Here’s the gorgeous cover for the new Christmassy story from @HollyMAuthor. It’s filled with snow, lashings of hot chocolate and a beautiful love story. The Gift of Happiness is out October 25th but you can pre-order your copy today
This time we follow Eden and her best friend Dougie. They have been best friends since they were children, but Eden has been in love with him for the last 12 years but feels that Dougie doesn’t feel the same for her. All is ok whilst he was living in New York as she could forget about him and get on with her life, but when Dougie decides to move back to Hope Island, Eden begins to question whether she can see him every day and him dating other women.
It was great being back on Hope Island and meeting up with Bella, Isaac and the gang. I love how Holly manages to seamlessly interlink the different stories so you feel as though you have never been away. I love finding out what’s been going on and developments in the lives of my favourite characters, but also seeing life on Hope Island from a different perspective.
We met Eden and Dougie in the previous Hope Island books and they were characters whom were easily likeable and I was thrilled to finally be able to read their story.
Holly manages to create such beautiful stories, the characters are always realistic and easily relatable. The plots are always well thought out, beautifully descriptive and take me as the reader, on a roller coaster ride of emotion.
Christmas at Mistletoe Cove was no exception. I fell in love with the Island and the islanders all over again. Holly had me hooked from page one, her beautifully descriptive and easy writing style made this an enjoyable read. The words flowed and weaved their magic, portraying scenes which quite literally blew my mind. As always I can vividly picture the scenes and the characters, Holly’s ability to tell a tale is incredible. I was hooked, reading late in to the night, desperate to see where Holly would take me next.
I love learning more about he characters and discovering how their lives develop and their relationships build and grow. Holly has an amazing ability to draw the reader in, with her catchy plots and side stories and interlinking lives, making this, as is the case with all her books a compelling read.
Even if you haven’t read the other books in the series, don’t wait. Pick this up. You won’t be sorry! Not only do you have gorgeous locations, fascinating characters and relationships, but you also have the added bonus of Christmas cheer and sparkle. What else can you ask for? This is definitely a book to be on your Christmas wish list. This is a compelling and beautifully written Christmas book, guaranteed to add some sparkle and joy to your life this Christmas. It certainly put a smile on my face.
I hope there is more to come from Hope Island 🙂
Holly has been writing for 8 years. She was shortlisted for the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance. Her short story won the Sunlounger competition and was published in the Sunlounger anthology. She won the Carina Valentine’s competition at the Festival of Romance 2013 with her novel The Guestbook. She was shortlisted for Best Romantic Read, Best eBook and Innovation in Romantic Fiction at the Festival of Romance 2014. She is the bestselling author of 18 books
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Hi , Thank you for having me on your blog today. Can you imagine Christmas without Santa? Well, very soon I am going to have to face up to this as my daughter is ten years old and I feel I have done very well for her to have believed in Santa this long. However, I know it won’t be for much longer and I am dreading the day it happens. But why? Surely it’s all part of growing up? I used to have perfectly happy Christmases as an adult before my daughter came along – so why do I hate the idea of her not believing? I think it’s because it is at this point that the magic of childhood starts to fade when they realise that the impossible is no longer possible, that magical worlds don’t actually exist* and evil cannot be conquered with special powers. Also, if I’m being honest, for the last few years I have been able to indulge my love of Christmas, make it extra special and go slightly overboard on the silliness.
In our house we have a visit from the elves who stay for most of December and do something naughty every night before Santa picks them up on Christmas Eve. I think this has helped to keep the magic alive as my daughter totally believes that the elves come to life and get up to all sorts of things because each morning the evidence is indisputable – paper chains hung everywhere, marshmallows strewn across the kitchen and two elves holding more aloft ready to throw, elves in her remote control car and a makeshift race track in the living room and one of my all time favourites: green elf wee in the toilet and toilet roll unraveled all around the bathroom. I mean no grown up would do this so it has to be the elves, right?
