The one where 2020 has been quite extraordinary – and surprisingly full of highs

So, it’s finally arrived. The end of 2020. The year many people have wanted to “do one” for a long time.

It’s probably not a bold statement to say that it’s the strangest year that most of us will ever have experienced and, pretty please, can it be the last time we do?

But while this may be a completely bonkers surreal year that many will want to push to the back of their minds filed under ‘grim’, 2020 has been an amazing year for me professionally, seeing so many dreams come true. So, while there are many reasons why I want to send 2020 to the naughty step, I want to high-five it too.

This is a rundown, quarter by quarter, of what 2020 has looked like for me personally and professionally, presented in order of occurrence. When I originally wrote it, it was nearly a novel in itself so I have massively cut it down to highs and lows. Even so, it’s still long as so much has happened professionally this year. I honestly don’t know if anyone other than my mum or hubby will read it all but thank you if you do! xx

JANUARY to MARCH 2020

Happy New Year and the start of a new decade. How exciting! I eagerly anticipated the year ahead with a whopping seven Boldwood releases made up of six of my back catalogue and one new novel, and I hoped this would be the year I could leave my day job as an HR Tutor and write full-time.

Little did we know that reports of a flu-like illness in China were going to change our lives beyond all recognition.

HIGHS

  • Release of the entire re-edited ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series:
    • Making Wishes at Bay View (14th Jan)
    • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (20th Feb)
    • Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (20th Feb)
    • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (12th Mar)
  • Seaside Blooms broke into the UK Kindle Top 1,000 on 19th March and kept climbing
  • Making Wishes at Bay View was selected as Apple’s free book of the week (9th – 15th March) propelling it to the top of the free Apple Books chart
  • A massive knock-on effect on the rest of the series with a #3 for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, #13 for Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove and #24 for Coming Home to Seashell Cottage. They all made it into the Top 5 on the Romance category occupying positions #2, #3 and #5 at one point
  • Celebrating hubby’s 50th birthday with a meal with his parents just before going into a national lockdown
  • Normality for almost three months, regularly meeting up with Sharon Booth (great friend and super talented author) and attending the RNA’s Beverley Chapter meeting

LOWS

  • Saying goodbye in January to our beloved cat, Felix. After nearly 14 years with us, I was – and still am – heartbroken to have lost him
  • The munchkin, age 13, experienced a scary bullying incident on the bus home from school, so serious we needed to involve the police who classified it as an assault
  • Lockdown. I don’t think I need to expand on that! Although munchkin’s grumbles at being made to do the Joe Wicks PE session every weekday morning provided us with great amusement!

APRIL to JUNE 2020

This quarter started with a second month of panic-buying where household staples like toilet roll, pasta, cans of soup and flour were like gold dust. Hand sanitiser, paracetamol and disinfectant were also in short supply.

Zoom – something I personally had never even heard of until this year – became a life-saver for keeping in touch, as did social media (although you had to be careful not to be sucked down the rabbit hole of scary statistics and conspiracy theories!)

I’m going to swap it around for this month and start with the lows because they directly led to the highs in this quarter.  I will just remind you that these are presented in order of occurrence rather than severity.

LOWS

  • An unprecedented increase in work volumes as students took advantage of lockdown to race through their assignments. Enrolments of new students soared through the roof and, whilst financially amazing, the stress levels in trying to keep up were extraordinary. All without support or thanks from our manager

  • I couldn’t face celebrating my birthday and chose to largely ignore it 
  • My older brother turned 50 and couldn’t have the celebrations planned with his friends or family – a common story for so many this year
  • Cancellation of two theatre trips – a day trip to Leeds to see Sister Act and a weekend away to see Six
  • Family holiday to Portugal over May half-term cancelled
  • The unexpected and sudden loss of our brother-in-law, aged only 50. RIP, Richard, with love xx

HIGHS

  • Resigning from the day job and becoming a full-time writer from 8th June. It had always been my dream to be able to earn enough to be able to write full-time and it had finally happened. The increased income would give me a give me a buffer while my writing royalties (hopefully) increased from my new releases
  • Apple asked if they could repeat the UK promotion in the USA. Making Wishes at Bay View made it to #16 in the free chart and the series sold well on the back of this
  • Amazon selected New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms for a Prime deal. It was already inside the Top 100 by then but it peaked at #14 on 17th May thanks to being in Prime
  • People were turning to books for escapism, comfort and boredom relief. Uplifting stories of love and friendship – exactly what I write – fit the bill perfectly and this was reflected in my sales
  • Receiving messages from readers who’d binge read my Boldwood releases and the rest of my indie back catalogue and wanted to thank me for giving them such an uplift and welcome escape. Wow! I certainly hadn’t been expecting that
  • During the summer, Making Wishes at Bay View made it to #144, Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove to #145 and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage to #165. I’d never experienced chart positions like this. I’d barely hoped to dream of them and kept waiting for someone to pinch me and tell me it was a dream
  • How proud the munchkin made us. She moaned about Joe Wicks but not about studying and, with only a few nudges to ask her teachers for more work when she’d run out, she showed amazing maturity, never once moaning about being in lockdown and missing her friends

JULY to SEPTEMBER 2020

Restrictions had lifted in the UK but I pretty much remained a hermit. It’s not so much that I was afraid to go out but more that there seemed no point taking the risk. Being substantially overweight I am in a higher risk category and, with so many holiday-makers flocking to the coast, I felt my local town and beach were no-go areas. I managed a few local walks with the dog, hubby and munchkin – and even did an evening walk along the main seafront before the holidays hit – but that was about it. And my bottom has just expanded and expanded as a result!

