Charlee and the Chocolate Shop by Jessica Redland

It’s impossible not to be drawn to this book, just by the title and the gorgeous cover. It’s Christmas, and it’s chocolate! Win-win.

When we first meet Charlee, the heroine of this story, she’s at a low ebb, having recently lost her beloved nanna – the woman who raised her after her mother left her. Charlee has inherited Nanna’s house, but she feels uncomfortable living there, especially with amorous boyfriend Darren. Darren’s got a new job, and is heading off to Whitsborough Bay, and he wants Charlee to sell up and come with him. But Charlee has her best friend, Jodie, to think about, and her job working with master chocolatier Pierre.

As events take an unexpected turn, Charlee finds herself heading to Whitsborough Bay after all, and is soon on the hunt for premises. Because Charlee has decided to open her own chocolate shop, and she soon finds the perfect location – Castle Street, home of many of the little businesses readers of Jessica Redland’s previous books will already have become acquainted with, such as Flowers and Gifts, Bear with Me and Carly’s Cupcakes.

As Charlee settles in to her new life, she throws herself into preparing her chocolate shop, ready for business, and tries not to dwell on the fact that Darren is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. When a catastrophe occurs, it’s lucky for Charlee that Matt the plumber is on hand to rescue her. Not that Charlee’s interested in him. Of course not. She’s happy with Darren. Isn’t she?

Suffice it to say, Christmas for Charlee that year is hardly something to celebrate, despite her new home and new business. Charlee can hardly imagine being happy again.

As Christmas comes around again, the following year, can Charlee make it the time when all her dreams finally come true, or will it be another lonely Christmas?

This is a lovely story of two Christmases, and what can happen in one year. It’s a tale of friendship, love, and hope. With a subplot involving Charlee’s errant mother, and the truth about her birth and childhood, it’s also more than just a frothy seasonal story.

Sometimes, we don’t realise who really matters to us, even when the truth is sitting right in front of our eyes, and this story reminds us that families come in all different shapes and sizes, but it’s the love at the core of them that makes them real, not blood or birth certificates.

As the year comes to a close, Charlee discovers that she’s not so alone, after all, and she never has been …

This is a really gorgeous festive novel, full of Christmas spirit and lots of chocolate. You will get hungry though. The chocolate is so well described and the images the author creates are enough to make your mouth water. If you’re on a diet, you may need to save some extra calories for when you read this!  5/5

You can buy Charlee and the Chocolate Shop here

 

Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes by Jessica Redland

Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes is a lovely, heartwarming story, centred around a cake shop in Castle Street, Whitsborough Bay. Carly is a kind-hearted and patient woman, who loves her younger sister Bethany so much that she is prepared to overlook Bethany’s disastrous inability to produce a decent cupcake. This is problematic, since Bethany works at Carly’s Cupcakes – having been employed by Carly after a string of previous jobs failed to work out.
Bethany’s confidence is at a low ebb, in spite of the love and devotion of her fiance, and she’s feeling so low that even the excitement of their imminent wedding can’t seem to lift her mood. Carly keeps giving her sister further chances, in spite of warnings from various friends that she should sack her, as Bethany is costing the business money. When Bethany realises what a liability she is to her sister, it’s the final straw. This revelation, combined with the obvious disapproval of her soon-to-be mother-in-law and the stress of organising a wedding, proves too much for her.
Carly must somehow find a way to restore Bethany’s faith in herself, without bankrupting her own business. But how?
And Carly has enough of her own problems to deal with. On top of trying to rectify Bethany’s mistakes, she is trying to pluck up the courage to tell her best friend Liam how she really feels about him. Liam was her staunch ally against the dreaded Biscuit Bunch, back in the days when the two of them were at the mercy of the school bullies. Both Carly and Liam have blossomed, and have good careers, but the insecurities are still there. Carly is too afraid of rejection to tell Liam the truth.
With Christmas fast approaching, Carly has to face up to her own past, in order to build the future she really craves. Is she strong enough to do it?
Cupcakes, love, a romantic wedding, and the beauty of a white Christmas. The perfect recipe for a delicious festive treat. 5/5

You can buy Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes here.

A Song for St Nicholas by Jo Bartlett

At the time of writing this, Jo Bartlett’s latest novel, A Song for St Nicholas, is proudly displaying a bestseller flag. I can only say, after devouring this book in a few hours this morning, that it totally deserves that status.

