nineladiesNine Ladies Dancing by Cat Lavoie is a complete delight!

It’s everything you want from a Christmas novella – a seasonal setting (the office party in this case), charming and quirky characters, a handful of mishaps but a happy ending. The bonus is that the writing is sparkling and witty. The author comes up with some wonderful words – adorkable and Quinn-tervention (they’ll make sense when you read the book!) – and gives us, I suspect, an insight into her own creative process when Casey, the heroine, who is a closet would-be novelist, talks about how her characters ‘take on a life of their own … and move on to another story’!

This is a little gem of a Christmas book and your twelve days of Christmas just won’t be complete if you don’t read it.

Available as an ebook from all the Amazons for 99 cents or as a Kindle Unlimited book to ‘borrow’.

Now that my own Christmassy romcom Fa-La-Llama-La, is published, it’s time to take a look at some of the opposition. There are a lot of other festive romcoms to choose from, many set in guesthouses, cafés or other eateries, so I think I’ll start with some of them. Today’s is set in a café in Cornwall.

 
Cornish Cafe Christmas

Christmas at the Cornish Café by Philippa Ashley is the second in a planned trilogy. I hadn’t read the first book,  Summer at the Cornish Café, so perhaps this was the reason I found it rather slow and uncertain to start with. However, the reader can soon work out roughly what has gone before, but I imagine there will be added depth if you come to this book from the first one. It may also make the opening chapter or so less slow.

There is a plethora of books out at the moment about little teashops or cafés or guesthouses by the coast, and many are romanticised and twee. So it was a huge relief to find that this one gives a realistic portrayal of working in the hospitality trade – difficult customers, tight deadlines, the sheer volume of work involved.

That’s true of this whole book. It has its light-hearted, rosy-glow side but also has its feet firmly in reality, which, as we know, is far less than perfect. At times I couldn’t quite marry the two as I feel the author’s strength is more with the in-your-face aspect. The idealised, picture-perfect element occasionally didn’t quite fit in.

Overall the book is enjoyable. Our main characters, Demi and Cal, are rounded and flawed and believable. We care what happens to them, and in this story we see Demi’s café dream become reality and both she and Cal develop as the story unfolds. They both realise what is important to them, and both have to deal with difficult aspects of their past. Demi in particular becomes more confident and courageous. And since this is Christmas, the time for families and forgiveness, we see reconciliations and new starts.

The setting is wonderful. The author describes the scenery and local life in St Trenyan in exquisite detail and it’s very atmospheric. There are also some fascinating minor characters, including Kit Bannen who is mysterious and turns out to be something of a catalyst.

I was attracted to this book because of the Christmassy element, and that didn’t disappoint at all. The story has all the festive, feel-good tingles you expect from a seasonal novel.

Will I be reading the next book in the trilogy? I don’t know. I came to admire the characters rather than fall in love with them, and I also rather liked the ending of this book so I don’t know if I want to find out if that’s spoiled!

Cornwall is the setting for another Christmas story, A Cornish Christmas>em>, which I’m actually not tempted to read and review from its description, and I don’t think I’ll be alone in thinking that the covers of these two books are very similar – old cottage, snow, night sky, italic typeface.. Always good to have a distinctive cover.

 
Cornish Christmas

frenchguesthouseReturn to the Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard (Bookouture) is the second book in the La Cour des Roses series. I hadn’t read the first book in the series, but it didn’t take long to work out who was who and what was going on. (However, a quick ‘story so far’ by way of introduction would have saved a bit of head scratching! But that’s only a minor thing.)

This books weaves together engaging personal relationships with the details and atmosphere of life in France. As someone who’s run a gîte for ten years, this appealed very strongly to me. The author shows what this way of making a living is actually like i.e. not the bed (or cours!) of roses so many think it is. Exactly as in this book, there are demanding guests, unfounded expectations and one-sided reviews to contend with. And that’s on a good day…

The characters are many and varied in the novel, all of them fascinating and rounded. Our heroine, Emmie, is very attractive and realistic: she’s strong but has her vulnerabilities, is kind and caring, and is friendly and enthusiastic but sometimes tries too hard. We’re quickly on her side and want to see her succeed in the hospitality/hostility trade she’s attempting to make her way in. But when you’re up against the likes of Geoffrey Turner, the blogger/reviewer, and Julia Cooper, the guest who wants everything and then a whole lot more, well, it’s not an easy ride.

