Archive | December, 2011

My year in books – favourites of 2011

31 Dec

This year I read 76 books  – that’s two more than last year! To end the year, I’ve chosen my ten favourite books that were published in 2011 and have provided links to my reviews where possible. I found it really hard to narrow my choice down to just ten books this year and even more impossible to pick an absolute favourite as I enjoyed different novels at different times for very different reasons. This year I’ve expanded on the top ten with some ‘favourites’ categories and a ‘readers’ choice’ section for the most popular (most visited) reviews this year. So without further ado, my books of the year, in release date order are:

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (published in January by Headline)

Vampires, witches and daemons; a magical manuscript, rich historical detail and fascinating characters. This was a brilliant paranormal romance to start the year with and  I can’t wait for the follow up Shadow of the Night to be released in July 2012.

The Taker by Alma Katsu (published by Century in April)

A dark and gripping paranormal romance with no vampires! The Taker is a very original take on the immortal love story with the driving force behind most of the action being unrequited love. I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel The Reckoning in June.

The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord-Brown (published by Corvus in April)

I love the title for this book which was the nickname given by fighter pilots to the women who volunteered to fly planes like Spitfires from factories to British airfields during World War Two. In The Beauty Chorus Kate Lord Brown skillfully combines the true historical facts (166 women joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) risking their lives to ferry planes across the country) with the fictional story of three very different women to create a thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking novel.

From London With Love by Jemma Forte (published by Penguin in July)

A fun summer chick lit read that had me gripped and one of my favourite covers of the year too. The Bond theme adds a touch of A-list glamour to the story and as Jessica ties herself in knots trying to keep her identity a secret, From London with Love has a great message about not judging a book by its over and being who you really are.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield (published by Harper in July)

Jenny Wingfield’s debut is one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve read it and 11 year old Swan Lake is one of my favourite characters of the year. Set in 1950’s Arkansas, the story is heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measures and beautifully written following the trials and tribulations of the wonderful Moses clan. My full review will be coming in January.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline ( published in August by Century)

A suprise hit for me! Ernest Cline has created a brilliantly thought out and detailed future dystopian world; combined it with a fantastic virtual reality treasure hunt based on music, film and gaming nostalgia from the 1980′s and underlined it all with (the biggest surprise for me as I read) a really sweet coming of age love story.

Netherwood by Jane Sanderson (published in September by Sphere)

Netherwood is a thoroughly enjoyable historical saga and a fantastic debut from Jane Sanderson. I was completely drawn in to the world that Jane has created, loving both the historical detail and the variety and depth of characters that populate this book.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (published by Harvill Secker in September)

A gorgeous book and an amazing debut from Erin Morgenstern. I loved the story of the mysterious black and white Circus which only opens at night. The book is packed with magic and intrigue. I’ve only just finished reading this one but it shot straight into my top ten!

Miracle on Regent Street by Ali Harris (published in October by Simon and Schuster)

Another of my favourite covers of the year. A classy story filled with vintage glamour. Miracle on Regent Street is Ali Harris’s debut novel and what a debut. Heartfelt, warm, romantic and a lovely Christmassy story too.

It Started with a Kiss by Miranda Dickinson (published by Avon in November)

Last but by no means least, Miranda Dickinson’s third novel is Chick lit perfection from the sparkly pink cover to the brilliantly romantic ending and I thoroughly enjoyed every page in between as Romily Parker goes on a year long search for the handsome hero who kissed her and vanished!

2011 Favourites …

The whole package: The Night Circus

Although I love my Kindle, it will never replace physical books for me and books like this are the reason why. I splashed out on the gorgeous hard back when it was published and I love the book design as much as the story!

Cover love: Miracle on Regent Street by Ali Harris

The cover for this book is really striking and picks up the tone of the book perfectly.

Heroine: Gracie Flowers from (Un)like a Virgin by Lucy-Anne Holmes

Gracie had me smiling from the first page with her wry observations on her job, her boyfriend, friends and family and she’s one of my favourite leading chick it ladies of all time!

