then there are the auditions for the new Santa. But nothing prepares her for the beautiful man who turns up, a twinkle in his eye and a promise to make her Christmas dreams come true…


My Review:

I'm sat here typing and humming 'Santa Claus is coming to town' thanks to Scarlett Bailey and Secret Santa! This novella is a fun festive read with some romance that I really enjoyed.

We meet Sue, the village do-er in the build up to Christmas. Sue is the centre of village life and is taking the lead on organising all the village festivities. When we meet her she is desperately trying to convince one of the locals to don his Santa suit for the annual Christmas pageant and grotto....without much success!

Sue seems to operate on one speed.....full throttle! I was exhausted thinking about her juggling her big house, children, and being centre of the community. But I also recognised that I like to be just as busy and thrive on it. We soon find out that Sue's husband Rory has left her after yet another affair, but she is trying to keep it all together and hide it from her kids and everyone else until after Christmas. Her life is not easy and she could do with financial help and support, but is more concerned about others than herself.

The book is a bit like a panto in so much that we have the baddie I wanted to boo and hiss at every time they are mentioned, and we have a Prince Charming who I wanted our heroine, Sue, to live happily ever after with. There was also magical mystery in Nick who takes on the role of Santa. Where did he appear from and how is he so special?

In her quest to find a Santa, Sue approaches famous actor Blake who lives in the village. He agrees to help her audition for the part, and it leads to them becoming friends. Could there be more to it? I liked Blake. Quiet and unassuming he would be lovely to be around, and I was willing Sue to spot this and for them to come together and be happy.

I also loved her friends. They rallied round her when they found out that Rory had left her and the advise and some scenes made me laugh out loud. I felt a real affinity to Sue and wanted to tell her what for and that life is too short to look after everyone else all the time. There is great support to be had from your girlfriends and this novella showcases it brilliantly.

The story is a mix of lighthearted fun as well as some pull at the heart string moments which I really enjoyed. I loved moving towards Christmas with the culmination on Christmas Eve when we get to see how it all comes together. My daughter is 21 now so Christmas is very different to when she was younger. This story has me hankering after the days of grottos, stockings and snowmen. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I have.

I spotted the name of a fabulous book blogger amongst the characters. I hope she sees it. What an honour to be cast in a story by such a great author!

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


Friday, 7 November 2014

The Broken String by Diane Chamberlain


Publication date: 6 November 
Published by: St Martins Press / Panmacmillan
Purchase from Amazon here

The Blurb:

A short story from Diane Chamberlain, the bestselling author of The Midwife's Confession and Necessary Lies.

Some secrets need to be told . . . As a child, Riley always suspected there was a secret her parents and brother protected her from, a secret that ruined the bond between her and her brother and threatened to tear her family apart. Now seventeen years old, Riley is flying out to visit her brother Danny who has been wounded whilst fighting in Iraq. And she's is determined to find out what this secret is. But will uncovering the truth bring her and her brother together again and give her the answers she craves, or will it simply lead to more questions . . .

The Broken String is perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult.


My Review:

The Broken String is a short story of 48 pages where we get to meet Riley, who I believe is one of the main characters from Diane's forthcoming book The Silent Sister. Whilst short I did really enjoy it and will be reading The Silent Sister as soon as I can. I like novellas that give us a taste for characters.

Riley is seventeen and we meet her as she gets on a flight. She is sitting beside two children on a flight that is a bit turbulent. She reassures the children that the plane will be ok. Whilst on the flight she flashes back to younger memories with her brother. Those aboard become aware of the reason she is travelling and many come over to speak to her during the flight. This helps us as readers become aware of her back story.

Her brother Danny has been injured whilst with the army in Iraq and she is flying over to see him. She doesn't know his condition and it is a very stressful time for her. It was intriguing that given she is only seventeen it is her and not her parents flying over to be with him. The reason for this comes out as the story unfolds........

I thought this was a riveting short story. As I said, we get an introduction to Riley and her brother and also get to delve into the background of their family life and some of their secrets. There is a darker side to them and I am sure there is more to be revealed.  It has certainly whetted my appetite for the full book and I think I am going to really like Riley. I warmed to her and felt empathy for her childhood. I am also intrigued to see what character her brother has and the family dynamic.

A riveting short read that packs a punch.

Thank you to St Martins Press who provided a copy in return for an honest review.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

One Hundred Christmas Proposals by Holly Martin


Out now
Published by Carina
Purchase from Amazon here

The Blurb:

The eagerly anticipated follow-up to One Hundred Proposals.

If you thought Harry & Suzie’s life couldn't get anymore sweepingly romantic than Harry asking her to marry him at the end of One Hundred Proposals – think again!

