So Here It Is…

…Merry Christmas! It’s finally upon us, and if your packages haven’t arrived yet it’s too late, and if you haven’t received a card from your Great Aunt Bertha whom you never see but who always stuffs the fifty quid in the envelope which you have come to rely upon, then tough, you’re not going to get it in time to hit the shops now. It’s all too late – too late I tells ya! You can panic if you like. Go on, why should you be any different?

Honestly, I went shopping at five o’ clock last night after visiting relatives and dropping pressies off. My sister had been to a “green-coloured supermarket” and had experienced trolley rage on a scale never known to mankind before. The place was heaving and she couldn’t even get parked in the overflow car park, so we decided to avoid the place and try the “orange-coloured supermarket”  because we used to live right opposite it and it still gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling when I go in there (yes, really!) and even though it’s now way across town from where we live, I considered it a Christmas treat to go there after months away. (Yes, I am serious! This isn’t a wind-up!)

Anyway, we managed to get parked very easily and I sauntered in feeling very happy and a little bit smug. Except, well, there was a slight problem. As in, half of the shelves were empty. Honestly, I couldn’t even get a bag of potatoes! It looked like a thousand people had won a trolley dash competition and had shot through the place sweeping armfuls of stuff into their trolleys without even noticing what it was they’d grabbed.  Funnily enough, there were plenty of turkeys left, although when I looked at the prices of some of them I wasn’t surprised. Seventy quid for a turkey? I don’t care if it’s been reared from an egg by the queen herself, slept on a velvet cushion and eaten nothing but organic corn all its life, I’m not paying seventy quid for a turkey. It didn’t look like anyone else was either.

Still, I managed to get most of what I wanted and a few things which I hadn’t realised I wanted but had added to the haul anyway because, after all, it is Christmas, and even though the shops are only shut for ONE day we wouldn’t want to run out of bread/milk/toilet roll/foil/pickled onions/pork pies/Quality Street now, would we? Horrific events like that could quite ruin the holiday feeling. I got home from shopping to hear a confession from my son that he had snaffled the tin of Celebrations I’d bought and “hidden” in the cupboard, wrapped them up and given them to a friend as a Christmas present. I nearly went into meltdown. Christmas was almost cancelled.  It took a signed oath that he would head out to the shops this morning and hunt down another tin before I could contemplate resuming the festivities. Phew, it was a close-run thing!

So yes, I’m all set. Even though I have a whole pile of Christmas cards sitting on the chest of drawers in my bedroom, neatly written out but never delivered because I never got round to buying stamps or handing them to people to pass on or asking DH to pop in the car and drop them off.   I might save them for next year.

Thanks to a Grinch-like boss, DH has been called upon to work Christmas Day and Boxing Day nights, which means that today, Christmas Eve, is going to be our special day. We are going to lock the doors, pour ourselves a drink, open the After Eights and watch  It’s A Wonderful Life. Has there ever been a better film made? I don’t think so.

Tomorrow, the children and grandchildren are descending and chaos will reign, but for today, hopefully, all will be calm and peaceful. Unless Darling Son Number 3 fails to keep his promise to seek out those Celebrations, of course.

Have a wonderful Christmas. xx

The best film ever!

The best film ever!

The Little Book of Lost Hearts by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

At this time of year, there is nothing better than settling down on the sofa and losing yourself in a story full of love, hope and a hint of mystery and magic. The Little Book Of Lost Hearts is exactly that. A festive treat and a proper fairytale for grown-ups.
Set in the enchantingly named village of Fools Castle in the days leading up to Christmas, this story has the feel-good factor and will leave you feeling all warm and cosy inside, as well as remembering the days when Christmas was truly magical and you really believed in Santa.
Antoinette Ellis has lost her heart. It happened quite unexpectedly when her beloved sister and brother-in-law died and she took over the care of her niece, Tabitha, the only survivor of the horrendous fire which killed her parents. Antoinette, or Nettie, grieving and in shock, determined to do the right thing by the little girl, puts all her own dreams and hopes aside. In spite of his protests that he wants to be with her and help her take care of Tabitha, Nettie says goodbye to the man she loves, knowing that his career plans did not include the guardianship of a child.
Leaving London and her old life behind, she returns to her childhood home of Fools Castle, where her brother Sawyer is in a similar situation, taking care of his two stepchildren after the death of his wife. Life for them both revolves around caring for the children and earning a living.
Then one day, a stranger arrives in Fools Castle. Rufus is an unusual man, obviously not used to socialising, the “black sheep” of his “famous” family. In spite of all Antoinette’s efforts, Rufus will not reveal anything more about them or himself, but before long he is part of her life and proves popular with the children, too.
But someone else is heading to Fools Castle, and before long Nettie will have to face up to her past and the decisions she once made, as well as accepting what her future may hold if she doesn’t change course. Can she reclaim her heart and find her way back to love? Or is she destined for a life of sacrifice and ultimately loneliness? And what, if anything, does Rufus have to do with all this?