I fear the elves will soon have to find another house to visit and create mayhem in and perhaps I will replace them with a treasure hunt, which just won’t be the same. We also put out our stockings on Christmas Eve (yes we all do this) because who doesn’t like a stocking full of presents on Christmas morning? My husband and I open our stocking presents with as much glee as the child to see what silly things we’ve bought each other – it’s a great excuse to go a bit daft.
I will still continue to fill a stocking with all the small items I know she’ll love but perhaps knowing that I’ve done it won’t be quite the same as the magic of the elves gathering all the information to get her these much wanted gifts or Father Christmas making his journey around the world in one night to deliver them in person. Or, as my husband points out, perhaps she will understand on another level how much she is totally adored by two adults who will go to great lengths to make her life as magical as possible for as long as we can. That or she has plenty of evidence to get us both sectioned!
Have a very Merry Christmas!
*I do still harbour a hope that there are magical worlds that are hidden from us, most likely for our own safety.
by Lily Graham
The Writing Desk
Even now it seemed to wait.
Part of me, a small irrational part, needed it to stay exactly where it was, atop the faded Persian rug, bowing beneath the visceral pulse of her letters and the remembered whisper from the scratch of her pen. The rosewood chair, with its slim turned-out legs, suspended forevermore in hopeful expectation of her return. Like me, I wondered if it couldn’t help but wish that somehow she still could.
I hadn’t had the strength to clear it, nor the will. Neither had Dad and so it remained standing sentry, as it had throughout the years with Mum at the wheel, the heart, the hub of the living room.
If I closed my eyes, I could still hear her hum along to Tchaikovsky – her pre-Christmas music – as she wrapped up presents with strings, ribbons and clear cellophane, into which she’d scatter stardust and moonbeams, or at least so it seemed to my young eyes. Each gift, a gift within a gift.
One of my earliest memories is of me sitting before the fire, rolling a length of thick red yarn for Fat Arnold, our squashed-face Persian, who languished by the warmth, his fur pearly white in the glow. His one eye open while his paw twitched, as if to say he’d play, if only he could find the will. In the soft light Mum sat and laughed, the firelight casting lowlights in her long blonde hair. I shut my eyes and took a deep breath, away from the memory of her smile.
Dad wanted me to have it: her old writing desk. I couldn’t bear to think of the living room without it, but he insisted. He’d looked at me, above his round horn-rimmed glasses, perpetual tufts of coarse grey hair poking out mad-hatter style on either side of his head, and said with his faraway philosopher’s smile, ‘Ivy, it would have made her happy, knowing that you had it. . .’ And I knew I’d lost.
Still it had taken me two weeks to get up the nerve. Two weeks and Stuart’s gentle yet insistent prodding. He’d offered to help, to at least clear it for me, and bring it through to our new home so that I wouldn’t have to face it. Wouldn’t have to reopen a scar that was trying its best to heal. He’d meant well. I knew that he would’ve treated her things reverently; he would’ve stacked all her letters, tied them up with string, his long fingers slowly rolling up the lengths of old ribbon and carefully putting them away into a someday box that I could open when I was ready. It was his way, his sweet, considerate Stuart way. But I knew I had to be the one who did it. Like a bittersweet rite of passage, some sad things only you can do yourself. So I gathered up my will, along with the box at my feet and began.
It was both harder and easier than I expected. Seeing her things as she left them should have made the lump in my throat unbearable, it should have been intolerable, but it wasn’t somehow.
I began with the drawer, emptying it of its collection of creamy, loose-leafed paper; fine ribbons; and assorted string, working my way to the heart of the Victorian desk, with its warren of pigeon holes, packed with old letters, patterned envelopes, stamps, watercolour brushes, and tubes of half-finished paint.