HIGHS

  • The first book in a series set in a hedgehog rescue centre – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – was released on 2ndJuly. I was a little bit nervous about it as it was a new setting for me but the hedgehogs captured the hearts of readers
  • An impressive number of pre-orders meant an astonishing UK Kindle chart position of #291 on publication day, peaking at #86 in mid-August. My second Top 100 book. Yay! It made it to #40 in Canada and #11 in Australia
  • The Secret to Happiness appeared in branches of The Works. I chatted to the staff and took photos but I never thought to ask if they’d like me to sign copies. Muppet. Missed opportunity!
  • Boldwood celebrated one year since their first release. What an amazing first year of trading they’d had. We were invited to a summer moment on Zoom to celebrate which was pretty special
  • Release of the re-edited Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes (13th Aug). Initially it was free and reached #8 in the free UK Kindle chart, #43 in Australia, #20 in Canada and #15 in the USA
  • Release of the re-edited Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café. An impressive number of pre-orders saw an amazing release day chart position of #204
  • Met my parents outdoors on a couple of occasions
  • Sharon and I also managed one meeting but not for as long as usual. It was brilliant to be able to meet in person but the time went far too quickly
  • The munchkin returned to school and started three years of study towards her GCSEs. One of the bus bullies apologised (I think lockdown gave her plenty of thinking time), a truce has been reached and there’ve thankfully been no further incidents
  • Hubby and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a mid-week visit to Thorp Perrow Arboretum. It was a gorgeous day and there were very few people around so it was the perfect place to go. And, being only a short drive away from my parents, we stopped off at theirs for a socially distanced cuppa before coming home
  • The Works stocked another book – Making Wishes at Bay View – and this time I signed them. Proud author moment!
  • I was astonished and thrilled to be offered another contract with Boldwood for a whopping 12 brand new books. I nearly fell off my chair! The first book in that contract will be a brand new Christmas story in September 2021. Before that, there’ll be four more books released in January, March, May and August to see out the original contract: books 2 and 3 in the Hedgehog Hollow series (January/May) and the remaining two in my back catalogue (March/August)

LOWS

  • After only a week back at school, unable to see properly with her mask on, the munchkin tripped over a raised drain cover, went splat, landed awkwardly and broke her arm. Cue scary dash up to school and a trip to A&E to get a pot put on
  • She later fell down the stairs at school, also struggling to see properly in her mask, and made a right mess of both of her shins, scraping the skin off and badly bruising them both. The good news was she didn’t break her arm again!
  • The increased attention on me and my books massively exacerbated my imposter syndrome and I struggled to feel worthy of the amazing things happening to me. Writing a week-long series of posts about what this meant and how it manifested itself did me the world of good and I have been able to continue to make great inroads in quietening my ‘you’re not good enough’ demons since then, although I don’t think they’ll ever completely disappear and I’ve still had the occasional moment

OCTOBER to DECEMBER 2020

Now with the country in tiers, each tier dictating a specific set of rules, it seemed there was no end in sight. Another lockdown. Then came a ray of hope: a vaccination had been approved and would be rolled out imminently. Hurrah!

As Christmas approached, with a new strain of the virus spreading at an alarming rate, Christmas plans changed for many.

HIGHS

  • All ten books sported an orange Amazon #1 Best Seller tag at the same time. TEN! Wow! What a special moment that was! (13th Oct)
  • A socially distanced Hallowe’en BBQ at my parents’ house. A BBQ in late October in this country was certainly a first but a big brolly kept the rain off and the patio heater worked its magic!
  • The Works wanted another of my books and squeezed in an order of Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow. I managed to see it in my local branch – and sign the copies as well as another batch of Making Wishes at Bay View – before going into the second lockdown
  • Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes – no longer available for free – became my third book to get inside the Top 100, reaching #93 on 1st November. It only stayed inside the Top 100 for two days but that doesn’t matter. It still made it which, considering how many thousands of free copies it shifted, I wasn’t expecting
  • Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café broke the Top 100 too, peaking at #24 in the UK, #11 in Canada and an astonishing #3 in Australia. Woo hoo! With the exception of one day, it stuck around in the Top 100 right until Christmas Eve. I was a bit gutted it didn’t stay in the Top 100 for Christmas but over a month in the Top 100 wasn’t too shabby!
  • Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes achieved 1,000 reviews/ratings. At the start of the year, none of my books had more than 100 reviews. Today, it has hit 1,600. Still can’t quite believe it! (16th Nov)
  • The Secret to Happiness went on a BookBub deal – the only of my books to have done this – and it got to #32 in the USA in mid-November. That market is enormous and I certainly never expected that!
  • Guest speaker slots on a Facebook Live with Kim The Bookworm and with Exeter Libraries
  • Part of a Boldwood Christmas books panel on My VLF (My Virtual Literature Festival) which was great fun
  • Interviewed by a reader, Liz Clifton, about confidence and motivation
  • Guest on Julie Morris’s blog – A Little Bookish Problem – twice
  • The Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series continued to perform well and, in mid-December, all of them passed 500 reviews/ratings on Amazon

LOWS

  • Cancellation of my graduation ceremony after achieving my Masters in Creative Writing through Open University in late 2019
  • Cancellation of our October half-term holiday to Lancaster (to give us access to Blackpool and the Lake District) as Lancaster was in tier 3 so we (in tier 2 at the time) couldn’t travel there
  • Not able to see my side of the family over Christmas or my husband’s sisters
  • The tragic news that my second cousin died just before Christmas. Aged only 42, my heart is broken for his mum (my cousin) and her family and for another lovely man taken far too soon. RIP, Gary, with love xx


AND TO CLOSE…

Whether you’ve read the Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities or not, you probably know the beginning: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” And that pretty much sums up my 2020.

For the best of times, I have achieved my dream of writing full-time, I am fortunate enough to work with the most incredible publisher with a wonderful team who support and respect all their authors as well as making us all feel equally important. Through Boldwood, I’ve had four books inside the Kindle UK Top 100 and Apple Top 100 this year, a Top 3 in Australia and Top 40 in the USA. All of my books have sported bestseller tags at the same time. Every book Boldwood has released has passed 500 reviews/ratings with one exceeding 1,600 and another marching towards 1,000. Quite honestly, it has been phenomenal.

But for the worst of times, I’ve lost my brother in law, a second cousin, and our gorgeous cat, and my daughter was assaulted. The disappointment of birthdays, holidays, theatre trips, weekends away and a graduation ceremony all cancelled pales into insignificance when faced with such loss and sadness.

I haven’t seen my brothers or their families since last Christmas although we did a regular family Zoom across the first lockdown. Hubby and I have never had much of a social life – we’re home bunnies and only have a few friends in the area – but we do miss being able to meet up with the small number of people we know and, as writing tends to be a lonely business, I’ve really missed my fortnightly meet-ups with Sharon.

I send my love and best wishes to my family affected by loss, and to anyone else for whom this year has been particularly tough whether that be through illness, bereavement, employment (or lack of it), finances, loneliness or any of the many other challenges that may have been faced.

My eternal gratitude goes to Boldwood Books and, in particular my editor, Nia, for making my dreams come true and being such a joy to work with. And thanks to my fellow Boldwood authors for all the support you’ve given and any reviews/promotions of my work.

Thank you to all the book bloggers/reviewers who’ve been so kind this year and to Rachel Gilbey for organising my blog tours.

