Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Parisian Christmas Bake Off by Jenny Oliver

"Welcome to the most celebrated patisserie competition in Paris – ready, steady, bake!

Watching snowflakes settle on the Eiffel Tower, Rachel Smithson’s cosy English village feels very far way – as, thankfully, does her commitment-phobic ex, probably already kissing someone else under the mistletoe. But Rachel hasn’t come to Paris to mope she’s come to bake. Hard.

Because the search for Paris’s next patisserie apprentice is about to begin! And super-chef judge Henri Salernes is an infamously tough cookie. But Rachel isn’t about to let her confidence (or pastry) crumble. She’s got one week, mounds of melt-in-the-mouth macaroons and towers of perfect profiteroles to prove that she really is a star baker.

As well as clouds of flour, and wafts of chocolate and cinnamon, there’s definitely a touch of Christmas magic in the air… Rachel hasn’t come to Paris looking for a fairy-tale romance, but the city of love might gift-wrap her one anyway…

Not even a dusting of icing sugar could make The Parisian Christmas Bake Off a more perfect Christmas treat!"

This is the second Jenny Oliver book I have read within a month, and the second one that I will advise you not to read whilst you are hungry!  Jenny Oliver is the best at writing about the most delicious creations.  There is another theme that links the two books as both see someone leaving the comfort of their own home in the lead up to Christmas because of a man!  You can read my review of the equally wonderful The Little Christmas Kitchen here.

I loved this festive delight from Jenny Oliver, as she whisks us off to Paris to conjure up some Christmas magic.  It is set mainly in the lead up to Christmas, as Rachel tries to avoid all things Christmassy, but part of the story takes us to the following summer.  I have to say it isn't the MOST christmassy book I have ever read, but there is plenty of snow and some festivities along the way. However, in my opinion, it could definitely be enjoyed at any time of the year though!

You do not need to have watched (and loved) The Great British Bake Off to enjoy this book.  Yes, it involves a cooking competition but you meet some wonderful characters along the way and the cooking delights are an added bonus.  As a girl who loves cake, they left me wishing I had my own Rachel Smithson to whisk me up some of her fabulous creations.

I found The Parisian Christmas Bake Off to be an emotional journey.  My eyes welled up so many times that I lost count and there were times when I found myself full on blubbing!  Jenny Oliver manages to combine the light and fluffy cakes and romance with the hard realities of real life exceptionally well.  This book in particular focuses on the loss of a parent and the way it changes not only you but also your relationship with the surviving parent as well as the relationship you tell yourself is fine when really you know, deep down, that it is not fine.

I was worried that this book might be "overly French" but it isn't, it is just perfect as it is.  The ideal book to settle down with this Christmas in front of a fire, on the sofa, with a large mug of hot chocolate (with marshmallows and whipped cream) and a massive slice of cake.

If anything, this book ended too soon and I would have liked to have seen the ending elaborated slightly more.  I had not expected it to end so soon as the paperback I was reading had so many pages left but they are packed full of festive treats (a chat with Jenny, Jenny's childhood christmas memories, ten things Jenny loves about Christmas, some recipes from the book (!!!) and an extract from The Vintage Summer Wedding by Jenny Oliver)

Would you like to win yourself a copy of The Parisian Christmas Bake Off? Well it must be your lucky day, because a lovely lady at Carina UK has offered readers of Book - Love - Bug the chance to win a paperback copy this festive season. To be in with a chance of winning, follow the rafflecopter instructions below....

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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Family Christmas by Katie Flynn

"From the Sunday Times bestselling author of A Christmas to Remember. Two children go on a desperate journey to find their family

Jimmy Trewin and his little sister are devastated by their mother's death and horrified to find themselves entrusted to the far from tender care of a hated neighbour, Mrs Huxtable. They hope their father will rescue them when his ship comes into port but this does not happen and when Cyril Huxtable is seen by the children hiding "a wad of notes" away, a wad which subsequently disappears, they realise they are in deep trouble. Cyril accuses them of theft and threatens a terrible revenge so they decide to leave Liverpool and try to find their mother's family in Wales.

Soon, they meet Miss Trent, a school teacher who has been unfairly dismissed, and agree to join forces since Miss Trent also hopes to find relatives in Wales. But Cyril has promised to pursue them until they hand over his property, and soon they realise he has picked up their trail..."

This is what I would call a proper story, not all fairy tales and romance.  I would have liked to have known earlier in the story what decade this was set in because it wasn't obvious until quite a way in to the book (1930's into 1940's & WWII).  In addition, the synopsis (above) isn't actually totally accurate to the story of the book (in the description of what Cyril is seen hiding away) (which I guess is more of a comment for the publisher!).

