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7 December 2016

Review: 'The Holiday Swap' by Zara Stoneley (2016)

Florence Cortes has the perfect life – an apartment in the trendiest district of Barcelona, a job she loves and a boyfriend who’s whisking her away on a romantic break to Paris to no doubt propose.
Only, he’s planning something far different, and Flo soon realises her life isn’t so perfect after all.

Home loving Daisy Fischer is perfectly happy in her idyllic home in the Cheshire countryside, with an on-off boyfriend who might be slightly dull but is totally dependable. Until he issues an ultimatum, and Daisy suddenly realises that there might be a whole different world out there that she’s missing out on.

Have Flo and Daisy come up with the perfect solution to escape festive heartbreak?
Can a snowbound Christmas in Cheshire – with aristocratic, handsome Hugo as her neighbour, a house full of animals and a leaking roof – help Flo mend her broken heart, and remind her of what she really wants in life? Can a sunny break in beautiful Barcelona – with the dishy but brooding Javier, a never ending supply of cava, and a sea view to die for – prove to Daisy that playing safe isn’t always the answer?

Love actually does seem to be all around this Christmas – and in the places Flo and Daisy least expect to find it, but where will they be for New Year?

One of my favourite festive romantic comedies to watch is 'The Holiday', starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. It's a simply lovely film and one that always leaves me with a smile on my face. So, as soon as I read the blurb for Zara Stoneley's latest novel 'The Holiday Swap', which resembles the film, I was sold and couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of the book. I'm already familiar with Zara Stoneley's writing after having read her works 'Stable Mates', 'Country Affairs' and last year's holiday read 'A Very Country Christmas' (click here to read my review), which I quite enjoyed and I looked forward to picking up another one of Zara's reads and revisiting the town of Tippermere!

Twenty-something Daisy Fischer can't help but feel slightly confused when her boyfriend Jimmy proposes to her. Yes, they've been together for quite some time, but does Daisy really want to spend the rest of her life with him, trapped in the village of Tippermere? At the same time, Florence Cortes' life is also shook up when she discovers her boyfriend Oli, whom her whole life in the beautiful city of Barcelona revolves around, has been cheating on her. Brought together by their mutual friend Anna, Daisy and Flo decide they both need a change, so what better than a holiday swap? Daisy will spend some time to relax in Flo's apartment in Barcelona, while Flo will take things slow between the horses and dogs in the English countryside. As the girls begin on their trips they have no idea what will be in store for them, but there's definitely something in the air this Christmas...

I loved revisiting the town of Tippermere in 'The Holiday Swap', a familiar location to readers who have also picked up some of author Zara Stoneley's other novels. Even though some recognisable names and places are mentioned in the book, it really is a stand-alone novel and can definitely be picked up without having read any of the author's other works. Main characters Daisy and Flo are incredibly likeable and I loved both of their storylines, set in England and Spain. While Daisy travels around Barcelona with the handsome Javier, Flo is trying to deal with her arrogant neighbour Hugo and huge but loveable dog Mabel (who definitely stole the show more than once; I challenge any reader not to fall in love with her!).

While I personally did feel the book could have had some more dialogue and less description at times, I still thought it was a fabulous read that I really enjoyed. The book not only has some strong characters and captivating storylines, but also great locations and I want to applaud the author for her ability to really include animals in the story. The animals felt like actual characters, which is quite a task, and really added their own touch to the novel. On the whole, Zara Stoneley's 'The Holiday Swap' is a warm and simply great romantic comedy about friendship, love and starting over; a fantastic chick lit read that will undoubtedly leave you with that lovely cosy holiday feeling. 
Rating:9,5/10
 
For more information about this book: Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Goodreads

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

6 December 2016

Blog Tour: 'Christmas at the Cornish Cafe' by Phillipa Ashley!

I'm really excited to be part of the blog tour for Phillipa Ashley's holiday-themed release 'Christmas at the Cornish Cafe' today! Be sure to check out the exclusive extract I am allowed to share with all of you today by scrolling down and visit some of the other blogs that are part of the tour if you're curious to read more about the novel; the links can be found on the blog tour poster below!


Christmas will be slightly less turbulent than summer, won’t it? Demi certainly hopes so.

She and Cal are keeping their fledgling relationship under wraps for now. But then Kit Bannen, a hunky, blond – and somewhat mysterious – writer arrives at Kilhallon Resort, and not everyone is charmed. Cal is sure that Kit is hiding something. But is he the only one guarding a secret?

Demi is busy baking festive treats for the newly opened Demelza’s cafe, but when Cal’s ex Isla arrives to shoot scenes for her new drama, Demi can’t help but worry that things aren’t quite over between them. Kit flirts with both women, fuelling Cal’s suspicions that Kit has hidden motives for staying on at Kilhallon. Then Cal has to go to London, leaving Demi and Kit to decorate the cafe for Christmas . . . all by themselves.

