Hope’s Cornish Christmas by Jo Bartlett

Hope Malone should be spending Christmas in Manhattan, sipping cocktails in a fancy bar. Instead she’s back in Holly Bay, the quaint little seaside town on the Cornish coast that was her childhood home.

Keeping her beloved Grandpa company is no sacrifice for Hope, though, he means more to her than anyone else in the world. With a job as a freelance editor that’s no longer living up to expectations, and wannabe popstar parents, who’ll do anything for fame, Hope has more than one Christmas wish.

When she meets her favourite author, Jude Thomas, and he turns out to be the rudest man she’s ever met, she hates him on sight. It’s only when she loses the precious pendant her Nana left her, and Jude is the only one able to help her find it, that she begins to see another side to him.

Meeting Jude forces Hope to admit she wants to be a writer, too, despite what she’s told her friends at the Mad Hutters’ writing group she goes to every week. There are already too many dreamers in her family, though. And with her parents starting a rap channel on YouTube – which seems doomed to embarrassing failure – it’s down to Hope to be the sensible one.

Desperately trying to hold onto Nadelik traditions and have a proper Cornish Christmas, Hope pushes her own dreams back down where they belong. But when she discovers that Jude is keeping a secret and he’ll soon be out of her life for good, having a happy Christmas seems like one more impossible dream. 

By Christmas Eve everything has changed and even Hope’s wildest dreams suddenly seem possible. The only things missing are Jude and her Nana’s pendant. Can Hope find the one thing that really matters in time to celebrate the perfect Christmas, or will some dreams always be just beyond her reach?

I really enjoyed this latest novella from Jo Bartlett. It’s quite short, so I read it in one afternoon, and I was carried along by the lovely story of Hope Malone, who is spending Christmas with her grandfather at his home in the Cornish village of Holly Bay. Hope is an editor, but really dreams of being a writer. Having two dreamers for parents, though, she’s reluctant to chase her own dream, and always tries to keep her feet on the ground. Meeting her author hero, Jude Thomas, soon brings her down with a bump anyway, as he seems to be rude, abrupt and insensitive, and not at all as she had imagined he’d be. But maybe Jude has another side to him? When Hope’s pendant goes missing – the precious pendant that once belonged to her beloved Nana – Hope begins to see Jude in another light.
I found this to be a really comforting, cosy read, with great characterisation and a beautiful setting in the Cornish Holly Bay. It’s short enough to read in a few hours, but long enough to contain a thoroughly entertaining and interesting story. Quite possibly, it’s one of my favourite books by this author, and since I’ve read and loved them all, that’s a real achievement. Definitely a five star read!

Christmas Kisses on Hollywell Hill by Jackie Ladbury

Lose yourself in this festive, feel-good, winter romance with a touch of humour. 
“A heart-warming and funny romance – with a delicious hero. Loved the characters – loved the humour.”
“A gorgeous Christmas romance with two very likeable characters, an interesting backdrop of the theatre, and a restaurant set in the stylish town of St Albans.” 

Christmas is coming and actress, Kirsty Castille, is having a crisis of faith. All around her actors are bagging interesting roles in Christmas pantos while she’s stuck as Nag the pantomime horse. By a stroke of luck, she lands the lead role in a well-known musical and can finally wave goodbye to the cast in the seasonal production of Snow White and the Seven Christmas Puddings.
Things get even better when she bonds with handsome chef, Jake Levy, over a piece of squid at her local supermarket. Sadly, romance is the last thing on Jake’s mind. He has a Christmas deadline, an ex-wife to mourn and lots of emotional baggage to drag around – and he certainly wouldn’t fall for someone like Kirsty who craves the limelight: been there, done that. 
A misunderstanding leads Jake to offer Kirsty a job in his new restaurant and she is savvy enough to realise that she will have to take the job offer if she wants to see more of him. 
Her charm offensive appears to work, but while he’s cooking up a storm she’s secretly sparkling under the spotlight – until keeping a low profile becomes impossible. The fallout is catastrophic, but as they say in Luvvie Land, the show must go on, even if Kirsty wonders if she’s taken her last curtain call and ruined her chance for love.
Read on and immerse yourself in this delightful winter romance as the snow starts to fall and Christmas day comes ever nearer.
This gorgeous love story is loosely set in St Albans only half an hour away from London, where chef Jake relocates having lost everything that was dear to him. Enter actress, Kirsty Castille, who lives mostly in a world of her own until she meets Jake and realises she’d quite like to share the real world with him. If only he thought the same, things would be wonderful.

