Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses by Jenny Hale

4/5 stars

This is a wonderfully written Christmas book that had me almost wishing it was Christmas the week after I read it (given I have mixed feelings about that time of year it was quite an achievement). The descriptions of the locations in the book were brilliantly done, I can imagine Nick’s house so well that I could easily walk around it without a guide. I liked the characters of Abbey, Nick, Max and their families. All were well rounded and I especially liked Max, he was adorable and came across as intelligent and intuitive. I finished reading this in the early hours of the morning and was especially glad that I had tissues next to my bed because I certainly needed them! The last few pages and the epilogue were almost too much.

I genuinely liked this book but have given it 4 stars rather than 5 because there were some aspects of Abbey’s character that didn’t sit well with me. I appreciate that she is a very family orientated person but she seemed to find Nick’s decision to not have children almost unbelievable and appeared to want to change his mind when his decision was really none of her business. Also I found the way she spoke to him and behaved around him, especially in the beginning of the book quite inappropriate considering he was her employer.

Despite this I will definitely be reading more books by this author and would recommend this as a warm and cosy read for Christmas or for when the weather is miserable outside, as it is today, and all you want to do is curl up with a good book and a hot drink.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Bookouture for letting me have a copy of this in exchange for an honest review.

Review of The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin

Rating 5/5

The Little Bookshop on the Seine is a Christmas story with a difference. It starts off with Sarah Smith putting a sign for a 50% off sale in her bookshop window, clearly things are not going well but why this is so is not really explored, partly as very soon after this she gets a request from her friend Sophie (who lives in Paris) to swap bookshops for 6 months. Feeling stuck and like her life is on hold as her boyfriend, Ridge Warner, is constantly jetting off to foreign countries for work; she decides to accept Sophie’s offer and heads off to Paris within days. When she arrives things don’t get off to the best start, there are staffing issues, lost property concerns and new rules to learn. However, there are also friendships to be made, surprises to be found and the city itself to experience.

I downloaded one of Rebecca Raisin’s books last Christmas but for some reason never got round to reading it and having read this one, I’m making sure that doesn’t happen again. I am a new fan of hers as this book was excellent. I cannot fault it, the descriptions, especially of Paris, were so well-written that I felt I was there the whole time and when I finished the book I wanted to hop on the next plane so I could experience it all for myself. The relationships with the bookshop staff, her boyfriend and the people she meets during the story were all completely realistic and also well-written. I know this may come across as gushing but quite honestly I adored this book. I’ve read a lot of books, especially this year, and I have to say this is one of the best I have read and definitely the best Christmas book I have read so far. If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it. A very well deserved 5 star rating from me.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Carina UK for letting me have a copy of this in exchange for an honest review.

Review of The Killing of Mummy’s Boy by Joan Ellis

3 stars.

The book begins with a chance encounter on a train. Sandra, travelling home to the Isle of Wight, loses her Oyster card and phones from the train, stupidly giving her address to anyone that can hear her. In this case the person who hears her happens to be a murderer called Ben. After what is a very unusual conversation she gets off the train and after a ferry journey and bus ride arrives home to discover an Oyster card has been posted through her letterbox, clearly by Ben. Through a few flashbacks we learn that Sandra’s son, Carl, is in a Witness Protection programme after witnessing a murder and giving evidence that got the killer convicted. Naturally Sandra is very worried about her safety and that of her son and as the story progresses various incidences lead her to thinking that Ben is entering her home when she is not there, however the truth turns out to be quite different and when Carl suddenly leaves the Witness Protection programme things take a turn for the worse, and then the shocking truth is finally revealed………

I loved the premise of this book, it sounded quite different from anything I had previously read and being a fan of psychological thrillers I was sure I would enjoy it however, sadly I was disappointed. Although I found the book well-written and the characters well-developed I found the story wanting. There was a lot of repetition in the characters actions which was quite irritating. I spent a large part of the book being annoyed at Sandra’s irrational decisions and not considering something which I felt was glaringly obvious. Ben was a bit erratic at first but actually the best character in the whole story while Carl was just obnoxious and lazy. The pace was reasonable although it picked up in the last 20-30% of the book. There was quite a big surprise around this point too, although I had an inkling of it before this point because of what some characters had said so I found it more of a confirmation than a surprise.