If you're looking for a festive read, then this is not it (despite Christmas being in the title!) - but what the book is is a good traditional read that reminded me of a modernised Charles Dickens novel; the tale of two children left by their heartbroken widowed father with a wicked neighbour.  When the children cannot take any more, what results is a tale of their journey across the country in search of a family they can call their own.  

The story was interesting, and there are plenty of twists and turns along the way.  I got slightly hung up on the authors over use of the word "presently" which I have to admit did annoy me!  However, the characters were well drawn, and although the story jumps forward a couple of times (and it would have been nice to have seen the in-between moments), I very much enjoyed it.  I also liked the relationship between Jimmy and Mo, and the other relationships that are built as the book progresses.

The publishers have kindly offered five readers of Book - Love - Bug the chance to win a copy of A Family Christmas.  For the chance to win one of five copies, follow the rafflecopter instructions below.

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Saturday, 6 December 2014

Christmas in the Snow by Karen Swan

No secret stays buried forever... 

In London, the snow is falling and Christmas is just around the corner - but Allegra Fisher barely has time to notice. She's pitching for the biggest deal of her career and can't afford to fail. And when she meets attractive stranger, Sam Kemp, on the plane to the meeting, she can't afford to lose her focus either. She learned to shut off her emotions long ago and only her sister and best friend Isobel knows why. But when Allegra finds herself up against Sam for the bid, their passion quickly turns sour. 

In Zermatt in the Swiss Alps, a long-lost mountain hut is discovered in the snow after sixty years and the last person expecting to become involved is Allegra - she hasn't even heard of the woman they found inside. But it soon becomes clear the two women are linked and, as she and Iz travel out to make sense of the mystery, hearts thaw and dark secrets are uncovered, long buried by the snow. 

With glamorous locations and heart-breaking twists, Christmas in the Snow is all you need in your stocking for a truly decadent Christmas holiday.  The perfect gift - even if it's just to yourself.

This book is the ultimate book to curl up with on a winters day in front of a roaring fire with a glass of wine and a box of chocolates.  Karen Swan is the queen of winter reads, and despite Christmas in the Snow having "Christmas" in the title, I would class this is more of a "winter read" as it is set in the month of December in the lead up to Christmas, and Christmas does not realllly feature until the last few pages of the book.  However, when Christmas does come, it is the perfect family Christmas, at long last.

I loved the idea of the Advent Calendar that Allegra and Isobel find in their mum's loft, and wish we had seen more of it in the earlier parts of the book. Whilst we see the sisters open the first door together on 1 December, we do not see it again until 14 December (other than the 'titles' at the beginning of certain chapters).  However, I guess this fits in with how Allegra grows throughout the book; in the first part of the book, she is so engrossed in her work that she doesn't even notice that Christmas is approaching whereas a dramatic shift will soon change everything in her world.  I liked the first part of "Allegra's life" but I loved the second part which emerges along with the dramatic shift.  

I am not a skier and I have never been to Zermatt but I love the descriptions (including the descriptions of waffles and crepes, being my weak spot and made me hungrier than I already was) and the vast array of characters are simply divine as they lead you on a complex journey that will not only hold your interest but sometimes you will gasp realising that you've been holding your breath for too long.  The twists and turns just keep on coming (like Legs and Iz descending the piste in Zermatt) and even when you think you've seen the last, there is more waiting for you round the corner.  Karen Swan has a fabulous style of writing; it is detailed and it immerses you in the story making you feel as though you are really there in the exotic (and in this case, frozen) locations.

I adored the ending, and the only negative thing I can say is that it ended too soon because I was so immersed that I wanted more!  Christmas in the Snow is a story of a love so strong that it could survive anything; "In a sea of people, my eyes will always look for you".  However, whilst there is romance, the book also has serious elements to it including early onset Alzheimer's which is absolutely heartbreaking.

I have my fingers crossed for a sequel in which Sam will fall in love with me.....but all in seriousness, I would love a sequel just so I can get some more of these fabulous characters!

And talking of sequels, Karen is currently editing the actual real life sequel to Christmas at Tiffany's (I hear that Summer at Tiffany's is due out in July) - eeeeek!!!!!

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Little Christmas Kitchen by Jenny Oliver

"Christmas at the Davenports’ house was always about one thing: food!

But when sisters Ella and Maddy were split up, Ella to live in London with their Dad, and Maddy staying in Greece with their Mum, mince pies lost their magic.

Now, a cheating husband has thrown Ella a curved snowball…and for the first time in years, all she wants is her mum. So she heads back to Greece, where her family’s taverna holds all the promise of home. Meanwhile, waitress Maddy’s dreams of a white Christmas lead her back to London…and her Dad.

