The scent of pine fills the crisp air as local villagers select their perfect tree. Picking the tree is the easy bit, creating a perfect Christmas is a bit trickier . . .
Nina has the most magical job in the world, matching customers with their perfect Christmas tree. Working at Christmas Tree Farm is always fun and full of laughter, but the weight of past tragedy bears down on her. Her admirer is a great distraction, but is he the right man for her? Holly is just trying to be a normal teenager, having to deal with the mean girls in her class. But then the most handsome boy at school takes an interest in her. Have all her Christmases come at once? Angie is trying to bring her family together and save her broken marriage. It’s not something she can force, but it’s the only gift she craves. Will her Christmas wish come true? It’s the season of goodwill, and at Christmas Tree Farm anything could happen . . .
I wait at the end of the Costa counter, clutching a spoon in my hand, watching the barista put together my hazelnut latte. All morning I’ve been dreaming of this latte. It’s my treat for working part-time in the chemist and wearing this awful nylon uniform, which clings to my woollen tights.
‘Hazelnut latte!’ The barista shouts past me as if he can’t see me waiting by the countertop. I step forward and receive the warm offering, eager to scoop the cream from the top as I walk home.
‘Holly!’ screams a group of teenage girls from the seated area. I turn around and instantly regret reacting to their outburst. Six smirking faces, with smudged eye-liner and overpainted mouths, creepily smirk back. ‘Come and join us!’ hollers Paris, one of the mean girls from school. A cackle of laughter bursts from the other five as they try to hide behind each other.
Head down, I dash towards the exit, my blonde ponytail swinging with each step.
They’re about as funny as chlamydia, as my best friend, Demi, would say.
Once I make it to Long Street, I stare fixedly ahead and walk past the remainder of the coffee shop’s large window where I can undo the lid on my latte to scoop and walk. Scoop and enjoy. Scoop and relax. Scoop and forget.
‘Holly!’ a male voice calls from behind me. ‘Wait!’
I continue to stride along Atherstone’s busy street. No one in this world can make me stop and stand, giving those six bitches something to watch or even record on their phones to post on social media. As soon as I reach the safe frontage of the chip shop next door, I stop and turn.
It’s Alfie Woodward. My stomach flips, and I nearly drop my latte. I quickly plunge my spoon into my coat pocket; it feels babyish to be scooping cream when it’s Alfie. Every girl in year eleven, no, scrap that, every girl in our school wants to be friends with Alfie Woodward. He’s the ‘darling of the ladies’, as my mum would put it. And, get me, Alfie Woodward, from the back row in chemistry class, actually knows my name. Not a reaction that the mean girls would have intended for me.
‘Hi. I didn’t think you’d heard me,’ he says, zipping up his jacket as he nears. His dark hair is shorter than in yesterday’s chemistry class – obviously, that has been his Saturday morning task.
‘Sorry… I… well.’ I shrug, looking up into his smiling face. What am I supposed to call the name-hollering in Costa?
‘I was inside with Jordan and Tom. I heard them catcalling you. Anyway, ignore them… I was wondering if you were going to the youth club on Tuesday night? I go most weeks. Your mate Demi goes sometimes, but you’re never there!’
I shrug. What can I say? Err nope, because the mean girls go every week? Or how about, yeah, sure, I’ll turn up, get verbally abused for two hours and return home to cry… sure, save me a seat, and I’ll see you at seven on Tuesday?
‘There are others that attend, not just those witches,’ he adds as if he can read my thoughts. ‘I could call round for you if you want?’
Alfie Woodward calling for me!
I blush. I see his blue eyes swirl and scan my features, taking in the subtle change in my pale complexion. Holly Turner, for once in your goddamned life play it cool.
‘Well?’ A tiny smile frames his top row of perfect teeth.
I purse my lips together to hide the metal train tracks that I begged my parents for, but now wish I’d never had. Right now, I’d much prefer my unsightly teeth buckle.
I give the smallest nod, having lost the ability to communicate in English. In fact, if Alfie stands before me for very much longer, with his new haircut, smart zipped jacket and white trainers, there is a chance I may abandon control of my grip and lose this latte to the pavement.
‘OK. I’ll drop round just before seven on Tuesday.’