This is the first book that I have read by this author and I found it lacking and not as gripping as I had expected. At the moment I’m undecided as to whether I would read more by this author.

Thanks to Booklover Catlady Publicity for letting me review this book.

Christmas at Lilac Cottage by Holly Martin

Normally I would write a little description of this book but there are so many other reviews out there that have already done this so I’ve decided to skip straight to what I thought of it and post the synopsis from Goodreads for anyone who hasn’t already seen it.

From Goodreads:  Welcome to the charming seaside town of White Cliff Bay, where Christmas is magical and love is in the air…

Penny Meadows loves her home – a cosy cottage decorated with pretty twinkling fairy lights and stunning views over the town of White Cliff Bay. She also loves her job as an ice-carver, creating breathtaking sculptures. Yet her personal life seems frozen.
When Henry and daughter Daisy arrive at the cottage to rent the annex, Penny is determined to make them feel welcome. But while Daisy is friendly, Henry seems guarded.   As Penny gets to know Henry, she realises there is more to him than meets the eye. And the connection between them is too strong to ignore…
While the spirit of the season sprinkles its magic over the seaside town and preparations for the ice sculpting competition and Christmas eve ball are in full swing, can Penny melt the ice and allow love in her heart? And will this finally be the perfect Christmas she’s been dreaming of?

My review:  5 stars.   Christmas at Lilac Cottage is being billed as “a perfect romance to curl up by the fire with” and I completely agree with that assessment. As someone who hates seeing Christmas stuff in shops in September, I never usually read Christmas books this early, but after a bit of gentle persuasion from someone and having seen the endless rave reviews about this book I decided to make an exception and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a lovely book of new relationships, misunderstandings and putting things right. Although it is a lovely, light read it does deal with important issues that affect many people but does it in such a way that these issues don’t weigh the story down. The descriptions of White Cliff Bay and the characters that live there are well-written and realistic and, apart from one person, very likeable. I loved the little surprise at the end and would love to see a sequel to this book, even a novella would be wonderful as I would hate to think this is the last we’ve seen of Penny, Henry and Daisy.

Review of The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by S.G. MacLean

I read and reviewed this book a few months ago before I had started this blog and have decided to post the review here and on my twitter account because I adored this book and think it deserves more exposure than I believe it has had so far.

Synopsis from Goodreads:  Is the young man merely drunk or does his tottering walk suggest something more sinister? When he collapses, vomiting, over the two whores who find him on that dark wet night, they guess rightly that he’s been murdered by poisoning. So begins this gripping tale set in the town of Banff, Scotland in the 1620s. The body of the victim, the apothecary’s nephew, is found in Alexander Seaton’s school house. Seaton is a school master by default, and a persona non-grata in the town – a disgraced would-be minister whose love affair with a local aristocrat’s daughter left him disgraced and deprived of his vocation. He has few friends, so when one of them is accused of the murder, he sets out to solve the crime, embarking on a journey that will uncover witchcraft, cruelty, prejudice and the darkness in men’s souls.It is also a personal quest that leads Alexander to the rediscovery of his faith in God as well as his belief in himself. Among her many strengths, Shona MacLean is brilliant at evoking period and place. You feel you are in those cold, dark, northern rooms, eavesdropping on her characters. You are totally involved in the rich, convincing world she has re-created.

My review:  5/5 stars.  The Redemption of Alexander Seaton does exactly what the title says, it leads us through the redemption of someone who looked set for a future as a minister until they were denied this future. The reason for this denial is not explained until a good way through the book but we first meet Alexander as a grammar school teacher in Banff in 1626, deeply ashamed at his conduct and despondent at his lack of future now he will no longer be a minister, he spends his days teaching and his nights mostly with his friends who try to convince him that he is better than he has become. On one particularly stormy night on his way home from the pub Alexander sees a man who he presumes drunk and who asks him for help. Assuming the man will be ok and wanting to get into the dryness of his lodgings he ignores the man’s pleas to the detriment of both for the following morning Alexander finds the man in his own schoolroom, dead at the hand of another. His guilt at refusing to help, and his faith in his friend who is then accused of the murder, lead him to attempt to prove his friend’s innocence and find the real murderer. For various reasons (which i won’t go into as they would reveal too much) Alexander becomes involved in helping those in charge of the town deal with certain things that are found out about the dead man during the investigation into his death. While doing this Alexander goes on a journey that, with the introspection which he does throughout the story, leads to the redemption of his character and his belief in himself. The story ends with all loose ends accounted for and a hint at Alexander’s future which then continues 2 years later in the second book.

