The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan – Book Review

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A huge thank you to Karen Swan, NetGalley and Pan Macmillan publishing for a copy of this book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Synopsis (taken from NetGalley)

December 2018, and free-spirited influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans.

Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce grandmother Signy. Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls, everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie and with every new post, the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth.

Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who’ll listen.

June 1936, and fourteen-year old Signy is sent with her sister and village friends to the summer pastures to work as milkmaids, protecting the herd that will sustain the farm through the long, winter months. But miles from home and away from the safety of their families, threat begins to lurk in friendly faces . . .

The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.

 

Review

I absolutely loved this book!

Where to start………

The imagery in this book is simply stunning.  I get immersed in most books that I read but I was actually there in Norway with the characters, feeling the cold and then the warmth of the log fires etc.

The dual narrative of the two eras was equally delightful and added an extra layer of depth to the main narrative of Bo and Zac, providing insight and a glimpse into the life of the lady who owns the cabins.

The characters are written really well and the additional bonus of a thriller/suspense storyline really takes this story beyond your everyday romance novel.  Karen Swan does a fantastic job of telling the romance side of the story in a cosy way whilst keeping you addicted and on the edge of your seat with the suspense aspect – two difficult genres to bring together.

I highly recommend this book if you’re a fan of cosy Christmas reads but enjoy an additional surprise.

My Favourite Xmas Films

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I’m well aware that there are many posts around containing Christmas films but I think it’s only fair that I get my say.  There’s nothing better than snuggling under blankets, watching a Christmas film, with a  bottle of wine and the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree in the background.  So, here are my favourites.

I’ve listed them in no particular order.

The Snowman

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The Snowman is my ultimate Christmas memory.  It was on every year and I watched without fail.  I now use it in school and my son loves it.  I’m hoping to pass it onto my daughter too. The beautiful music and animation say more than words could.  I was also thrilled to find out a few years ago that the little boy is called James (it is in the film) and so is my son.

 

Love Actually

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I love this film so much.  It brings me to tears every-time,  in particular the scene where Andrew Lincoln carol sings at the door of Keira Knightly.   It looks at love in different ways and scenarios and the casting is just superb.

 

The Holiday

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The Holiday is a story of four people broken by previous relationships finding love in an unexpected way.  It’s set around Christmas but in contrasting locations; UK and California.  The whole cast is just so lovable and you can’t help rooting for them throughout.

 

Harry Potter Series

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Not specifically a Christmas film but the Christmas scenes are so beautiful in both scenery and meaning that I couldn’t leave it out.  It’s the time that Harry is welcomed in to the open arms of the Weasley family, the first time he experiences a Christmas with friends and the first time he visits Godrik’s Hollow.

 

Home Alone 1 and 2

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It just never seems like Christmas without watching Home Alone 1 and 2.  The first has a brilliant soundtrack and a very unique story-line.  The second installment takes us to the magnificent New York and teaches us the real meaning of Christmas.

Nativity

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As a school teacher it’s hard to resist this hilarious tale of an unwilling teacher put in charge of the Christmas play.  In addition to loving Martin Freeman, it’s a no-brainer for me.  The soundtrack is great too and every school needs a Mr Poppy.

 

Miracle on 34th Street

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I am convinced to this day that this film actually starts the real Santa!  This is a beautiful film about a little girl and her mother who need the Christmas spirit more than anyone.  Along comes Chris Kringle to save the day.

 

About a Boy

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I fell in love with this film when I saw it at the cinema.  The story of a lost boy, a parent with mental health issues and a man-child and how their lives become tangled – with unexpected outcomes.

You’ve Got Mail

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Not specifically a Christmas film but does have some Christmas feels.  The main reason I love this film is because I dream of having a book store just like Meg Ryan’s character and what’s not to like about a Tom Hanks film.

 

What’s your favourite film to watch over Christmas?  Let me know in the comments.

 

 

GUEST POST from J.A. Baker – Author of The Uninvited

I’m overjoyed to be hosting a guest post written by author J.A. Baker whose new book, The Uninvited is sitting right on the top of my TBR pile. She shares her experiences of writing her novels and the accompanying emotions.  She’s also a local writer (to me) so I’m pleased I get to share the love and wisdom.