I can’t thank enough all the amazing readers who’ve bought, borrowed, downloaded, and/or streamed any or all of my books. Thank you for choosing to take a journey to Whitsborough Bay and/or Hedgehog Hollow and for all the lovely messages on social media. You give me the encouragement to keep making stuff up!

To Sharon and my fellow-Write Romantic family, you’re my writing rocks and I couldn’t imagine how I’d have navigated my way through the troubled world of publishing without you all. It’s been lovely having such good virtual friends supporting each other in this difficult year. And to the Beverley chapter, I’ve loved our catch-ups.

Thank you to new writing friends I’ve made this year – Sam Tonge, Vicky Walters, Kim Nash and many others who’ve supported or promoted my work and whose books I’ve enjoyed reading. I hope we can meet in person next year.

And finally, to my biggest fan – my mum – my amazing husband and our wonderful daughter, thank you for all your excitement and encouragement. It really does keep me going. I know my dad is also super proud so thank you daddy bear too.

For anyone out there with a dream, chase it. Because dreams really do come true and I’m living, breathing proof of that.

When I finish writing a book, I love typing ‘The End’. Despite all the amazing things that have happened for me this year, I am relieved to stamp ‘The End’ on 2020 and look ahead to exciting writing achievements and some sort of normality in 2021.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I visit the ‘real’ Castle Street at Christmas

A theme that comes through in reviews of my Whitsborough Bay books, particularly my Christmas ones, is how much readers would love to visit Castle Street and I sometimes get asked if it’s real.

Castle Street is not real. Sorry. But it is definitely inspired by real places and I see it as a blend of three, which I’ll come to in a moment.

Whitsborough Bay is a fictional North Yorkshire seaside town but it’s predominantly inspired by my hometown of Scarborough. It has the same geographical set-up as Scarborough: North Bay and South Bay separated by a headland with a castle on it, and the town up the cliff from South Bay. The large image below is a view of South Bay and the castle on the cliff from an area called South Cliff.

In my books, I’ve even called these areas North Bay and South Bay. I originally called them North Beach and South Beach to be different but decided ‘beach’ didn’t make sense when the town was called Whitsborough BAY so I stuck with bays.

There are many much-loved locations and landmarks in Scarborough that appear in my Whitsborough Bay stories but with different names:

  • The Sea Life Centre in North Bay becomes the Sea Rescue Sanctuary (bottom left above)
  • Peasholm Park, also in North Bay, is Hearnshaw Park in my books
  • The colourful beach huts in Whitsborough Bay’s North Bay (top right above) are a direct match to those in Scarborough but the shops and cafés nearby take on different identities
  • In Scarborough’s South Bay, there’s a lighthouse and harbour and I have the same in Whitsborough Bay but the lighthouse is red and white striped in my books instead of white (bottom right above), and the approach to it is different

The main difference geographically between Scarborough and Whitsborough Bay is that Whitsborough Bay has a river which runs through the Old Town and along the South Bay side of the castle. It is crossed by a swing bridge. This is very much inspired by Whitby up the coast from Scarborough; a place I’ve adored since childhood.

Back to Castle Street, it is fictional but, as I said before, it is inspired by a blend of three places:

  • Bar Street in Scarborough (which is a narrow street housing independent shops and cafés)
  • The cobbled streets of Whitby’s south side
  • The cobbled streets of Robin Hood’s Bay (which is between Scarborough and Whitby but closer to Whitby)

I imagine Castle Street to be wider than any of these streets (more the width of Huntriss Row if anyone is familiar with Scarborough) and with old-fashioned grey cobbles, more like these ones in this photo of Whitby at the bottom of the famous 199 steps up to St Mary’s Church and Whitby Abbey.

I love Bar Street at Christmas. It has waves of simple white lights running down the street from one end to the other and I describe these in my Christmas books but have them connecting between the buildings instead.

Last week, hubby, munchkin and I took our sprocker spaniel, Ella, for a wander round the lights just as the shops were closing (so we could capture the lights in the shops but visit when there weren’t many folk about).

The large picture below is looking down Bar Street with our backs to the town. The shops are Steampuss Cat Lounge (which I visited with the munchkin a few months back) and a bridal shop which is partial inspiration for The Wedding Emporium which I mention in a few books. In Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Bethany gets her wedding dress and the bridesmaid dresses for her Christmas wedding from there.

I’d been eager to get a photo of the giant illuminated teddy bear on the main precinct when I spotted him in town last month but the lights didn’t show very well during the day. So much better at night. I love him!

On Boxing Day evening, we took Ella down to the harbour where many of the boats were lit up, as was the viewing wheel along the seafront. Very pretty. But very cold!

I think I might need to make more of the harbour in future books as it really is beautiful with all the lights on the masts and sails. My pretty poor phone photography doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. On the top row, the lit-up building on the top left pic which is bigger on top right (at the far left of the pic) is The Grand Hotel. Owned by Britannia Group it has changed a lot over the years but it was once one of the largest and most impressive hotels in Europe. You can see it in daylight in the top set of images, bottom middle.

In my stories, The Grand is The Ramparts Hotel (Alison works there in The Secret to Happiness and Callie has a meal there near the end of Making Wishes at Bay View) and I position it as Whitsborough’s only 5-star hotel and very luxurious.

In the top middle photo, you can just about make out Scarborough’s Lighthouse. If you look above the boat lit by red lights, there’s a bright light. Move along to the boat behind it and there’s another light and just to the right of that is a triangle shape of light. That’s the lighthouse. Hubby took a better pic of it, though, looking back over the Old Town. What looks to be a strip of lights above the Old Town in his photo is the castle walls illuminated.

Hope you enjoyed your trip to Whitsborough Bay’s Castle Street and harbour at Christmas. If you’d like to read about it, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café are both still only 99p but act quickly as Starry Skies will probably have a price increase in the not too distant future. They’re best read in that order as Starry Skies is set after Carly’s Cupcakes and the two businesses are next door and run by friends Carly and Tara so we find out what happens to Carly after her story finishes when Tara picks up the reins.

You can find all my books for Kindle here although they’re also available as eBooks for Kobo and Apple and a gazillion other formats depending on your reading or listening preferences.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where Christmas was different but hubby excelled himself

How was Christmas? Quieter than usual? Virtual hugs rather than face to face ones? Perhaps you were planning to go away and couldn’t. Or maybe it was your first Christmas without a loved one or a family pet. Sending love if it was.