Hero: Prince Richard from To Marry a Prince by Sophie Page

I thought this book was a real gem of a romantic comedy and I loved Prince Richard who comes across as a fab leading man – by no means perfect, he has some brilliantly funny and romantic scenes but never seems over the top.

Support: Uncle Dudley and Auntie Mags from It Started With a Kiss by Miranda Dickinson

Dispensers of love, wisdom and support from their narrow-boat home to Romily as she undertakes her quest. They are instrumental in keeping Romily going but are also responsible for much of the book’s warm humour and I loved Aunty Mags’ ‘Cake Therapy’!

The perfect ending: Breakfast At Darcy’s by Ali McNamara

Ali McNamara retains her crown for queen of the romantic ending with a beautiful finale to her latest novel that left me with a big smile on my face.

Readers’ choice: Top five most read reviews of 2011

1. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

2. To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell

3. The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

4. The Taker by Alma Katsu

5. Beautiful Creatures by Lulu Taylor

So that’s my year in books; are your favourites on the list? I’m looking forward to sharing many more reviews with you during 2012 and wish you all a very happy and bookish New Year! x



Manhattan Giveaway Winners!

30 Dec

The winners are …

Kerrie, Kayleigh, Nathalie, Sharon and Claire

Congratulations! I have sent you all an email. Thanks to everyone who entered. Please look out for more giveaways coming in the New Year!

Who’s Afraid of Mr Wolfe? Giveaway Winner!

30 Dec

The winner is …

Sharon G

Congratulations! I have sent you an email. Thanks to everyone who entered. Please look out for more giveaways coming in the New Year!

Countdown to Christmas: the finale!

24 Dec

It’s December 24th and the last day of my Countdown to Christmas feature so I’d like to say a huge ‘Thank You’ to everyone who has taken part, provided giveaways, commented or read my posts. I hope you have all enjoyed the Countdown as much as I have.

Over the last 24 days I’ve blogged 35 posts, including 8 author interviews, 5 guest author posts and 5 festive book reviews. I’ve given away 23 books to 19 lucky readers and I’ve had so much fun getting ready for Christmas. So, as my final post, I thought I’d answer some of my own questions about the festivities and invite you to join in with your answers to any or all of the questions in the box below.

What is your favourite Christmas party tune?

I’m a big fan of Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses to liven up any party :-)

Imagine you are settling down with a lovely Christmas read … what is your perfect Christmas reading setting/scenario?

A real Christmas Tree (can’t beat that smell!), a big cosy chair, a mug of mulled wine and my fleecy slippers and it would be snowing outside.

Which is your must see Christmas film?

Serendipity or The Santa Clause!

What’s your favourite Christmas treat or recipe?

A snowball!

Which two books would you like to find under the Christmas tree this year?

There are so many books on my wish list but two that I’d really like to read soon are The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore.

What is your favourite Christmas tradition?

As you’ve probably gathered, I love everything Christmassy from decorating the tree to reading festive books, buying and wrapping presents and spending time with my family but my favourite personal tradition is settlling down on Christmas Eve with the anticipation in the air and watching a cheesy Christmas film with lots of treats to nibble then putting out a drink and snack for Santa and Rudolph and tucking myself up to wait for Christmas morning. I still get ridiculously excited and I’m ten times worse now I have little ones to get excited with me!

I’ll be taking a little break after today but will be back on New Year’s Eve with my top ten books of 2011 so please join me then!

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas!

Amanda x

Countdown to Christmas interview with … Mel Sherratt

23 Dec

My final Countdown to Christmas guest is Mel Sherratt. I met Mel a couple of times this year at bookish events and not only is she a lovely lady with great taste in shoes and the blogger behind the brilliantly titled High Heels and Book Deals; she has also just released her debut novel, sexy crime thriller, Taunting the Dead. Mel has kindly agreed to let me turn the tables on her today and subject her to my festive questions! Welcome Mel.

You’ve just released your first novel (congratulations!); do you think you’d ever be tempted to write a Christmassy book or a novel set at Christmas?

Thank you, and thank you for having me as part of your Countdown to Christmas. Yes. I love Christmas and the romance of it all. I started writing written women’s fiction before I wrote crime thrillers and I’ve recently published another ebook under a pen name and it’s doing really well, selling over 4000 copies so far. The great thing about ebooks is that you can choose what and when you want to write. I’ll probably write one next year.