Brain now is the time to function, be it a simple OK. Please don’t let me down, not right now.
‘Thanks, Alfie, that’d be nice of you. See you.’ I turn about quickly. It seems rude, but I can’t face him any longer. My smile is going to burst forth, and I’m about to do the geekiest grin ever witnessed on Atherstone’s Long Street.
‘OK, see you in school,’ he calls, as I head towards home.
‘Yeah, first thing in chemistry.’
‘No, you’ve got history first, then geography…’
I attempt a nonchalant wave. Demi is not going to believe this.
Erin Green – Guest post.
Five delights of being an author
Meeting and chatting with readers is definitely my number one delight since my debut was published. I am amazed that within days of a book being published readers and bloggers have finished reading and are wanting more. Their questions range from specifics details about a certain character through to enquiring about my current writing project. I love the way readers are unsure about interrupting your conversation to ask questions but within minutes are chatting away like an old-school friend. I’m delighted when they’ve fallen in love with a particular male character and surprised to hear their reasons for liking him. Some readers have taken some convincing that each hero isn’t based on an actual male in real life.
Spending my time plotting and writing new books – my philosophy in life is to live, love and laugh so, it’s essential to me that these three elements are woven into my narrative. It isn’t my intention to bring a tear to the eye of my readers, but it has happened to many while reading my first three books. I always feel slightly guilty when I’m told, but really it is the best review I can ever receive.
Research has taken on a surprising new role in my life. I can literally spend hours searching through records, business directories and historical maps at my local library – which allows me to recreate specific locations and settings. On numerous occasions, I have found myself distracted by a sudden find which takes my muse in a new direction – it’s a light bulb moment when the surprise find links neatly into the narrative. I have learnt so much about topics that I’d previously known nothing about from Christmas tree species, steam trains, genetics and urban myths – which is a hidden benefit.
Being asked to sign books with quirky messages of love and appreciation. I’m always thrilled to sign books purely because I waited so long. I always panic that I’ll spell their name incorrectly and ruin their book so end up spelling and repeating even the easiest spellings to ensure I get it right. It is bound to happen at some time, and I know I’ll feel gutted and probably write a mini-apology alongside my signature.
Seeing a new book cover for the first time is indescribable. You spend the morning awaiting an email from your publishers, but on arrival, you are frozen with fear and can’t open it. Seriously, how ridiculous is that! Thankfully for me, once I’ve opened the email, I’ve fallen in love with all three of my book covers and raced about showing anyone who is interested. Later, when the book cover appears on Amazon, it suddenly becomes very real, and my countdown begins to publication day.
Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Christmas tree, and this lovely, festive tale set on a Christmas tree farm follows the lives of three woman, as they try to find happiness.
Nina’s story is the most poignant. Instantly likeable you struggle to understand why she is so unhappy but once revealed, you want her story to end happily. Holly is about to experience her first love, something we can all remember, even though some of us will have to think back. Her story is gentle and romantic. Angie is trying to reclaim lost love; sometimes you have to lose something to appreciate it.
All the stories are separate yet linked by others in the story, the setting provides festive magic and reading this lets you remember some of the best and worst things about this iconic time of year.
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Erin was born and raised in Warwickshire, where she resides with her husband. She writes contemporary novels focusing on love, life and laughter. An ideal day for Erin involves writing, people watching and copious amounts of tea. Erin was delighted to be awarded The Katie Fforde Bursary in 2017 and previously, Love Stories ‘New Talent Award’ in 2015. Twitter Facebook
Christmas is a joyous time, but not everyone is merry and bright. Nicola is a star at the top of the corporate ladder, but her personal life is a disaster. Her office affair has run its course, and the last thing she wants to think about is Christmas. A night of cancelled trains and festive Christmas carols at Waterloo Station is the last straw… Dmitri loves conducting his pop–up choir during the festive season, meeting people, and spreading joy and cheer around London. But he carries deep secrets from his past that robbed him of his dream to become a concert pianist. Can two lonely hearts and souls be unlocked by music and moonlight and will they discover the healing power of love?