But a big fat festive life-swap isn’t as easy as it sounds! And as the sisters trade one kitchen for another, it suddenly seems that among the cinnamon, cranberries and icing sugar, their recipes for a perfect Christmas might be missing a crucial ingredient: each other."

The Little Christmas Kitchen reminded me a little of The Holiday as Ella and Maddy essentially swap homes for the Christmas season, and also of Mamma Mia with the Greek location and all the food.  Ella thinks just has discovered that her perfect husband is cheating on her and wants her mum, and Maddy is dreaming of "Making It" in London.  The book alternates between the two sisters in their different locations.

Ella and Maddy used to be close when they were little but something went wrong when their parents split up, and since then there has been this competing sibling rivalry where they each think the other has got something they haven't and that somehow they have been missing out.  I liked seeing this from a dual perspective of both sisters, and as the reader you get to see that actually if they just talked to each other then there really would not be anything to be jealous of.

To be honest, I found Ella coped with her marriage breakdown a little too well.  She didn't really seem to care, especially around the middle of the book when she is on the phone to him, and having got to know Ella, I think she would have cared more.  Even if she felt it was the right thing overall, in reality a person would be more upset about it and I don't think they would be able to joke with each other about him sleeping and living with another woman as they do at one point in the book.

This is not a book you should read when you are hungry as it is packed full of mouthwatering descriptions of all kinds of food.  It might not be the traditional Christmas food you enjoy, but the book certainly is festive (unlike some other books set over the Christmas period, but it could easily be enjoyed at other times of year). I particularly enjoyed Maddy's time in London as she finds herself in a new place, and helps others along the way.

The Little Christmas Kitchen is a story of families and friendship, neighbourliness, growing into yourself and learning to love yourself.  For me it was a slow burner, and it took me a while to get into it, but ultimately, it made me laugh out loud and it made my eyes well up with tears.  It would make a fabulous festive film with the backdrops of scenery from two incredible locations; Greece and London at Christmas time in the snow.  

I felt that the book ended too soon, in that it felt a bit rushed and I also wanted more.  I'd love to revisit this family again in the future and see how they are all getting on, and it was definitely the kind of story that could be revisited by the author in a future book or novella!

It is a shame this book is an e-book as the cover is beautiful!

** Thank you to NetGalley for the free e-copy of this title in return for my honest review **

Thursday, 27 November 2014

One Hundred Christmas Proposals by Holly Martin

"The eagerly anticipated follow-up to One Hundred Proposals.

If you thought Harry & Suzie’s life couldn't get anymore sweepingly romantic than Harry asking her to marry him at the end of One Hundred Proposals – think again!

It’s Christmas in a snow-kissed London, and have vowed to carry out one hundred proposals in December. No easy task at the best of times - made even more complicated by Harry & Suzie trying to plan their first Christmas and a visit from the dreaded in-laws. But one hundred deliciously Christmassy proposals later they find themselves asking if everything is still perfect in their own relationship….

Welcome back to the divinely warm world of One Hundred Proposals – with a sprinkling of pure, joyful, festive magic.

Have yourself a very merry Christmas indeed with Holly Martin’s Christmas novella."

This was a super quick novella of 100 pages that I devoured in almost an instant.  It is set in the lead up to Christmas ending on New Years Eve, and features all sorts of romantic proposals and follows Harry and Suz as they prepare for Christmas amongst all the proposal chaos.

I had not read One Hundred Proposals and found myself wishing I had before I embarked on this novella buy, although it isn't a necessity, I think you would feel more invested in the story as you would be dying to see what had happened to the main characters.  I found this novella was too short for me to really adore or fall in love with anyone but had I read the main book first, I am sure I would have fallen in love!  This certainly hasn't put me off though (and doesn't mean I doesn't enjoy it!); I shall be getting myself a copy of One Hundred Proposals and reading the books the wrong way round.

I have to admit I caught on to what was going to happen fairly early on, so it was not a total mystery to me but it was an extremely sweet romantic festive fairy tale.  The only downside for me was I felt that it ended too soon, and I would have loved to have seen it end with a blog post of the "final proposal".

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher Carina for the copy in return for my honest review.  

One Hundred Christmas Proposals has received some outstanding reviews online and I can easily add my recommendation to those!

Carina have kindly agreed to offer two ebooks (the original One Hundred Proposals and the new novella One Hundred Christmas Proposals) to one lucky winner.  To enter, follow the rafflecopter instructions below...