You are known for your love of high heels; what are your top tips for surviving the Christmas parties wearing killer heels?!

Gel cushions, definitely. And a pair of flat shoes to slip into for the journey home, if your handbag is big enough!

And following on from that do you have a special pair of Christmas heels you’d like to share with us?

For the party season, it has to be these. Comfort wise they are great, even though they are high. And they go with any little black dress.

What is or would be the best book-related Christmas gift that Santa could deliver to you?

Best book – This year it would be Belinda Bauer’s new book, out in January, FINDERS KEEPERS. I’ve really enjoyed her previous two.

Best book related – That would be a book deal with a mainstream publisher. Despite self publishing TAUNTING THE DEAD, it will always be my ultimate dream.

What is your favourite Christmas tradition?

I love the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day when the weather is cold and dark and I can snuggle up on my settee. For some reason, it seems okay any time that week to crack open the Baileys, grab a handful of chocolates and settle back with a good book. Bliss.

If you could spend Christmas anywhere, where would it be and what would you be reading?

I’ve never wanted to go away at Christmas. I prefer to stay at home. I love the hustle and bustle and, yes, the chance of snow. This year I shall be reading THE MURDER WALL by Mari Hannah, out next April. I’ve kept it especially for my Christmas tradition.

What is your favourite Christmassy film?

Home Alone – ‘keep the change you filthy animal!’

And finally … what can readers look forward to next from Mel Sherratt?

Hmm, that’s a tricky one. I’ve written six novels so far. Three of them are in a series called The Mitchell Estate. Predominantly, it’s for women lovers of crime – the tagline I use is real women, real problems, real crime.  I might bring those out as ebooks in the New Year. I also have two follow ups for my character, DS Allie Shenton, from TAUNTING THE DEAD. And a great idea for a psychological thriller. And maybe I might reveal my pen name too…

Merry Christmas!

Thanks Mel and Merry Christmas!

You can find out more about Mel and her books at: www.highheelsandbookdeals.blogspot.com

Countdown to Christmas Giveaway: Manhattan by Ronnie Cooper

22 Dec

Today is release day for Ronni Cooper’s second novel Manhattan and to celebrate publisher Sphere are providing five copies for me to give away. I’m reading Manhattan at the moment and it is an addictive page-tuner of a read that you do not want to miss out on!

Meet the three women who rule Manhattan …

Raine: Born in Brooklyn, the undisputed queen of the City, Raine owns the sexiest, starriest nightclub in New York – and no one is ever going to take her crown.

Mei-Lin: The beautiful, enigmatic madam moves in all the right circles – but it wasn’t always that way. Now her American dream has become a nightmare and she may have to pay the ultimate price for freedom.

Stevie: Once the lead singer of the biggest female rock band in the world, Stevie is now flying solo – but she has a secret that could destroy her.

Now all three women are about to discover that payback is the biggest bitch of all…

To enter this giveaway just leave a ‘pick me’ comment in the box below and I’ll use random.org to choose five winners after the closing date. This giveaway is open until midnight on 24th December. UK entries only please. Good luck!

Book review: The Night Before Christmas by Scarlett Bailey

22 Dec

All Lydia’s ever wanted is a perfect Christmas…

So when her oldest friends invite her to spend the holidays with them, it seems like the answer to her dreams. She’s been promised log fires, roasted chestnuts, her own weight in mince pies; all in a setting that looks like something out of a Christmas card.

However, her winter wonderland is about to be ruined by the ghosts of boyfriends past, present and potential future. She’s snowed in with her current boyfriend, her old flame and a hunky stranger. Well, three (wise) men is traditional at this time of year…

This is Scarlett Bailey’s debut novel and if you’ll pardon the pun; it’s a cracker! The Night Before Christmas is exactly the sort of read that I like to curl up with at this time of year but despite the huge number of Christmassy releases it still felt fresh and I definitely think Scarlett is one to watch on the Chick Lit front.