I really, really loved this story! From the very beginning Jackie Ladbury made me laugh out loud. Her writing is sparkling and witty, and she’s created a real gem of a character in Kirsty Castille.
Kirsty is an actress who just can’t seem to catch a break. Until, that is, she meets Jake Levy, at which point everything begins to change – for both of them.
Jake is really struggling, having had a terribly rough deal at the hands of his estranged wife, and he’s trying to pull his life back together by starting over with a new business.
Jake – not surprisingly – has serious trust issues. He’s also feeling pretty low and not really in the festive mood as he pines for his wife and the life they had together.
Kirsty couldn’t be more different from his successful, organised wife. She’s funny, self-deprecating and a bit chaotic. Life with her would be a nightmare. Wouldn’t it?
Jake isn’t ready to move on from his marriage, but Kirsty has a way of getting under his skin and, after all, it is Christmas, and the most amazing things can happen at this magical time of year …
Honestly, I laughed all the way through this book yet, at the same time, the author managed to make my heart ache for the wounded hero and the scatty but thoroughly lovable heroine.
This novel is a real festive treat and I can’t wait to read what’s next from this talented writer.

Finding Dad by Jo Bartlett

A chance discovery in a box of old Christmas decorations changes everything.

Freya Halliwell has always wanted to get married in Kelsea Bay, the place where she spent so many idyllic summers as a child. So when the chance arrives to have a Christmas wedding at Channel View Farm, perched high up on the cliffs above the Bay, everything in her life seems to be falling into place at last—almost two years after losing her beloved mum.

Ellie Hastings is finally making a success of the wedding business she set up after inheriting her great aunt’s farm and, even better than that, she’s about to become a mum for the first time. Christmas is just around the corner, but with runaway sheep causing havoc, a festive fundraiser to host, and the worst snow storm Kelsea Bay has seen in decades, life is anything but quiet.

When Freya uncovers an entry in an old journal, hidden amongst some boxes of Christmas decorations, her life changes forever, and soon everything she thought she knew about herself begins to unravel. Taking refuge at Channel View Farm and leaning on new friend, Ellie, for support, the best she can hope for is to make it through to New Year with some idea of what she wants to do next. But Ellie has problems of her own and, when it’s her turn to ask Freya for help, another big secret starts to unfold, which threatens to change everything for the people they love most.

Can Freya and Ellie find what they’re looking for in time to celebrate Christmas at Channel View Farm, or will it be too late to ever put things right?

Fabrian Books’ feel-good novels leave you with a smile on your face and the belief that good things really can happen. Perfect for the festive season!

Every time I read one of Jo Bartlett’s books I think it’s my new favourite, and Finding Dad is no exception. I love the Channel View Farm books anyway, and this was a welcome and thoroughly enjoyable addition to the series.
It was wonderful to catch up with old friends Karen, Ellie, Alan, Ben, and Liv, and the animals at the farm. It’s always a pleasure to return there and discover what the latest news is. The latest news, in this book, is that poor Karen’s in a wheelchair and Ellie is about to give birth, so there’s a lot to deal with.
We are introduced to a new character, Freya, and her story is the driving narrative for this novel. Poor Freya is bombarded with one shock after another in the opening scenes and, for various reasons, she ends up seeking refuge at Channel View Farm, where she is immediately taken under Ellie’s and Karen’s wings and soon feels almost like part of the family.
But, as welcoming as the Channel View Farm bunch are, Freya still has problems to deal with and a mission to pursue. Her purpose for coming to the farm is all-consuming, and helps to take her mind off the terrible mess her personal life has become, but by the end of her stay, will she be any closer to resolving her issues, or is she going to have a lonely and miserable Christmas?
I don’t want to give away any plot details so I can’t say too much more, but the title, Finding Dad is probably a big enough clue to one of Freya’s dilemmas!
This is a truly gorgeous, festive treat and reinforces what is so important about Christmas – love, the sense of belonging, family, home. I enjoyed every moment of this lovely story, and hope there’ll be another visit to Channel View Farm before too long.

Christmas Roses: More Stories from Broome Park Prefab Village by Pat Posner

Welcome back to Broome Park Prefab Village for this new collection of stories set in the 1950s and celebrate Christmas and other events with the prefab families.

Rationing has ended and there are new products arriving in the shops – though when the weather is cruel, the villagers still have to find ways of ‘making do’. 

There’s love and romance for the young and not so young, worries of keeping secrets, problems and mysteries and the odd crime or two but, above all, friendship and neighbourliness. 