It’s Christmas in a snow-kissed London, and the.PerfectProposal.com have vowed to carry out one hundred proposals in December. No easy task at the best of times - made even more complicated by Harry & Suzie trying to plan their first Christmas and a visit from the dreaded in-laws. But one hundred deliciously Christmassy proposals later they find themselves asking if everything is still perfect in their own relationship….

Welcome back to the divinely warm world of One Hundred Proposals – with a sprinkling of pure, joyful, festive magic.

Have yourself a very merry Christmas indeed with Holly Martin’s Christmas novella.

My Review:

Ahhhh what a wonderfully romantic, funny read, perfect for any time if year, but even better with Christmas approaching. I loved it. It had the perfect festive feel to it. Infact I am humming Christmas carols as I am writing this.

If you haven't read One Hundred Proposals yet then I really recommend you do before reading this novella, as it takes up where the first book left off. I love Harry and Suzie. They are a gorgeous couple, so in love and unable to keep their hands off eachother (oh, I remember those days, many moons ago). I will keep this brief as I don't want to spoil the storyline for you.....but we rejoin Harry and Suzie in the lead up to Christmas. They are madly in love and the world looks good. The only frustration appears to be Harrys reluctance to set a date and walk up the aisle, much to Suzie's dismay. Their business is booming, and Harry has come up with an idea to offer a one hundred Christmas proposal service to clients.

As with the first book, we get to hear some of the proposal ideas and they are so beautifully romantic. I would love it to happen to me one day (well a girl can dream can't they!!!). We read about proposals on the Thames, whilst ice skating and other such settings. However the biggest proposal they are working is for a client who really wants to push the boat about and propose on New Year's Eve. It melted my heart reading about the plans, but there could be more to it than meets the eye........

We once again meet Suzie's close friends Jules and Badger. They are still together and very happy. I love these two. They paint a picture of love, but in a more routine day to day way.

We are introduced to Suzie's parents who are flying over from Australia for Christmas and New Year. I would quite willingly have punched her Mum at times in the story. What an obnoxious and rude woman!  The opposite of her husband who is adorable. This also causes a potential problem when they want to see their grandchild. If you didnt know. Jules was married to their son (Suzie's brother) until he passed away a couple of years ago. They had a child together. Badger was their sons close friend and so it's all very complicated. But as a reader I can see how happy they are, and how lovely they are and so want them to be happy. They didnt set out to hurt anyone, and can't help that they fell in love.

Whilst it is obvious that Suzie and Harry are still crazy in love with each other Harry is acting a bit strangely which leads to some tension between the couple. And events occur which will change their relationship forever. There is so much pressure to have a 'perfect' family Christmas Day that I really enjoyed reading about theirs. It sounded wonderful to me. Perhaps I will get curry on Christmas Eve this year and just reheat it and slob out in front of the tv on Christmas Day. I wonder how many that would upset!!!

This is the third time I have picked up work by Holly Martin, and as with the previous two occasions I am not disappointed. It is beautifully written with such thought wnd feeling that comes through and brings the world and the proposals to life. It is filled with love and romance and it is a feel good read. I loved it and felt totally festive after the final page. I could just imagine One Hundred Proposals and this being snapped up and made into a film for the big screen, it would be wonderful viewing, particularly around valentines day.

I also just wanted to mention the cover...it is gorgeous! Carina have a knack of coming up with eye catching covers and this one is wonderful.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Ivy Lane (Part 4) - Winter by Cathy Bramley


Release date: 6 November 2014
Published by Transworld
Purchase from Amazon here
The Blurb:

Hope thrives at Ivy Lane . . .

As winter descends on Ivy Lane, the frost sparkles and icy winds flurry – but Tilly is still reeling from the events of the Hallowe’en party. Only the die-hard plot holders brave the cold weather, and Tilly fears the loneliness that gripped her a year ago will return.

Resolute to stay cheerful, she throws herself into organizing both the inaugural Ivy Lane Great Cake Competition and the Christmas Party, and even squeezes in a little match-making along the way.

Surrounded by her friends at the Christmas Party, Tilly has come a long way in a year. She can feel her own heart slowly melting, but who will be waiting under the mistletoe?

Ivy Lane is a serialized novel told in four parts – taking you through a year in the life of Tilly Parker – ending with Winter.

Each part of Ivy Lane is approx. 10 chapters.