The story is told in the third person which I felt made it stand out as a little bit different from many of the books I’ve read recently that focus on a lead female, telling the story from her point of view. This is still very much Lydia’s story but I liked the different perspective . I also liked Lydia; she’s a bit of a romantic at heart but also a career girl and it was interesting to see the different sides to her character; romantic movie and book lover, focused career girl barrister, friend and girlfriend. Lydia is very idealistic in many ways, dreaming of a ‘perfect’ Christmas to make up for the horrible ones she suffered as a child.

As the book begins and she heads for her friends’ picture perfect hotel in the snowy Lake District with her boyfriend Stephen (who is carrying an engagement ring) it looks like everything might be about to finally work out for Lydia, but of course things don’t quite go according to plan once the couple arrive at their destination! I loved the nod to A Christmas Carol in this book as Lydia not only has to deal with her present boyfriend (who she’s not sure she wants to marry) but upon arrival is confronted with a past boyfriend who broke her heart and the added confusion of a hunky builder who could just be her future love!  I loved the romance of the story and wondering who Lydia would eventually end up with made for fun reading even if she does make some big mistakes along the way!

In addition to Lydia and Stephen there is a great supporting cast in the book as Lydia’s three closest friends, their partners and children gather for Christmas. Friends Jo, Katy and Alex made me smile as I could see exaggerated versions of my own university friends in them and I loved the banter between the four female characters. Bailey captured the dynamic between them and their partners really well and I thought Katy’s children were fab, making me laugh with their off the wall comments and straight to the point questions. I also loved the fact that all of the characters, especially Lydia, were flawed and made mistakes and the wrong choices during the book.

This is the book to choose if you are looking for a festive story that is set completely at Christmas as the main part of the story runs from 21st-27th December. It’s also the book for you if you’re looking for a lovely romantic festive read that focuses on what Christmas is really about; being with the people you love. A great debut and I’m already looking forward to reading more from Scarlett!

5/5

Chicklit giveaway winner

21 Dec

The winner is …

Michele

Congratulations! I have sent you an email. Thanks to everyone who entered.  Please check out the ‘Giveaways’ link at the top of the page for more chances to win as part of my Countdown to Christmas.

Countdown to Christmas: Guest Post with … Pauline Barclay

21 Dec

My guest today is Pauline Barclay author of Satchfield Hall, Mangnoila House and Sometimes It Happens. Pauline lives in sunny Lanzarote and in her guest post today shares her experiences of Christmas on the island. Welcome Pauline.

Christmas in the Sun by Pauline Barclay

When I think of Christmas, images of snow scenes, pine Christmas trees decorated with coloured balls, log fires crackling as flames leap up the chimney and streets decked with lights and decorations spring to mind, but living in a sunny climate can be rather different. For a start the temperatures are more likely to give you sunburn rather than frost bite. Here on Lanzarote, where we live, Christmas is not as obvious as in many northern European countries, though each year it becomes a little more festive and commercialised than the previous year. Though not with freezing temperatures!

This year the shops started adding their Christmas goodies as early as November, though what you see in the shops is a long way from what you’d expect to see in the UK. Chocolates are one of the main features in the supermarkets and huge joints of Serrano hams which hang on hooks around the store.

One of the traditions on the island is the planting of hundreds of red poinsettias on roundabouts, verges and in municipal gardens; their vibrant red leaves add a special festive splash to the sunny island. Model nativity scenes are also popular down here, particularly with many hotels creating a Lanzarote style display in their entrance gardens. Eye catching for guests and passers by to stop and admire.

The open air shopping centre in Puerto del Carmen, Biosfera, takes on the full spirit of Christmas with thousands of lights and a huge Christmas tree and through the audio system, traditional and popular Christmas songs play.

The island has many nationalities, residents and visitors who celebrate Christmas differently. For the Germans, Scandinavians and Spanish their Christmas feast is Christmas Eve, for the British it is Christmas Day and for the local Lanzarote people it is a mixture between their own traditional festival on 5th January, The Three Kings and Christmas.