But it was the half-finished tasks that made the breath catch in my throat. A hand-painted Christmas card, with Santa’s sleigh and reindeer flying over the chimney tops, poor Rudolph eternally in wait for his little watercolour nose. Mum had always made her own, more magical and whimsical than any you could buy. My fingers shook as I held the card in my hand, my throat tight. Seeing this, it’s little wonder I became a children’s book illustrator. I put it on top of the pile, so that later I could paint in Santa’s missing guiding light.
It was only when I made to close the desk that I saw it: a paper triangle peeking out from the metal hinge. It was tightly wedged but, after some wiggling, I pried it loose, only – in a way – to wish I hadn’t.
It was a beautiful, vintage French postcard, like the ones we’d bought when we holidayed there, when I was fifteen and fell in love with everything en français. It had a faded sepia print of the Jardin des Tuileries on the cover, and in elegant Century print it read ‘[Century font writing] Carte Postale’ on the back.
It was blank. Except for two words, two wretchedly perfect little words that caused the tears that had threatened all morning to finally erupt.
It was addressed to me. I didn’t know which was worse: the unexpected blow of being called ‘Darling Ivy’ one last time, finding out she’d had this last unexpected gift waiting for me all along, or that she’d never finish it. I suppose it was a combination of all three.
Three velvet-tipped daggers that impaled my heart.
I placed it in the box together with the unfinished Christmas card and sobbed, as I hadn’t allowed myself to for years.
Five years ago, when she passed, I believed that I’d never stop. A friend had told me that ‘time heals all wounds’ and it had taken every ounce of strength not to give her a wound that time would never heal, even though I knew she’d meant well. Time, I knew, couldn’t heal this type of wound. Death is not something you get over. It’s the rip that exposes life in a before and after chasm and all you can do is try to exist as best you can in the after. Time could only really offer a moment when the urge to scream would become a little less.
Another friend of mine, who’d lost his leg and his father in the same day, explained it better. He’d said that it was a loss that every day you manage and some days are better than others. That seemed fair. He’d said that death for him was like the loss of the limb, as even on those good days you were living in the shadow of what you had lost. It wasn’t something you recovered from completely, no matter how many people, yourself included, pretended otherwise. Somehow that helped, and I’d gotten used to living with it, which I suppose was what he meant.
The desk wasn’t heavy. Such a substantial part of my childhood, it felt like it should weigh more than it did, but it didn’t and I managed it easily alone. I picked it up and crossed the living room, through the blue-carpeted passage, pausing only to shift it slightly as I exited the back door towards my car, a mint green Mini Cooper.
Setting the desk down on the cobbled path, I opened up my boot, releasing the back seats so they folded over before setting the desk on top, with a little bit of careful manoeuvring. It felt strange to see it there, smaller than I remembered. I shut the boot and went back inside for the chair and the box where I’d placed all her things; there was never any question of leaving it behind. On my way back, I locked up Dad’s house, a small smile unfurling as I noticed the little wreath he’d placed on the door, like a green shoot through the snow after the longest winter. It hadn’t been Christmas here for many years.
Back to my car, I squeezed the chair in next to the desk and placed the box on the passenger seat before I climbed in and started the engine. As the car warmed, I looked at my reflection in the side mirror and laughed, a sad groaning laugh.
My eyeliner had made tracks all down my face, leaving a thick trail into my ears, and black blobs on either side of my lobes so that I looked like I’d participated in some African ritual, or had survived the mosh pit at some death metal goth fest. With my long dark blonde curls, coral knitted cap and blue eyes, it made me look a little zombiefied.
I wiped my face and ears and grinned despite myself. ‘God, Mum, thanks for that!’ I put the car in gear and backed out of the winding drive, towards the coastal road.
It was hard to believe I was back, after all these years.
London had been exciting, tiring, and trying. And grey, so very grey. Down here, it seemed, was where they keep the light; my senses felt as if they’d been turned up.
