December Roundup

Blink and you miss it don’t you? Yes 2013 has been and is shortly on its way out here in the UK, or has been and gone depending on when you are reading this post. But this is not a years worth of reading to be summed up – this is just December keeping in tradition with my monthly roundups that I do.

December has been a mammoth month of reading you could say, especially compared to previous months. Yes it is because I have been on holiday from work but also I have branched out a lot more into the short story because my brain cells were not going to cope with much else. When I finished work on the 20th of December I was tired, I think slept for about 4 days apart from eating and reading.

December being the month of the festive read I thought I would crack on with plenty of them as I had started towards the end of November. The best of them all has to be Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol. I am ashamed to say I have never read this book before until now and I am so glad I did and I wonder why I had not before, I will be reading it again in the future for sure. It made all the film versions and the stage version make much more sense.

So sticking with Christmas and the short story and on my kindle came in quick succession; Katie Fforde – From Scotland with Love, which could quite easily have made a full length novel. Then Susan Buchanan – The Christmas Spirit, a new author discovery for me and I am looking forward to reading more by her. Full length Christmas novels came from Carole Matthews – Calling Mrs Christmas. I only discovered Carole this year so have plenty to catch up on in due course. Another faithful author to Christmas is Debbie Macomber – Starry Night* and this was not connected to Blossom Street or Cedar Cove and was a refreshing change.

Short stories but taking me back to my childhood this time was Emma Thompson – The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit which is an excellent book to read to yourself and read aloud, and if there are any children near by I am sure they will enjoy it too. And then there is P.L. Travers – Mary Poppins*. Don’t worry I have not regressed too much into my childhood. I was intrigued by the film Saving Mr Banks which I have yet to see (it was only on at the cinema for two weeks – the busiest two weeks for me in December) and the life of Travers herself. The film is one of my top three films and I was intrigued to see how much like the book it was – I was shocked and also pleasantly surprised, it has still not budged from my top three favourite films but I am enjoying reading the actual books so much. I question why I never read them as a child – I don’t think they were readily available perhaps, now I have them all in an omnibus edition and will be reading them throughout 2014 I feel.

Sticking with what you know sometimes becomes a theme in the authors that I pick up in some points of the year. December being no different when I went for an earlier Katie Fforde – Artistic Licence as a comfort read.Not one of her strongest in my opinion but certainly a passable diversion which is all I require sometimes.

Passable diversion is a great way of summing up Joanne Fluke – Carrot Cake Murder*. I tend to pick these up from my kindle when I wake in the middle of the night and need to read something before going back to sleep. I have read all the ones on my kindle so I will need to investigate getting some more on there.

A great diversion and certainly not a passable one is anything that involves Jeeves and Wooster. I was intrigued to hear of another author picking up the mantle and was keen to buy the book when it came out, not even waiting for the paperback version and paying full price in Waterstones! Sebastian Faulks – Jeeves and the Wedding Bells* was the best few pounds that I spent that day. It is brilliant and a must read for all Jeeves and Wooster fans – not quite the original but damn close!

The tone of reading changed with picking up Wendy Jones – The World is a Wedding*. This is the sequel to the wonderful book The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals. It is just as delightful and takes us away for a short while from Narbeth to the Ritz Hotel in London and the passion of the suffragette. I am blessed that the publisher sent me this for reading and reviewing.

Book Club for December was an interesting choice John Connolly – Every Dead Thing*. Not my cup of tea at all, but nonetheless I plugged on with it. Interesting, confusing and gruesome! I will write-up a little bit about the gathering as it was a book which divided us. Mainly into one against the rest of us!

I have not read as much Agatha Christie as I have liked this year but I have enjoyed watching the last four episodes of Poirot. Which led to me asking Father Christmas for David Suchet – Poirot and Me*. I was a good girl so I got it and started reading it on Christmas Day. A delightful book for all fans of Poirot.

