BLURB:

Tall, dark and handsome, Tom is out to have some fun. Kaisa doesn’t think she’ll ever fall in love again. But when they meet on the snow-capped Swedish Alps, sparks fly.

With his beloved mother passed, Tom is forced to leave his two teenage sons in Milan with his ex and is looking forward to an uncomplicated Christmas skiing in the Swedish Alps.

With her daughter Rosa away backpacking in the Far East, Kaisa decides to take a rare winter break over the holidays with her best friend Tuuli. Now in her late fifties, Kaisa doesn’t think she’ll ever fall in love again. But when she sees Tom after some thirty years, her heart begins to beat a little faster. Kaisa knows, however, an affair with Tom will go nowhere. Years ago, they had a disastrous date, which neither of them wishes to revisit.

Yet, on the slopes and in the apres-ski bars Tom showers Kaisa with his attentions and she finds she cannot resist his intense eyes and passionate kisses.

Can Kaisa trust this European Casanova, and her own sudden infatuation?

The Christmas Heart is a seasonal story of grown-up love set in the beautiful Swedish Alps. It’s the final book in the acclaimed Nordic Heart series, but can also be read as a stand-alone story.

Get this feel-good Nordic holiday romance today!

 

My review

This is a wonderfully Christmassy book and a touching love story. The setting in Finland in the deep snow is beautifully festive, with people skiing and then enjoying warm wine in the evenings in the cosy bars and restaurants.

The cover gets you into the mood beautifully. There’s obviously going to be romance with that loving couple, and there are hints of hygge happiness with the knitted hats and Christmas decorations. Or so I thought until I did some research. Hygge isn’t a Finnish thing: they go for the more down-to-earth pantsdrunk, which is relaxing by drinking alcohol in your undies! However, a warm, enticing Nordic atmosphere is created. All the little details of life in Finland that you find in this book are fascinating.

Our characters are mature, in their fifties and early sixties, making this a work of boomerlit, if you want to give it a label, but it will appeal to younger readers just as well. However, I think the elements of the story that deal with past regrets and loss will resonate more strongly with those of us with a few more years under our belts. Tom and Kaisa were attracted to each other at university, but never acted on that. They met briefly later and had a short fling, but went separate ways again. But now they’ve been set up. Tulla and Ricky, their best friends, have arranged this skiing holiday, not mentioning to either Tom or Kaisa that the other would be there.

Despite herself, Kaisa is instantly attracted to Tom again, but she’s wary. He was a ‘Rich Boy’ back in uni days, and still is, somewhat entitled and extravagant. Is that really the sort of person she wants to be with? And she discovers after a passionate night with him that he has a younger girlfriend. What a mess she’s got herself into. Never again.

But you should never say never…

Tom takes a little longer for the reader to warm to. He’s recently suffered death in the family, and so that wins our sympathy, but like with Kaisa, he has to work to win our affection. He’s a nice guy but, as he admits, he’s no saint, so we’re all going to have to get to know the real him to make our final judgement.

The author tells an engaging story of attraction, stubbornness, misunderstandings and happiness. It’s a gentle story but that’s not to say it’s without emotional tensions, and highs and lows. There’s a nasty accident too, and whilst the outcome of that has long-term consequences, they aren’t necessarily bad…

But I mustn’t give too much away! You must read this atmospheric, sweet yet powerful short novel for yourselves. You’ll be so glad you did! And who can resist the work of someone who confesses to dancing to Abba in secret. I mean, don’t we all?

  • Format:Kindle Edition
  • File Size:3959 KB
  • Print Length:134 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage:Unlimited
  • Publisher:Newhurst Press (25 Oct. 2018)

 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Christmas-Heart-feel-good-holiday-romance-ebook/dp/B07HRMQ3PZ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538763247&sr=1-1&keywords=the+christmas+heart+helena+halme

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A prize-winning author, Helena Halme writes contemporary fiction with a hint of both Nordic Noir and romance. She’s a former BBC journalist, bookseller and magazine editor. Originally from Finland where she gained an MSc in Marketing, she also holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and writes in English.
Helena acts as Nordic Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors and helps other writers publish and market their books.
Helena has published seven fiction titles, including The English Heart, a best-selling Nordic romance, which won an Awesome Indies badge on publication. The bittersweet 1980s love story between a Finnish student and a British Navy officer is now a series, including a prequel novella, The Young Heart, the sequels The Faithful HeartThe Good Heart and Helena’s latest title, The True Heart, book four in The Nordic Heart Series. Helena has also published a non-fiction title, Write Your Story: Turn Your Life into Fiction in 10 Easy Steps.

Helena is addicted to Nordic Noir and dances to Abba songs when nobody’s watching.