For a while, London had been good though, especially after Mum. For what it lacked in hued lustre, it made up for by being alive with people, ideas, and the hustling bustle. It was a different kind of pace. A constant rush. Yet, lately I’d craved the stillness and the quiet. So when The Fudge Files, a children’s fiction series that I co-wrote and illustrated with my best friend Catherine Talty, about a talking English bulldog from Cornwall who solves crimes, became a bestseller, we were finally able to escape to the country.
In his own way, Stuart had wanted the move more than I did; he was one of those strange creatures who’d actually grown up in London, and said that this meant it was high time that he tried something else.
In typical Stuart fashion, he had these rather grand ideas about becoming a self-sustaining farmer – something akin to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – and setting up a smallholding similar to Hugh’s River Cottage. The simple fact of it being Cornwall, not Dorset, was considered inconsequential. Which perhaps it was. I had to smile. Our River Cottage was called Sea Cottage (very original that), yet was every bit as exquisite as its namesake, with a rambling half acre of countryside, alongside rugged cliffs that overlooked the aquamarine waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the gorgeous village of Cloudsea with its mile-long meandering ribbon of whitewashed cottages with window frames and doors in every shade of blue imaginable, perched amid the wild, untamed landscape, seemingly amongst the clouds, tumbling down to the sea. It was the place I always dreamt about when someone asked me where I would choose to live if I could magically supplant myself with a snap of my fingers or be granted a single genie’s wish. Cloudsea. And now. . . now we lived here. It was still hard to believe.
So far our ‘livestock’ consisted of four laying hens, two grey cats named Pepper and Pots, and an English bulldog named Muppet – the living, slobbering and singular inspiration behind Detective Sergeant Fudge (Terrier Division) of The Fudge Files, as created by Catherine, Muppet’s official godmother.
Despite Stuart’s noble intentions, he was finding it difficult to come to terms with the idea of keeping animals as anything besides pets. Personally, I was a little grateful for that. We assuaged our consciences though by ensuring that we supported local organic farms, where we were sure that all the animals were humanely treated.
But what we lacked in livestock, Stuart made up for in vegetation. His potager was his pride and joy and even now, in the heart of winter, he kept a polytunnel greenhouse that kept us in fresh vegetables throughout the year. Or at least that was the plan; we’d only been here since late summer. I couldn’t imagine his excitement come spring.
For me Cornwall was both a fresh start and a homecoming. For the first time ever I had my own art studio up in the attic, with dove grey walls, white wooden floors, and a wall full of shelves brimming with all my art supplies; from fine watercolour paper to piles of brushes and paint in every texture and medium that my art-shop-loving heart could afford. The studio, dominated by the mammoth table, with its slim Queen Anne legs, alongside the twin windows, made it a haven, with its view of the rugged countryside and sea. One where I planned to finish writing and illustrating my first solo children’s book.
Now, with our new home and the news that we’d been waiting seven years to hear, it would all be a new start for us.
I was finally, finally pregnant.
Seven rounds of in vitro fertilisation, which had included 2,553 days, 152 pointless fights, five serious, two mortgages, countless stolen tears in the dead of the night in the downstairs bathroom in our old London flat, my fist wedged in my mouth to stem the sound, and infinite days spent wavering between hope and despair, wondering if we should just give up and stop trying. That day, thankfully, hadn’t come.
And now I was twelve weeks pregnant. I still couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t told Dad yet; I didn’t want to get his hopes up, or tempt fate; we’d played that black card before.
Our hopes. . . well, they’d already soared above the stars.
It was why I so desperately wished Mum were here now. It would have made all of this more bearable. She had a way of making sense of the insensible, of offering hope at the darkest times, when all I wanted to do was run away. I missed how we used to sit up late at night by the fire in the living room, a pot of tea on the floor, while Fat Arnold dozed at our feet and she soothed my troubled fears and worries – the most patient of listeners, the staunchest of friends. Now, with so many failed pregnancies, including two miscarriages, the memory of which was like shrapnel embedded in our hearts, so that our lives had been laced with an expectant tinge of despair, primed for the nightmare to unfold, never daring to hope for the alternative; we were encouraged to hope. It was different, everyone said so, and I needed to trust that this time it would finally happen, that we’d finally have a baby, like the doctors seemed to think we would. Stuart had been wonderful, as had Catherine, but I needed Mum really, and her unshakeable, unbreakable faith.