I’m a huge fan of this author’s work, but I really think A Song for St Nicholas is her best yet. Set in the lovely Kent coastal village of St Nicholas Bay – a place, it’s rumoured, where Charles Dickens wrote part of A Christmas Carol – the book has a festive feel from the off, and Christmas runs through its centre like words through a stick of seaside rock.

Anna has returned to the bay after several years working in a high-powered, and extremely well-paid, job in London. A chance encounter with a homeless man, combined with the realisation that her boss is a selfish moron, plus the acknowledgment that her boyfriend definitely isn’t the man for her, have sent her to her home town, where she must face the disappointment of her parents – particularly her mum, who couldn’t be more proud of high-flying Anna if she’d married Prince Harry.

Anna’s own dream man, however, wasn’t a prince. He was the son of a lord, and he broke her heart by moving away from the village, without warning, when they were teenagers. The last person she expects to find on her return to the Bay is Jamie Harrington, so it’s a shock when she hears he’s back, and even more shocking to discover that he’s now a vicar, and the Bay is his new parish.

As Anna and Jamie both settle back into their old village, their attraction to each other still burns as brightly as ever. But there is a tragic secret in St Nicholas Bay. An old mystery remains unsolved, and someone has a guilty conscience. Events that occurred a decade before could scupper any chances Jamie and Anna have of rekindling their relationship, and with people around them getting hurt, is there really any chance of a merry Christmas and a happy-ever-after for either of them?

Told with the author’s characteristic warmth and good humour, A Song for St Nicholas is everything a Christmas novel should be. It’s got the most delightful setting, a fantastic cast of supporting characters, and a leading couple, who are so obviously perfect for each other, that you can’t help praying that things will work out for them.

Anna has integrity, courage and a kind heart, and Jamie is – well, Jamie is just divine. Although, as a vicar, he’d probably be very uncomfortable with that description! He’s honourable and compassionate and – well, you can probably tell he’s my new fictional crush. The good thing about him is that he’s not too perfect. He does make mistakes, thank goodness!

With a Christmas fayre, Christmas trees, and fairy lights galore, a choir and lots of beautiful carols, this is a real festive treat – a story of forgiveness, redemption, compassion, charity, hope and, above all, love. At this time of year, what more can you ask for? 5/5

You can buy A Song for St Nicholas here.

A Christmas Romance by Amy Perfect (Lynda Renham)

As signalled by the fact that Lynda Renham is writing as Amy Perfect, rather than under her own name, this book is a little different to her usual romcoms. It’s still funny, but it’s set at a gentler pace, and is cosier, somehow. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really loved it.
Little Perran is the sort of place many people would love to live in. A picturesque Cotswolds village where everyone knows everyone, and everybody cares what’s going on in their neighbours’ lives.
Frankie has been badly betrayed by her boyfriend Paul, so there’s a lot of sympathy for her. Everyone wants to see her happy. Frankie just wants to get on with her life and think about something else, and it seems she’ll get her wish, when news hits the village that famous film star Roux Lockhart is coming to stay in Little Perran. Everyone is buzzing with excitement, even though they’ve been sworn to secrecy.
Because Roux is staying at her Aunt Rose’s house, Frankie has reason to cross paths with him, and there’s an undeniable attraction between them. Roux has recently broken up with his actress girlfriend and he certainly isn’t looking for love. Frankie is still reeling from Paul’s betrayal and romance is the last thing she wants or needs. Or is it?
When the two of them go missing in a terrible snowstorm, the villagers fear the worst. What could possibly have happened to Frankie and Roux? And with the disappearance of a major film star in the news, it seems Little Perran won’t be having such a quiet Christmas, after all.
With a dodgy Christmas cake competition, a village flirt, and two publicity-seeking exes on the scene, as well as a lovely subplot involving Frankie’s mum and a nursing home, this book is a really fun and uplifting Christmas book, which is just the thing to help get you in the festive mood. I look forward to returning to Little Perran to see what happens there next.  5/5

You can buy A Christmas Romance here.

