Monday 31 December 2012

The Magic of Christmas

The Magic of Christmas by Trisha Ashley

Paperback, 388 pages

Published 1st October 2011 by Avon Books

My shelves: books-i-own, title-appeal, realistic-fiction, read-in-2012, let-down, disliked, christmas-books, chick-lit 
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

In the pretty Lancashire village of Middlemoss, Lizzy is on the verge of leaving her cheating husband, Tom, when tragedy strikes. Luckily she has welcome distraction in the Christmas Pudding Circle, a group of friends swapping seasonal recipes – as well as a rivalry with local cookery writer Nick over who will win Best Mince Pie at the village show…

Meanwhile, the whole village is gearing up for the annual Boxing Day Mystery Play. But who will play Adam to Lizzy’s Eve? Could it be the handsome and charismatic soap actor Ritch, or could someone closer to home win her heart? Whatever happens, it promises to be a Christmas to remember!

Previously published as Sweet Nothings, Trisha has extensively reworked the original novel with fabulous new extra material.

My favourite Christmas book that I've read (so far!) is Trisha Ashley's Twelve Days of Christmas and so when I heard about her latest Christmas offering, The Magic of Christmas, I had to try it! To be honest, I was still a little wary as I have also read her book Chocolate Wishes which disappointed me - so one book I loved, one I wasn't so keen on. It felt as though this book ranked midway between those two books, unfortunately swaying on the lower side of quality.

The main thing that bothered me about this book was that I felt both the cover and title were misleading. As the book is called The Magic of Christmas and the cover is wonderfully adorned with a glittery winter scene, you'd think that the book was based around Christmas time and would give you a Christmassy feeling whilst reading it. Unfortunately, the book is mostly set during the rest of the year, with December only featuring in the (small) last part of the book. There are references to a 'Christmas Pudding Club' (CPC) throughout, but they don't seem all that significant. Credit where it's due, the ending of the book is full of Christmas spirit, but I only wish that I could've said that for a larger portion of the book.

The story centres around main character Lizzy who lives in the idyllic village of Middlemoss. Before she has a chance to leave her husband, tragedy strikes and she is left to deal with the consequences. It appears that her husband was having several affairs and so Lizzy isn't all that disappointed by his untimely end! Lizzy carries on with her life, having support from her friends in the CPC, her son Jasper, Nick the cookery writer and Ritch the soap actor. It's pretty obvious that Lizzy is going to have a relationship with Nick or Ritch, and it's easy predict who she chooses. 

Though I didn't particularly connect with any character, I did think that the chemistry between the characters was written really well. Each character was well thought out, but the problem was that there was too many characters for my liking - because of this, it was difficult to focus on one character in depth. The whole book seemed a bit rushed, random things kept popping up and the plot seemed like it was all over the place. 

I seem to have complained about this book a lot, but really it's not disastrous and I am sure that it will appeal to others. As aforementioned, I enjoyed the chemistry between the characters and the progression of relationships and friendships. It felt like I was reading a soap opera - if you don't mind the farfetched and like a lot of drama, you will probably enjoy this. If you're a fan of cookery, even better - there are even some recipes included as an added extra after the story has ended, which is a bonus.

Overall, I was quite disappointed with this book, but it wasn't terrible - I never had to force myself to read it and at least something was always happening! Chick-lit lovers should still give this a try at any time of the year, however I would rather recommend Ashley's Twelve Days of Christmas which is on a completely different level to this one.

Friday 28 December 2012

Lost Christmas

Lost Christmas by David Logan

Paperback, 400 pages

Published 8th November 2012 by Quercus (First published October 2011)

My shelves: arc-or-review, better-than-expected, books-i-own, christmas-books, contemporary, cover-appeal, death, magical-realism, movies-or-tv, read, read-in-2012, really-good, title-appeal, young-adult,
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

When Goose’s parents are killed in a car crash on Christmas Eve, his life changes utterly. Living with his increasingly senile Nan, his dog Mutt is the only thing keeping him sane. His only other friend is Frank, a former friend of his father. Frank’s own life is falling apart and he has recruited Goose to help him carry out petty theft around the city. 
A year to the day since the accident that changed his life, Goose meets Anthony, a strange man who has forgotten who he is, but seems to know more about others than they know about themselves. When Mutt goes missing, Goose has no choice but to rely on Anthony to help find him. 
In an adventure that draws in Frank, who’s lost his family, an old lady who’s lost a precious bangle, an elderly doctor who’s lost his wife and mother who’s lost her daughter, Goose follows Anthony across Manchester. But at the centre of the mystery is Anthony himself: who is he, how does he know so much and can he help Goose and the others find what they’re searching for?  
A delight to read from start to finish, David Logan takes the reader on a terrific journey through love, loss and the quest for home.