There are a few times in a woman’s life when she needs her mother. For me, my wedding was one and I was lucky to have her there, if luck was what it was, because it seemed to be sheer and utter determination on her part. It had been so important to her to be there, even though all her doctors had told us to say our goodbyes. I will never know what it cost her to hold on the way she did, but she did and she stayed a further two years after that. In the end, it was perhaps the cruellest part, because when she did go, I’d convinced myself that somehow she’d be able to stay.
But this, this was different. I needed her now, more than ever. As I drove, the unstoppable flow of tears pooling in the hollow of my throat, I wished that we could have banked those two years, those two precious years that she had fought so hard and hung on for, so that she could be here with me now when I needed her the most.
About Lily Graham
Lily has been telling stories since she was a child, starting with her imaginary rabbit, Stephanus, and their adventures in the enchanted peach tree in her garden, which she envisioned as a magical portal to Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. She’s never really got out of the habit of making things up, and still thinks of Stephanus rather fondly.
She lives with her husband and her English bulldog, Fudge, and brings her love for the sea and country-living to her fiction.
Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky follows Piper, a travel reviewer who finds her self heading to the most Northern Island of the British Isles, to review a new Christmas resort and town. Piper “Pip” had visited the Island once as a child with her best friend Gabe, and is keen to revisit as she has fond memories. Pip and Gabe are no longer friends, we learn early on that they had a blossoming romance as well as being best friends, but some unfortunate timing and dramatic events saw Pip leaving her old home and life, moving away forever and spending the next ten years travelling the world.
But of course things are never simple and as Pip arrives at the resort, she soon discovers that the new owner is none other than Gabe, who now has a young daughter Wren. We soon learn all of the misunderstandings that occurred on that fateful day which tore the young lovers apart, it soon becomes apparent that they still have a spark between them but is it too late? And do Gabe and Pip really want to open those old wounds? Wrap this all up with that Christmassy feel and you know you are on to a winner.
I loved Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky from page one, I was hooked and found myself desperately reading on to find out what would happen next. I could easily have read this in one sitting if it wasn’t for the need to sleep (02:30 I eventually put it down). There was something magical about this book and I was immediately drawn to the characters. I adored Pip and Gabe, they seemed so perfect for each other and they have to be my two favourite characters of all time. I loved their shared history, I loved the lives they had led and he people they had become despite all the heart ache, but most of all I loved that they so obviously fit together. I was desperate for a happy ending and to see these two people so perfect for each other back together.
Then we have the delightfully cheeky Wren and her innocence and ability to put a smile on my face. Her love of Frozen reminds me so much of my daughter, I could picture her so easily, cheeky face and all. Wren added that little extra something and really made the story.
There were plenty of twists and turns in the plot of Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky to keep me hooked and guessing where the story would take me next. There were some unexpected blips but each really added to the depth and reality of the book. I was also delighted to see the some old and familiar faces from previous novels, it was lovely to catch up with them.
This was a truly magically delightful novel which needs to devoured, you need to give yourself the day off as this is a book not to put down. It was easy to read and the words flowed easily from the page, leaving me both howling with laughter and sobbing. Holly has a way with words that makes the reader feel what the characters feel and imagine scenes with such clarity, you almost imagine you are really there. This is a Christmas cracker of a read and should be on any self respecting readers Christmas list. I sincerely hope I get to meet Pip and Gabe again one day. Now for book two, I have high hopes…….
Today on CR’s we are lucky enough to be joined by the fabulous Zara Stoneley as part of the Happy Harper Xmas. Today Zara is sharing with us What makes Christmas… Christmas?