It was our first Christmas without our beloved cat, Felix, who we lost in January. His absence was certainly felt over Christmas dinner when he’d normally have been up on his hind legs against my chair demanding turkey. I’ve rounded up a few pictures of him at previous Christmases. He wasn’t impressed with his Christmas hat and ended up wearing it as a beard! He loved to lie under the tree or with the Christmas bears. Bottom right is hunting out Christmas dinner with his sister and partner-in-crime, Pixie, who crossed the rainbow bridge several years earlier.

Aside from a Felix-shaped hole, our actual Christmas Day was no different (other than being the first year the munchkin didn’t believe in Santa – sob!) as it’s usually just the three of us first thing then a visit from hubby’s parents who live in the next village either from lunchtime (they’d normally rotate round their three children) or from late afternoon. This year, they were in our Christmas bubble, joined us for a lunchtime Christmas dinner and stayed into the evening.

What was significantly different for us this year was not seeing anyone else either side of the big day. We would normally see hubby’s sisters at some point around New Year – often a full family get together at one of their houses where the munchkin loves to see her four big boy cousins (all in their mid-late twenties now) – but we can’t do that. And we’d normally see my side of the family twice and we couldn’t do that either. They’re not too far away but they aren’t local like hubby’s family.

I have two brothers and they’re both married with two girls each so we’d typically drive across to the nearest town to my parents about a week before Christmas and the men would go on a pub crawl while my mum, my sisters-in-law and the five girls (this year aged 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15) would have a lovely lunch then a wander round the shops. The second get together would be between Christmas and New Year (would have been Sunday just gone this year) where we all meet up at my parents’ house for gift exchanges and food.

As we couldn’t meet in person, we planned a family Zoom on Sunday instead. Only it didn’t work. None of us could dial into the meeting my younger brother had set up so he sent a new invite and, for some strange reason, my parents and two brothers could get in but we couldn’t. We tried everything including the usual switching off and on again but to no avail.

Christmas shopping was very different this year. I’d normally explore the high street and local shops in my hometown of Scarborough and also have a trip to York to visit the Christmas market and the lovely independent shops there but, like so many others, we had to mostly shop online.

Hubby is exceptionally hard to buy for. There’s never anything he wants so I usually end up getting him socks (yawn), a chocolate orange (yummy but dull) and a couple of photography books including Landscape Photographer of the Year (inspiring for him but not very inspired seeing as he gets it every year). We usually agree that we’ll go away for a weekend as a gift instead but that’s not something any of us can plan right now.

When I was ordering things for the munchkin, I added in a few bits I might like and passed them to him to wrap, although this is something I’ve done for several years now as he claims I’m hard to buy for when there are so many things I love: jewellery, books, hedgehogs, bears, owls, stationery, lighthouses, chocolate etc. etc. etc. However, he surpassed himself this year. He visited NotOnTheHighStreet and Etsy and bought me some really fabulous gifts. The boy done well!

Hedgehogs might have been a bit of a theme! I got a gorgeous pin brooch which I’ll add to my bag or purse, a small plush hog for my desk, some socks, a fab T-shirt and a diary.

I also got 3 new charms for my Troll Beads bracelet. A friend started the collection at the launch party of my debut novel with a leather bracelet and a book charm. I’ve since upgraded to a silver bracelet and bought a charm for each part of my writing journey and to represent each of my books.

I’d previously acquired suitable charms for all my books except the Hedgehog Hollow series and, although Troll Beads did have a hedgehog charm at one point, it had been discontinued in something like 2002 so I’d given up on ever having one unless they issued a new design.

I ordered myself a starfish charm (relevant to my 2021 Christmas book) and a lighthouse one (relevant to several of my stories and possibly a future book and acquired just in time as it has been discontinued too) but he came up trumps by finding a hedgehog charm. It’s not a Troll Bead but it does fit my bracelet perfectly.

One of the promises I made to myself and my family when I started writing full-time was that I’d finally get a work:life balance. Trying to fit writing around a full-time demanding day job made that impossible. It hasn’t quite worked out as planned, though. It has been difficult to break the habit of working evenings and weekends after doing this for well over a decade, particularly in a year when going out and about isn’t practical so I might as well stay at my desk and work.

I also feel guilty when I’m not working which is ridiculous but I know I’m not the only author who feels that way. We can put such immense pressure on ourselves sometimes.

Anyway, one of the things I want to get back into is drawing. It’s not a great talent of mine and I definitely can’t draw from imagination – absolutely need to copy something – but I quite enjoy it and I’d like to give it a go again. I used to enjoy drawing but haven’t actually picked up my sketch pad since I started college in 1988! So I choose some art paper, charcoal and chalk pencils and pastel pencils myself but hubby surprised me with a gorgeous lighthouse cross stitch kit; cross stitch being something I used to love doing before I had the munchkin. I also treated myself to a hedgehog one earlier in the year so I’m going to be busy! Just need to make some time to do it.

Another gift I chose for myself was a miniature Charlie Bear. Our local garden centre stocks them and the munchkin and I visited their fabulous Christmas display after school one day in early December (when it was pretty much empty). I always look at the Charlie Bear display. I have a few large Charlie Bears but I prefer the limited edition collectible ones. On the display were what looked like classic books with miniature bears sat on them. Each book was hollowed out and the bear stored inside.

This is the ‘Plush Hug Book Collection’ and I’ve since learned that they came out in 2019 and there are six in the collection. The garden centre had three on display. All the bears were gorgeous so it was a case of selecting the most appropriate book as the words on each were different. The green one featuring the panda is a ‘Guide to Snuggleability’ – awww – but what absolutely sold it to me was the caption on the back: All the best bears read books. Could there be a more perfect choice for an author who’s also an arctophile (collector/lover of teddy bears) with a book in her collection set partly in a teddy bear shop?

I’d chosen a heart-shaped necklace myself from one of my favourite shops in Scarborough – White Beach Designs – and a heart-shaped beaded clutch in the Accessorise sale that I plan to use the next time I can go to an RNA event (Romantic Novelists’ Association) but hubby surprised me with this gorgeous keyring. Aww. Isn’t he just the best? We met in July 2003 when I was 31 and he was 33. “If I had my life to live over again, I would find you sooner so that I could love you longer”

Another surprise gift was ‘baby Yoda’ aka ‘The Child’ aka – look away if you haven’t seen the most recent episodes of Season 2 of The Mandalorian where his true name is revealed – Grogu. He’s a plush version and he is absolutely adorable. I just need a Baby Groot now and my life will be complete!

And my final amazingly thoughtful surprise gift was this gorgeous scrapbook for my newspaper clippings. Isn’t it just divine in it’s purple-ness; my favourite colour?