I really enjoyed this book and am very pleased it was suggested by the organiser of the book group I am in otherwise I may never have discovered the writings of Shona MacLean (or S.G. MacLean as she is otherwise known). Although I found the book a bit dense at first it gets better as you get used to it. The descriptions are excellent and I genuinely felt as though I was alongside Alexander Seaton throughout the entire book. The descriptions of the characters, town, smells and noises are so clear that you are transported to that time and place and the religious fears and concerns of invasion come across so clearly that even though I know little of that time I could appreciate how concerned people were and how even the smallest thing could affect how someone was viewed. I will definitely be reading more from Shona MacLean and I sincerely hope she keeps writing such richly detailed and engrossing books.

Review of Defiant Unto Death.

From Goodreads: The Black Prince has launched a devastating raid deep into France, laying waste to everything in his path. In response, the French have mustered an army that outnumbers the English forces 10 to 1 and and are determined to drive their hated foe from the land after years of bloody conquest.

Sir Thomas Blackstone, the British archer knighted on the field of Crecy, has used the intervening years to forge his own war band and has hacked out his own fiefdom in central France. He knows the English are outnumbered, outmanoeuvred and exhausted… but that will not stop him from fighting his way to one of history’s greatest military victories.

But the field of battle is not only arena in which Blackstone will have to fight for his life… Although Poitiers was a great victory for the English its aftermath will cost Blackstone dear.
From me: While I have read historical crime and historical romance novels before I have to admit this is the first historical fiction book that I have read that is set during a war and shows us the lives of those living through the unfolding events of that time. I know little of the events of the time of the Black Prince but have always been interested in pre-20th Century history so when I was offered this book as part of the blog tour I couldn’t say no. I’ve been trying to expand on the genres I already read and this seemed the perfect way to continue that. Although this is the second in the Master of War series it can easily be read on its own (as I have done) as there is enough information throughout the book that explains Thomas’ life up to that point without getting bogged down in past details.

This is an excellently written book with descriptions so clear that throughout the entire story I genuinely felt I was standing next to Thomas Blackstone, or his wife Christiana when the focus was on her. The sights, smells and sounds of 14th Century France were assaulting my senses so much that I had to stop reading a few times to remind myself that I wasn’t actually there. This period in France is a very dangerous one and that too comes across in the writing, people are betrayed by those they thought they knew and could trust and no one is safe regardless of their rank or status. Although the Goodreads summary above focuses on the main battle at Poitiers this is not the main focus of the book which starts months before this and covers events leading up to the battle, how they affect Thomas Blackstone and his family and also his friends and neighbours.

I have given this book 4/5 stars. There were two things that stopped it getting 5 stars, one was that in the first half of the book there are so many characters and so much going on that it can be a little confusing as to who is who and who did what. Although in the remainder of the story there are still many characters who they are and what they are doing is clearer and this part of the book, with the important battle at Poitiers, benefits from this clarity. The other thing that affected the rating is linked to my previous comment about character numbers. Although this was brilliantly written and obviously well researched it was a bit heavy going to start with and took me far longer than usual to read. While reading I decided to check how many pages were in the book I was surprised to find it was less than 500 as it felt to me more like 800 or more and I think could have benefited from being a little shorter. Also, as a small point on my kindle edition I found a map of the area at the end of the book and I think it would have been more helpful had that been at the beginning.

In short, this is an really good book which gives an excellent insight to a very turbulent time in France’s history and how it affected the people who lived there, both nobles and commoners alike. The descriptions of the battles, both large and small, the people and France itself are excellent and if you want a good historical read or something new to try I would definitely recommend this book. I believe the next in the series is due out in 2016 and I look forward to reading it.