I remember seeing Lost Christmas around bookshops last year, and whilst I was always drawn to it, I never got around to picking it up. This year it has been rereleased in paperback and I'm glad that I've had the opportunity and time to pick it up, as I really have been missing out! The beautiful cover of this book and the mysterious premise will tempt you to pick it up, and please, don't resist!

I think it's quite difficult to find a good Christmas-themed books that are suitable for any teenagers or young adults, as most are either aimed towards younger children or aimed towards the chick-lit market. Lost Christmas is a fantastically written book that would appeal from anyone aged 12 upwards. Though this is a story that will be suitable for the whole family, that's not to say that it is juvenile - it certainly isn't. It is really nice to find a book that's suitable for everyone, especially at this time of year - it's something that anyone can read and discuss.

I  enjoyed this story as it unfolded at a great pace, keeping me interested throughout. The writing is so easy to read and so fluid from the very first page that it quickly becomes a page-turner - it's easy to lose track of time with this book! The story has a lot of different things going on with various characters, but you never lose track and it's simple to follow, despite the complexity. The whole thing is so down to earth, the writing, the characters and the setting and the problems faced are all so real, against the 'magical' side of the plot. There are some very serious and quite emotive issues discussed in such a gentle but powerful way.

As aforementioned, the characters are all so down to earth and seem so authentic. Goose, our main character, is fantastically written. In his short life, Goose's parents died one Christmas Eve, and when we meet him the following year, we go on a journey with him as he searches for his lost dog, Mutt, with the help of a mysterious man who can see into the past - Anthony. Throughout most of the book, it is not clear who Anthony is - though he can remember a lot of things about other people, he can't remember his own identity. Towards the end, we do realise who he is and it does make a big impact on the whole story. The secondary characters truly added to this story too especially Frank and Helen, their authenticity and very poignant back stories (particularly Helen's) added massively to this book.

Lost Christmas has been made into a film, so I will certainly be eager to watch that when I can. I am so glad that I've read this first though as I don't believe a film adaptation of such a book could be as compelling, though I do hope it is! I strongly recommend this book for people of all ages - love it and share it.

Thursday 27 December 2012

From the Review Pile (34)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!

This week, I'm going to showcase A Month With April May!

Okay, I'm sort of cheating this week because I have actually already read and reviewed this week, but I thought I'd show you something that I've scheduled to publish on my blog next year, just a taster of what's to come...

A Month with April-May by Edyth Bulbring
Hardback, 351 pages

Published 17th February 2013 by Hot Key Books

'Life is not a bowl of cherries. Suck it up.' On April-May's first day at Trinity College, she has the wrong colour bag, too-bright socks and she gets her favourite novel confiscated for reading it during class. She makes total enemies with the evil Mrs Ho, but she makes total friends with mouth-breather Melly. Then, she meets the gorgeous Seb, loses her entire wardrobe to a hobo and gets branded a sockless trouble-maker. A MONTH WITH APRIL-MAY is a one-eyebrow-raised account of a teenager's trials and tribulations as she navigates a new school, a new family situation and a whole new way of life.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Stacking the Shelves and Showcase Sunday (33)

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's ReviewsShowcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea.
These memes are a replacement of The Story Siren's In My Mailbox.

Stacking the Shelves and Showcase Sunday make a place to showcase your new books,
whether you obtained them through the post or otherwise.

It must be Christmas - I received a lot of books through the post this week! 
Firstly, I'd like to apologise for not being able to provide the correct UK cover images for each of these books - unfortunately not all of the images are available yet, or haven't been uploaded to the internet!

I finally received a copy of a book I've been waiting for since I heard that it was being written - The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. I absolutely love the idea behind it and hope that it'll be my favourite Picoult book to date! I hadn't heard of Undone before I received it this week, but that also sounds like something I will also love.  I also got a copy of The Vincent Boys, which I have only heard fantastic things about so I'm looking forward to that too. Gates of Paradise, Rift and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland also came into my home. I will be reading Grace Grows soon as part of a blog tour, too!

Have a great weekend!

