Saturday, 26 January 2019

A Winter Beneath the Stars by Jo Thomas - A Romance set in Snowy Lapland

If you  haven't had enough snow this week, this could be the book for you!
I love snowy places. So far, I've been to Norway, Iceland and Alaska, but not to Sweden, apart from a day in Stockholm.  However, reading A Winter Beneath the Stars by Jo Thomas, has made me want to go there again, though I'm not so sure about herding reindeer!!
Halley has to deliver two hand-made wedding rings to a hotel in Swedish Lapland. Although it's part of her job as a delivery courier, she's doing it as favour for her boss and hoping that, if she can prove herself after two years in her job, then she'll be allowed to take long haul trips.
However, on arriving at the Tallfors Hotel, she finds that her bag must have been switched on the flight, meaning that she's lost all her personal belongings and the precious rings, not to mention her travel notebook in which she's recorded all her trips to tell her husband, Griff.
In the other person's bag, she finds a recipe book which links the case to Daniel Nuhtte, a chef with a restaurant in Stockholm.
Helped by Lars, the hotel receptionist, who thinks that Halley is the answer to all his dreams, she returns to Stockholm to find the restaurant shut and locked up. Outside, Camilla, who used to work there with Daniel, gives her a letter to give to him when she finds him and returns his case. She tells Halley that he has gone back to his home in Tallfors, so she goes back there in the hope of finding him.
Lars knows the farm where Daniel's family live, but says there's no-one there because they've gone to herd their reindeer and bring them back to the homestead, however he can take her to the place where all the Sami people keep their reindeer, perhaps he will be there. This will be on a trip for the wedding party who are spending a week at Tallfors getting to know each other before the wedding, which is quite a challenge for one of the mothers, because there are two brides.
But there is no sign of Daniel or his family, only another grumpy reindeer herder called Bjorn, who says he will take her to Daniel's farm to get her case back, if she helps him take the reindeer home. She has no option but to let Lars go and brave it with Bjorn, despite never having driven a dog sled before, and not particularly liking dogs either.
Jo Thomas paints such a vivid picture of what is feels like to herd the reindeer through the snowy tundra and forest with the snow heavy on the branches and, over the frozen river, counting the reindeer's white bottoms to make sure none have fallen in. She also beautiful describes the growing relationship between Bjorn and Halley in this very romantic setting (if you don't mind the cold!) and Halley's struggle to face up to the personal problem she is running from.
I can thoroughly recommend this novel. A perfect read by the fire on a cold winter's day.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

A Wedding at Christmas by Chrissie Manby - Can you wait until next Christmas to read it?

You may not want to wait until next December to read the final book* about the Benson family, A Wedding at Christmas by Chrissie Manby.  Having read all the others, I could not resist finding out all about Chelsea and Adam's wedding.
Chelsea and Adam's romance has featured in all four of the books, starting with A Proper Family Holiday when they meet on the plane to Lanzarote where she's going to join her family, and Adam's daughter, Lily, wants to sit in Chelsea's window seat.
Chelsea has two sisters who are at loggerheads because Ronnie is jealous of Annabel's luxurious upbringing because she was adopted at birth, and feels that she is going to take over Chelsea's wedding plans.
Their mother, Jacqui, tries to keep the peace whilst still trying to build her relationship with Annabel who she hasn't seen for forty-three years, and also get over her own insecurities at meeting, Sarah, the woman who brought Annabel up and whom she calls Mum.
Chelsea also has similar problems getting to know Frances, the mother of Adam's first wife, Claire, who died three years ago. Nothing she can say or do will please her.
The regular members of the Benson family are all here too: Jacqui and Ronnie's long-suffering husbands Dave and Mark, who get to know Frances's husband, Richard; Sophie and Izzy, newly found cousins when Ronnie and Annabel met; seven-year-old Jack and Lily, great rivals in Lanzarote, but now the best of friends, and Granddad Bill.
He's a great character, eighty-seven-years old, suffering from dementia and confined to a wheelchair, but this does not stop him singing songs punctuated with burps and worse, and supporting his beloved Coventry City. However, his dementia is getting more serious causing him to get confused as to whether he's in the present or in the Second World War when his brother, Eddie, was killed, and his panic attacks are getting more frequent and frightening. Jacqui and Dave fear that he may not make it to next September when the wedding is planned, and ask Chelsea and Adam to move it forwards to Christmas which they willingly do, having no idea just how complicated their wedding arrangements will be.
I really enjoyed this book because Chrissie Manby is excellent at exploring these relationships and making them so real that I feel I really know and love this family. I wish that one day she would write some more about them!

If you want to know more about the Bensons, here are some links to my reviews:

A Proper Family Holiday

A Proper Family Adventure

A Proper Family Christmas

* I've just discovered an e-novella about them too! Falling Leaves and Fireworks!

Friday, 4 January 2019

A Last Chance to Spend Christmas at the Beach Hut with Veronica Henry!

There is still time before the decorations have to come down to spend Christmas at the Beach Hut with Veronica Henry.
I've read so many of her books over the years, including the two other ones about the beach huts at fictional Everdene Sands in Devon, and I loved this one too.
This time, three different people, all with problems that mean they cannot spend Christmas at home, escape to Everdene.
Firstly, Lizzy Kingham, who has just been made redundant, is asked to have her mother-in-law, Cynthia, for Christmas by his ex-wife, Amanda, who is swanning off to the Alps skiing instead of taking her turn. Lizzy is so cross that she walks out of the department store where she bumped into Amanda with the dress she has tried on over her arm, and gets stopped by Security and taken to the manager's office. Then when she gets home, her husband, Simon and eighteen-year-old twins, Hattie and Luke, do not turn up to decorate the Christmas tree because they are too busy at work or seeing their friends. This is the final straw. It makes Lizzy feel that she is being taken for granted and, without all her hard work, there would be no Christmas for them to enjoy. So she leaves them a copy of her Ocado online grocery order and Delia Smith's Christmas for them to do it themselves, and heads off to her friend's beach hut where she and Caroline spent wonderful teenage summers.
Next, along the coast, Harley's mother has moved in with her new boyfriend, Tony, who is threatening Harley, and goading him to fight back so he can prove what waster he is. But he isn't, he's just looking out for his mum and little brother, River, so he too, heads to Everdene where he acts as a caretaker for several of the owners. Caroline is one of these, but has told him that he may stay in her hut if he wants to as, although he's got it ready for their Christmas visit, they won't be coming this year after all.
Lastly, Jack and his young son, Nat, have escaped their families, unable to bear another Christmas without Fran, Nat's mum, who died last December from an embolism, to spend it in the fresh sea air, as far away from the traditional Christmas as they could get in the beach hut next door which has been lent to him by a client.
Lizzy's family are horrified that she's gone and do all they can to find her again so that they can spend Christmas together. Meanwhile, she is spinning her Christmas magic at Everdene and helping Harley and Jack solve their problems.
As always, Veronica Henry gets right into each character, making them really believable, and in reading the book, you find yourself squeezing into the beach hut and sharing a glass of mulled wine with the three runaways as the sea murmurs softly on the sand outside. Fantastic!