Guest Post – Music, Moonlight and Inspiration – Lauren Westwood
As a writer, I’m often asked where I get my inspirations from. The simple answer is that inspirations come from everywhere! For me, usually, a book will start out with just a simple idea or image, or some kind of trigger event from real life. For Moonlight on the Thames, the opening scene was inspired by a real choir who were performing last year at Waterloo Station during the Christmas season, and a real delayed train. I’m happy to say that unlike my main character, Nicola, I did not create a scene (nor, unfortunately, did I meet the love of my life as a result). But thanks to that night and that choir, my book was born.
To create the two main characters, I also drew on my past. Nicola is a high-powered investment banker, and over the years I’ve dealt with a lot of those in my day-job as an in-house lawyer. I thought it would be interesting for the heroine to be the ‘alpha’ character in the book, though this was somewhat risky. She’s not instantly likeable, but I’m hoping that she’s interesting and different enough for people to stick with her, find out why she is like she is, and see her story unfold.
In contrast, Dmitri is more likeable upfront, but he too has secrets from his past that adversely affect his whole life and forced him to give up his career as a concert pianist. Many years ago, I studied music at university, and though I was not suited for a life as a performer, I did encounter some brilliant musicians who inspired me to want to write about music. There is truly an agony and ecstasy about being a musician, and it takes a very particular personality type to be able to achieve the focus and sacrifice that is required.
The piano music that Dmitri plays in the book was also an inspiration for the tone of the book and also some of the scenes. It was great fun trying to search out the perfect pieces that evoked the mood and emotion that I was going for. And while it is hard to ‘describe’ the effect of music in words, I have put together a playlist to accompany the book that hopefully allows the music to speak for itself. The link is here: http://www.laurenwestwoodwriter.com/playlist.
Finally, I also drew inspiration from a trip I took twenty years ago to Russia. There is something incredibly poetic about the country, its past, its people, its music and literature, that resonates with me. Growing up in America in the 70s and 80s, we were brainwashed into thinking of Russia as ‘the evil empire’ governed by dictators whose fingers were on the red button (hmm, who does that sound like nowadays?) So, it was interesting to travel there myself, form my own opinions, and meet some of the people. I also really like Russian literature, and I have a lovely illustrated book of Russian fairytales with lacquer box designs that inspired the retelling of the Firebird that is in the book.
So, all in all, Moonlight on the Thames was a fun book to imagine and write, and I really hope that readers will enjoy it. I am grateful to Aria for the lovely cover, and also for believing in my somewhat dubious interpretation of an ‘escapist Christmas romance’ that also covers many darker, more serious issues.
If you do read Moonlight on the Thames, please do leave a review or a rating where you purchased it. This helps so much to spread the word to people who might not otherwise find the book.
Most of all, best wishes for the rest of the year and the holiday season.
‘Moonlight on the Thames’ is not the lighthearted festive read the title suggests but it does have romance, a fairytale quality and a Christmas message.
Nicola’s successful career masks an empty life and deep, damaging secrets that seem worse at Christmas time. Dimitri’s giving nature is especially evident at Christmas, but he is finding it increasingly difficult to hide the despair and guilt he feels. The couple’s meeting is festive, and Nicola is more ‘Scrooge’than ‘Santa Claus’, but their serendipitous meeting makes them both look at their empty lives.
Poignant and romantic this festive tale focuses on those less fortunate at this time of the year. Dimitri and Nicola’s life are both blighted despite their outward success, and this story explores their inner turmoil and seemingly unlikely romance. Both protagonists are authentic and flawed and carry a damaging amount of emotional trauma but their courage and need to find more in their lives lets both characters develop in a believable and heartwarming way.
Music in all its forms underscores this story and gives it a uniqueness not usually found in festive reads. There are no sugar-coated platitudes in this story, just two people trying to make the best of shattered lives but the outcome makes all the angst worthwhile and leaves an important message in the readers’ minds.
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Lauren Westwood writes romantic women’s fiction and is also an award-winning children’s writer. Originally from California, she now lives in England in a pernickety old house built in 1602, with her partner and three daughters.
Laurie is pretty sure love, at first sight, doesn’t exist. After all, life isn’t a scene from the movies, is it? But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there’s a moment of pure magic…and then her bus drives away.