Saturday 22 December 2012

Once Upon a Christmas

Once Upon a Christmas by Sarah Morgan

Paperback, 379 pages

Published October 2012 by Mills and Boon

My shelves: adult-fiction, arc-or-review, better-than-expected, books-i-own, chick-lit, christmas-books, cover-appeal, mum-has, read, read-in-2012, realistic-fiction, really-good, title-appeal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

What's your number one Christmas wish?

Bryony's daughter has put a dad on her Christmas list. That leaves Bryony with one month to find the perfect man, so this year she's wishing for a miracle!

While she's looking for love, her best friend Helen is doing the opposite. Her Christmas wish is to forget all about the white dress hanging in her wardrobe - and her faithless rat of a fiance.

Helen and Bryony's festive cheer definitely needs a boost, so it's lucky that once upon a Christmas, wishes really do come true...

Once Upon a Christmas is the second book that I’ve read by Sarah Morgan, but I know it certainly won’t be the last! Last year, I read Angels in the Snow and really enjoyed it, so when I heard about her newest book, Once Upon a Christmas, I jumped at the chance of reviewing it and I am so happy to say that it didn’t disappoint

This book is separated into two interlinking stories, one telling the story of Bryony and Jack, the other of Helen, Bryony’s best friend and Oliver, Bryony’s sister. Though they are two separate stories, thankfully neither of them lack in depth. I did prefer Bryony’s story slightly more than that of Helen and Oliver, but both stories were really enjoyable. Though the stories were rather predictable, they were lovely to just sit back, relax and read - this really is a perfect winter book! There are lots of Christmassy references in this book, so it does really immerse you into the atmosphere and setting - however, it wouldn’t put me off reading it at other times of the year.

I really liked meeting all of the characters that we were introduced to as they all had vibrant personalities - even the secondary characters felt very real. The way that the characters interacted with each other was very lifelike and so the book felt realistic. The chemistry between Bryony and Jack was fantastic to read about - I really got drawn into their relationship and willed them on. Jack’s relationship with Bryony’s daughter was touching and I loved the family dynamic. The chemistry between Helen and Oliver was also well written, but for me, it did feel a little sudden or rushed, nevertheless, I grew to love them both as a couple. I thought that their was just the right amount of romance in this book. I thought that for the most part, the story moved on well and I enjoyed the anticipation of the next move. The romance wasn’t too sickly sweet for me, but passionate and loving. For those who enjoy more steamy scenes, there are a couple in the book that are sure to satisfy, without being too over the top.

I must admit that I was left a little disappointed about the lack of exploration of Bryony and Helen’s friendship - though Helen is Bryony’s best friend, we never really got to see them interact and if we did, I think that may have been beneficial for the connection of the two stories. 

This really was a fantastic Christmas read which I’d highly recommend to anyone who is wanting an easy, festive read. It’s always nice to read something light and heartwarming at this time of year, and with lovable characters alongside a beautiful wintery setting, Once Upon a Christmas will not disappoint!

Friday 21 December 2012

Artichoke Hearts

Artichoke Hearts by Sita Brahmachari

Paperback, 321 pages

Published 22nd August 2011 by Macmillan Children's Books

My shelves: better-than-expected, books-i-own, contemporary, cultural, medical-conditions, read-in-2012, realistic-fiction, series-or-companions, young-adult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Mira comes from a chaotic, artistic and outspoken family where it’s not always easy to be heard. As her beloved Nana Josie's health declines, Mira begins to discover the secrets of those around her, and also starts to keep some of her own. She is drawn to mysterious Jidé, a boy who is clearly hiding a troubled past and has grown hardened layers - like those of an artichoke - around his heart. As Mira is experiencing grief for the first time, she is also discovering the wondrous and often mystical world around her.

Artichoke Hearts is a book that I had been meaning to get around to reading since I heard about it (which was quite a long time ago!). To be honest, at first look I wasn't expecting all that much - the cover seemed a little 'young' and the blurb just sounded average. However, once I saw the amount of positive attention that the book was receiving, I really wanted to check it out. This book was still much better than expected!

This story is not only about our protagonist, 12 year old Mira, but also about everyone around her. Though I would say that this is probably aimed towards teenagers or the younger group of YA readers, it actually deals with a huge amount of issues There are a lot of typical teenage worries explored in this book, in a very connectable way - younger teens may be able to relate with some of Mira's problems, where as the slightly older readers will probably look back with some sort of memory of what it was like to be a Mira's age. Brahmachari has been very successful with her portrayal of a twelve year old girl and it was great to read about an Indian/Jewish character, someone with a cultural history, without that being the main subject of the book. Whoever you are and wherever you live, I think that a lot of people will be able to connect with her. Our protagonist does seem like a real, tangible person, her thoughts and feelings are very realistic. Alongside these usual teen worries, the author also included some more serious problems - such as grief and the loss of loved ones, subjects that are really hard hitting.