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Cold Feet at Christmas by Debbie Johnson

"Running out on your wedding shouldn’t be this much fun!

A remote Scottish castle on a snowy Christmas Eve. A handsome husband-to-be. A dress to die for. It should have been the happiest day of Leah Harvey’s life – but the fairytale wedding turns sour when she finds her fiancé halfway up the bridesmaid’s skirt just hours before the ceremony!

Fleeing the scene in a blizzard, Leah ends up stranded at the nearest cottage, where she collapses into the arms of its inhabitant – a man so handsome she thinks she must have died and gone to heaven!

And when Rob Cavelli suddenly finds himself with an armful of soaking wet, freezing cold, and absolutely gorgeous bride on the run, he’s more than happy to welcome her into his snowbound cottage this Christmas…"

There might be snow everywhere you look in Cold Feet at Christmas but boy this book couldn't get any hotter.  It left me sat wondering whether any man could ever come close to Rob Cavelli (also am I the only person that spent the whole book thinking I was reading about Roberto Cavalli, the Italian fashion designer?!)!

Cold Feet at Christmas is the perfect Christmas parcel - it's addictive, steamy, slightly festive (although I could see myself reading it at any time of the year as it really only starts off at Christmas time and it doesn't go full throttle for the Christmas theme!) and full of vibrant characters. The sexual tension between Leah and Rob was instant, and it was the aftermath of this that the book really concentrates on as Christmas dissolves into New Year, which is unique in itself.

I liked seeing both Rob and Leah's perspective on the same matters as it really drew you deeper into their story.  There are twists and turns along the way, including some hilarious laugh out loud moments. This might not be the most unpredictable of books, but it certainly kept my interest throughout.

Thank you so much to Debbie Johnson for the copy in return for an honest review.  Cold Feet at Christmas is an absolute bargain at 99p (ebook on Amazon) and it is, at the time of writing this, Number 1 in Amazon's Best Sellers for Holiday Fiction.  I do not hesitate to recommend that you go and grab yourself a copy!  A fabulous story but not for the faint hearted!!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella

"Becky Brandon (nee Bloomwood) is in Hollywood! It's as if all her life has been leading to this moment. She's hanging out with the stars … or at least she will be, when she finally gets to meet movie superstar Sage Seymour, whom husband Luke is now managing.

There's so much to see and do! And getting Minnie through the hurdles for her A-list Hollywood pre-school will require some…er…help.

Becky sets her heart on a new career - she's going to be a celebrity stylist. Red carpet, here she comes! But Becky soon finds it's tough in Tinseltown. Luckily her best friend Suze comes over to keep her company, and together they embark on the Hollywood insider trail. But somehow...things aren't quite working out as they’d hoped.

Then Becky's big chance comes, and it's an opportunity that money can't buy. But will it cost her too much?"

I read the first Sophie Kinsella Confessions of a Shopaholic book, and in my head I would class myself as a fan of the Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic series but in all honesty I haven't read the rest of the series so have not kept fully up to date with Becky Bloomwood (now Brandon!) and since I last visited Becky she has married and has a daughter, Minnie!  To be honest, I was shocked to discover this was the seventh book in the series!

I enjoyed the book, and the story of Becky as she attempts to dazzle on the red carpet and mingle with the stars but I can understand why "die hard fans" might think that Becky has lost her way.  She was annoying and a pain in the **** for most of the book, and didn't really redeem herself until the very end of the book and this is just before the reader discovers that this particular story line has been split into two books so there is a major loose end which may leave readers somewhat frustrated (especially given this book is pretty long in itself).  

On the other hand, her husband and daughter are cute; Minnie really is the star of this show! This may not be the Becky you all know and love, as she is pretty selfish and self-centered in this book but perhaps she will return to good form in the next installment where all our questions will hopefully be answered!

All in all, I enjoyed it but I didn't adore it with all my heart and soul.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Reckoning by Emma Jones

"As Lauren wakes after her 21st party she's not sure if she's hungover or dreaming but then she remembers.

The necklace. 
The flashback. 
The bond. 

The consequences are great & details unknown. After a visit to the vampire council things settle down until vivid worrying dreams start to disrupt Lauren's sleep & life. 

The national news is filled with big cat killings but Lauren knows the truth & is being dragged into dark souls & black magic. Someone dangerous is getting into her head & her involvement with the council tests her relationships. 

How will Lauren cope? Is there a happy ending? Will blood be shed?"

The Reckoning by Emma Jones is out now.  If you would like to purchase The Reckoning, you can do so in Kindle edition at Amazon.