So the hubby definitely did well and I have been thoroughly spoilt this year with some amazing gifts from him and the munchkin. Feeling a bit embarrassed about the socks and chocolate orange now! 😉

How was Christmas for you? Hope it went okay.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I talk about how ‘Bear With Me’ has changed under its re-release title ‘All You Need is Love’

I’m delighted to announce that Bear With Me is now available for pre-order under the brand new title of All You Need Is Love. Woo hoo! It will be out on 11th March 2021.

This is the penultimate book from my back catalogue to have ‘the Boldwood treatment’. As part of my first publishing deal, Boldwood acquired my entire back catalogue. A whopping six books were re-edited and re-released during 2020:

The Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series (available as a box set or individually):

  • Making Wishes at Bay View (previously released as novella Raving About Rhys and short novel Callie’s Christmas Wish)
  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (previously released as Searching for Steven)
  • Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (previously released as Getting Over Gary)
  • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (previously released as Dreaming About Daran)

Christmas on Castle Street:

  • Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes (previously released with the same title but the POV got changed from 3rd to 1st person and several new chapters were added)
  • Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café (previously released as Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Café, several new chapters being added on re-release)

Re-releasing a book with a fresh edit, fresh cover and (usually) fresh title is commonplace when an author changes publisher and agrees for the publisher to acquire their back catalogue, as in my case.

Prior to being published by Boldwood, my books were relatively unknown as I’d struggled to make an impact on the charts as an indie author. I therefore knew that there wouldn’t be many readers who had already discovered my books and could mistakenly duplicate their purchase on re-release; something I appreciate can be frustrating. 

We make it very clear in the blurbs that the books are re-releases (and specifically name the previous title) and I shout about it all over social media but there’ll always be readers who miss this. Unfortunately, I have a few negative reviews on Amazon criticising this which is disappointing when the blurb has made it clear but I try to look on the bright side: the reader loves my work so much that they instantly purchased it without reading the blurb. Okay, so that doesn’t quite take the sting out of a 1-star review but I’m trying!

Now that Boldwood have worked wonders with my books this year, taking them to a much greater readership, there is more of a risk that Kindle readers will duplicate purchases of the final two re-issued books (a revised version of Charlee and the Chocolate Shop will be out in August 2021) so I’m steeling myself ready for the negative comments and hoping they’re not too nasty/personal. Again, the blurb does make it clear and I will continue to shout about it on social media.

For readers on Apple Books or Kobo duplicate purchases are not a risk as Bear With Me was never available on those platforms.

 All You Need Is Love will be available as a paperback, large print, physical audio, audio download and via streaming services. It will also be available in hardback format which is an exciting new format added to the Boldwood portfolio. This will be the first of my books available in this format but, in time, all the others will be. Bear With Me was only ever available as an eBook.

So what has changed on the re-issue of Bear With Me as All You Need Is Love? 

The changes – as with the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series – are minimal. Anyone who has already read Bear With Me does not need to read All You Need Is Love unless it’s a book they absolutely love and would choose to read twice anyway. There are no new characters or scenarios introduced that have an impact on any of my other books.

My edits are mainly around tightening up a few sentences, adding a little more ‘colour’ into some of the emotional scenes and removing a little bit of extraneous detail.

Two characters have name changes although their personalities and roles in the stories don’t change:

  • Jemma’s younger brother, Sean, is now called Logan. There are two main male characters called Sam and Scott. Throw in a Sean and we have three one-syllable male names beginning with ‘S’. Potentially confusing. I couldn’t change Sam or Scott due to specific plot points connected to their names but I could change Sean’s name. So I did!
  • One of Sam’s nieces, Connie, is now called Isla. She’s a minor character but is mentioned several times. Connie is also the name of a main character in my Hedgehog Hollow series and, despite me keeping a spreadsheet of character names to avoid duplication, I didn’t actually look at it! Lesson learned. It therefore made sense to change Connie’s name here

This book is written in dual perspective – Jemma and Sam – and each chapter is clearly signposted with the name of the person telling that part of the story. Towards the end of the book, quite a lot happens for both of them on the same day. I covered this in a few chapters but it had potential to be a little bit confusing with the timeline so I have broken it down into several shorter chapters to help the reader keep a better track.

There are several other tweaks along these lines but the characters and the story don’t fundamentally change. I have slight adjustments here and there but to say what they are would give away some huge spoilers.

There will be an official cover reveal in January but, as it is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Apple and Kobo, you’ll be able to see it so here’s a sneak preview. You can pre-order on Amazon here and the blurb is below.

Isn’t it beautiful? I’m so pleased with it and I hope that readers will love reading Jemma and Sam’s story for the first time or rediscovering the refreshed version.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

When you’ve loved and lost, how do you find the strength to let love in again?

Jemma thinks she’s found the love of her life. Scott is everything she ever dreamed of and she can’t wait to begin the next stage of their life together. But just as she is heading for her happy ever after, a shock revelation shatters Jemma’s life as she knows it. Left to pick up the pieces, Jemma’s friends and family rally round to help her find the courage to move on.

Sam think he has his future all worked out. A thriving career, lovely home and an amazing fiancée. But when tragedy strikes, he finds himself alone, far from everyone he cares about. Did he do the right thing by running away and trying to rebuild the tatters of his life alone?

This is the story of Jemma and Sam. Two lost souls, desperately trying to find closure and happiness. When a chance meeting brings them together a friendship is formed, but the guards are up. 

Will it finally be their turn for a happy ever after? Or will the secrets from their pasts prevent them from moving on?

Escape to Whitsborough Bay for an emotional, uplifting story of love and friendship from top 10 bestseller Jessica Redland. 

This book was previously published as Bear With Me.

The one where I wish my followers a Happy Christmas

Let’s face it, Christmas 2020 isn’t going to pan out the way any of us had planned (or re-planned) so saying “Happy Christmas” does feel a little strange, but I do absolutely wish it for everyone and hope you can still enjoy the day with family and/or friends, even if that means in smaller numbers or virtually.

A meme has been doing the rounds on social media this week showing soldiers in trenches on Christmas Day 1914. It’s a sobering image and, in my opinion, a valuable reminder that it may have been a really tough year compared to what we are used to but we do have so much to be thankful for…

And, scary news about virus mutations rapidly spreading aside, let’s look forward to next year with vaccinations and hopefully some sort of return to normality (albeit a new normality) so I also wish you a Happy New Year and THANK YOU so much for making so many writing dreams come true this year by choosing my stories and writing such gorgeous reviews…

Sending much love and strength to those who have lost someone this year (Covid-related or otherwise), have lost their job, had financial struggles, been lonely, been ill or any number of challenges faced during the strangest of years.