Website: http://www.helenahalme.com/
Twitter :
@helenahalme
Author page on
Facebook
Instagram
@helenahalme

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synopsis
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – and the East End Angels are working hard to keep Londoners safe.
Frankie is trying hard to keep everything together. She can count on the support of the East End Angels, even in the face of family trouble.
Winnie’s beloved husband, Mac, is putting himself at risk every day in the bomb disposal unit and she’s finding it hard while he’s away.
Bella is growing in confidence and happiness. Her friendship with Winnie’s brother, James, is getting closer all the time.
Christmas on the Home Front is a hard time with loved ones far away – but the women of the Auxiliary Ambulance service are making do and mending.

My review
This is a lively and evocative story set in wartime London. Our three heroines are wonderfully strong women. Like so many others during this time of heartbreak but also empowerment, they’ve assumed important roles in the war effort. Not only are their jobs demanding and dangerous, but home life isn’t easy either. Frankie misses her grandfather who died recently and is struggling to cope with her obnoxious step-gran Ivy. Winnie’s husband is in the army and so she constantly worries about him, although she has her beloved dog Trixie to keep her company, and Bella has lost the writing assignments she so enjoyed. But they keep their spirits up as best they can and tackle every new task that comes their way.
A new person joins the team: Rose, who’s come from Austria. She moves into Frankie’s house as a lodger, which is a big boost to Frankie’s precarious financial situation. Since it’s Christmas their boss wants them to put a carol concert on. Bella helps to organise it and then they move on to organising another, grander event.
The women’s lives are busy and full of incidents, big and little. There’s never a dull moment for either the characters, or us the reader.
This is the third book about these three energetic ladies. However, it works well as a standalone, and there is enough detail so that we know everything we need to. I shall certainly read the earlier books now.
The atmosphere of wartime England is beautifully portrayed. There are many little details that make the descriptions so convincing. The author has brought the period to life, no doubt as a result of fascination on her part and considerable and thorough research.

A very enjoyable, festive read that is uplifting and moving.

Purchase Links
Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Christmas-East-Angels-Rosie-Hendry-ebook/dp/B07CLL56W9
Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-East-Angels-Rosie-Hendry-ebook/dp/B07CLL56W9

 

About the author

Rosie Hendry lives by the sea in Norfolk with her husband, two children, chickens and a snake. She’s worked in a variety of jobs from fruit picking, waitressing, teaching and as a research scientist but has always loving reading and writing. Starting off writing short stories for women’s magazines, her stories have gradually become longer as her children have grown bigger.

Listening to her father’s tales of life during the Second World War sparked Rosie’s interest in this period and she’s especially intrigued by how women’s lives changed during the war years. She loves researching further, searching out gems of real-life events which inspire her writing.

When she’s not working, Rosie enjoys walking along the beach, reading and is grateful for the fact that her husband is a much better cook than her.

Website: www.rosiehendry.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RosieHendrybooks/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/hendry_rosie

I’m thrilled to be helping get this blog tour off to a start today. And you’re in for a treat!

Synopsis

No one wants to be single at the holidays.

Even Little Miss Grinch, Nikki, a successful and independent woman, must face her bachelorette status at the most horrible time of the year.

December is her personal version of holly-jolly hell: a merry torture made of couples kissing at every corner, forced vacation days, and an inescapable family reunion.

And when her baby sister announces she’s engaged—to Paul, the man Nikki is secretly in love with—and that he’s spending the holidays with them, Christmas starts looking bluer than ever.

Nikki can’t possibly survive an entire week trapped home as the family’s spinster. But she has no time to meet men or to try the newest dating app, she’s too busy working as a video producer for an advertising agency.

So what’s a girl to do?

Nikki has the perfect solution: to hire a fake boyfriend.

Luckily, her job gives her access to an endless catalogue of gorgeous actors to choose from.

But Nikki will soon discover that keeping business and pleasure from mixing isn’t so easy, and that she might not be immune to a little mistletoe magic. Especially not when she picked out the perfect man as her Christmas date…

A fun, festive romantic comedy with lots of bad behaviour and Christmas spirit. Like a creamy hot chocolate with marshmallows, you won’t want to put this deliciously hilarious novel down. Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella, Sally Thorne, and Jo Watson.

First Comes Love is a series of interconnected romantic novels. However, each book in the series can be read as a standalone.

 

My review

I adored this book, and for so many reasons. It’s fun, it’s clever, it’s Christmassy, it’s peopled by lively, interesting characters and there’s just the right amount of mutual attraction and misunderstandings, and not forgetting furry animal, to make it the perfect Christmas romcom.

Nikki is a very efficient and organised sort of person, at least in her work life. She’s quite driven, and could come over as rather intimidating if it weren’t for  her down-to-earthness and her sense of humour.  She’s a wonderful friend to Blair too. Part of her quest to always be striving to do better has come from her parents, who we meet over Christmas. Actually Dad is fine, but Mum is rather pushy and always expecting a bit too much from her daughters.

Nikki is a loving big sister to Julia, but in a non-hands-on way. She’s there for her, but doesn’t make much of an effort too keep in touch. Their relationship is both strained in this book, when Juila announces she’s engaged to Paul, who Nikki was extremely fond of, but also strengthened when the sisters finally come clean with each other. In the way that siblings often do, they’ve both harboured silly grudges and unjustified jealousies.