About the Author

JA Baker

J.A.BAKER was born and brought up in North East England and has had a love of language for as long as she can remember.

She has a love of local history and genealogy and enjoys reading many genres of books but is an addict of psychological thrillers.

In December 2016 she was signed by Bloodhound Books who published Undercurrent.
Her second novel, Her Dark Retreat was published in October 2017 and The Other Mother was published in December 2017. Her fourth novel, Finding Eva was published in August 2018

J.A. Baker has four grown up children and one grandchild. She lives in a village near the river with her husband and madcap dog and when not working part time in a primary school, she spends her days trying to think up new and inventive ways of murdering people.

She can be reached on any of the links below and loves hearing from readers.

www.twitter.com/thewriterjude

www.facebook.com/thewriterjude

www.jabakerauthor.com

THE NERVOUS WRITER

Two of my novels released last year – Her Dark Retreat and The Other Mother – were written one straight after the other, which sounds fairly easy if you write full time, but I don’t. Writing is my second job so I do most of it on an evening, at weekends, or during the school holidays. The main difficulty for me is time, or rather the lack of it! I have learnt to utilise my time wisely and make sure I leave enough time for seeing family and friends. I managed to study for a degree whilst working and having four children living at home so juggling being a writer as well as working is nothing new to me.

After getting my debut novel (Undercurrent) published, I naively thought I could sit back for a while and had no idea how important it is to get your books out there and get your name known to readers. I soon realised that writing was a full time job and there was far more to it than simply sitting and tapping away at a keyboard. Interviews, book signings, meeting readers and other authors are all part and parcel of being a writer. I love doing all of these things but again, time is always against me. I’ve learnt that I need to prioritise now, choosing to attend some and not all functions and taking part in only a few interviews rather than putting myself up for all of them.

My second book, Her Dark Retreat, gave me the jitters prior to release because of the content. It deals with an assortment of difficult subjects such as dementia and infertility and although I had some knowledge of both, I also know that everyone’s experience is different and braced myself for some sort of backlash. However, I feel they were dealt with sensitively and were integral to the story so I hope nobody was offended. I do feel there is responsibility attached to producing a story and putting it out into the public domain and if as a writer, you are going to tackle difficult subjects, then you have a duty to do your homework beforehand and make it as accurate as you possibly can. Nobody is perfect and as I said earlier, everyone’s experiences are different, and people interpret things in their own way depending on their viewpoint, but as long as you can say, hand on heart, that you did your research then I don’t think anybody can complain or find fault.

The characters in my books aren’t always likeable. I don’t necessarily go down the route of having a protagonist everybody immediately warms to. We live in a complex world where people have many facets to their personality. I am fascinated by how normal people react when plunged into abnormal situations. I like to write about how their darker sides emerge as the story unfolds and events begin to unravel. My background is in education and psychology so it’s the working of a character’s mind that I focus on rather than the actual crime and forensics. I don’t consider myself a crime writer, more a thriller writer with a bit of crime thrown in!

The genre I slot into has been described as both psychological thriller and domestic noir. I have heard it said that this sort of writing is predominantly written by females and geared towards a female audience. I haven’t seen any statistics to back this up and only have my own experience to go on. The readers of my books seem to be a mixed bag for sure, including male and females of all ages.

I am fortunate enough to have a publisher (Bloodhound Books) who are so supportive of all their authors, which is just as well as I am a bag of nerves prior to the release of my books. I find the whole editing/proofreading process highly stressful. By the time I receive my book back for one final glance over for errors etc, I’ve read it so many times I can hardly bring myself to even look at it. I spend the month before release worrying about glaring errors, holes in the plot, grammatical mistakes etc. and am constantly sending emails to Sumaira, the publishing assistant who does her best to calm my raging nerves. And then of course there is the worry about how it will be received and whether or not it will sell as well as the last book. The trauma of being a writer never ends! And yet I keep on doing it. Just when I think I can’t cope with the stress of it any more, those ideas come creeping back into my brain and I’m off again – plotting, inventing characters, thinking up new settings and before I know it, my next book has been born…

 

J.A.BAKER

 

The Uninvited 

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Blurb

A fragile woman. An unwelcome intruder. A house full of secrets.

