Reblogging from The Cozy Pages onto my own WordPress blog. Absolutely thrilled to feature as two of Nina’s favourite 19 books of 2019, especially when that’s out of 119 books read across the year. Huge thanks to Nina for choosing Bear With Me and The Secret to Happiness. Congratulations to everyone else whose books feature too xx
Goodreads tells me that I’ve had a very enjoyable year in reading. In fact, I gave 21 books out of 119 a five star rating; and gave an average rating of 4.1 overall. Once a story brings me joy and provides intriguing characters, I’m fairly generous with my stars (espresso shots on this blog). However, a few have really stuck with me since I first read them and stand out above the rest, so here are my top 19 reads of 2019.
Before I get into the individual books, I’m highlighting three favourite cozy mystery series. These are series I started on in 2019 and loved so much that I got myself fully (almost) caught up on them!
The Cat Latimer Mysteries by Lynn Cahoon captured my attention with its clever plots and behind the scenes view of a writer’s life (one who even hosts writers’ retreats)!
I have a daughter who will become a teenager six days before Christmas and she still believes in Santa Claus.
I can’t remember how old I was when I discovered – or perhaps was told – that Santa didn’t exist. It’s the sort of thing that I would imagine my older brother would have spoiled for me because it’s the sort of thing a big brother would do to his younger sister, but I don’t specifically remember it being him. Or maybe it was. We used to go Christmas present hunting around the house when Mum and Dad were out. We found gifts in the bottom of their wardrobe, in the attic, and one year we even found them in the bottom of the wardrobe of the caravan in the back garden. So maybe it was the finding of the gifts that kind of gave the game away. Sorry, Mum!
What I do remember is that I was definitely still at primary school when it happened.
My husband and I hoped that Ashleigh would make it through primary school still believing in Santa. We thought that there was more chance of her doing this with no older siblings to set her straight. There were a couple of moments where friends told her Santa wasn’t real and we would simply ask, ‘What do you think?’ Her answer was always that she didn’t believe her friends and she’d give some evidence as to why she thought this was the case.
She started senior school last year and we were convinced that, as Christmas approached, she’d declare that Santa didn’t exist. But she didn’t. Again, she was challenged by friends but she didn’t believe them.
We thought there was no way she’d still believe in Santa this Christmas but she still does. Her evidence is that she got a desk one year and there was no way that we could have stored it and made it without her seeing and hearing it. Bless her. There’s that much crap stored in our garage that a flat pack desk added to it would not be noticeable. And, as for making it, that was hubby’s delightful task on Christmas Eve.
So this Christmas she will have turned thirteen and she still believes in Santa. We’re actually quite thrilled by this because we have a very special holiday planned this year. We’re off to Lapland to see “the real Santa” just before Christmas and actually fly out on Ashleigh’s birthday. I didn’t think it would be quite as magical if she didn’t believe but, because she does, it will be all the more special.
What do we do after Christmas? Should we tell her the truth or let her come to her own conclusions?
I was concerned about her being bullied or laughed at for still believing and she admits that she has had some girls laugh at her at school but stuff like that just washes over her. She has always been fiercely independent and believes what she wants to believe, never influenced to follow the crowd. Who is therefore being harmed by her continued belief?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether we should break the news to Ashleigh or let her find out when she’s ready, no matter when that might be. I know what I think but I’m curious to hear your take on this first 🙂
This time last month, I promised to bring news about novels I had read as part of my creative writing degree. However, I am unable to share my thoughts with you until they have been marked by my tutor – don’t want to be giving my best stuff away – it’s getting serious. As an alternative, I thought, I’ll write about a beautiful book I’ve read recently. The Secret to Happiness by Jessica Redland – then shut the front door! Jessica Redland herself, one of my favourite authors only goes and volunteers to guest post!
Over to Jessica;
I believe that the genre you write very much influences the choice of character names. An author of sci-fi or fantasy stories is very likely to pick unusual, quirky names or, more likely, make them up themselves. An author of historical novels is going to need to do their research and draw…
I’ve just submitted my final Masters assignment. Yay!
I’ve been studying an MA in Creative Writing through Open University and it’s quite weird to think that two years of study has now finished. The course materials and accompanying activities finished a few months back, so I’ve been out of the routine of weekly studies for a while although the final submission was 15k words so it was about giving time to do that.
We don’t get the results back until early December so it’s a waiting game now. I’ve worked hard and am delighted that I’ve got a distinction so far but will need to get a distinction on my final assignment to come out with that grade overall. My other fiction pieces have scored highly so I’m hopeful.
Have I learned loads? I’ve certainly learned but probably not loads. This wasn’t because there wasn’t lots to learn because there was absolutely loads to take in for someone new to writing. However, I’d already written seven books when I started and studied a lot about writing so most of the first year for me was cementing what I already knew. Much of the second year was about going more in-depth on that as well as exploring a few very specialist elements of writing which I’m unlikely to use. It has been useful, though. I particularly enjoyed looking at script writing which I think has helped my novel writing.