In the interest of sorting books that are on my shelf (I have yet to really do this). I have been picking up random books from there and reading them which is how I come to pick up Barbara J. Zitwer – The J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society*. It has mixed reviews on Amazon and I cannot remember on whose blog I originally saw it, but I thought it was a lovely book and I would certainly go swimming like these ladies did.

So as another month closes, I am still reading and have gone back to good old M.C. Beaton and Agatha Raisin, but it will be a 2014 finish.

As you can see there are a few reviews that I have to do but I was trying to get all the Christmas themed books in December.

*Book review yet to appear on this blog.


The Christmas Spirit – Susan Buchanan

Christmas is beginning to arrive  and so has Natalie in a village north of Glasgow. It is her first time in Scotland. That does not matter she is here to help at The Sugar and Spice Bakery whilst its owner is incapacitated.

Jacob has been to university and is waiting to start his life, his working life. Trouble is he has tried interview after interview, he has no shame and will take any job even if he appears to be overqualified. Working at The Sugar and Spice Bakery will do because at least it is work.

Stanley is missing his wife, Edie so much so that he still makes her a cup of tea every morning and sits and chats to her. They used to enjoy their time in The Sugar and Spice Bakery every week but on his own, it does not feel the same.

Meredith has an all consuming passion: business. It is her life, she eats and breathes it and expects her PA, Sophie to as well. Sophie escapes every day when she visits The Sugar and Spice Bakery to get Meredith’s carrot cake. It is not only the cakes that are warm and welcoming there it is the atmosphere as well.

Rachel, thought she had the man of her dreams and a settled life. She was wrong, he has walked out and she now needs to survive on her own, make her own decisions and stand up for what she believes in. Surely a helping piece of cake at The Sugar and Spice Bakery and a read of a newspaper might change everything?

It is the bakery which is the centre of the world of characters that Susan Buchanan has created. However, from it, their stories all ripple out as if a stone has been dropped into a pond. They are all characters you can love and hate in equal measure, and you only want good for them, even if they are slightly exasperating. The cakes and the history of Christmas around the world which is invoked in the bakery comes across well, it is a book to cuddle up on the sofa with and just simply enjoy (eating cake at the same time would be a bonus). Great Christmas read.

I have never read any of this author before and happened upon this book by chance – the chance being the author responded to a tweet. Not asking me to read her book, far from it, sharing the love of Ali Harris for her short Christmas story for this year A Vintage Christmas. That got me clicking through to Susan’s website and then onto seeing what work she has written and here we are after having read one of her novels. I must go and load my kindle up with some of her others now. 


The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit – Emma Thompson

Peter Rabbit was obviously pleased with Emma’s previous tale and he has asked her back to write another one. This time with a Christmas theme. This is a book for children who are old enough to read by themselves as well as those who liked to be read to. Of course it works for all adults too.

Peter is rather getting under the feet of his mother as she is getting ready for Christmas. When he ventures outside to collect suet from his Aunt, he bumps into his mischievous cousin Benjamin (Bunny). They come across William (the Turkey) who full of his own self importance tells them that he is being treated so well and that he is to go to the McGregor’s for Christmas dinner. Peter and Benjamin suddenly realise William is unaware of everything that happens at Christmas and they might need to help him so they come up with a plan.

This book is just as good as Emma Thompson’s first go of telling us more about Peter Rabbit and also it is still beautifully illustrated which is a joy itself.

Interestingly enough and I have to be honest here, it never occurred to me until I read the reviews on Amazon. There are some adult readers making others wary of reading it out loud to young children as it could raise some interesting questions from the little folk – i.e. that we have to kill animals to eat them. I am no expert but I think that young children question and accept and then move on. But I would be interested to hear what others think?


From Scotland with Love – Katie Fforde

Katie Fforde is back this year with a short Christmas story. I have realised that short Christmas stories at this time of the year are great when there is so much else going on and you still want to keep reading, but know that you have not got the time to devote to weighty tomes.