My Review:

After waiting with baited breath for the last two months it was fantastic to catch up with Tilly and the gang again. If you have read part three (autumn), you will know that it ended with a massive cliffhanger. I was dying to know what happened and if all was ok and couldn't get started soon enough. As soon as it had finished downloading to my Kindle I was stuck straight in,

This fourth and final installment does not disappoint! It is so beautifully written, I defy you not to fall in love with Ivy Lane and it's residents. As winter descends upon the allotment things wind down, and it almost feels like it's time to hibernate until the spring.

When we last saw the residents in Autumn there was alot happening. Tilly was slowly starting to emerge from her chrysalis and coming back to life after the devastating accident that tore her life apart. Her friends also have much going on for them. Gemma's pregnancy is progressing and her due date is looming ever closer. Charlie is still reeling from Tilly rejecting his advances, and decides he wants to take a step back from their friendship. There has been no word from TV Producer Aidan and Tilly is devastated, as she realises how  much she likes him.

However, in good old Tilly fashion, rather than curl up and feel sorry of herself she throws herself full force with the allotment committee. When the roof is blown off and needs repairs the costs threaten to empty the already depleted allotment coffers and leave them with no Christmas party, Tilly jumps to the rescue and organises a cake baking competition at the allotment. The thought of all the cakes had me drooling!! She then goes on to be master organiser by taking on the Christmas party.

Will Gemma's baby arrive safely? Will Charlie get over his disappointment and become friends with Tilly? Will Aidan ride back into Tilly's life and bring her happiness? You will just have to read it and find out for yourselves!!!!

I have absolutely adored reading this series and will miss Tilly and the characters now that the series has ended. Cathy has written this is such a way that I felt connected with the characters right from the start. I love Tilly. She is a strong, resilient woman, with a massive heart. Her past is tragic, but we don't find out why until quite late into the series. Despite not knowing what has happened, Cathy's skill at writing enabled me to empathise with her and get totally drawn into just knowing that she was heartbroken, and needed nurturing and the chance to blossom once more. I was willing her to find happiness and contentment  all the way through.

I also loved every other one of the characters in their own way. Gemma is a great friend who helps Tilly to learn to trust again and to smile. I am lucky to have a Gemma in my life too. I of course love a bit of romance and I spent alot of the series torn between Charlie and Aidan. I won't ruin the surprise but I wasn't devastated at the end!

The series is currently available on kindle in 4 parts, but will also be released in its entirety in spring next year, and will be available in paperback. I will be re-reading it again then I am sure.  It has been torture only getting part of the story at a time, but in other ways I have also enjoyed the suspense that went with it. I think I have said it before but this series made Cathy Bramley into the queen of cliffhangers. Each season ending with another!

You may have realised by now just how much I have enjoyed Ivy Lane. It has made me laugh, made me cry, feel frustration but never fails to make me smile. It is perfect and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

It has also bought out the gardener in me. I finished ready the summer part and got planting my first ever seeds. They are pansies, the flower of remembrance and were given out at my boyfriends fathers funeral earlier this year, so are very special to me. Thanks to Tilly and the gang I planted them and look, they have grown. I am shocked and delighted. I now really really want an allotment of my own and have started looking in my local area.

My Ivy Lane inspired pansies grown in love for John 

A massive thank you to Cathy Bramley for giving me such reading enjoyment and for finding my inner gardener. I will miss the Ivy Lane gang, but am counting down until 5th February and the new Appleby Farm series.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Blog Tour - The Boy in the Cemetery by Sebastian Gregory - Seb's top 5 phobias

Happy Sunday!

Hope you all had a spooky and fun halloween. I am delighted to have been asked to be part of the blog tour for The Boy in the Cemetery by Sebastian Gregory. The book which is published by Carina is out now. I read it last week to get me in the mood for halloween, and it definitely is gory and a great horror story. You can read my review here.

Today I would like to share Seb's top 5 phobias with you. The first one would certainly scare the wits out of me!


Seb’s Top 5 Phobias

Telephonmortisphobia

The fear of being woken by a telephone in the middle of the night and when answered it is dead people calling.


Epistaxioarachnidphobia

The fear of being hurt and instead of bleeding, spiders escape from the wound.



Cometounmortisphobia

The fear of walking through a cemetery and being pulled into the earth by the undead.



Nannawiccaphobia

The fear that your Gran may be a witch.



Phasmclaustrophobia

The fear there is a ghost in the cupboard that will escape when the door is opened.



Sebastian Gregory’s THE BOY IN THE CEMETERY is only £0.99 for a limited time on Amazon, Apple and other retailers.


THE ASYLUM OF FAIRY TALE CREATURES is free for a limited time on Amazon, Apple and other retailers.

THE GRUESOME ADVENTURES OF ALICE IN UNDEADLAND is £0.99 for a limited time on Amazon, Apple and other retailers.

Look out for A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, coming in December.