The lovely Emma Jones would love to hear from you, and there a couple of ways to contact her if you would like to:

- On twitter
-  Emma's blog
-  On Facebook
-  On Goodreads

Monday, 10 November 2014

Mr Miracle by Debbie Macomber

"Harry Mills is a guardian angel on a mission: help Addie Folsom to get her life back on track - and help her find love.

Creating a happy ending for Addie and her neighbour Erich doesn’t seem like much of a challenge. But soon after arriving in the town of Tacoma, Harry realises he might need some guidance. Addie and Erich can't stand each other; growing up he was popular and outgoing, while she was rebellious and headstrong. Addie would now rather avoid Erich entirely, especially at Christmas.

Harry is going to need all the help he can get, and a bit of divine inspiration, to help Addie and Erich find their Christmas miracle."

Mr Miracle is a fairly short, light read, which I could easily have read in one sitting.  It has tinges of A Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life, and the book has that magical feeling of Christmas.

I liked the characters, although I didn't feel as emotionally involved as I would have in a slightly longer book.  It definitely has the feel of a book that could have a sequel in the making.

Mr Miracle is a story of second chances and not being afraid of admitting that you're wrong, a reminder that people can change and also a reminder that life is short.  It is a sweet short story that leave you feeling warm and fuzzy this Christmas.

Mr Miracle is released on 20 November.  Thank you to the publisher, Random House, for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.  They have also very kindly offered five copies of Mr Miracle for a competition for readers of Book - Love - Bug.  To be in with a chance of winning, follow the rafflecopter instructions below.

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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Christmas at the Cove by Victoria Connelly

I am starting to gear up for Christmas reading, and one book that caught my eye is Christmas at the Cove, a novella by Victoria Connelly.  I think the cover is beautiful and, for some reason, I'm always drawn to books that are set in Cornwall or Devon - they always seem to make such fabulous love stories.

"When Millie Venning escapes to her aunt's cottage on the windswept Devon coast for Christmas, she isn't looking for romance. So, when she finds a handsome stranger already at the cottage, she's baffled. Has her aunt double-booked the cottage by mistake or is she up to her match-making tricks once again? "

The plot reminds me a little of Sue Moorcroft's The Wedding Proposal.  Lets hope it is just as good!!

Victoria has provided an exclusive extract from Christmas at the Cove:

"Cove Cottage wasn't the sort of place one found without either a map or a set of foolproof directions. Leaving the main road and taking a little lane which ran through a dark wood, only the most observant would notice a gap in the trees and the pothole-ridden track which declined steeply towards the sea. Lined with thick gorse which blazed the richest yellow whatever time of year it was, the track twisted and turned as it descended, with steep cliffs rising to the right and acres of thick bracken to the left. It was a wild, windswept place which blew away the cobwebs and entered the soul of all who visited.
Slowing down as she reached the wood, Millie looked out for the gap in the trees, turning slowly into it. The track was wet and muddy and she could see more snowflakes in the headlights. At least she was nearly there, she thought.
Turning the last corner, she caught her first glimpse of Cove Cottage which was strange because she shouldn't have been able to see it at all.
'The lights are on,' she said aloud, turning the car to park it on the grass beside an old outbuilding used to store wood for the stove in the living room. Perhaps Aunt Louise had asked the cleaner to leave the lights on for her.
She switched the car engine off and, for a moment, sat in the dark. If the light hadn't been on in the cottage, it would have been pitch black. Luckily, she'd remembered to bring a torch with her and she fumbled for it now in the depths of her handbag.
As soon as the car door was open, she heard the roar of the wind and relished the freshness of the air that whipped around her. The snow had stopped and Millie craned her neck back and smiled as she took in the immensity of the night sky above her sewn with a thousand stars. That was one of the things she missed when living in the city. As beautiful as Bath was, the street pollution didn't allow one to admire the glorious star-spangled heavens. But the intense cold soon got the better of her and, grabbing her suitcase, she followed the thin beam of the torch towards the front door.
Fishing in her pocket for the key which she'd collected from her aunt earlier that day, Millie slotted it into the lock only it didn't turn. She tried again. And again. She was quite sure she'd got the right key because it was on the funny little keyring with the picture of an Exmoor pony on it.
Then something occurred to Millie. There must be a key in the lock on the inside. Was the cleaner still there waiting to greet her? Millie supposed it was possible and so knocked on the door.
But it wasn't Mrs Jemison who opened the door a moment later. It was a tall, dark-haired man.
'Can I help you?' he asked, stooping in the doorframe.
Millie stood staring at him in wide-eyed horror, her long fair hair blowing around her face. 'Who on earth are you?' she cried."

You can grab yourself an ebook copy of Christmas at the Cove in time for Christmas here