Faye and her husband Hugh have had a traumatic year. Wanting to start again, the couple decide to buy a large rundown property, Cross House in a village in North Yorkshire, hoping to leave the past behind them.

However, the tranquillity is soon ruined when Faye begins to awake, every night, to the sound of somebody creeping around the bedroom. She tries to explain it to Hugh, frightened for the safety of their children Aiden and Poppy, but Hugh dismisses her claims, thinking she is heading for another breakdown.

But when Faye discovers some diaries that contain secrets about the family that lived in the house before them, she starts to wonder if the intruder might be closer to home than she first thought.

Obsessed with finding answers, Faye is determined to learn about the Wentworth family, a fractured family with a tragic past.

And when she discovers that Hilary Wentworth fell to her death down the stairs in Cross House, Faye realises she is in mortal danger…

Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Uninvited-gripping-psychological-suspense-ebook/dp/B07KVYD28L/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1544097211&sr=1-1&keywords=the+uninvited

Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/Uninvited-gripping-psychological-suspense-ebook/dp/B07KVYD28L/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1544097245&sr=8-2&keywords=the+uninvited+j.a.+baker

 

Christmas at Black Cherry Retreat by Angela Britnell*****Blog Tour *****

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Synopsis (Taken from the blurb)

What if you had nowhere to call home for Christmas?
When Fee Winter books a winter break at the remote Black Cherry Retreat in the small town of Pine Ridge, Tennessee, it’s with the idea that the peace and quiet will help her recuperate from her hectic life as a photographer.

But what she didn’t bank on was meeting Tom Chambers and his huge, interfering yet lovable family. With them, could Fee finally experience the warmth and support that’s been missing from her own life – and maybe even find a place to call home in time for Christmas?

Review

Before I write my review let’s get two things straight.

  1.  I want…no, I need a cabin at Black Cherry Retreat.  Just me, my books and a supply of cheese, wine and bread.
  2. As a red-head I’m officially starting a petition for more leading red-haired males in book!

 

Angela paints a beautiful and vulnerable picture of two very lost souls, both unknowingly in desperate need of something they won’t allow themselves to have.  Throughout the book we see snippets of the tragedies experience by both protagonists who are immediately drawn to each other.

The broken, gentle and peaceful Tom, who lost his beloved wife in a tragic way but cannot forgive himself for her death or her married life.

The destroyed Fee, drained by her job, the loss of her lover and the betrayal that was discovered after his death.  Unable to move on, Fee is on a journey to repair her heart, body and mind.

Tom’s family are a delightful addition the character cast with the females leading the way.  You can almost taste the food described in the book from the description and at times I was actually sitting in Aunt Ina’s cafe or eating Thanksgiving dinner in Mama Sarah’s home.

The setting for the novel is a peaceful contrast to the family home of Tom’s and the hectic, nomadic life that Fee has led so far.  And is the perfect place to allow Fee and Tom to slow down and develop their relationship.

This is a story of love, family, forgiveness, guilt and letting go.  It’s a perfect Christmassy read but I warn you – have tissues ready.

 

UK – Link to purchase

US – Link to purchase

Author Bio

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Angela grew up in Cornwall, England and returns frequently from her new home in Nashville, Tennessee. A lifelong love of reading turned into a passion for writing contemporary romance and her novels are usually set in the many places she’s visited or lived on her extensive travels. After more than three decades of marriage to her American husband she’s a huge fan of transatlantic romance and always makes sure her characters get their own happy-ever-after. Over the last twelve years she’s been multi-published and sold over 25 novels. She also writes short stories for women’s magazines. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Romance Writers of America and the Music City Romance Writers.

Angela can be found on social media using the following links:

www.facebook.com/angelabritnell

www.twitter.com/angelabritnell

www.angelabritnellromance.com

https://www.instagram.com/angelagolleybritnell/

Follow these bloggers to keep up with the book tour.