We do go on a 'journey' with Mira as she experiences new feelings and goes through a major life event, losing one of the most important people to her, her Nana Josie. We're introduced to a lot of different characters in this book and all of them seem authentic and likeable. I became truly immersed in Mira's world and found myself caring for everyone through their troubles, wishing I could give them a hug! I honestly felt as though I could read a separate book for each character - they all had such substance and history, especially the fantastically intriguing Nana Josie who we get to learn so much about.

I wasn't expecting this to be such a coming of age novel, but I'm so glad that it was - I was very impressed and will certainly be reading more by the very talented Brahmachari in the future. This is one of the best 'younger' young adult books that I have read and would certainly recommend it to any teenager.       

Thursday 20 December 2012

From the Review Pile (33)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!

This week, I'm going to showcase Christmas at the Cupcake Café!

Though I absolutely love the look of this book, unfortunately I think it will have to wait until next year to be read. Christmas at the Cupcake Café is a follow on from Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe which I'm yet to read. When I finally manage to get my hands on a copy of the first book, I'll have to read it straight away!

Christmas at the Cupcake Café by Jenny Colgan
Hardback, 351 pages

Published 25th October 2012 by Sphere

Issy Randall, proud owner of The Cupcake Cafe, is in love and couldn't be happier. Her new business is thriving and she is surrounded by close friends, even if her cupcake colleagues Pearl and Caroline don't seem quite as upbeat about the upcoming season of snow and merriment. But when her boyfriend Austin is scouted for a possible move to New York, Issy is forced to face up to the prospect of a long-distance romance. And when the Christmas rush at the cafe - with its increased demand for her delectable creations - begins to take its toll, Issy has to decide what she holds most dear.

This December, Issy will have to rely on all her reserves of courage, good nature and cinnamon, to make sure everyone has a merry Christmas, one way or another...

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Hold On

Hold On by Alan Gibbons
Paperback,176 pages

Published 23rd December 2010 by Orion Children's Books

My shelves: abuse, arc-or-review, awful-cover, better-than-expected, books-i-own, death, mental-health, read-in-2012, realistic-fiction, suicide, to-be-reviewed, young-adult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

When Annie returns from an extended stay in Canada, she discovers that her friend John has killed himself. Annie is devastated by his death and is determined to confront those she believes responsible—a group of boys from her school, who bullied John mercilessly in the months before he died. But Annie's parents and friends don't share her wish to bring the boys to justice. She finds herself treading a lonely path—and soon discovers that nothing is straightforward. She is helplessly attracted to one of the boys, and when she reads John's diary, it's clear they weren't the only ones to cause him so much unhappiness. The novel tells John's story as a tragic waste of a young life in an unsentimental and compassionate way, but also tells Annie's story about moving on and looking towards the future.

My thanks go to Orion for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

I will be honest and say that, at first look, I wasn't expecting all that much from this book. At first look, Hold On is a very thin book and it has the accolade of being a 'Blue Peter Book Award Winner' on the front cover - I thought that this would mean it would be perhaps a little juvenile for me. However, as soon as I read the blurb, I knew that this was a book that I'd have to give a go!

My favourite books are those that feature real emotion and problems and this book certainly fits that description. Hold On tells the story of John, a boy who has committed suicide. We are told the story through John's friend, Annie, who finds John's diary, describing the last weeks of his life. Through this way of narrative, we got to learn a lot about both characters. I enjoyed the way this was written - it  was a little different, it was simple and it worked extremely well. I was a little worried that it might have become a little confusing but it didn't at all, it was very easy to follow despite the complexity of the story.

I enjoyed reading about Annie and John equally. I thought that both characters were interesting and very well developed, despite the shortness of the book. Though the story is a mere 176 pages, the whole story managed to have such fantastic depth, something that I didn't expect but was really impressed with. It was also interesting to see the impact of bullying on two different people - the victim (John) and the friend of the victim (Annie). Gibbons did a wonderful job of portraying a difficult situation very realistically. Though Annie may have acted a little controversially to the bullies after John's death, I thought it was realistic and effective. It was also interesting to see how other people (teachers, friends and family members) were coming to terms with John's death too.