The novel announces on the title page that it is ‘A feel good read to make you smile’ and it certainly does that. It’s a beautifully written, thoroughly readable and entertaining book.

knitted-toys-coverKnitted toys tend to get rather a bad press. People think old fashioned and twee, but they can be every bit as good as any other toy, and often much longer-lasting. More than twenty years on, toys I knitted for my two eldest kids are still going strong, and still get the odd cuddle!

This collection, Knitted Toys: 20 cute and colourful projects, by Jody Long is modern and fun, and illustrates everything that’s good about knitted toys. Namely, they’re child friendly, they’re versatile in that you can use your own or the recipient’s favourite combinations of colours for them, they’re appealing and (mostly) washable, and they’re timeless.

Jody Long gives us a wonderful selection: transport (aeroplane and fire truck), creepy crawlies (caterpillar, ladybug, bee), animals and birds (duck, hedgehog, bear, mouse, rabbit, pig, puppy, snake), sea creatures (octopus, fish, starfish), teddy bears, dolls and some squishy balls. If that isn’t an impressive array of patterns, then I don’t know what is! And you get more than that in that the author gives a range of accessories for many of the patterns. For example, Henry the Hedgehog comes along with a patch of grass and flowers, a toadstool and a ladybug, and Percy the Pig has a bib, a spoon and a cherry-covered cake to eat. There are also food bowls, a bucket of flowers and a hot water bottle, to name but a few more. I think these are a wonderful fun feature.

One of my favourite toys in Knitted Toys is Ruby the Russian Doll. She’s beautiful and unusual, and such a clever idea. I also particularly like Rio the Fish with the very effective scales.

The instructions are clear and easy to follow, and the illustrations are inspiring and helpful. The book comes with all the basic know-how you need to create and put the toys together. This gem of a book will be a great addition to every knitter’s shelf.

paulyblueThis is a very lively memoir of the author’s younger years growing up with his three older brothers, his one older sister and his dad during the 1970s. Money is tight and times are hard but Paul not only survives but thrives, thanks to his eternal optimism and his ability to make the best of every situation. No new toys? Make up a game with smelly socks. Having to do the food shopping with his sister? Play bowling with tins of beans down the store’s aisles.

He inherits from his father a strong sense of right and wrong. It may not always tally exactly with everyone else’s but young Paul has strong principles and sticks to them. Whilst he does try to play by the rules, he decides that only God has the right to pass judgement. He therefore regularly wheels and deals with his Maker over “minor transgressions such as scrumping, thumping and the occasional fib” and firmly believes in a banana-filled heaven. This is just one example of how the irrepressible youngster navigates his way through his noisy, boisterous, deprived childhood.

Paul doesn’t dwell on the hardships in his life. They’re simply there and he has to carry on regardless. For example, when he and his brothers and sister suddenly find themselves in a children’s home, when their father temporarily can’t cope, there’s no upset, merely a quick adaptation to this new life. And when the children are returned home, then they all just pick up from where they left off with no questioning. It’s this pervasive inspiring, non-resentful attitude that makes this book such a gem.

Nostalgia publishing is currently hugely popular. (For example, there are lots of biographies of erstwhile stars about to hit the bookshops for this Christmas, and Ladybird books and Enid Blyton have been revamped for a new audience.) Books like Playing Out show why this is the case. When done well, as here, this genre evokes a past era that those who’ve lived through can recognise and enjoy reliving, and those who haven’t can get a real sense of what it was like to be there. It would do the Millennials and later generations good to read this book and see that you really can be happy with no phone, hardly any telly and a handful of simple toys and some oranges and chocolate biscuits in your Christmas stocking!