A storm is brewing in more ways than one. As surprises unfold and truths are uncovered, can Demi and Cal finally open up to each other about their feelings?

This second novel in the bestselling Cornish Cafe series is the perfect book to curl up with this Christmas.


Chapter Two

Demi

‘All I want for Christmas … is youuuuuu!’

Humming along to Mariah Carey, I do a little jig in front of the Aga in Kilhallon House, waiting for the kitchen timer to ping. A few more minutes should just about do it.

I came straight back to my baking after I’d shown Mr Bannen – sorry, Kit – the basics of Enys Cottage. Enys is our cosiest cottage, perfect for two or, in his case, one – so my first guest tour didn’t take too long. I left him not exactly smiling, but opening a bottle of wine and about to tuck in to the quiche. I’m glad that my boss, Cal, and Polly his PA will be taking over management of the park after Thursday, leaving me to concentrate on my main passion, the cafe and its food, of course. 

Cal texted me while I showed Kit to his cottage. He was about to greet a group from Surrey who have rented some of our glamping yurts. If Kit’s journey was anything to go by, they’ll be tired and frazzled too. The field is thick with mud after the storm so I don’t envy him having to meet them, although hopefully this sunshine will lift their mood, not to mention the welcome hamper of treats that awaits them in their yurts. 

Once all my mince pies are cooked and cooled, I need to set up some shots that I can upload to my Demelza’s blog and use on social media to promote the seasonal menus. The more bookings we can get for lunches and events, the better. I need to repay Cal’s faith in me, not to mention his investment in my cafe. It was my idea, after all.

A peek outside the kitchen door confirms to me that the weather is definitely warming up again, and there is now more blue in the sky than clouds. A late burst of sunshine is just what we need to attract customers to Demelza’s Cafe; I hope it lasts for our opening day on Thursday, and over the weekend. We might get some last-minute bookings for Cal’s cottages and yurts too. 

And after the tough time we’ve both had lately, we’re surely due a run of good luck now, right? 

‘All I want for Christmas is youoooooo!’

As Mariah hits an impossibly high note, the kitchen timer finally pings. The moment I open the Aga door, a wave of heat blasts my face, instantly followed by the overwhelming aroma of spices and dried fruit. The pies are a perfect shade of light golden brown, the honeyed blond of a surf dude’s tint. The Viennese biscuit topping was a little time-consuming, if I’m honest, so I’m not sure if I’ll add that to the cafe menu, but they look very pretty and smell gorgeous, so we’ll see. Carefully, because the oven mitts in the kitchen of Kilhallon House have seen some action lately and need replacing, I extricate the pies from the oven, knowing I’m about seven seconds from scorched fingers.
I straighten up, clutching the tray in one hand, while closing the door with the other. 

‘Phew, it’s roasting in here.’ 

A familiar voice behind me makes my pies wobble alarmingly. Just in time, I save them from sliding onto the quarry-tiled floor where my dog, Mitch, looks on hopefully from his bed by the back door.

If I thought Kit was wet, Cal looks like Mitch after he’s had a dip in the sea. Water drips from his coat.

‘How was he, then, this Mr Bannen?’ he asks, peeling off his waxed jacket.

‘Oh, you mean Kit?’

Cal raises an eyebrow. ‘First name terms, already, eh? And Kit? Sounds like a dog’s name … or a hamster’s.’

‘I promise you there’s nothing cute and furry about Mr Bannen, and the Kit is short for Christopher. He was stressed out, tired and pissed off about the cafe not being open, but he seemed happy enough when I showed him into Enys Cottage and gave him some free mince pies.’

‘Funny that he’s on his own for two whole weeks.’ Cal holds up his jacket with a grimace. The rain has seeped down his collar to his T-shirt, leaving a large damp patch over the chest. The grey cotton is plastered across his broad shoulders and pecs, and his nipples are like tight little currants. A taut-yet-melty feeling stirs low in my stomach. 

Did I say Cal was my boss and more than a friend? That might have only been part of the truth …

‘What’s up?’ he asks.

The second batch of pies will definitely be burned if I let on to him how turned on I am. ‘Nothing. Just thinking how wet you are, that’s all.’

He glares at me, but even his glares are sexy. ‘It’s not funny.’

‘I think you looking like a drowned rat – or hamster – is very funny.’

With another stern look that turns me into a puddle, he bends down to take off his Hunters. ‘Any more cheek, Ms Jones, and I may have to sack you.’