Daisy is trying her best to climb the PR ladder in the publishing world. When she makes a mistake by not getting her company’s biggest well-known author to sign some of his books she decides to tackle the task head on. Go to Scotland and ask the most reclusive author whether he would help her out.

Daisy is out of her depth in Scotland, she is in a remote place which has mountains and clear skies, not tall buildings and light pollution. She thinks it will be a flying visit but does not bank on the weather being against her. It looks like Daisy is set to stay in Scotland a bit longer with a rather grumpy author who also has a dog which is about to have puppies. Somehow I think the books are going to remain unsigned…..

This is a lovely book from Katie Fforde and one which I could have read pages and pages more about; the characters but also the place and the wonderful way that Katie weaves it all into the story. Full of that nice warm feeling you get when you read some books.

I certainly think this storyline and the characters could have actually been great in a full length novel. There was something so heartwarming and friendly about them; even if the male protagonist was a tad grumpy. That said it works well as a short story and was just the tonic I needed. Ironically enough I have read a recent Katie Fforde which also had puppies being born in it and I was starting to get a bit confused, but I think that was just pure coincidence. 


Calling Mrs Christmas – Carole Matthews

Cassie has hit rock bottom it seems, she has lost her job and is relying on the small income from her boyfriend Jim, weddings and babies are well into the future. It is coming up to the most favourite part of the year for Cassie – Christmas. When she stumbles upon an idea – what if she charged for doing all the things she loves doing at Christmas; wrapping presents, dressing trees, writing cards and spreading festive cheer.

With some research thanks to the internet, Cassie embarks upon a rather fast and festive new career. She is overwhelmed and needs to turn to the help of her sister, in making mince pies and even Jim, in wrapping presents and writing cards. When she gets a phone call from a Carter Randall who wants to give his children the best Christmas that money can buy, with only Cassie’s imagination stopping her she finds herself swept along with this ultimate Christmas experience. But Cassie is leaving everyone else behind to pick up everything she has started and it seems that maybe money cannot always buy the important things at Christmas.

This ultimate Christmas novel from Carole Matthews has something much more at its heart than the frippery of the festive season. Matthews has used the character of Jim, Cassie’s partner to show us that actually not everyone is having an easy ride and they certainly don’t have money to buy whatever they want. Jim works in the Young Offenders Unit and he does not like to take his work home to Cassie, except that he has become struck with two particular individuals who are desperate not to return to the unit. Jim takes a chance and involves them in Cassie’s Christmas world, whilst giving them a purpose, and a future. Trouble is Jim is trying to hold onto to Cassie who seems to be testing the possibility of a completely different future.

Christmas is the ultimate theme to this novel, but behind it is the difference in what money can buy to make Christmas special, but it cannot give the simple things, like love between parents so heart breaking observed by Carter’s children. It shows that there are many on their own over the holidays through choice and or circumstance and that perhaps they just need a friendly face to talk to and reason to decorate a tree as Cassie finds with one of her first clients, Mrs Ledbury. Life is particularly tough for many people and all they want is a family, especially the two young offenders who Jim takes under his wing.

A really heart warming novel and one of the best Christmas books I have read this year. Thanks Carole!

I have only discovered Carole Matthews novels this year. I have no idea why they have passed me by, but they have. This book was the right tonic for the time of year and I could travel vicariously through Cassie as she went to Lapland and experienced something once in a lifetime! I must be mad, but I would love to stay in the ice hotel. 

I look forward to reading more of Carole’s work. 


A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol as a book has somehow seeped into our conscious at this time of year and whilst I know the story and have seen versions of it depicted on the stage and screen I am ashamed to say that I have never read the book.

2013 was the year to correct this. This is a book which celebrates everything wonderful about Christmas and reminds us all that it is not about mass commercialism but about time to reflect, spend it with those you love and remember and think of those perhaps who are less fortunate and don’t have the gift of family or love.