Diego O’Donnell is our male love interest. What a wonderful name! No mistaking that he’s of Spanish and Irish heritage. He’s gorgeous, bright, personable and, as the story proceeds, reveals hidden depths and proves to be far more than just eye candy. He and Nikki make for a well-matched couple – or at least, we hope they will, but they’re both so darn stubborn at times…

Excellent entertainment and thoroughly enjoyable.

 

Purchase Links

Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07GBXB5PK

Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07GBXB5PK

Amazon Geo-linked http://hyperurl.co/s3dxdc

iBooks https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/book/a-christmas-date/id1424973663

Barnes & Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-christmas-date-camilla-isley/1129274291?ean=2940155770961

Kobo http://www.kobobooks.com/search/search.html?q=9788887269253

Google Play https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Camilla_Isley_A_Christmas_Date?id=p4ZoDwAAQBAJ

 

Author bio 

Camilla is an engineer turned writer after she quit her job to follow her husband on an adventure abroad.

She’s a cat lover, coffee addict, and shoe hoarder. Besides writing, she loves reading—duh!—cooking, watching bad TV, and going to the movies—popcorn, please. She’s a bit of a foodie, nothing too serious. A keen traveller, Camilla knows mosquitoes play a role in the ecosystem, and she doesn’t want to starve all those frog princes out there, but she could really live without them.

Social Media Links –

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

Twitter https://twitter.com/camillaisley

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14135080.Camilla_Isley

Bookbub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/camilla-isley

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

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/camillaisley/

 

Do follow the rest of the tour:

 

Books Are Cool is getting into a festive mood. Today Snowflakes Over Holly Cove by Lucy Coleman is in the twinkling spotlight.

Synopsis

As the snowflakes start to fall, Holly Cove welcomes a new tenant to the beautiful old cottage on the beach…

For lifestyle magazine journalist Tia Armstrong, relationships, as well as Christmas, have lost all their magic. Yet Tia is up against a Christmas deadline for her latest article ‘Love is, actually, all around…’

So, Tia heads to Holly Cove where the restorative sea air and rugged stranger, Nic, slowly but surely start mending her broken heart.

Tia didn’t expect a white Christmas, and she certainly never dared dream that all her Christmas wishes might just come true…

Set in Caswell Bay on the stunningly beautiful Gower Coast, the cottage nestles amid the limestone cliffs and the woodlands, where the emotions run as turbulently as the wind-swept sea.

As cosy as a marshmallow-topped mug of cocoa, fall in love with a heart-warming festive story from the bestselling author of The French Adventure.

 

Review

I’m a big fan of this author and so I was really looking forward to reading her new novel. And what a delightful and festive treat it is! It has all the ingredients you want from a romcom, and especially a Christmassy one – love, a touch of sadness, new beginnings, misunderstandings, reconciliations and a cast of colourful, good-hearted (on the whole) characters.

Tia is still reeling from her mother’s death. She had a close relationship with her, and it’s lovely to see that strong bond between them in the book. After all, a mother-daughter relationship is such a special thing. Tia has the sense to take time to bounce back, and to realise it’s more a case of readjusting than recovering. You never stop missing a loved one who’s died, but you do learn to carry on without them. This is what Tia does. It also encourages her to deal with the fractures in her other family relationships. What better time for this than Christmas?

The wild and beautiful Holly Cove is the perfect place for Tia to get her priorities back in order, and her life back on track. It’s not an easy process but we know that our likeable, stong heroine will be successful eventually, despite the odd setback, and when the handsome Nic crosses her path, well, we all start hoping that will turn out for the best too.

There is a lot of richness to the story in the well thought-out plot, the interesting people we meet, the complexities of the relationships that come under scrutiny and the portrayal of life as it is, with its pleasures and pains, its highs and its lows. We see Tia develop and blossom, and a splintered family mends – Christmas magic in an everyday setting. Really lovely.

 

Purchase Linkhttp://smarturl.it/SnowflkOverHollyCove

Author Bio –

From interior designer to author, Linn B. Halton – who also writes under the pen name of Lucy Coleman – says ‘it’s been a fantastic journey!’

Linn is the bestselling author of more than a dozen novels and is excited to be writing for both Aria Fiction (Head of Zeus) and Harper Impulse (Harper Collins); she’s represented by Sara Keane of the Keane Kataria Literary Agency.

When she’s not writing, or spending time with the family, she’s either upcycling furniture or working in the garden.

Linn won the 2013 UK Festival of Romance: Innovation in Romantic Fiction award; her novels have been short-listed in the UK’s Festival of Romance and the eFestival of Words Book Awards.

Living in Coed Duon in the Welsh Valleys with her ‘rock’, Lawrence, and gorgeous Bengal cat Ziggy, she freely admits she’s an eternal romantic.

Linn is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and writes feel-good, uplifting novels about life, love and relationships.