And sending particular best wishes to my own family who have lost three loved ones this year, two of whom were taken far too young and one as recently as Saturday. RIP to my brother-in-law Richard, my cousin Gary and my brother-in-law’s mother Mary. My thoughts with their families as they come to terms with their tragic losses. As I light my candles on Christmas Day, I’ll be thinking of you all.

Big hugs and positive Christmas wishes

Jessica xx

The one where I share some more of my favourite Christmas decorations

Happy Christmas Eve! I don’t know about you but I feel like it was 1st December just yesterday. And now we’re one sleep from Santa. Eek!

Last week I shared some of my favourite Christmas decorations from my main tree and said I’d come back and share some from the smaller tree in our dining room. Today’s the day!

There are accents of silver and purple on this tree with beading, baubles and stars in those colours but it’s more of a mishmash of colours than the main tree.

Bears feature heavily again, including a fairy bear at the top of the tree although I think that, from her downcast expression, she may be afraid of heights, bless her!

And more bears…

Many years ago, I bought some Me To You tree ornaments (Tatty Teddy) from Clintons. Each year, a new range of four designs comes out and, over the years, I have massively added to my collection. Sometimes I’d buy the full set, sometimes just a couple (particularly if the designs seemed similar to ones I already had) but, in recent years, Clintons stopped stocking them (or at least my local branch did) so I haven’t bought any more. Which might be a good thing given that I have about 20 of them. But they’re so adorable! Here’s a selection:

I feel bad having favourites but there’s something so irresistible about the one dressed as a gingerbread man. Look at that little tummy! I also absolutely love the one above him (in the middle) in his Christmas jumper and reindeer slippers. Adorable! And top right dressed as a Christmas pudding. That expression on his face as if to say: How did that happen? And… yes, I could go on!

As with my main tree, owls feature here too:

How fab are the ones on the bottom row? They come as a collection of six in an egg box from White Stuff. In a pre-Covid world, my mum, my two sisters-in-law on my side of the family and my cousin would meet a few times a year in York for shopping, food, wine and lots of chat. Loved those days out. We’d always try to have an outing in the approach to Christmas and several years ago, I picked up an egg box of penguins (featured shortly). Last year (possibly the one before) it was owls. Such fun!

Which leads me onto penguins. I love them and there are several on my smaller tree. One of my absolute favourites is the one in his life jacket from the RNLI shop (middle top row). Love him so much. As I live by the sea and set my Whitsborough Bay books on the coast, the RNLI is a cause close to my heart and will feature in my Christmas release next year. The bottom left one is one of the White Stuff egg box collection.

And, finally, anything goes. I have a huge fondness for needle-felted, felt, and knitted decorations as you can probably tell. I love my sloth and my snowman and a new purchase this year was a few lighthouses. I have a fascination with lighthouses and they feature strongly in some of my Whitsborough Bay books, particularly one of my Christmas releases – Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café – which you can buy here. The lighthouse in my stories is a red and white striped one and I hope to find a red and white striped lighthouse for my tree at some point. For now, blue and white will suffice.

Hope you’ve enjoyed a look at some more decorations. Wishing you and your friends/family a restful and laughter-filled Christmas.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where Carly’s Cupcakes gets 1,500 reviews

On 17th November I posted about my delight at Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes achieving a whopping 1,000 reviews/ratings on Amazon. I never expected that, just five weeks later, I’d be able to post about another major milestone: 1,500! EEEEEeeeeeeekkkkkkk!!!!!!!!

I am beyond thrilled and cannot thank you all enough for reading and (mainly) loving this heartwarming Christmassy story of family and friendships.

This is just a short post from me (for once!) If you want to read my original post about my journey to reaching 1,000 reviews, you can find it here.

I’m delighted to still have a large proportion (90%) of reviews/ratings at 4-5 star and hope that many more readers will fall in love with Carly’s story over the coming weeks. After all, a Christmas book isn’t just for Christmas. Who wouldn’t want heartwarming escapism all year round, particularly with all the hurt, fear and scary stuff going on right now?

Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes is available as an eBook for Apple, Kindle (available here) and Kobo. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, it’s available there too. You can also get a paperback, large print, physical audio, audio download or listen to it through streaming services.

And if you love Carly’s story, why not find out what happens next as her good friend Tara, who runs The Chocolate Pot (the café next door to Carly’s Cupcakes) takes over the reins in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café. You can buy this on Kindle here. It’s available in all the same formats as Carly’s Cupcakes.

Both books are currently still only 99p. Absolute bargain. So, go on, treat yourself to both and hunker down with a hot chocolate, a tub of Quality Street and relax…

Big hugs

Jessica xx

CHRISTMAS AT CARLY’S CUPCAKES:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing.

For Carly, the owner of Carly’s Cupcakes, it’s the busiest time of year getting everyone’s Christmas treats ready on time. However with her clumsy sister, Bethany, as a co-worker, it’s proving a difficult task. They say you shouldn’t mix work with family. Maybe they have a point…

As Christmas approaches, Carly is also eagerly awaiting the return of her best friend to Whitsborough Bay. Liam has no idea he’s been the object of her affection since their schooldays. After years of pining after him, can Carly pluck up the courage to finally tell him how she really feels by 25th December?

Could a little festive magic make all of Carly’s wishes come true this Christmas…?

STARRY SKIES OVER THE CHOCOLATE POT CAFE:

Cosy up with a mug of hot chocolate for some festive sparkle from bestseller Jessica Redland.Everyone is getting into the festive spirit on Castle Street – snow is falling, fairy lights are glistening and Christmas shopping is underway.

But for Tara Porter, owner of thriving cafe, The Chocolate Pot, this is the most difficult time of the year. From the outside, Tara is a successful businesswoman and pillar of the community. Behind closed doors, she is lonely. 

With a lifetime of secrets weighing on her shoulders, she has retreated from all friends, family and romance, and shut her real self away from the world. Afterall, if you don’t let them in, they can’t hurt you. She’s learnt that the hard way.

But as the weight of her past becomes heavier and an unexpected new neighbour moves onto the street – threatening the future of her cafe – Tara begins to realise that maybe it’s time to finally let people back in and confront her history. It could just change her life forever…

The one where I share some of my favourite Christmas decorations

One of my absolutely favourite parts of Christmas is putting up our trees. That’s not a typo. I do mean trees plural. We have three!