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Amazing Gifts for the Harry Potter Fan in Your Life

I think most of my regular readers know how much I adore the world of Harry Potter and I think either everyone on the planet either is, or knows a Harry Potter fan.  So, I’ve created a gift guide that will please even the most awkward of Potter-heads. I have tried to include a range of gift ideas in varying prices to suit all budgets and needs. I’ve also tried to find things that are not seen in lots of shops and you man not have come across.

All the websites that I have used have a huge variety of Harry Potter merchandise and are definitely worth a browse before you chose your style.

Happy Shopping!

 

Clothing

Harry Potter clothing is plentiful and readily available in most high street stores and supermarket chains in the UK  so I decided to include things that I hadn’t seen before.

 

Left to right –

Phoenix T-shirt – £19.99

Griffindor School Jersey – £32.99

 

 

Deathly Hallows Coat – £99.99

Marauder’s Map High Tops – £23.99 (currently reduced from £41.99)

 

Food and Drink

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Harry Potter Sweet Hamper – £19.99

 

Jewellery 

 

Luna Lovegood Spectacle Necklace – £12.00

Deathly Hallows Watch – £32.99

 

Cosmetics

 

Sorting Hat Bath and Body Set – £20.50

ButteredBeer lip balm – £4.00

 

Home 

 

Platform 9 and 3/4 Lamp – £6.99

Colour Changing Potions Lamp – £19.99

 

Hogwarts Colour Change Glass  £8.99

Hermione Grainger’s Yule Ball Dress – Tree Decoration – £17.00

 

Other items

Hogwarts Lego – £94.95

Wizarding World Lootcrate Subscription – From £39 per create

 

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Heavenward by Olga Gibbs *****Blog Tour*****

Thank you so much to Olga Gibbs and to Mel from https://frasersfunhouse.com/ for the opportunity to participate in this blog-tour and for an ARC copy of Heavenward in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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***** Blog followers can read Heavenward for FREE! *****

Yes that’s right, Free! Zero! Zilch! And all because you follow my blog! Follow the link below to claim your free e-copy of the fabulous book.

Yes I’d love a free e-copy of Heavenward.

Synopisis 

Meet Ariel: a quiet, unnoticeable girl with an incredible gift…

Ariel is a trouble teen, plagued by nightmares and living in a facility for troubled girls.  When three new beautiful pupils appear in school, each making Ariel wary for reasons unknown, she knows something isn’t right.  After an attempt on her life by one and being rescued by another, she begins to discover who she really is and that not everyone is who they may seem.

Unwillingly drawn into a new world filled with celestial conflict, it’s time for Ariel to choose a side;

With the power to end the world, would you protect humanity when it broke you or would you take revenge?

Review

When I started blogging book reviews I decided to try to expand my genres of choice so when an opportunity came up to join a blog-tour of a young adult, fantasy novel I was well out of my comfort zone and totally up for the challenge.  I was always concerned that I’d struggle with fantasy.  So many new worlds, names and often intricate story-lines would possibly be too difficult for me to follow and I’d be lost.  How wrong I was ?

Before reading I tried to put myself into 14-year-old me’s shoes and this worked really well for reading it as a young adult would.

Heavenward begins as many young adult novels by following Ariel in her daily, troubled life.  The story beautifully tells of the typical high school crowd; the cliques, the teenage angst etc and the use of first person really puts you in the view of the main protagonist (Ariel).  Part way into the book the fantasy element really kicks in and takes you on a magical journey to other worlds.  The description in this book is rich and plentiful  and creates a beautiful picture in your mind as you are reading.  It was easy to get sucked into the lavish life that Ariel is introduced to – which is exactly what begins to happen to Ariel.  Just when I was getting comfortably settled into this new world, the story became more sinister and an unexpected twist arrives.  Things take a drastic turn for the worst and that same rich description is then used to create some pretty gory and intense scenes.

This particular description played on my mind for days, like some bad dream that I couldn’t shake off.

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The ending was at the perfect time.  Just enough information to stop me from going crazy but at a point where I definitely need to know more about Ariel’s adventures and the potential brewing love triangle.

I’m so pleased I decided to step out of that comfort zone as I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and am now looking forward the release of the second installment in the Celestial Creatures series.