Laurie thinks she’ll never see the boy from the bus again. But at their Christmas party a year later, her best friend Sarah introduces her to the new love of her life. Who is, of course, the boy from the bus.
Determined to let him go, Laurie gets on with her life. But what if fate has other plans?
As a believer in serendipity, this book blurb appeals, and even though it’s more about life choices rather than fate, this magical story makes a lovely festive read.
Laurie, in her early twenties, is still looking for the perfect job, working as a hotel receptionist pays the bills but doesn’t fulfil her journalist potential. Travelling across London at Christmas time she makes eye contact with a similarly aged man sitting at the bus stop, they share a moment and so the story begins.
The reader shares Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s day, her birthday and other memorable events for the next decade. Jack and Laurie are in and out of each other’s lives after their first fateful meeting but are they destined for a happy ever after and who will lose out if they are?
This story flows from year to year, reflecting the seasons and the emotional changes in Laurie, Jack and their friends and family. Romance, humour and poignant moments resonate as their lives’ move on, with believable quirks of fate that inexplicably draw them back together.
The tenth year is iconic for everyone. Jack and Laurie finally face their destiny but will they make it happen or watch it drift away. The final chapters laced with festive spirit and heartwarmingly romantic, give this charmingly addictive story the ending it deserves.
A festive tale with a difference, and an enjoyable read whatever the season.
I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Sicily, 1977 Ten-year-old Lily and family arrive for their annual summer holiday in Sicily. Adopted as a toddler, Lily’s childhood has been idyllic.
But a chance encounter with a local woman on the beach changes everything…. 10 years later… Ever since that fateful summer Lily’s picture-perfect life, and that of her family has been in turmoil.
The secrets of the baking hot shores of Sicily are calling her back, and Lily knows that the answers she has been so desperately seeking can only be found if she returns to her beloved island once more…
A family drama set in iconic Sicily initially in 1977. Lily’ lives a privileged life, including an annual holiday to the same villa in Sicily. She knows she was a survivor of an earthquake in Sicily in 1968, but nothing of her birth family and that isn’t problematic until she meets a stranger on the beach, who upsets the family dynamics and changes Lily’s life forever. Lily returns to island ten years later, to find out who she is.
Family secrets are at the centre of this story, brought to life with the vivid description of its setting in Sicily. Character driven, it examines how one chance encounter can change relationships and threaten the core values of a previously happy family. Lily’s character development is the greatest as she moves from childhood to adulthood and finally discovers her roots. It highlights that well-meant actions and decisions sometimes have unforeseen consequences.
If you are looking for a poignant, deep holiday, read then try this perfect escape to Sicily and all its secrets.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Penny Feeny has lived and worked in Cambridge, London and Rome. Since settling in Liverpool many years ago, she has been an arts administrator, editor, radio presenter and advice worker. Her short fiction has been widely published and broadcast and won several awards. Her first novel, That Summer in Ischia, was one of the summer of 2011’s best selling titles.
Do our secrets make us who we are? Santina is spending her final days at her home, Villa San Vito, in the beautiful Italian town of Positano. As she decides the fate of the magnificent eighteenth-century palazzo, she must confront the choices that led her here.
In 1949, hoping to escape poverty, young Santina becomes housekeeper to a distinguished British major and his creative, impulsive wife, Adeline.
When they move to Positano, Santina joins them, raising their daughter as Adeline’s mental health declines. With each passing year, Santina becomes more deeply entwined with the family, trying to navigate her complicated feelings for a man who is much more than an employer―while hiding secrets that could shatter the only home she knows . . .
‘The Secret Legacy’ is a saga of Santina’s life in the twentieth century against a vividly described Italian setting. Varied and detailed with plenty of rich imagery of Italy and its food coupled with historical detail from Santina’s early life there is a pleasing authenticity to this story. The forbidden romance is everything you could wish, and the characters develop believably. Perfect summer reading.
I received a copy of this book from HQ via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The Plus One [n] informal a person who accompanies an invited person to a social function or a reminder of being single, alone and absolutely plus none
Three little words all single ladies dread…
Polly Spencer is fine. She’s single, turning thirty and only managed to have sex twice last year (both times with a Swedish banker called Fred), but seriously, she’s fine. Even if she’s still stuck at Posh! magazine writing about royal babies and the chances of finding a plus one to her best friend’s summer wedding are looking worryingly slim.