I adore fairy lights and it’s so magical seeing Christmas trees lit up in the windows of houses but our lounge is at the back of our house so our main tree wouldn’t be seen from outside. We have a small dining room at the front of the house with a bay window so can put a smaller tree on the window ledge. Our full-size tree is in the conservatory and the third one is a small pink one on a side table in the lounge which my daughter (half-heartedly) decorates.

The main tree started with a red and gold theme but I have a bit of a decoration-purchasing problem and can’t resist some gorgeous new additions each year. Cream and grey have crept in and the occasional splash of a different colour simply because I couldn’t resist the item.

On the smaller tree in the dining room, it’s more of a colourful mix although, if I was to name a colour theme, it’s predominantly silver and purple or blue.

Here are some of my favourite decorations on the main tree and I’ll do another blog post later about the ones on the smaller tree…

My Writing Trio:

I bought the ‘Make a Wish’ star years ago and it always has prominence on the tree, reminding me of when I first made a wish to finish writing a book. Then a wish to get a publishing deal. Then a wish to write full-time. Lots of my writing-related wishes have come true this year.

The ‘Jessica has been good’ Santa makes me laugh and we picked him up from our local garden centre a few years ago. The gorgeous books are a new addition this year from John Lewis. I have three of them on my tree as they’re so pretty. See what I mean about the occasional non-theme colour infiltrating!

Because I write uplifting stories of love and friendship, hearts feature quite strongly on my tree and this isn’t even all the ranges:

Bears feature very heavily and they’re also connected to my writing journey. I came up with the idea for my debut novel – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – after ending a toxic relationship and making the decision to move back to my roots in the north and open a specialist teddy bear shop.

I started writing Seaside Blooms while I had Bear’s Pad and I met my husband through having the shop. He encouraged me to enrol with The Writers’ Bureau where I began learning how to write properly. Bear’s Pad also provided inspiration for my novel, Bear With Me, which is now available for pre-order under the new title All You Need Is Love with a fresh edit. (For those who’ve already read it, I will write a future post about what’s changed).

Some of the bears I stocked in the shop came home with me. Okay, lots of the bears I stocked came home with me! The Forever Friends ones aren’t strictly tree decorations but they sit beautifully on the branches. The Mrs Christmas and Elf are stunning miniature jointed bears by Gund and the detail on them is amazing.

I love the idea of buying Christmas decorations when I’m on holiday so there are reminders of special times on the tree. This isn’t usually possible when holidaying out of season but I have managed to collect a few. My husband and I had an amazing honeymoon in Canada in late September/early October 15 years ago and bought the two black bears there. I picked up Pooh Bear in Florida in November a few years previously.

This time last year, we had the most amazing trip to Lapland and bought a few decorations there to remind us of an incredible holiday. Ah, holidays, what are they? 😉

There are lots of other bears on my tree – plush and wooden – and a gorgeous angel bear on the top which I’ve had for about 20 years so he’s served me well…

And there’s a super special Paddington Bear (or three) from M&S a couple of years back who I absolutely love:

Regular readers will know that I adore hedgehogs and may have even read the first book in my Hedgehog Hollow series: Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow. Book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, is available for pre-order now and out on 7th January (woo hoo!)

Therefore, it probably isn’t a surprise to see hedgehogs on my tree! My absolute favourite is the middle one: a Wrendale Designs bauble which my fabulous friend (and super talented author) Sharon Booth gave me last year.

I have a few new hedgehog decorations that haven’t quite made it onto the tree yet as I was using them for a photo shoot last weekend!

And I recently bought this adorable little fellow who is the size of a tree ornament but isn’t hangable (is that a word?) so he’ll stand nearby:

As well as bears and hedgehogs, I have a thing about owls, stemming from me being a Brown Owl for 7.5 years. I absolutely loved the role but, when I started a Masters in Creative Writing a few years ago, something was going to have to give and running Brownies had to be it. But getting my owls out each year always makes me smile and it was lovely that Sharon added to my collection this year with a pair of gorgeous gold owls (bottom right).

I could go on and on for pages and pages but I’d better stop there for now! Hope you’ve enjoyed meeting the bears, hedgehogs and owls on my main tree.

Do you have a theme for yours? Perhaps it’s a colour or a type of ornament? Do you vary the theme each year? Do you have decorations passed down through the family or bought on holiday? I’d love to hear from you.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

My Favourite Reads of 2020

Delighted to see Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow on the EchoesInAnEmptyRoom blog. Thank you so much Hannah for including this book. So very kind of you xx

Echoes In An Empty Room

I think most of us have found solace in books this year, I certainly have. These are my favourite reads of this year in no particular order. It was hard to whittle them down to just 26. There have just been some brilliant books out this year.

Hunting Abigail By Jeremy Costello

Six idiots witness a murder By Rob Hickman

Mainely Fear By Matt Cost

The Boy Between Us By Amanda Prowse and Josiah Hartley

The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside By Jessica Ryn

Your Life for Mine By Karen Clarke

Hungry By Grace Dent

Silent Night By Nell Pattison

The Silent House By Nell Pattison

The Chalet By Catherine Cooper

Remember Me? By Shobna Gulati

Too scared to tell By Cathy Glass

One More For Christmas By Sarah Morgan

A patchwork Family By Cathy Bramley

The Lonely Fajita By Abigail Mann

The Minute I saw you By Paige Toon

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The one where I recommend some gorgeous Christmas books

I have a confession to make. I may have written three Christmas novels and also covered the Christmas period in other stories but, until I became a published author, I’d only ever read one Christmas book! It may seem odd that I’ve therefore written several Christmas books but the reason I hadn’t read many was that, sadly, my first Christmas read was disappointing.

I remember browsing Waterstones about ten years ago and there was this table covered in Christmas reads. They looked so irresistible with their reds and greens and snowy covers and I selected one by an author whose name I recognised although I’d never read anything by her. I started to read it but it didn’t quite capture my interest and I didn’t get very far. Perhaps it was me. Perhaps I didn’t have enough time to get into it with so much going on in the run-up to Christmas. So I decided to try again the following year.

The following year, it didn’t fare much better. It took the third year before I got through it but it was a struggle. I’m not going to name the author or book as that would be unfair but instead of being the uplifting read I was promised, it was quite depressing and it put me off.

But a few years later, a friend of mine – Jo Bartlett – wrote A Holly Bay Christmas and my faith in Christmas books was restored. I think I’d just picked badly with my first Christmas read. Jo’s story is gorgeous and uplifting and simply fabulous and she’s written several Christmas books since then, all of which are lovely and highly recommended: The Gift of Christmas Yet To Come, Hope’s Cornish Christmas, A Song for St Nicholas and The Christmas Shop at Central Park. On my reading plans for this week is her latest release, The Last Christmas Kiss. You can find Jo Bartlett’s Amazon author page here.