It was such a pleasure to head back to Broome Park Prefab Village in the company of Pat Posner. I read her previous collection of short stories and they left me with a lovely, warm cosy feeling. I felt quite nostalgic for a time that I never even knew!
This second collection of stories is just as good, and it was a delight to catch up with the residents of Broome Park and be reunited with old friends, while meeting new ones. These stories are all feel-good, with characters you really want to spend time with. Happy endings are guaranteed, and in a world that can sometimes feel harsh and cruel (and a little bit scary!) it’s a relief to be in a place where you just know everything will turn out okay, where family values still matter, and a good nature and kind heart count for a lot.
My favourite stories were Wrong Number, and Sam and Flo’s First Christmas Together, which were unashamedly romantic and sweet, but all the stories were a joy to read.
If you want to be transported to a time and a place of goodness and innocence, then this is the book for you. Settle back with a cuppa and enjoy!

The Haunting on West 10th Street by Helen Phifer

Skeptical NYPD Homicide Detective Maria Miller only believes in cold hard facts. But a gruesome murder at a Greenwich Village brownstone seems to point straight to a paranormal source. Determined to unearth a rational explanation, she vows to find the culprit before he strikes again…

But Maria is about to learn that this atrocious crime is far from unique. An identical slaughter rocked the same house decades ago, and Miller must determine if it’s the same culprit, a copycat, or something much darker…

When Miller becomes the killer’s next target, will her stubborn cynicism save her or send her to the other side?

The Haunting On West 10th Street is the first book in the chilling Ghosts of New York horror series. If you like terrifying tales, supernatural crime stories, and eerie mysteries that span decades, then you’ll love Helen Phifer’s nail-biting novel. 

 

 

I always enjoyed Helen Phifer’s creepy supernatural thrillers, and although I’ve also loved her recent “straight” crime books, it was good to see her return to her roots with The House on West 10th Street.
No one knows how to scare me like Helen, and this story proved it. Something evil is lurking in the attic of the New York brownstone on West 10th, and it’s up to Detective Maria Miller to find out what it is and, more importantly, how to stop it before it’s too late.
Whatever it is has killed before, in the most gruesome way, and the author deftly switches between the events of its original possession, and the threat that hangs over the present day.
Detective Miller is a worthy successor to Helen Phifer’s previous lead characters, and the setting is perfectly drawn, giving the reader a real sense of New York. I was going to say I could almost smell the city, but truthfully, I wouldn’t want to. Read the book and you’ll know what I mean!
I really hope there is a follow-up to this book. I love Helen’s north-of-England novels, but she really does seem just as at home on the streets of New York, and this setting and these characters are ripe for a sequel – or a whole series of them.

Daffodil Days: Stories from the Broome Park Pre-fab Village by Pat Posner

I really enjoyed this delightful collection of short stories by Pat Posner. Set in one of the prefab villages that were hurriedly erected after the war, to provide “temporary” housing for families, they are a slice of pure nostalgia. The characters that populate this book, and the village of Broome Park, are familiar and appealing, and the stories are entertaining and gentle. They would make great Sunday night television viewing!

My own particular favourites are the heartwarming The Lucky Sixpence, and a handful of mystery stories that reminded me of grown-up versions of Enid Blyton’s Five Find-Outers series: All’s Well that Ends Well, An Exciting Blackberry Week, Penny for the Guy, Gloria’s Errand, and Something Mysterious at Broome Hall.

This is a collection of deliciously cosy and comforting stories, depicting working class life in the nineteen-fifties, featuring characters across the generations: parents and grandparents, teenagers and young children, landowners, crooks, and the sort of genial local policeman, known to everyone in the area, that we all wish still walked the beat near us.

The stories cover all seasons, and plenty of special occasions are celebrated by the residents of Broome Park. I found myself quite drawn in and celebrating alongside the characters, occasionally getting tearful as they struggled with loss, or laughing at their antics.

Daffodil Days really is a gentle, comfortable read, perfect for cosying up with, when you want to shut out the world and be taken back to a time that, on reflection, seems so lovely and so innocent. I loved every page, and highly recommend it. 5/5

You can buy Daffodil Days 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.