Social Media Links –

https://www.facebook.com/LinnBHaltonAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LucyColemanAuth   https://twitter.com/LinnBHalton

 

Giveaway . Win a signed paperback of A Cottage in the Country and a rustic wooden heart decoration (Open Internationally)

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494148/?

Time to get Christmassy here at Books Are Cool. And not a moment too soon!

I’m thrilled to be joining in the publication day celebrations for this super novel. I have to say I adore the cover.

Synopsis

It’s the most magical time of the year, and for travel agent Sarah it’s also the busiest! But this year one man threatens to ruin Christmas for Sarah’s customers – Mr Grinch, Will Armstrong.

The Shooting Star Mountain resort is a magical place, and Sarah has fond memories of Christmas here as a little girl – visits to Father Christmas, husky rides in the snow and hot chocolate by a roaring fire. But as the resorts new owner, Will refuses to play snowball or to deck the halls with anything remotely resembling tinsel!

With customers complaining their Christmas is ruined, Sarah decides it’s up to her to convince Scroogey Will just how magical Christmas can be….

But getting Will into the Christmas spirit is hopeless – he is Bah Humbug personified! But as Sarah gets to know him better, she realises that underneath all the gloom is a man struggling with a pain of his own.

With the big day approaching, Sarah realises that the magic and sparkle can wait. This year, she’s going to spend Christmas day with someone special: her very own Mr Scrooge…


My review

This is a lovely, lively, funny and very enjoyable Christmassy novel.

Sarah is in a bit of a rut. She has her job in her aunt’s travel agency business with co-worker and friend Sam, but it’s becoming more stressful with ever more complaints and mutterings about legal action. She has a vague sort-of boyfriend in Callum, and she’s rather trapped by routine. So when Aunt Lynn announces she’s going to Australia rather than spending the usual Christmas with Sarah, she’s thrown. However, this proves to be the slap in the face that she needed and it makes her pull herself together.

She’d been toying with going to Canada to visit the disastrous Shooting Star Mountain Resort herself and tell the miserable Will Armstrong a few home truths. So off she goes and finds that things are every bit as bad as people have been making out. So she sets out to bring the Christmas sparkle back to Shooting Star Mountain Resort, but it’s not going to be as straightforward as she thought. Will has a few issues to straighten out.

Added to that, the skeletons in Sarah’s closet are rattling louder and louder. She hasn’t spoken to her father in years because of an incident one Christmas…

The quiet yet resolute Aunt Lynn, who brought Sarah up, proves to be the catalyst in this wonderful story. Through her kind actions she brings about a transformation in our heroine and helps everything work out the way we want them to.

The author has a delightful and light style. She creates an array of distinctive characters and vivid settings. Whether we’re alongside our heroine in a cramped economy seat in a plane or the wilderness of Canada we can see, hear and smell everything she can.

The perfect book to read curled up by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course!) and a Christmas music CD on in the background, whatever time of  year it actually is!

 

Purchase Link

Amazon UKhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/No-One-Cancels-Christmas-romantic-ebook/dp/B07CWTVJGD

Amazon UShttps://www.amazon.com/no-one-cancels-christmas-romantic-ebook/dp/B07CWTVJGD

Author bio 

Born in a small village in Staffordshire, I wanted to be a female James Herriot, a spy, or an author when I grew up. After many years, and many different jobs, my dream of writing a bestseller came true.

I write about friendship, dreams, love, and happy ever afters, and hope that my tales make you cry a little, laugh a lot, and occasionally say ‘ahhh’.

I now live in a Cheshire village with my family, a lively cockapoo called Harry, and a very bossy (and slightly evil) cat called Saffron.

Where you can find her-

Website: http://www.zarastoneley.com
Twitter: @ZaraStoneley
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ZaraStoneley

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

Keep following the tour!

 

 

 

It’s only the second day of autumn (and co-incidentally, the second day in the year 227 of the French Republican Calendar – something that I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about!), but it’s time to start thinking about Christmas. Well, Christmassy books at least. They’ll be hitting the shelves soon so we all need to plan which ones we can fit into our pre-Christmas reading schedule. Everyone has to read at least a few Christmassy books every year, right?

And so I’m delighted to be joining in the cover reveal of a festive romcom, which is definitely one to consider putting on your tbr list:

The biggest snowfall in years has blanketed Sunnybrook, cutting the village off from the outside world. For Fen, who finds herself snowed in at The Little Duck Pond Cafe, it’s little more than a minor inconvenience. Her love life is finally running smoothly; it looks as if she’s found the perfect man for her.

 

But then a shocking secret threatens to destroy Fen’s new-found happiness.

Will being snowed in be the final straw? Or will Fen find a way through the snowdrifts to the perfect love?