Inspired by Jo’s first Christmassy read, I wrote my first Christmas book: Charlee and the Chocolate Shop. You can buy it here now but followers of my work will know that all of my back catalogue has been re-edited and re-issued by my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, and Charlee’s story will be the final one to get the Boldwood polish and will be re-released in August 2021 so you might want to wait until then for a fresh version.

That year, I also wrote a book called Callie’s Christmas Wish which was a sequel to a novella called Raving About Rhys. Both stories have been seamlessly combined to make one full-length novel – Making Wishes at Bay View – which is the first book in the ‘Welcome to Whisborough Bay’ series. It spans roughly a year but there is quite a bit of action around Christmas and New Year so, while not strictly a Christmas book, it will give the Christmas feels.

The following year, I wrote Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes (Kindle link here) and Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Café which have both been freshly edited and re-released this year through Boldwood, the latter under the new title of Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Café (Kindle link here).

I’m really looking forward to diving into some Christmas books across the rest of December, including a few from fellow Boldwood authors but I thought I’d share a review of some of the Christmas releases from this year that I’ve already loved…

SHARON BOOTH

Sharon is a really good friend of mine and I’ve read and loved every single one of her books. She writes beautiful stories of ‘love, laughter and happy ever after’ set in Yorkshire and there are several Christmas ones: Christmas at the Country Practice, Merry Christmas Bramblewick and Christmas at Cuckoo Nest Cottage are the 2nd, 4th and 6th books respectively in her gorgeous six-strong Bramblewick series. Each is a standalone story featuring a different main character but the whole series is fabulous so I’d recommend reading them all!

Saving Mr Scrooge is a full-length novel and a nod to the Dickens classic, as you can probably guess from the title. It’s the start of a Moorland Heroes series but each book is standalone.

Belle, Book and Christmas Candle is the brilliant start to the Castle Clair trilogy and set over Christmas. You’ll definitely want to read the whole series. It’s great fun!

But the book I’m going to focus on here is Sharon’s 2020 release: Christmas With Cary. My review is below. This is the third in a series called ‘Home for Christmas’ but all three books are only connected by the theme of being home for Christmas. There are no recurring characters or settings so they can be read completely out of order without any spoilers. Baxter’s Christmas Wish and The Other Side of Christmas are the first two books and both are wonderful.

Christmas With Cary

Having read (and loved) every single one of Sharon’s books, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of this on my Kindle and was hooked from the first page. I was instantly on Molly’s side, rooting for her to make some pretty enormous decisions about her future … and her past.

I could feel her trepidation as she moved into her holiday cottage facing Christmas alone and was delighted as she overcame each hurdle and started to find herself again.

I’m not giving anything away when I say this is about seeking a second chance with Cary – the one who got away – and, over the course of the book, we find out more about Cary and Molly’s past and why they didn’t quite make it. This is beautifully fed into the present-day storyline and is really easy to follow.

Cary is named after the movie star of old, Cary Grant, and I wondered if my lack of familiarity with him or his films might hinder my enjoyment or understanding of the story but it absolutely didn’t. The chapters are all named after films and very cleverly linked but you absolutely don’t need to know the films to follow this touch of brilliance. On an aside, I may now need to seek me out some Cary Grant films as he sounds divine!

Back to the book, though, it really is a delight. It’s such a beautiful and moving story and I did have tears in my eyes at several points, hoping that Molly would finally get the Christmas she deserved. As to whether she does, you’ll have to read it to find out but I would definitely encourage to you to read it. It’s an absolutely gorgeous warm hug of a book.

You can visit Sharon Booth’s Amazon author page here and specifically purchase Christmas With Cary here.

SAMANTHA TONGE

Sam writes lovely heartwarming stories and I’ve read and loved several of them. I’m hoping to read Sam’s Christmas release from last year – The Christmas Calendar Girls – this month as I didn’t quite manage to squeeze it in last year. Her 2020 release is The Winter We Met.

The Winter We Met

This is the story of Jess Jagger, toy shop manager, who sits in the wrong seat when flying back from a toy show – a move which brings Nik into her life. Nik’s family run a toy manufacturing company from Australia but it’s struggling and he’s on a research trip to see what’s new and popular in toy stores around Europe with the hope of injecting some new ideas into the business. Jess invites him to visit Under the Tree – the shop she manages – and they soon become firm friends.

Jess’s flatmate, Oliver, doesn’t seem too enamoured by Jess’s new friendship and is convinced that Nik isn’t the person he claims to be, especially when befriends the residents of the care home where Jess’s gran lives. Oliver becomes even more suspicious when Nik gets involved in a plan to throw a last Christmas party before the care home closes – shock news for everyone and awful timing – and the residents are separated into new homes.

I have a real fondness for intergenerational stories when the elderly characters are conveyed in a non-stereotypical way and Samantha Tonge handles this beautifully with some really interesting personalities. I love the friendships that are painted between the residents and how devastated they are at the news of Willow Court’s closure, and also the friendships with the staff and the families of the residents.

My favourite moment involves pebbles. I won’t say any more than that. I thought it was beautiful and poignant. I also loved the way the community pulled together to give the residents a memorable final Christmas party.

As for whether Oliver is right to be suspicious about Nik, you’ll just have to read The Winter We Met to find out for yourself!

This is a heart-warming story filled with lovely sentiments about what the spirit of Christmas is and the importance of family and friendships. Awww.

You can buy it here.

VICTORIA WALTERS

Victoria writes lovely heartwarming stories and started a series set in the Scottish Highlands last year. I haven’t read the first two but I read Hopeful Hearts at Glendale Hall this year which is the third book in the series. I’m going to go back and read the previous two as I loved the setting and Victoria’s writing.

Hopeful Hearts at Glendale Hall

A gorgeous feel-good story about embracing the unexpected and finding your place in life. With a stunning setting and fabulous cast of characters, I’m already looking forward to the next one. 

There are two books in the series before this one which I hadn’t already read but there was enough back story in Hopeful Hearts at Glendale Hall for me to follow what had happened in those. This book therefore can definitely be picked up now and thoroughly enjoyed. I’d now like to go back and read the other two as my interest has definitely been piqued and, of course, a return to the stunning Scottish Highlands would be lovely.

You can buy it here.

I’ll post some more reviews for the Christmas reads I manage before the end of the year.

Hope all the Christmas preparations are going well.

Big hugs

Jessica xx