This is a short story which can be read in a couple of hours. In the hectic run-up to Christmas, take the time to curl up by the fire, beside the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, and lose yourself in this delightful festive treat. Look back to the time you believed in magic, and remember, you’re never too old for fairytales.  5/5

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The Little Book of Lost Hearts

T

A Poor Life This…

Here we are, halfway through December already. Before we know it it will be 2014. It’s astonishing to me how fast the days are flying by. When I was little, my parents used to say this all the time and I used to think they were a bit nutty to be honest. How could days possibly go faster? To me they dragged. Hauling myself to school every day, sitting through the dreaded maths lessons, listening to the bored history teacher droning on about corn laws, dragging a bag full of text books home to do the homework each night. Time certainly didn’t fly for me.

Then, as I got older, I noticed that this strange phenomenon seems to be true. The older you get the faster time goes. I wake up each Monday morning thinking, “Here we go again, then. Another week.” Before I know it, it’s Friday evening and I’m heading out of the office door calling to everyone to  have a good weekend. It’s quite scary, actually. When you get to a certain age you suddenly realise that you no longer want time to fly at all. In fact, you want it to stop taking giant leaps forward and start making tiny fairy steps. So much to do! So little time!

I was thinking this morning about my birthday. It was back in June and was the big one. The day I turned fifty! It was a fabulous day as it turned out and I had a great weekend away with daughters, daughters-in-law, sister and sister-in-law. But that was almost six months ago! How did that happen? It was just a few weeks ago in my mind. It was quite a shock to realise how long ago it actually happened, and to realise that I’m almost as close to my fifty-first birthday as I am to my fiftieth.

Maybe the trick is to stop waiting for things to happen “in the future” and start noticing what’s going on today. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about my mythical future. I imagine all sorts of things and look forward to special days. Even simple things like wishing the week away so it will soon be weekend again … what about actually noticing the day we have and making the most of it? If we concentrate on the “now” will time slow down again?

When I was at school I don’t think I had time to think about the future so much. I was busy with schoolwork, with meeting my best friend and trying to discover the meaning of the universe (yes, really. We had very long discussions about the nature of God and trying to make sense of life. We were very strange fourteen-year-olds). There was music to listen to, books to read, films to see, boys to drool over…each day was packed with adventure and – well – happenings. We would head home from school, do our homework, eat our tea, then either meet up or telephone each other and talk for hours about what we’d done that very day. What we found to talk about I have no idea, but the point is we lived in that day. That very day was all that existed for us back then. We didn’t harp on about the past or think too much about the future. There was too much information to dissect from the day we were in.

Is that what makes the difference? When you’re older you are constantly making plans. You are looking ahead all the time. There are bills to budget for, events to attend, holidays to plan, meetings coming up, assignments to hand in. It’s all future stuff that takes up the now. Because we are forever looking ahead we perhaps fail to live in the present, and before we know it the day has gone and we are onto the next without even noticing what happened.

I’m becoming more aware of this and realising that each day should count. Maybe if I take notice of everything that’s happening right now and stop worrying or dwelling on what might happen, or looking ahead too far, the days will become fuller, richer and will appear to slow down a little. I sometimes think my fourteen-year-old self was a bit wiser than her fifty-year-old counterpart. She lived in the day. Maybe it’s time I remembered that and tried to copy her.

The rushing around and missing the moment is always more pronounced at this time of year. Christmas is nearly here and our days are given over to preparation and planning. We rush around trying to organise shopping trips, wrapping sessions, dinner plans, present-buying and  card-writing. Who is going where for Christmas dinner? What should we serve for the main course? Will Auntie Mavis really buy us talcum powder yet again? What can we get Uncle Fred, the man whose only interest is watching Holby City and rolling his own?  Life is especially frantic in December, and as we tear around trying to ensure we have the perfect Christmas (is there such a thing?) we really do miss out on each precious day.

As W H Davies put it so beautifully…

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?

—No time to stand beneath the boughs, And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.