The mention of cheek makes me think of his gorgeous bottom, not to mention the warmth of his hand on mine. His arse is thrust into the air as he pulls off his wellies, grunting with the effort. I scoop up his jacket from the tiles and add it to the others hanging in the vestibule that separates the reception area from the main Kilhallon House. Cal pops his mud-spattered Hunters in the drip tray by the kitchen door. 

‘I wonder if there’s a Mrs Bannen somewhere,’ he says.

‘He didn’t mention one.’

‘No girlfriend or boyfriend? Both?’ His espresso-coloured eyes hold a hint of mischief.

‘He did say “everyone calls me Kit” so he must have some friends and family. He definitely didn’t want to talk about his work though, so I think he’s had a stressful time in London.’

‘Tell me about it,’ Cal says, standing on the tiles in his woolly hiking socks with a grimace on his tanned face. Even the sight of those rugged socks are turning me on which must mean I’ve got it very bad. At least he doesn’t know quite how bad. Cal and I have been rubbing along in this relationship for the past few weeks. It’s as rocky and twisty-turny as the coastal path, and as uncertain as the weather in our part of the county. One day there are storms between us, the next clear blue skies – and sometimes four seasons in one day. There’s no formal arrangement between us and I have no intention of moving into Kilhallon House itself, but while Polly is away, we sneak nights together in his bed. 

You see, Cal may be more than a boss but he’s also not entirely mine. Not that he’s actually sleeping with anyone else, but only part of him belongs to me. His socks, perhaps … if I’m lucky. You see, I still suspect his heart lies with his ex, even though he said that I’d made a mark on him and he begged me to stay just a few weeks ago. 

My stomach clenches at the reminder of how new and fragile our relationship is.

 I remind myself not to start getting any stupid ideas about Cal that involve hearts and flowers, let alone love and marriage. 

5 December 2016

Review: 'Lizzie's Christmas Escape' by Christie Barlow (2016)

Every Christmas Lizzie promises herself that things will change and she will leap into the new year a new woman. And yet here she is again, at the beginning of December and nothing is different. Her girls have grown up and left home, her husband Henry is slumped in front of the TV and she is alone in the kitchen, seeking refuge in the cooking sherry and talking to her Gary Barlow calendar. She’s also been very diverted by handsome new neighbour Marcus and she knows she shouldn’t be … 

So when best friend Ann suggests a weekend away in the country, Lizzie jumps at the chance. Will this Christmas escape give Lizzie some much needed perspective and allow her to mend her marriage? Or will Marcus prove to be too much of a distraction?

Earlier this year I got the chance to check out author Christie Barlow's writing when I found myself with a review copy of her novel 'Kitty's Countryside Dream'. I really enjoyed the book (click here to read my review) and was quite keen to check out another one of Christie Barlow's works, in this case her Christmas novel 'Lizzie's Christmas Escape.' The cover of the book is so cute and colourful and the description definitely piqued my interest, so I looked forward to checking it out and hoped I'd enjoy it just as much as 'Kitty's Countryside Dream', and that it would be able to already get me in the Christmas spirit...!

Lizzie Stevens has been married to her husband Henry for years. They started off their marriage being head over heels in love with each other, but now that their two daughters have left the family home, it seems the emptiness has taken over all parts of Lizzie's life. The only thing Henry seems to care about is whether dinner is on the table when he gets back from work and watching darts on TV every evening, while Lizzie wants and needs more from their marriage. When handsome new neighbour Marcus appears on the scene, Lizzie can't help but be taken in by his charm and attention. This Christmas Lizzie will need to make some important decisions; decisions that can change everything for not just her, but also her family... and what better way to get a clear head than taking a short break from it all?

When I picked up 'Lizzie's Christmas Escape' I was already slightly familiar with author Christie Barlow after having read, and really enjoyed, her previous novel 'Kitty's Countryside Dream'. I hoped I would also enjoy this festive read and I'm happy to say I did. The book focuses on main character Lizzie Stevens who is stuck in an unhappy marriage. When she meets her new neighbour Marcus some sparkle is brought back into her life and Lizzie is forced to suddenly rethink a few things. I have to admit I expected a slightly more Christmassy read and one that focused more on the 'escape' that is referred to in the title, but even though the book didn't really meet those particular expectations, I still really enjoyed it. 

One of the best elements in the novel is Lizzie's relationship with her best friend Ann. The two have been friends for a really long time and are there for each other, no matter what. While the other secondary characters are interesting as well, I found myself especially looking forward to those scenes with both Lizzie and Ann, discussing the issues in their lives and experiencing new things together. I think Christie Barlow's writing is great; it flows really well and didn't bore me at any time. On the whole, 'Lizzie's Christmas Escape' is a thoroughly enjoyable and good chick lit read; not as festive as I initially thought, but a great read nonetheless.
Rating:8,5/10
 
For more information about this book: Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Goodreads

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.