Author Bio

Olga Gibbs lives in a leafy-green town, nestled amongst the green fields of West Sussex, England. She was writing from the age of fifteen, mainly short stories and novellas and was a guest columnist for a local newspaper. When she is not dreaming up new adventures for her imaginary friends, she does outreach work with teenagers.

She is currently writing a second book in the “Celestial creatures” series and another stand-alone psychological crime thriller book

You can purchase Heavenward using the following links.

Available to buy from (multi link): https://books2read.com/u/bWzWlx?fbclid=IwAR2p71NDRXCEdCSZxpK35hF5c81-4Xul3NJc4pWXDY4f68CFDsFzTSvARj8

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Heavenward-Dark-fantasy-Celestial-Creatures-ebook/dp/B07HCNK2M8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1540842704&sr=8-1&keywords=olga+gibbs

Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Heavenward-Olga-Gibbs/9781916471009

Pre-order book 2 – Hallow by following the link https://www.books2read.com/u/m2vkw6

 

Author links

Website: https://olgagibbs.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/olgagibbsauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/olgagibbsauthor/

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

Still not convinced?  Check out the other bloggers on this tour.

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Murder For Money -*****Blog Tour*****

MURDER FOR MONEY

A massive thanks to Rachel from https://www.rachelreadit.co.uk/  for pointing me in the direction of this book tour after our discussion about The Woods Murder – see my review here.  And to Jill from https://booksnall.blog/ for agreeing to include me on this tour.  Also, a big thanks to Roy Lewis and Joffe books for a copy of this book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Synopsis

Detective John Crow is called to the Yorkshire countryside to investigate the brutal murder of Charlie Rutland, a womanising journalist visiting the area.  Crow has his work cut out for him as there is a long, growing list of suspects and a ‘pile’ of puzzle pieces that he can’t seem to fit together.

Just as Crow is getting somewhere there’s the sudden involvement of the British Spy services who seem desperate to shut down the investigation by any means necessary.

Can Crow and his team put the pieces together and catch the killer or will the investigation be shut down?

 

Review

I completely adore the writing style of Roy Lewis.  His plots are intricate and brilliantly put together and yet told simply and straight forward, no complicated sub-stories or lengthy character descriptions – just pure and brilliant crime story telling.  We get snippets of Detective Crow’s personal life but just enough to make him likable, the rest is gained by inference from his moral actions and his non-judgemental manner in dealing with people.

What Lewis does spend time detailing is the settings,  he perfectly captures the beauty of Yorkshire countryside and the grimness of the town/cities.

As I said in my review of The Woods Murder – Reading a Detective Crow novel takes me back to watching old detective shows on a Sunday afternoon with my Grandparents.  It’s like participating in a who dun it? where the list of suspects and motives is long, leading you down an uncertain and twisty path of guessing who the murderer was only to reveal it was the least likely suspect at the very last-minute.  Reading this book is like playing a game, it’s even better if you have a reading buddy to discuss your ideas with a certain points.
Perfect for fans of Peter James, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James and Peter Robinson.

 

About Roy Lewis

Roy Lewis is a well-established crime writer with 60 novels to his name. He lives in the north of England where he sets many of his books. He is a former college principal and Inspector of Schools who now runs business training programmes and has business interests in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. He has three children – all of them lawyers.

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Inspector Crow Series

Book 1: A LOVER TOO MANY
Book 2: ERROR OF JUDGMENT
Book 3: THE WOODS MURDER
Book 4: MURDER FOR MONEY
MORE COMING SOON!

 

PRAISE FOR ROY LEWIS MYSTERIES

Each Lewis seems to better the last. Here is an intriguing puzzle and likely police work and a fine picture of Northumbrian society and countryside” The Times

“Roy Lewis has demonstrated an enviable range both in geography and style…a nice neat story” The Financial Times

“Lots of cunning complications embracing conservation and financial fiddles” The Guardian

“A thorough, unpretentious and immensely solid piece of work with an interesting and likeable hero” Times Literary Supplement

“Chilly drama with some stirring cliff hanger” Sunday Telegraph

 

Check out the other reviews on this blog-tour

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