This is a truly enjoyable book written with a sharp eye for detail, lots of humour and an infectious happy-go-lucky zest for life. An absolute must-read.

eventide beazleyThe Sepherene Chronicles show a very different side to this talented indie author. Daniel Beazley’s previous books have been comical fantasy – Goblins Know Best and The Rotten Roots, both of which you really should read – and whilst we’re still in the reamlm of the paranormal with his new series, there is a serious, spiritual theme to these books. We’re in metaphysical and visionary territory.

Lucius is possessed by an angel, Sepherene, who is on a mission to find and destroy her fallen brethren. She is convinced she is on a righteous quest, but things are not always what they appear. She has chosen a somewhat flawed human to inhabit: Lucius has a very troubled past. They have a rather difficult and slightly dubious task ahead.

This book is one of contrasts and seeming contradictions. It unites sci-fi with Christian ideals, gives us a vengeful angel, an anti-hero, a future world that surely should have striven to be better but seems to have become more corrupt and divided than before. And yet somehow right and wrong, good and bad, become blurred.

Daniel Beazley is sharply observant and gives us plenty to think about in this novella, the first in a very promising series.

Available at all Amazon stores.

instagramOne of my resolutions this year is to get to grips properly with social media. I’m pretty good with Twitter and I’m a regular on FB now, but other platforms, such as Instagram and Pinterest, had me scratching my head. I vaguely know what they’re about. I know they can be fun to use as well as good publiciity, but I wasn’t sure how to use them to my advantage.

So, I was very happy to stumble across Insta-Advantage. This is an extremely useful book, specifically written for the entrepreneur. I now understand Instagram and realise just how valuable a promotional tool it can be. I now know that 60 million photos are shared every day on Instagram, and that it has 200 million active users. That’s pretty impressive.

The author has a very clear, methodical approach, describing how it can be used and why we should be using it in these ways. Oblak gives six succinct steps to follow with all the details you need. As well as how to download and use the app, there’s info on hashtags, understanding your audience, what major companies are doing with Instagram, how comments and likes can help your promotion, and more.

It is an excellent, comprehensive guide that’s easy to understand and follow. It’s available at all Amazon stores.

A backlist title for you today – The Xmas Factor by Annie Sanders. This book was published in 2006 and is still going strong. I read it most years in the run-up to Christmas. It’s that sort of rereadable, totally enjoyable book.

xmasfactor

Beth, our heroine, starts to plan Christmas in September. She’s agreed to organise the annual village Christmas Eve bash, which her husband’s former wife used to do. And always magnificently. Beth is also getting ready to welcome her difficult step-daughter over Christmas too.

Carol is a magazine editor but her publication’s sales are flagging. She’s a single mum and perpetually guilty about that so wants to organise the perfect Christmas in a country hideaway for her son.

But despite the fact both these women make careful, elaborate plans things don’t go quite how they should. However, help is at hand from unexpected sources and both our heroines get as close to their goal as it’s possible to get in this imperfect world of ours.

There is so much that’s very clever and imaginative in the book. A touch I love is that all the main characters have a Christmassy/biblical name – Holly, Joseph, Carol, Jacob, Elizabeth, Noel, Nicholas. The Xmas Factor combines festive fun and witty humour with a very sensitive and realistic look at the ups and downs of family life at Christmas. There are stresses, conflicts, guilt and optimism as the various characters trying to create a perfect yuletide. As one reviewer has said, “There are the ghosts of Christmas past,the pressures of Christmas Present and a promise of happy Christmasses yet to be.”

Annie Sanders is in fact Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders, who have written eight novels and eight non-fiction books between them now. Here’s their website.

The book’s available as a paperback, Kindle version, audio book in all the usual places.