 

And here’s the cover…

My thoughts

It’s a very eye-catching cover, and immediately gives off a chick lit vibe (or maybe in this case duckling vibe would be more appropriate) with the characteristic italic typeface so indelibly linked with this genre at present. The colours are friendly and inviting, the snowflakes and snowman atmospheric and the water fowl appealing. My only concern is for those poor little ducklings! I’m a bit of a crazy bird lady and on my very large smallholding I have a lot of poultry. Baby birds of any variety hatched in winter face an extremely tough time, which is why it’s rare occurrence naturally. So I shall take the view that these ducklings have an extremely cosy house somewhere in which they spend most of their day, and where they get a lot of the extra food they’ll need to keep warm and toasty, and I sincerely hope their mother won’t produce such a late brood again next year!

In summary, it’s a delightful cover.

If you want this book, which I’m sure you do:

Pre-order Link – https://amzn.to/2Cg99ki

 

 

About the author

Rosie Green has been scribbling stories ever since she was little. Back then they were rip-roaring adventure tales with a young heroine in perilous danger of falling off a cliff or being tied up by ‘the baddies’. Thankfully, Rosie has moved on somewhat, and now much prefers to write romantic comedies that melt your heart and make you smile, with really not much perilous danger involved at all, unless you count the heroine losing her heart in love.

?

?Rosie’s brand new series of novellas is centred on life in a village café. The first two stories in the series are: Spring at The Little Duck Pond Cafe and Summer at The Little Duck Pond Café.

 

Twitter – https://twitter.com/Rosie_Green1988

An extract from ‘Deck the Halles’, which is coming very soon, promise! It’s the sequel to Fa-La-Llama-La. 

Noelle’s pre-Christmas preparations aren’t going as planned. She’s been called in at the last moment to find a venue for a national llama show, and has already had to deal with two family crises. And now here’s a third: 

I had just turned the heat under the pan right down to leave our meal keeping warm until Mum reappeared when the phone rang. I automatically turned to grab my phone off the table, where I usually left it. But of course, we’d tidied up in honour of Mum’s visit. The table was forlornly bare of everything except three empty mugs. Where had I put my phone? I couldn’t for the life of me remember. However, the ring tone was coming from somewhere close by, and sounding slightly muffled. Of course, I’d shoved it in my handbag, along with three notebooks (I’m a notebook junkie), several pens, two pegs, a clean sock and a packet of tissues as part of the cleaning process. I rummaged through these and the bag’s other contents and found the phone. I squinted at the number. It was a call from the UK, but from exactly which one of its residents I had no idea.

Only one way to find out.

“Hello?”

“Hi, sweetheart,” came Dad’s voice in reply.

I was so stunned at hearing his voice that I had to sit down. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d spoken to my father on the phone. Mum handled that side of things, and merely relayed messages to and from my other parent. I wasn’t even aware he had his own mobile.

Dad’s voice was faked breeziness.

“Sorry to bother you, dear, but I, er, can’t seem to find your mother.” Not ‘my wife’, note, but ‘your mother’. Like Mum he was good at unfairly apportioning blame. “You don’t happen to know where she might be, do you?”

You’d have thought we were talking about a mislaid pair of glasses.

I decided to torment him a bit. Well, he did deserve it.

“When did you last see her?” I asked.

“Hmm, I’m not entirely sure.” I began to feel lots more sympathy for Mum. “Either Thursday night or Friday morning. Before I left for a weekend with Pop.”

“One of your war re-enactment events?” I suggested, knowing darn well it was.

“Yes.” Dad’s tone suddenly became all enthusiasm. “It was really excellent. Pop and I loved it. We went—”

“But about Mum,” I interrupted firmly.

“Oh yes.” The eagerness left his voice. “Well, she wasn’t here when I got back. Only an unfinished note.”

“Unfinished?” That sounded odd, even for my annoyed mother.

“Yes. She’s just written ‘George, I’ve left you’.” That sounded fairly complete to me, but obviously my parent thought otherwise. “No accompanying ‘some dinner in the oven’ or ‘clean socks in the top drawer’ or ‘a shopping list pinned to the fridge’ like there usually is,” Dad continued his explanation. “I’m worried her memory’s going, Noelle. Looks like she wandered off halfway through writing this note. Do you think I should call the police?” Before I could answer, he did so himself. “I should, shouldn’t I. Yes, I’ll do it at once. I’ll call you back in a moment and—”

“Dad, don’t call the fuzz,” I told him sharply. “Mum’s fine. She’s here. With me.”

“What, in France?” Dad sounded shocked. “Whatever is she doing there? Did you invite her?” He sounded slightly peeved at being left out.

“No, she invited herself,” I informed him. Then I took a deep breath. “And… and that note isn’t unfinished.”

“What do you mean?”

Had Dad always been this slow on the uptake?

“I mean, she’s left you, as in… left.” Bother it, where was my usual command of language when I needed it?

“Left?” Dad echoed faintly and still puzzled.

My patience ran out and at last my brain flipped into gear. “Left as in deserted, absconded, gone away, exited, vamoosed, departed, run off. Also as in not coming back.”

“Not coming back?”

“Well, just to get her stuff at some point I expect,” I shrugged, “but not to stay.”

“Not to stay?”

There was a long pause.

“She’s left me?” Dad sounded pathetic. “But why?” Now he sounded indignant.