In the Canary’s and across Spain it is the traditional parade of The Three Kings on 5th January, El dia de Reyes as the fiesta day is known. On Lanzarote it is still marked with a cavalcade of camels carrying three kings through numerous towns on the island.  The kings throw sweets and small gifts to children and followers. It is also the time when gifts are exchanged, the children getting most of their toys on this day.  A special cake is also eaten and every bakery on the island will be busy making this cake for El dia de Reyes. The cake, known as the Roscon de Reyes, looks like a large doughnut and is filled with lashings of cream and nearly always includes a small statue of a King. Truly delicious!

The island is also a place where many people arrive for Christmas; some to get away from the traditional Christmas back home, but all to enjoy the weather. Normally at this time of the year it is warm and sunny, beautiful enough to sit on the beach. Last year it was the hottest December for several decades, not only did the turkey roast, but so did everyone else!

Over the years our Christmas has varied, some years we have gone away, others out to a British restaurant and some staying at home with friends, but so far we have always sat out on the terrace eating our traditional Christmas feast. Our Christmas feast is very traditional and these days you can buy most things on the island to make it truly festive.

This is just a little insight in to our Christmas in the sun, but whatever your plans are for your Christmas, I hope it will be filled with happiness, love and friendship. Wishing you and your families a very Merry Christmas.

Thanks Pauline!

You can find out more about Pauline and her novels on her website at: www.paulinebarclay.co.uk and on her blog at: http://paulinembarclay.blogspot.com

Book review: Coming Home … for Christmas by Patricia Scanlan

20 Dec

Today I’m welcoming fellow blogger Sharon from Jera’s Jamboree. Sharon is an avid reader and reviews a great variety of books on her blog: http://shazjera.blogspot.com/ She also writes for http://loveahappyending.com/ with a her regular Shaz’s Stars feature. Welcome Sharon!

Two sisters…two very different lives.

Alison’s American dream is in tatters. Her highflying career is on the skids in the financial meltdown. Her Upper East Side apartment is now way beyond her means. But pride prevents her from telling her family back home just how bad things are. Olivia is fraught trying to juggle family, career, preparations for Christmas and organize a surprise party for their mother’s seventieth birthday. How she envies, and sometimes resents, her sister Alison and her life of excitement and affluence in New York.

Coming home is the last thing Alison wants to do, especially now that she’s met a rather attractive, sexy, down to earth neighbour who doesn’t believe in ‘non exclusive dating’ unlike her wealthy boyfriend, Jonathan. But family ties are strong. Alison and Olivia sort their differences, the party throws up a few surprises and Christmas brings changes for Alison that she could never have imagined before coming home.

The first chapter sets the scene for us with Alison Dunwoody in New York.  She has her own challenges to face with the loss of her career and alongside that, the loss of the high-flying life she’s worked so hard for.

Next, we meet older sister Olivia Dunwoody, still living in the village where they were born, married with young children and working part-time.  She also faces challenges in how to co-ordinate everything, which leaves no time for herself.  She resents Alison from her perceptions of her life without cares and worries.

Two very different challenges …

In her new apartment, Alison gets to know temporary neighbour JJ Connelly.  At the airport, before they get too close, JJ tells Alison something from his past.  Whilst in Ireland, they meet briefly and their bond becomes closer.

I loved the Dunwoody Christmas family traditions and they way these scenes are written, you feel as if you a part of it.  Their mother Esther is very intuitive as to her daughters personalities and what they feel/want from life.  Esther’s relationship with husband Liam is close and loving.

During her trip home, Alison can re-evaluate her life surrounded by the love of her family.  She returns to New York with a different view of her life and what family and values mean to her.

In a way I was disappointed with Coming Home.  I must have imagined hints where none existed as I was waiting for something to happen and at the end, felt the story hadn’t actually gone anywhere.  I didn’t feel any ‘passion’ as it felt like I was skimming the surface.  I feel more could have been made of Alison and JJ’s relationship.  Having said that, I am a great one for family life and there’s enough of this to have kept me reading.

Coming Home … for Christmas is a light read and at 252 pages in length, a quick and easy read.  So if you want to do some relaxing in-between those frantic Christmas festivities then this is the book for you.  It’s also easy to put down, pick up and carry on with the story.

2/5