Scrooge is exactly that, he can see no joy in Christmas and it is through that the spirits of Christmas come and give him a not too gentle reminder about exactly what is like. Not only do the ghosts who visit Scrooge show him what it is like and has been for many, it touches on Scrooge’s life itself. Dickens perhaps was trying to get across the message that actually we have to look to ourselves before we can possibly look to helping others.

Although a short novel, it gives you a real flavour of Dickens London or Victorian London, the class structure, the lack of ability for someone poor to make good, because they were being repressed by the structure and the industrialisation of the changing landscape. It is a good Dickens book to start off with and I can see why it continues to remain such a popular read.

I read this on my kindle and bought one of the versions with the lovely illustrations in as I feel this enhances the reading experience.

December has turned rather into a short story month for the amount of books that I am reading, but I am glad I finally read this book. I can see why many people return to it time and time again at this time of year. 

It has been a long time since I read any Dickens, the last was Oliver Twist when I was at secondary school. Perhaps I need to venture out on some of his other works. Nothing to bleak though, I am not in the right place for that sort of thing at the moment. 


Artistic Licence – Katie Fforde

Thea has had enough it seems of her lodgers. They do nothing to help her and she is in a cycle of cleaning and cooking with hardly any time for herself and although she has a passion for photography and art, it is not solved by working part time in a photography shop sorting out abysmal holiday snaps. She is living in this chaotic bubble.

When she has the chance to go away with her friend Molly and meets Rory, she suddenly makes a rather unlike Thea decision back home, not even leaving the airport by turning tale and going to Ireland to see him. Rory has one thing on his mind and Thea is tempted but his paintings seem to move her into another direction and she thinks that maybe she can display them to show them off.

Trouble is Molly thinks that Thea has gone mad and follows her to Ireland, but in tow brings her annoying niece Petal, also a lodger of Thea’s, as well as distant family relative, Ben  and his young son, Toby. Thea it seems can’t quite escape the chaotic life she leads, even more so when Rory’s dog decides that she is going to have her puppies right when everyone arrives.

Setting her self a challenge and not wanting to fail she tells Rory that she will display his paintings in a more provincial setting if he makes sure he does not sell himself out to the highest bidder. Rory accepts, but you know it is too good to be true and when Thea finds herself having to do a lot of the work herself and rely on money from Molly, it seems she maybe out of her depth.

This is an escapism read and a quick one at that. I did not think Thea came across quite so chaotic as I think the author wanted, but Molly was suitably annoying and her Rory was one of those men who you wanted to be so angry with you couldn’t because of the charm that exuded from him. Toby was the sweetest little boy who was trying to just get his father to love him, but Ben seemed to be angry and on edge all the time.

The plot was very fast and we moved from Cheltenham to France to Ireland to Cheltenham around the country and then to London before finally resting in Cheltenham. It was rather exhausting and perhaps did not give the reader used to where you were before we were off again. Although maybe this added to the chaotic turbulence Thea seemed to be in.

If you have never read a Katie Fforde, then perhaps not start with this one, I did feel it was not as strong as some of her other stories but it is a pleasant diversion nonetheless.

Another one ticked off the Katie Fforde list and I absolutely loved the fun with all the puppies in this story which I was glad to see repeated in her latest short story which is coming up on this blog in a few days time. 


Wish Upon a Star – Trisha Ashley

Christmas would not be Christmas if it was not for tinsel, turkey and all the trimmings and this includes a new novel from Trisha Ashley. 2013 is no different and she introduces us to some more residents of Sticklepond.

Cally has returned home to her mother’s house, leaving everything she knows in London and all her friends with the aim of saving money. Money she needs to send her sick daughter, Stella for a pioneering operation in America. It is not going to be easy, but Cally thinks she can maintain some sense of normality with her cookery writing even from the deepest part of Lancashire, and have the support of her mother, the only other person in her life. Stella’s father having made his choice long before she was born.