Second Chances at Channel View Farm by Jo Bartlett

This is the follow-up to Jo Bartlett’s Give Me Your Answer Do, although it can be read as a stand-alone. In this story, we follow Olivia, who is the best friend of Ellie, the heroine of GMYAD, as she returns from Australia and takes up residence with Ellie at Channel View Farm. Olivia has spent the last few years putting her life on hold, while she waits for an impossible love. Having finally realised that she deserves better, she’s packed her bags and returned to England to begin again. Channel View Farm is the perfect place to rebuild her life. Set on a cliff top overlooking the sea, it’s beautiful and welcoming. Ellie is more like a sister to Olivia, and she and her mother, Karen, provide Olivia with the comfort and support she needs.
Olivia is determined to give Ellie the perfect wedding. As chief bridesmaid, she wants her friend to have the perfect day – the sort of day that wedding host Ellie goes all out to provide for other brides at Channel View Farm. In the course of her efforts, she’s thrown together with groom-to-be Ben’s best man, Seth, a fellow with a bit of a reputation as someone who just can’t settle down. That suits Olivia fine, since she’s definitely not looking for anyone to replace her ex. But at Channel View Farm, love has a way of sneaking up on people. Seth and Olivia have much in common, and there is a definite attraction between them. With Seth having secured the job of a lifetime, working abroad, and Olivia finally settled back in England in her dream job, there seems no way that the two of them can make things work without one of them making a huge sacrifice and taking a leap of faith. Is their love strong enough, after all? Another lovely story by Jo Bartlett, with lots of twists and turns and some great characterisation, as always. The setting for the book is so lovely and so well-described I could almost smell the sea air. I really enjoyed it, and I love the pretty, summery cover. A real treat. 5/5

You can buy Second Chances at Channel View Farm here.

The Saturday Secret by Linda Huber

This world sometimes feels like a very harsh place to be, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by how much anger and general nastiness there seems to be out there. It’s good, therefore, to escape to a place where happy endings are guaranteed. Sometimes, you just need to pick up a book and lose yourself in a story that makes you feel warm, happy, and optimistic again.

The Saturday Secret is such a book – packed with short stories that are pure feel-good entertainment.  It’s extremely easy to read, and although I planned to just read one or two stories at a time I actually read it in two halves. The first half was read some weeks ago and then, thanks to real life intruding, I had to sacrifice reading time for a while. I picked up the book again today – call it my Mother’s Day treat! It was lovely to slip back into that cosy world, and find that the second half was just as good as the first.

The stories are delightful, featuring children, babies, elderly people, kittens, dogs, loving couples, affectionate families and lots more besides.

My personal favourites were We’re Having a Baby! The Cat’s Whiskers,  After Rebecca, and the short – but incredibly poignant – Corrina’s Big Day.  The short story that gives the book its title also made me smile. I won’t give away what The Saturday Secret actually is, but let’s just say it gave me hope. 🙂

A really gorgeous collection of short stories by a writer who clearly has a gift for capturing those precious moments in a person’s life and weaving a wonderful tale around them.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it to those looking for an escape route into a happy place!   5/5

You can buy The Saturday Secret here, and, as an added bonus, profits from this lovely book are being donated to Doctors Without Borders.

Air Guitar and Caviar by Jackie Ladbury

I was so delighted to get my hands on this book by my Write Romantic pal, Jackie Ladbury, as I’ve been dying to read it for ages. I knew Jackie’s writing style would appeal to me, having loved her short story in our charity anthology, Winter Tales, and being lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the first three chapters a few months ago. Finally, the book is available to buy, and it’s every bit as good as I thought it would be.

It’s the story of Dylan, a street busker with two huge ambitions – to make it as a musician, and to win the heart of the lovely Scarlett. It’s difficult to tell which of these ambitions matter the most to him. Both seem to be of equal importance, and as vital to him as breathing.

Scarlett is an air hostess with a past. Attracted though she is to Dylan, previous experience has taught her to be very wary, and she has enough to deal with, coping with a lecherous boss. Her heart is very definitely closed for business, and the last thing she wants is a would-be rock star knocking at its door, demanding to be let in.

In spite of herself, Scarlett is won over by Dylan, but shadows from Scarlett’s past hang over the present, jeopardising their future. Both of them will have to decide what’s most important to them, and battle mistrust and jealousy, if they’re to have any kind of future together.

Air Guitar and Caviar is a lovely romance, with well-drawn, fully-rounded characters, some rather passionate love scenes, and a lot of humour. I absolutely defy anyone not to fall in love with Dylan within the first page. He is a gorgeous hero in every sense of the word, and his laid-back, open, totally honest personality makes him the ideal partner for the wounded, scared, somewhat withdrawn Scarlett.

There are plenty of minor characters populating the pages, too, with some fabulous names like Beanie and Axel. The story takes in a wide variety of them, from a down-and-out sleeping in a shop doorway, a cute child, and a beautiful ex-girlfriend,  through to a brusque showbusiness agent and a vile airline pilot. The writing never lapses into over-sentimentality, but the author really gets to the heart of the matter with a deft assurance and a light touch.

Jackie writes beautifully, with such humour and some beautiful observations. The story flows effortlessly, and is a complete joy to read. It was definitely worth waiting for, and I am really excited to see what the next book will be! A sparkling debut.

You can buy Air Guitar and Caviar here.

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