I sighed. Why was I having to do Mum’s dirty work for her?

“Dad, all I know is that she’s fed up of you disappearing off with Pop all the time.”

“Well, why didn’t you say something before?” he challenged.

“Me? I didn’t know!” I riposted, and mostly truthfully. I’d only known a few days ago. “And it’s not my job to sort out your marital issues,” I pointed out, now very annoyed.

“Leaving me is going a bit over the top,” muttered Dad.

“Is it, Dad? You’re quite happy to swan off with Pop over Christmas and sit in a muddy trench and pretend to be a soldier—”

“Stetcher bearer,” Dad corrected me, priggishly.

“Whatever,” I snapped. “You’ll do that and leave Mum all on her own for Christmas when you know she loves family Christmases. And you wonder why she’s mad at  you?”

“I thought she’d appreciate not having to do all the usual cooking and stuff for a change,” Dad attempted to defend himself, feebly and rather sexistly. “Put her feet up instead.”

“Oh, give me strength” I exploded. “You know as well as I do that Mum isn’t a ‘put her feet up’ sort of person. You’re being a selfish old git, plain and simple. Bye Dad. I’ll tell Mum you rang.”

It’s a shame you can’t slam receivers down on mobile phones, because that’s what I felt like doing. I had to make do with jabbing the end call button ferociously instead. Not nearly as satisfying. Still loaded with adrenalin, I tossed my phone furiously into my handbag, forgetting it was stuffed full. It bounced straight back out and landed glass first down on the floor with a loud thunk and an unmistakeable cracking sound.

“Drat!” I swore.

I retrieved my phone with its now shattered screen and stared at it dumbly.

“At least I know what to get your for Christmas now!” quipped Nick, coming up behind me and slipping his arms round my waist.

I leaned back against him. “I think I hate my family,” I sighed. I was only half-joking.

 

There are many more muddles to come but everything will work out fine for Noelle, Nick and the others, as you’ll soon see!

My sequel to ‘Fa-La-Llama-La: Christmas at the Little French Llama Farm’ will soon be ready.

‘Deck the Halles: Next Christmas at the Little French Llama’ sees our heroine Noelle called on at the last minute to help organise a national llama show in the local agricultural halles, so her partner, famous Australian author Nick, decides to profit from this by launching his latest book there. With just days to go, a stream of visitors turn up on their doorstep with assorted tales of woe and all needing somewhere to stay.

Here’s the latest arrival, an early morning one. (Ivy and Franklin, referred to here, turned up yesterday and are staying in the tiny guest cottage, which Noelle’s mum was in but has vacated for a couple of days. She’ll be coming back, though. Truffle is the stray dog Nick and Noelle have given a home to.)

 

We decided we deserved a half-hour lie-in this morning. But ten minutes in there was a knock on the door. Truffle, who’d slept on a rug I’d put down for him just outside our bedroom door, gave a little growl. So did Nick.

“I thought we’d given Ivy and Franklin everything they needed for breakfast,” he grumbled.

“We did,” I confirmed. “But I think Franklin’s still asleep.”

“How on earth can you know that?” asked Nick.

“I can hear him snoring.” It was true. Even though the cottage was a good ten metres from the house, and both buildings had thick stone walls and double-glazed windows, we could hear an intermittent rumbling sound. I’d been aware it during the night at odd moments when I’d been awake. “Or maybe that’s Ivy?”

“Nah, she’s not big enough to make that colossal racket. Streuth, how can the poor woman sleep through that?”

“It’s probably her at the door then,” I deduced. “Wanting earmuffs, or refuge.” I reluctantly sat up, pushed back the covers and swung my legs out of bed. “I did tell them just to come on into the house any time they needed to. I said we didn’t lock the door.”

“Maybe they’re a bit wary of Truffle. Or me,” grinned Nick.

I grinned back. “Yes, they might be worried you’d think they were intruders and batter them with a boomerang.” There was a conveniently-placed, oversized one hanging in our hallway. “Time to get up anyway.”

I shrugged into my dressing gown and stuffed my feet into my slippers and shuffled off, closely followed by Truffle. He overtook me on the stairs, but waited dutifully until I was head of him again in the hallway. I don’t think he was convinced this was officially his territory yet, or maybe he was a bit of a coward and preferred me to confront strangers on the doorstep. That was fine, as I didn’t want an aggressive animal, all bared teeth and raised hackles. I was perfectly capable of playing that part if necessary.

I plastered a smile on my face and pulled the door open to let Ivy and Franklin in. Only it wasn’t them. Two very tall men were on my doorstep, in matching Tommy Hilfiger skiing jackets that oozed class. They also sported those fur-lined earflap hats, and scarves. It therefore took my as yet uncaffeinated brain a few seconds to crank into gear. Then, from the few facial features I could discern, I worked out this overdressed pair was my cousin Joe and his partner Caspar. Talk about surprise. I thought they were at home in New York city.

I launched myself at Joe and hugged him as best I could through all his bulky layers. Truffle took upon himself to be welcome committee to Caspar and looked up at him adoringly, wagging his tail. Any friend of my new family is a friend of mine, he was saying.