For Cally she has enough to fill her days, but when she meets Jago and finds herself opening up to him so easily and quickly, it looks like she may have someone else that loves her and Stella. Jago has his own past issues which he is dealing with as well as trying to forge his career owning a specialist cake shop. When the most wonderful shop comes available in Sticklepond it seems that it is destiny that Cally should be able to help him whilst he helps Stella. The past is never that far away it seems and when it can be linked in some rather interesting ways, it is not going to be easy for either Cally or Jago to let go of it.

This is a tale of warmth, friendship and love in its many forms. All centered round the village of Sticklepond who take into their hearts Stella the sick child and start to raise money to ensure that the operation can go ahead. Characters from previous Sticklepond based novels appear but there is enough background that you know enough about them and their interest and passion in this small yet important village. A village full of chocolate shops, wedding shops and even witches and warlocks. There is love and hope in this village and it draws the reader right in, making them want to up sticks and move their straight away. That is the beauty of Trisha Ashley’s writing and why I would easily recommend her if you want a great comfort read.

I have one more Sticklepond based novel to read and it is on my shelf, I was so tempted to pick it up after finishing this one, but I did resist. I have nearly read all of Trisha’s work and thoroughly enjoy her novels, I just need to work out which ones I have not read. 


A Vintage Christmas – Ali Harris

If you don’t know who Evie Taylor is then she can be described as the saviour of Christmas and the saviour of Christmas shopping. Working tirelessly in Ali Harris’ first novel Miracle on Regent Street she is back in this short story, to show you that she is still working tirelessly and all for the good of Hardy’s but it may not be good for her new relationship.

Evie is having a weekend away from it all with her boyfriend, Sam, but she never really seems to be able to switch off from work. When she spots a lone pair of shoes in a shop window she knows that these shoes would sell so well in Hardy’s. Trouble is how does she convince the owner to part with them and go from a bespoke boutique to a huge department store?

Evie has determination, she is passionate about her life and her work, but whilst she pours all her energy into making sure this shoe fits in time for Christmas she seems to be losing Sam.

This is a wonderful heartwarming story which suits the Cinderella dreams in us all. It is worth reading the Miracle on Regent Street first but, if all you have time for over the festive period is in fact a short story then try this. The second half of the book has the first few chapters of Miracle and may well tempt you.

I really hope that we get to know more about Evie and all the characters of the Hardy’s department store. I am sure you could keep the books going for ages. No pressure for the author really! 


Book Club #18 – Barack Obama – Dreams From My Father

The book for this month (well actually November) was Barack Obama – Dreams From My Father. We thought we would go for something a bit more true life and real.

osborne house
We did not stay here! This is Osborne House, but we visited on the Sunday.

The plan was that we would discuss the book on our weekend away to the Isle of Wight. It is the first book that none of us have finished and even started to read. K and myself had started it, but we both found that it was rather scholarly and that it was a book that you had to take your time with to read. It felt like reading an essay. Certainly not a novel and not an autobiography as we know them from the ‘celeb’ variety.

So over a delicious Beef Curry (thanks to C) I sort of went over the book as to how far I had got – boy born in Hawaii, to a black father, white mother, father leaves him and goes back to Kenya, returns when he is about 11 years old and then the boy never sees him again. Boy moves around the world and then back to Hawaii and then onto New York where he coasts around trying to find some sort of purpose. The boy is really struggling to deal with the racism which is rife in America. Then he learns when he is 21 that his father has died.

That is as far as I have got with the book, I would like to finish it and I know K would as well. But whilst reading it I kept thinking about all of this that had happened to this man and that I was holding the book he had written and now he was the most powerful man in the world. That thought kept entering my mind and I thought what a journey he has had to where he is now, and I haven’t even finished the book.

A rather short entry into our Book Club archive but for fairness and posterity I thought it was still worth a mention. Let’s see how we fair with the next book.