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.

Oh dear, my Advent Calendar of Christmas books is proving to be somewhat sporadic. I’m in the middle of moving house, so bear with me.

coco christmas

Today’s Christmassy book is A Very Coco Christmas by Robert Bryndza. It’s a prequella (i.e. a prequel novella) to Robert’s wonderful Coco Pinchard series. If you haven’ts discovered Coco yet, then you’re missing out. She’s brilliant! (Follow her adventures in The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard, Coco Pinchard’s Big Fat Tipsy Wedding and Coco Pinchard, the Consequences of Love and Sex – all feel-good rom-coms but meat to their bones).

In A Very Coco Christmas, we meet the young Coco (Karen) Pinchard in the early days of her relationship with musician Danny. She has to part with him to head home for a family Christmas – and what a family, and what a Christmas! Those of you who have come across Coco will know that she has the most challenging of mother-in-laws in Ethel, but we discover in this novel that she had some good training for dealing with her through having to cope with her own rather awful mother.

Anything that can go wrong pretty much does, but it’s not over-the-top, just a typical less-than-perfect Christmas with the people you’re un/fortunate enough to be related to, perhaps a tad more action-packed than normal.

The story is set in 1985 and it’s like stepping back in time for any of us who were there during what has to be one of the most lively, quirky and happening decades. There’s clouds of hairspray and cigarette smoke, punks, shoulder pads, Laura Ashley fabrics and wallpaper, Joan Collins… it’s fabulous. As ever, the author’s powers of observation and attention to detail are razor-sharp and he takes us through the full gamut of our emotions.

This is Christmas book that is hilarious, touching, riveting and totally absorbing.

Rob together with Jan Bryndza has also written Lost in Crazytown, which is a humorous yet edgy novel set in Hollywood and has a wonderful, rounded, empathetic hero, Filip, whom I’d love to see in more novels. Hint!

You’ll find Rob’s books at all Amazon stores. Go on – treat yourself!

A little bit late (I’ve been moving office), I’m starting my Advent Calendar of Christmas books.

Today’s festive book is a paranormal adult romance, I’ll Be Undead for Christmas by Fawn Atondo.

ILL_BE_UNDEAD_FOR_CHRISTMAS_FINAL

Nikki, a reporter, witnesses something she shouldn’t have, and as a result the sexy vampire Sebastian has to turn her. She’ll be a vampire by Christmas. To complicate things further, for the third year running the so-called Silent Night Killer is claiming his twelve annual victims. Nikki is reporting on the murders, and who should she come across doing this work but… Sebastian, who’s… well, I won’t tell you more because this is a very clever little story with an unexpected twist.
Well written, imaginative and sexy, you’ll love this!
It’s available in Kindle format and as a paperback. Here’s the link to Amazon.com and you’ll find it at all the other Amazon stores.
And check out Fawn’s other books too. She’s a very creative, lively writer. Here’s her website.

Today I’m taking part in the virtual book tour organised by France Book Tours for The Shiro Project by David Khara. This is the second book in the Consortium Thriller series.

shiro banner

This book follows on from The Bleiberg Project, but works well as a standalone thriller. The plot is excellent. The historical background comes from Shiro Ishii, the Japanese General who was in charge of the notorious Unit 731. Named Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department, also the Special Research Unit, the unit was given the job of developing chemical and biological weapons for the Imperial Japanese Army. After the war the US Government gave Ishii amnesty in return for the unit’s secrets and never brought him to trial for his horrific crimes.

Our hero, Eytan is a very engaging character. In this venture he collaborates with Elena, another product of the Bleiberg Project, and there is a lot of tension between the two. They travel from Prague to Tokyo looking for any connection between Unit 731 and a new group that is committing chemical attacks. There seems to be a link with the Shinje Company so it seems likely the terrorist acts are in revenge for the destruction that Japan suffered at the end of the war. The novel’s ending is certainly unexpected.

shiro coverThe author has an easy-to-read and clear style. This means that although the plot is quite complex, we don’t lose track. The action is fast-paced and there’s never a dull moment. However, that doesn’t meant that character development suffers. We get inside our protagonist and understand what drives all the people we meet. An original, eye-opening and entertaining read.

Here’s an excerpt:

The woman gave herself a few seconds to re?ect, adjusting the bun at the nape of her neck. She reinserted two pins in her blond hair and then spoke solemnly.

“We’re studying the reactions of test subjects injected with agents and creating the proper countermeasures. I don’t see how access to storage units with viral strains concerns us.”

“The company line, as usual. I’m convinced there’s a hidden agenda.”

“Then go complain to the authorities. I’m not stopping you. While you’re concocting your dark theories, I’ll be in the lab,” she said as she glanced at the clock on the wall. “Time for the daily log. The of?ce is all yours.”

“Say hi to the guinea pigs for me.”

Jane left the room and headed toward the elevators. She waved to the two military police of?cers patrolling the hallway. They always looked so creepy, more the punch-in-your-face sort than the type inclined to give a respectful salute. The elevator doors slid open, and she scurried inside. Neville’s skeptical nature was borderline eccentric. But he was right about life being too short. And working at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases had been weighing on her since her son Sean’s birth. Her husband supported her career and did his part at home. She felt privileged. Most other women were stuck being housewives, not because they had chosen the life, but because it was expected, and there were few alternatives. Jane hoped that she could serve as a role model for other women who yearned for more independence and opportunity. But she missed her son, and she could not wait for the workweek to end so that she could go home and enjoy those three days with her boy and her man.

About the author:

French author David Khara, a former reporter, top-level sportsman, and entrepreneur, has always been a writer.
After studying law, he stepped into journalism working for Agence France Press,
and then became creative director for several advertising companies.
He loves new technologies and started his own company at the age of twenty-four,
becoming an online business pioneer for French industries.
He then focused his life on writing fiction.
In 2010, he published The Blieberg Project, which became an immediate success in France.
David Khara is also an accomplished athlete in fencing and rubgy, and he even played football as a linebacker.
He acknowledges that his culture is a much American as it is French, since he spent a lot of time in West Virginia and Manhattan,
and is an avid fan of writers such as Dennis Lehane.

Buy the book

The book is available as an ebook from all the Amazon stores, and as a paperback, again from Amazon and other online bookstores, but from bookshops too.