Have a great week xx

Boot Camp Bride by Lizzie Lamb

Sometimes I think Lizzie Lamb writes just for me. All the elements that make up an enjoyable reading experience are there in her novels. Likeable heroine? Tick. Gorgeous hero? Tick. Strong plotline? Tick. Inspiring setting? Tick. Yes, I know that many writers of romantic novels can tick all these boxes, but there’s something extra special in Lizzie’s books. It was there in Tall, Dark and Kilted, her previous novel, and it’s definitely present and correct in Boot Camp Bride.

I found myself wondering what it is about Lizzie’s books that works so beautifully and I realised there are several elements.

Firstly, there is the heroine. I sometimes read romantic novels and feel as if I want to shake the leading lady. Some of them are so blind and stupid, so simpering or aggressive that I often wonder what on earth any hero in his right mind would see in them. Lizzie writes great heroines. Fliss in Tall, Dark and Kilted was fun, feisty and realistic. In Boot Camp Bride, the heroine is Charlee (short for Charlotte) Montague, and, like Fliss, she’s the sort of heroine you’d happily hang out with.

Charlee is the only daughter in a house full of high-achieving sons. Her parents are also clever and successful people. Charlee was a surprise baby, a girl in a family where boys seem to be valued much more, and has always felt she has a lot to prove. Disappointing her mother and father who wanted an academic career for her, Charlee – who is not exactly stupid, having achieved a double first in Languages and Politics – has decided upon a career in journalism.

She has been given a chance working on the magazine What’cha!  but, as it is owned by a family friend, Sam Walker, she knows that people think she has been given an unfair advantage, and so has plenty to prove there, too.  So when Rafael Fonseca-Ffinch (great name, huh?) offers her the chance to work undercover on an assignment that could make her name, she jumps at the chance. Even if it does mean that she has to pretend – even to her own family – that she and Ffinch are engaged.

What I love about Charlee is how believable she is. She really could be someone you know. Sometimes she is infuriatingly stubborn, but then knowing her background and her hang-ups you really understand why she behaves as she does. Charlee is refreshingly honest. She doesn’t simper and deny any attraction to Ffinch. She really, really fancies him and makes damn sure he knows it! When her obstinacy, pride and anger cause her to walk away she quickly regrets it, and finds a way to wriggle out of the situation she has found herself in without losing too much face.

The truth is, you can have a fantastic story and a hero to die for, but if the heroine isn’t someone you care about the novel is going to fall flat on its face. The whole thing starts with her, and Lizzie has the knack of creating great female protagonists who quickly get the reader onside, cheering them on.

 

Now, the hero. Well, I adored the sexy Laird of Kinloch Mara, Ruairi Urquhart,  in Tall, Dark and Kilted, and wasn’t sure anyone could live up to him. At first I was very wary of Ffinch. He seemed a bit arrogant and I wasn’t convinced he was good enough for our Charlee. Bit by bit I warmed to him, and as his story was revealed, layer by layer, I found myself falling for him just like his leading lady. Brave, compassionate, noble and – of course – jaw-droppingly sexy, Ffinch is the alpha male with a chink in his armour so beloved by romance readers.  No pushover, nevertheless there is a  wound there that leaves him vulnerable, and makes your heart go out to him, longing for him to be healed and find happiness. Yes, Ffinch won me over. (Don’t worry, Ruairi, I will never forget you!)

We have the characters. What about the story and setting? No fears there, either. This is a tale of kidnapping, drugs, gangsters, undercover assignments, danger and mystery.  Columbian and Russian threads entangle and lead to, of all places, the Norfolk marshes, where a seemingly-innocent bootcamp for brides-to-be to get fit and beautiful for their big day is a cover for – what exactly? A beautiful Russian model is staying at the camp, and Charlee needs to get photos of her in a place where all cameras and phones are confiscated.  As if that wasn’t difficult enough, Charlee appears to be working on a different case to Ffinch. He is keeping secrets from her, and the rumours about him keep niggling away at her as he deflects her questions and keeps the barrier between them firmly in place. Is Ffinch all he seems? And can Charlee really walk away at the end of her assignment, dissolving their partnership without a backward glance?  The mission is on and an intriguing tale it is, too. The atmospheric marshlands are described beautifully, invoking a real sense of place, just as Lizzie managed with the Highland setting of Tall, Dark and Kilted.

Great characters, a well-paced plotline, well-drawn setting, sparkling dialogue, lots of intrigue and humour – yes, I’m pretty sure Lizzie is writing just for me. I can’t wait to read her next novel!  5/5

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Boot Camp Bride