“Come on in,” I invited, after hugging Caspar too. “But what on earth are you guys doing here?”

“Long story short, rats,” summarised Joe, peeling off his jacket, and, after looking around the hallway and not seeing anywhere to hang it up since all hooks on the coat rack were already occupied, handing it to me to deal with as appropriate. And the hat.

“Yes, rats,” agreed Caspar, doing the same with his hat and coat.

I saw now that the boys were wearing matching stylish, as in designer label, yet tasteless Christmas jumpers with lurid designs in garish colours.

“Rats?” I echoed, slightly muffled by the heap of tog rating now filling my arms.

“Hundreds of them. No, more like thousands,” declared Caspar.

“Thousands?” That was me. Being a parrot was all I could do until I could make sense of what was going on. I dumped the jackets and hats on Nick’s chair as we entered the kitchen.

“Definitely thousands,” confirmed Joe, plonking himself down at the table. Caspar followed suit.

“Definitely?”

Both men nodded, so I nodded too.

“But where?” I demanded, still none the wiser.

“Paris,” Joe informed me.

“Ghastly place,” added Caspar.

Well, I could have told them that. True, it had the world’s most stunning architecture, but it was just a city – noisy, polluted, frantic, expensive, full of sour faces, lonely souls, pickpockets and, distressingly, every other phone box sheltering homeless, hopeless people.

At this point Nick padded into the room. Three pairs of eyes regarded him appreciatively; unshaved and with tousled, bedroom hair he did look gorgeous. The still-lingering, post-flu pallor brought his dark hair and eyes into sharper focus and gave him the air of a tragic, unsuccessful poet or starving artist.

“G’day gents,” he said genially, unaware he was being openly ogled by everyone else in the room, apart from Truffle, and managing not to wince at the overdose of Christmas jumper that assailed him. “You must be Noelle’s cousin Joe.” He identified him from the many photos of Joe I’d shown him on Facebook. He duly shook his hand. “And you’re Caspar. Good to finally meet you. Coffee?”

Joe and Caspar nodded eagerly.

“Oh my goodness, you’re probably starving too!” I realised, jumping up. “Breakfast?”

More eager nodding. “Oh, yes please. We were going to stop at a café somewhere for coffee and croissant, but nowhere was open,” said Joe mournfully.

Given the hour, that wasn’t surprising. It was barely eight o’clock now.

I busied myself shoving slices of bread into the toaster. “So, what happened exactly?” I asked.

Nick placed coffees in front of everyone, moved the jackets onto the sofa and sat down in his place, all ears.

“Well,” began Caspar dramatically, “this was meant to be our fairytale Christmas.”

“Fairytale,” verified Joe.

“A week in the City of Light, walking along the Champs Élysées, visiting Versailles, Notre Dame, Montmatre, all those iconic places.”

“Iconic,” agreed Joe.

“So we booked what we thought was a nice hotel, but oh my gosh.” Caspar pulled a face. “It was terrible.”

Nick and I couldn’t stop ourselves glancing at Joe for the inevitable “Terrible.”

“Rats everywhere.”

“Everywhere.”

“Everywhere? Streuth.” That was Nick, if you hadn’t guessed.

“Well, outside, but still everywhere,” clarified Caspar.

“We saw at least three,” nodded Joe.

I frowned. Only moments ago it had been ‘thousands’.

“The fact we spotted some means there are actually loads and loads and loads, even though you can’t see them all,” explained Joe quickly, seeing my scepticism.

“Thousands?” I suggested.

“Probably,” he said darkly.

I’d heard that the floods the city had experienced in the spring had caused a surge in rat sightings and that lots was being done to get the numbers down. But rats are resourceful and people are dirty, discarding litter all over the place, a lot of it with edible scraps attached. Of course they’ll move in if there’s a food source.

“We’ve got rats in our barn,” said Nick brightly but not massively helpfully.

“That’s different,” said Caspar dismissively, to my astonishment. “You expect that on a farm. And they’re not running down the drive or over your garden, are they?”

“No, they’re not,” I said firmly. “Our cats would be too ashamed to allow that to happen.”

“Well, we couldn’t stay at that hotel,” Joe went on. “Not with rats so close by.”

“No. I mean, one might have come up the toilet or something,” added Caspar, and shuddered.

Nick caught my eye and raised an eyebrow. I managed not to smile.

“I’d have thought that would be pretty unlikely,” I said carefully, “but it wouldn’t have been much of a fairytale holiday if you were constantly worrying about it.”

Nick was more direct. “Yup, getting bitten on the butt while sitting on the crapper would really suck.”

Joe and Caspar nodded seriously.

“Didn’t you think of going to a different hotel?” I asked.

“Oh no, not after that. We’ve gone right off Paris,” said Caspar.

“Yes, right off.”

“Not only the rats, but people there said horrible things,” Caspar went on.