 

 

This book qualifies as a Christmas book since it would be a perfect Christmas present. There’s still time to buy it and get it delivered in time for the big day. I’ve just ordered my copy.

imranplan

Imran Siddiq is a young adult fiction author that I’ve been lucky enough to work with in the past. He always struck me as a very organised writer and person, and my hunch has proved correct. He’s come up with this very useful-looking weekly organiser. This is how Imran describes it:

Whether you’re a student, a writer, a creative genius, an employee in a business, or a manager – it’s easy to overlook important tasks or struggle to manage your workload. Use the ‘My Plan’ Weekly Organiser to jot down your key tasks, and then organise them for each day of the week. ‘My Plan’ provides an initial section to store notes and telephone numbers. Use the ‘To Do’ section to list items for the week that require your attention. Use the ‘Appointments’ section to keep track of your meetings/occasions. Use the ‘Brainstorm’ section to let rip with scribbles, notes, and anything else that comes to mind. The perfect place to brings visual stimulus to your ideas. The ‘Week’ page allows you to jot down tasks per day, and gives space to plan your day from 8am to 8pm. Also on that page is a project planning section for the week; list key tasks and which days of the week you’ll be planning them. Be in control of your tasks. Be in control of your day. Be in control. This is your plan.

I’ve been looking for an organiser like this for a long time and I know it will come in very, very useful in 2015 which is going to see me busier than ever, what with launching my The Book Farmer and Markey-My-Book! sites and services to go with my current editing and proofreading. Being an author himself, I’m sure Imran has designed something that will be a very helpful tool for all writers.

My Plan is available on all Amazon sites. Here’s the link to the .co.uk one to get you started.

 

 

oh santa finished coverYes, I know it’s my book, but I think it deserves its place in my Advent Calendar of Christmas books. It’s fun, festive fiction for youngsters, but adults will enjoy it too.

Santa’s assistant, Teddy Bear Jake, is worried that Santa is overweight and unhealthy and needs to look after himself. It shouldn’t take him a whole year to get over each Christmas outing after all. So he puts Santa on his famous alphabet diet. Each week Santa can only eat three things beginning with a certain letter of the alphabet. Healthy things, mind, so the C week doesn’t mean cupcakes with icing and chocolate and cookies but cabbage and carrots and cauliflower. And as for the X week? Santa will have to go hungry.

Reluctantly Santa starts to slim down. He starts an exercise regime too and it isn’t long before he’s sleek and slimline and full of energy. He’s a total convert to the healthy way. So when he starts getting requests from children for unhealthy gifts like candy floss makers or motorised microscooters, he ignores them and intends to dole out skipping ropes and vegetable steamers instead.

His helpers are in despair and Teddy Bear Jake realises he should have left Santa the way he was. Is it too late to save Christmas? Will it become as joyless as the North Pole now has? And what are those four snowmen doing at Santa’s door?

Have a chuckle as you get ready for Christmas with my book. Only 99p at all the various Amazons and 99 cents for any format on Smashwords here.

Here’s a review of it to tempt you further:

Oh, Santa! By Stephanie Dagg Illustrated by Kim Shaw Mentor Books. €5.00 Ages 5 to 8 Stephanie Dagg’s book Oh, Santa! is that very rare thing for younger readers, a very funny story tied to a very relevant issue. The funny story has to do with the fact that Santa has become obese from too much junk food. The solution, provided by Teddy Bear Jake, is a sturdy regime of correct diet and exercise. As often happens in such cases, Santa Claus becomes a slave to getting fit and healthy until he is no longer recognisable or, indeed , acceptable to all who know and love him. What’s to be? The solution might raise one or two adult eyebrows but the kids will stand up and cheer. After all who wants to have a slim-line Santa?

Review from www.village.ie – current affairs Irish magazine

This book originally came out in paperback, published by Mentor Press and illustrated by the wonderful Kim Shaw, but after the rights reverted back to me I republished it as an ebook. Since I didn’t own the illustrations, and I never heard back from Mentor when I contacted them to ask if I could use the pictures they commissioned, I got a new cover drawn by the equally wonderful Roger Fereday. I have some print copies if you want one of those, at €2 plus p&p, so give me a shout.