For me, what makes Christmas a special day are the traditions; not just any traditions but our own family ones which are in the main good old English country ones. I wouldn’t want to change a thing, no new-fangled ideas required. So here are my top six;
Mulled wine – this links in with another family tradition. My father used to play in a brass band, and every year, the Sunday before Christmas, they took part in a Christmas service at a village church near us. We still all attend, even though he no longer plays, and then everybody heads back to our house for homemade sausage rolls and good old mulled wine. It really is Christmas in a glass, and the smell of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and fruit fills the whole house. That service, and the wine, marks the beginning of Christmas for me.
Log fire – one of the first things I did when I bought my cottage was to remove the gas fire so that we could have a proper one! We don’t light it that often, the central heating keeps us warm, but there is nothing better when it’s cold outside than sitting in front of a pile of burning logs, toasting marshmallows and cooking chestnuts. And it doesn’t matter how mild it is on Christmas Day – the fire will be lit!
Horse riding – I’ve always loved escaping with the horses for an hour. The turkey goes in the oven and I’m off before breakfast, sharing warm cuddles and hitting the traffic free roads. It’s a lovely time of day, very quiet and it’s great to share some quality time with the animals before the chaos of the day takes over. And if the roads are too slippery to ride on I’ll still be there doling out dates and carrots. The smell of sweet hay, and the sight of horses munching in a warm stable is magic!
Christmas dinner – for me it has to be traditional with a good dry-plucked turkey and old-fashioned homemade chestnut stuffing. Which is why I tasked Lottie, in ‘A Very Country Christmas’ with making the exact same stuffing! I do have to admit as well, that part of the inspiration for the story came from past disasters – like the time my oven stopped working when the turkey was only half-cooked and I was expecting eight for dinner! Oh, and there has to be cranberry sauce, roast parsnips, and sprouts.
Snowballs – no not the cold sort that get lobbed. One lasting memory from when I was young was helping Mum make the snowballs. We covered balloons with paper mache, and once it was set we stuck cotton wool all over, then the balloons were popped and balls cut into halves. Mum then put a small gift in each one, put the two halves together and tied them up with ribbon. The snowballs were put on the dinner table and we each had one to open at the end of dinner. Me and my sisters have all carried on the tradition with our own families.
Dog walking – an after dinner (well after the Queen’s speech) tradition. I love getting out in the cold crisp air (hopefully it is cold and not raining!) and stretching my legs. The dogs love it, especially if there is snow on the ground, and it’s also a lovely time to chat with whoever wants to come along. And by the time we get back we’ve made room for a mince pie and another drink…
And of course, the most important tradition of all is spending Christmas with family and friends, sitting around a table together and sharing time as well as food and drink.
What makes Christmas special for you?
Zara Stoneley grew up in small village in Staffordshire. After completing a degree, working as an IT consultant, and then combining running a dog grooming business with family life Zara returned to her love of writing.
In 2012 she secured her first publishing contract with Xcite Books, the erotic imprint of Accent Press, and a year later signed a deal with HarperCollins.
Zara now writes fun, romantic romps set in the British countryside that she loves so much.
She splits her time between a country cottage in a Cheshire village, surrounded by family, friends and assorted animals, and an apartment in Barcelona.
WHERE TO FIND ZARA –
My book –
‘A Very Country Christmas’
A short Christmas story of three courses.
Love is in the air in Tippermere as Lottie dreams of a white Christmas with no trimmings – other than her hot and hunky eventer, Rory. But things are never quite that simple on the Tipping House Estate.
Festive fervour takes over and it isn’t all seasonal peace and goodwill as expectations rise and it soon escalates from cosy dinner for two, to all the trimmings for ten!
With missing turkeys, loose horses, troublesome terriers and randy huntsmen, Lottie is hard pushed to find time for a kiss under the mistletoe, let alone find the opportunity to woo Rory with her sexy Santa costume.
But there is only one thing Lottie really wants for Christmas, and only one man can deliver it…