“Horrible,” ratified Joe.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” I exclaimed, genuinely upset. Why couldn’t people just live and let live? My cousin had been at the receiving end of a lot of ignorant hatred over the years simply because of his sexuality.

“Oh, I don’t mean gay bashing,” Joe explained quickly.

“Worse than that.” Caspar looked mortally offended. “I overhead some snooty couple saying our jackets were cheap knock-offs.”

“So cruel,” tutted Joe.

I just sat there.

“So I suggested we pop here, to see my favourite cousin,” Joe smiled sycophantically. “Can you squeeze us in somewhere?”

“We-ell,” I replied cautiously. “Mum’s here for Christmas.”

“Oh, how is Aunt Mary?” gushed Joe.

“She’s…” I couldn’t go blabbing about her having ditched Dad. “She’s dyed her hair,” I said evasively.

“Good for her,” approved Joe.

Dying their hair clearly meant someone was in good form.

“She’s popped over to see Eve for a couple of days,” I continued.

“Oh, is your sister living in France too?” asked Joe. “Goodness, I’m out of touch.”

“She’s on holiday here at the moment, that’s all,” I explained concisely. “And some friends of ours, Ivy and Franklin, turned up out of the blue last night. They plan to be here at least a few days.” I hoped the boys would get the hint, but no.

“Not Ivy of the pet-sitting booking?” exclaimed Joe, referring to the events of last Christmas. My wily cousin had led me to believe I’d be minding guinea-pigs, not eleven normal llamas and one hugely pregnant one. Good job he had, though, as I might not have taken on the job and thus never met Nick. But you’ll know all this if you’ve read ‘Fa-La-Llama-La’.

“My goodness, what a houseful!” enthused Caspar. “I love big gatherings, don’t you?”

Not when we didn’t have enough space for everyone.

Or enough food. We’d done what we thought was our final Christmas food shop a week ago, before it started getting crazily busy at the supermarket. With all these extra mouths to feed that kept materialising, we’d have to make another trip, today or tomorrow. That was the last thing we needed on top of all the llama show and book launch-related activities already scheduled in.

I responded to Caspar with a non-committal, strangled sort of noise.

“So, what are your plans between now and Christmas?” asked Joe.

I stared at him. I was sure I’d told him about the forthcoming camelid show and my key involvement in it, but maybe not. So I quickly filled him in.

“Oh, how marvellous!” cried Caspar. “I know I shall love every minute. Do you need any extra judges or anything?”

I was touched by his enthusiasm, especially as I wasn’t sure if he knew the front end from the back end of a llama.

“That’s all covered by the association running the show,” I assured him. “But an extra pair of hands will be useful here in the preparations. Sir Winter will need lots of grooming.”

“I’ll be brilliant at that,” promised Caspar, unhampered as ever by modesty.

“Brilliant,” nodded Joe.

“Help yourself to more coffee and food,” I told them, getting up. “I need to go and get dressed.”

“Me too,” smiled Nick. “See you in a few.”

We hurried upstairs. I shut the bedroom door behind us then leant against it and groaned.

“What are we going to do?”

This book makes for perfect reading at this meteorologically challenged time of year as it takes us from the cold, snowbound days of Christmas into joyous, warm springtime and then summer. Ellie Browne, landlady of the Dog and Duck, and her partner Max, owner of the country mansion Braithewaite Manor, are our central characters. There’s great excitement at the beginning of the book, when their baby Noel makes his precipitous entrance into the world, but the action keeps going as life is busy for Ellie and there’s also Polly’s wedding coming up. Polly is Ellie’s best friend so she wants to put on a really good show. However, deep down there’s another wedding she’d rather be planning for, but she’s the one who keeps throwing the spanner into the works where that one’s concerned.

There’s a fascinating cast of characters in the book. We get to meet Ellie’s parents, now back from Dubai, and they add some drama of their own to proceedings. Max’s family supplies a few surprises too.   

As well as the feel-goodness of the story, the author’s writing raises your spirits as it’s warm and inviting. Jill Steeples tells her romantic comedy in a friendly, flowing fashion. There’s humour, drama, tension, heartache and joy, all the compelling ingredients we need to keep us hooked to the very end.

This is the last in the Dog and Duck trilogy, and it’s been a pleasure to read them all. The previous books were ‘Christmas at the Dog and Duck’ and ‘Summer at the Dog and Duck’. What’s more, all three have wonderful, eye-catching covers. Author and publishers have worked hard to produce a real treat for their readers.    

Help yourselves to a festive feel-good freebie from me!

Anna is house-sitting for family friends in a very cold cottage in the middle of snowy France. She’ll be there for a fortnight over Christmas. It’s all rather quiet and unexciting until, on Boxing Day, a pheasant gets tangled in the pear tree in the garden. Anna can’t possibly leave it there but her rescue attempt goes wrong, leaving her the stuck one. All she can do is wait for a knight in shining armour, or at least a passing Frenchman…

Anna Partridge in a Pear Tree is available in a variety of ebook formats for free from Smashwords here. And please spread the word!