But it’s a New Year, a new leaf and all that. Polly’s determined that over the next 365 days she’ll remember to shave her legs, drink less wine and generally get her s**t together. Her latest piece is on the infamous Jasper, Marquess of Milton, undoubtedly neither a plus one nor ‘the one’. She’s heard the stories, there’s no way she’ll succumb to his charms…
Fun, bubbly and romantic with plenty of hot love scenes and 21st- century humour and wit.
The characters are vivid and the relationships dynamic. A simple plot is the charm of this type of book. There are characters to meet and get to know and romance to enjoy. This book delivers a fast-paced, humorous story, that’s easy to read, the perfect place to escape to plus one or not.
I received a copy of this book from HQ via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Abby Field loves every inch of Meadowsweet Nature Reserve on the idyllic Suffolk coast where she lives and works. Especially Swallowtail House, the rambling but empty country house that seems to look out at her each time she passes its shut-up windows.
When a TV wildlife programme chooses a rival location for their new series, Meadowsweet is under threat – unless Abby can whip up a plan to keep the visitors flocking. But she finds herself distracted by the arrival of a brooding – and annoyingly handsome new neighbour… bad-boy novelist, Jack Westcoat.
With the pressure on, Abby and her cute rescue huskie, Raffle, must pull something special out of the bag. But with Jack in need of a good friend – and Abby feeling the pull of attraction, she can sense her resolve fluttering away…
I read three-quarters of this lovely story as a serial, so I have reviewed the complete book in four parts:
The Dawn Chorus -I love the title and the cover, both epitomise the book’s ethos perfectly. Set against the background of a nature reserve on the Suffolk coast, ‘The Dawn Chorus’ the first part of the book introduces the mysterious house, abandoned in heartbreak on the edge of the reserve and a cast of delightfully quirky characters whose love of nature brings them together.
Abby loves her job, which brings her into direct contact with the public and the inhabitants of the reserve on a daily basis. She is fascinated by the faded glory of the large house, belonging to the reserve’s owner Penelope. No longer lived it possesses a mysterious, tragic quality that Abby longs to explore. Abby guards her heart fiercely. Let down by her father and drawn to toxic relationships she prefers to share life with Raffle her husky.
The Lovebirds– New Year starts off part two. Abby’s hoping for new beginnings, and when she unexpectedly spends New Years Day alone with her mother, she finds her parent wanting to build bridges.
The nature reserve is still in need of new ideas to keep it afloat, and Jack seems determined to be involved. Penelope, the owner of the sanctuary, is keeping secrets and Abby realises she needs to find out what they are if she’s going to help.
Abby’s fascination with Swallowtail house continues, and Jack seems to share her interest, leading to sharing and insights into both their troubled pasts. Their chequered relationship dominates, and this part of the book ends with more secrets than solutions.
Twilight Song – Spring is a time of new beginnings, and while this is true for the inhabitants of the Nature Reserve, problems loom on the horizon that threatens its future.
The couple’s gentle romance dominates this third part of the book. Abby and Jack’s behaviour and willingness to help the other signify their deepening emotions but their pasts make them cautious.
Penelope still keeps her problems secret, but Abby sees another side to her boss, which surprises her. Abby’s plans for the reserve are a success but will they be enough?
When you think this part of the story is ending on a high, someone from the past threatens Abby’s happiness. The mystery of the house remains untold and with the cliffhanger ending reading the final part of this charming story is a given for me.
Birds of a Feather- The final part lives up to my expectations. Abby and Jack’s relationship deepens in the face of adversity, but events force them to part to achieve their individual career goals and help the people and animals who depend on them.
New challenges for both Abby and Jack and finally we discover the answers to the secrets of Swallowtail house. The romance in this part of the story is sublime.
I will miss the characters of Meadowsweet, especially the adorable Raffle. The bird and butterfly life featured at the beginning of each chapter makes this story unique, adding depth to the authentic romantic tale.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Fiction, Harper Collins via NetGalley in return for an honest review.