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A Holly Bay Christmas by Jo Bartlett

Jo Bartlett certainly knows how to tell a good Christmas story. A year or two ago, I read and reviewed her lovely novella, The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come (which, by the way, is being reissued by Accent Press with an absolutely gorgeous new cover) and I thought then that she really knew how to fill her readers with Christmas spirit. A Holly Bay Christmas, is, I’m delighted to report, just as enjoyable, and just as festive.
Holly Bay is an absolutely charming little village nestling on the Cornish coast. It’s full of those delightful little shops and businesses that you find in Cornwall, and it’s populated by a community of people who really pull together and care for each other.
Maddie’s entire world revolves around her bookshop/teashop, Basil’s Adventures, which is named after her beloved grandfather. He was the biggest influence upon her life, teaching her the wonders and delights of reading, and how to escape into the magic of a book. Although he rarely travelled outside the town, he had a whole lifetime of adventures in his imagination, and so, when he died and left Maddie an inheritance, she used it to fulfil her dream of opening her own business, naming it after him. She is devoted to her work, has a cosy flat in Holly Bay, and plenty of friends. She can’t help wondering, though, if it’s time she gave some thought to finding romance. Not that there seems much chance of that, when she’s so busy, particularly now that it’s almost Christmas and Holly Bay is a hive of activity.
So when the attractive and friendly Ben Cartwright arrives in town, it seems like fate. Ben seems very interested in her, in her business, and in her friends. Could he be the man of her dreams?
When he helps out with raising funds for a charity that is close to her heart, and even dons an elf costume to help out, she begins to think that, just maybe, he actually might be just that. But dreams don’t always come true, and secrets have a habit of being discovered, often at the most inconvenient times. What is Ben really doing in Holly Bay?
As a storm sweeps in, bringing destruction in its path, the residents of this little town must work together to help each other, and to make one little boy’s Christmas dreams come true. The key to it all is Ben, but can he be trusted? Is Maddie about to lose everything she holds dear, or is it going to be a happy Holly Bay Christmas, after all?
A heartwarming, cosy festive story that will really put you in the mood for the festive season. Merry Christmas! 5/5

You can buy A Holly Bay Christmas here.

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One Wish in Manhattan by Mandy Baggot

You know that feeling you get when you close the book, or switch off the Kindle, and you lean back with a satisfied sigh, and a hint of a tear in your eye, and a smile on your face, because everything just suddenly feels completely right with the world? Yeah, that feeling. That’s what I just experienced after finishing this fantastic book, One Wish in Manhattan.

I honestly can’t think of anything I didn’t love about this book. My friend, Helen, has just come back from New York, and although I was pleased for her that she went because I knew how much it meant to her, I can’t say it filled me with envy. I’ve never really been that interested in New York and never had any hankering to visit the place for myself. Well, now I can see why she wanted to go, and why she loves it so much. Mandy Baggot’s descriptions of the city are amazing. The sights and sounds and smells of New York are right there in the pages, and I was transported there in my mind – crunching through snow, feeling the icy wind against my skin, laughing at the ice skaters, catching the scent of Italian food, tasting pizza and ice cream, gazing out from a penthouse balcony at the lights and the traffic and the people, travelling in an elevator with a…No, won’t even go there!

The heroine of the story, Hayley, is lovely. She would be my best friend. She can eat her body weight in pizza and she once ate a full bag of custard doughnuts, so she’s all right by me. I sympathised with her over her fraught relationship with her mother, the loss of her father, and the fact that she’d shelved her own dreams yet was desperate to make her daughter’s dream come true. I enjoyed her relationship with her brother, who was everything a caring big brother should be and more. Most of all, I adored her relationship with her daughter, Angel, who was a fantastic character. I loved reading the banter between them and felt the mother/daughter bond was beautifully depicted.

As for the hero. *Sigh*. Oliver Drummond, billionaire businessman with a bad reputation and a terrible secret. Who could love such a man? Well, Hayley, quite obviously. And me, as it goes. Oliver is one heck of a hunky hero, and there was something so vulnerable about him I just wanted to get into that elevator with him and – reassure him that all would be well. *Cough*.

Seriously, this is a fabulous book. All the main characters are likeable, some are definitely lovable, the plot is absorbing and well-developed, the setting is fantastic, and there’s lots of snow. And lots of food. And lots of…romance. An absolutely brilliant novel, perfect festive reading. Loved it! 5/5

You can buy One Wish in Manhattan here.

One Wish in Manhattan by Mandy Baggot

One Wish in Manhattan by Mandy Baggot