This is a book that certainly surprised me as it was much, much better than I thought a short book could be. This novel is dealt with a serious situation well and I'd imagine could be a very influential book. This one is definitely not a light hearted read, but it is an important one which is emotional and packs a punch. I would certainly not hesitate to pick up another book by Gibbons who has  truly impressed me. Highly recommended! 

Monday 17 December 2012

Blog Tour: Irresistible - A Guest Post from Liz Bankes

It's fair to say that this has been the year of rather steamy reads - they have been very popular and many of us have decided to branch out into this growing genre.
Unfortunately, it seemed as though the slightly younger audience had been forgotten about... that is until now! Liz Bankes has released a fantastically sexy new book, aimed at the Young Adult audience, which I'm very excited about. 

To get a taste of this new book, Liz Bankes has very kindly provided us with a guest post, telling us who she would cast as the main characters in her story... enjoy!

Casting the Irresistible girls 

In the tradition of Dawson’s Creek and many high school movies, I am going to be lenient with age and allow people in their twenties to play sixteen-year-olds. 

Mia is spending her summer waitressing and dreaming of travelling. She’s been enjoying getting to know funny workmate Dan, but can’t get bad boy Jamie out of her head. 

Played by Kathryn Prescott

Kathryn Prescott played Emily in Skins so I picked her because I think she is awesome and was part of one of my fave tv couples ever, Naomi and Emily. I also think that she could pull off Mia’s mixture of shyness whilst having a dry sense of humour and being fun. 

Gabi is Mia’s best friend. She is massive in terms of personality and boobs, a bit mad and very loyal. 

Played by Chelsee Healy

Chelsee played schoolgirl Janeece on Waterloo Road and I think she would have right combination of bubbliness, ditziness and fierce loyalty to play Gabi. She then went on Strictly Come Dancing, which Gabi would definitely do, if only to meet famous people. 

Beautiful, privileged and a bit frightening, Cleo is Jamie’s girlfriend. 

Played by Jessica Szohr 

Jessica, who plays Vanessa in Gossip Girl, has the exotic, stunning look I imagined for Cleo. She’s also spent enough time around Blair and Serena to learn about being a bitch. And she went out with Chuck Bass in real life so knows how to handle her bad boys. 


Irresistible is by Liz Bankes and published by Piccadilly Press. The book will be published in print on 25th April 2013, but is available in eBook format now!  

Dance of Shadows Exclusive!

You may have noticed quite a few posts about Margaret Adler lately, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. There is some fantastic publicity surrounding the 2013 release of the young adult book Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black and here I have managed to get hold of a diary entry by Margaret to shed some more light on her...

[October 15]
Dear Diary,

If everyone at NYBA didn’t already hate me, they certainly do after yesterday.

“Dance for me, dance for me!” Anna Franko screeched at me during lunch. She and her friends sashayed around the cafeteria with their trays, laughing in my direction and thinking they’re so funny. Which they’re not. They’re not funny at all. They suck. (If you can’t tell, my dear diary, I despise them !!!)

Maddy told me not to pay them any attention, but it’s hard not to when everyone likes them and now everyone thinks I’m Josef’s favorite. Some girl I don’t even know hissed “Teacher’s pet” at me under her breath on my way to English, which shouldn’t have bothered me. But it did.

I don’t need a million best friends, but I don’t want people to hate me. This school is small and people have long memories. I want to be friends with everyone here. But what am I supposed to do—not dance my best because I’m afraid the others will be jealous? That doesn’t seem fair, either. 

Josef is the only one who “gets” me. Josef recognizes my talent. Maybe that’s enough?

xoxo, Margaret

 For more information about Margaret Adler and Dance of Shadows, please check out the following links:

Saturday 15 December 2012

Stacking the Shelves and Showcase Sunday (32)

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's ReviewsShowcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea.
These memes are a replacement of The Story Siren's In My Mailbox.

Stacking the Shelves and Showcase Sunday make a place to showcase your new books,
whether you obtained them through the post or otherwise.

This week, three new books came into my home for review and I am seriously so excited about them all! 
Mist is a book that has been on my wishlist for a very long time - since the sequel is being released soon, I thought it was time that I found out what the series was like - plus isn't that cover gorgeous?
I have been after a copy of Monument 14 since it was released in America and I am so glad that a UK publisher has picked it up, it looks so interesting - definitely my sort of read!
The final book I received was Colin Fischer, another book which looks like something that I'd love. It has a great contemporary, coming of age look about it and I really hope it lives up to expectations.

So all in all, a very good week for me! 
Have a lovely weekend!