What I’ve found most valuable is the connection with a handful of writers in my tutor group. We started out with about 14 students in the group but only 7 of us have remained active. It’s been so helpful looking at and critiquing the work of others and having them give me feedback in return. I’ve been lucky enough to meet one of the group in person, another has moved into the area so we’ll hopefully meet soon, and I’m meeting a third when I’m down in London in November.
I’m really looking forward to seeing where their writing journeys go and to hopefully seeing them all secure publishing deals or publish their own work in the not-too-distant future.
And, of course, I’m looking forward to receiving my results. Watch this space.
Good luck Angie, David, Georgia, Janet, Mandy and Tracy and thank you for your feedback, support and friendship.
Today is National Teddy Bear Day; a day that celebrates the history behind the teddy bear. Do you know the history? It’s quite a fascinating story.
Stuffed animals had been around for some time and this even included stuffed bears with Steiff including a bear toy in its 1894 catalogue although it was more reminiscent of a grizzly bear than the cute and cuddly teddy bears we think of today. So how did a stuffed grizzly bear – possibly a bit scary-looking – morph into what we more commonly know as the teddy bear today. It was actually the result of a bit of clever marketing in the early twentieth century…
The president of the USA at the time was President Theodore Roosevelt (in office from 1901-1909). In November 1902, Roosevelt visited Mississippi to work on a tricky political situation around boundaries between Louisiana and Mississippi. Roosevelt had a reputation as a rugged hunting/shooting/fishing type so, to help him relax between difficult negotiations, a bear-hunting trip was organised on 14th November (yeah, I know, but do bear in mind [excuse the pun] that we’re talking nearly 117 years ago and these things were viewed very differently back then). Anyway, it was all going a bit wrong and, as the day drew to a close, the President hadn’t been successful. Keen to end the day on a high, the hunters chased and stunned a small black bear and tied it to a tree so that the President could shoot it. Argh! But don’t panic. It does end well because, even though it obviously didn’t bother him to shoot one of these beautiful animals in the wild, he refused to shoot a captive animal and demanded they, “Spare the bear!” So the bear was cut loose. Hurrah!
News of fair play was all over the papers and a cartoon by Clifford K Berryman appeared in the Washington Post with the clever caption “Drawing the Line in Mississippi” which linked to his political reasons for being there as well as drawing the line against killing a captive animal.
A Brooklyn-based Russian couple, Morris and Rose Michtom, were shop-owners and fans of stuffed bears. Delighted by the story, Rose made a jointed bear from soft fabric and put it in the shop window alongside the newspaper cartoon. It sold immediately and so did many replicas. Rose called the bear ‘Teddy’s Bear’ and it’s alleged that Morris wrote to the President asking permission to use the name, receiving a hand-written note giving his permission. Aww. I love that.
The story goes that Roosevelt wasn’t a very sentimental person (possibly not surprising given the “rugged man” image) and didn’t actually like teddy bears, but the publicity did him no harm and the teddy bear as we know it now went from strength to strength.
I could go on and on about the history of the teddy bear because I personally find it interesting about how any product gets developed and has such amazing longevity, but I’ll stop there for now. If you want to read a little more about National Teddy Bear day and see Berryman’s cartoon, click here.
As followers of this blog will know, I’m an arctophile which means I’m a friend/lover (collector) of teddy bears. I love real bears just as much and I hope to go and see polar bears in the wild for my fiftieth birthday in a few years’ time.
As a young child, I had a teddy bear: the aptly named Big Bluey because he’s big and he’s blue. He was a Christening gift and he sits in my office watching me write. His fur is a bit squashed and he’s been repaired at the seams a few times but he’s not doing too badly for a 47-year-old.
I was probably in my mid to late-teens when I really started to really like teddy bears. I don’t know what specifically prompted it but suspect that it was Forever Friends bears being everywhere at the time. I absolutely adored them (and still do).
Over the years, I’ve had all sorts of bears and bear-related gifts from friends and family: stationery, ornaments, tea-towels and pretty much anything you can think of. The scariest gift was an upright vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought from a craft fair. It was a bear in a dress (the dress covered the upright part of the cleaner and the head rested on the handle) and I’m afraid I don’t have photographic evidence of it but it was definitely scary although it gave all the family a good laugh.
My fascination with proper collectible bears didn’t come until I was in my late-twenties. I’d heard of Steiff but had never seen one. My boyfriend of the time took me into a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it changed my life. At first I was astonished at the price tags. Used to paying £10-20 for a plush teddy bear, prices started at an eye-watering £50 and that was for a small, cheap one. I left the shop muttering that I wouldn’t pay that sort of money for a bear … but returned to it later because I couldn’t stop thinking about a Dean’s bear called Scruff who’d caught my eye. I winced as I handed over £70 but that little bear has bought me so much joy and has lasted way longer than a pair of shoes or a handbag of that price might have done.
My collection grew and then I took my interest to the extreme when I packed in a well-paid job as a Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager, moved from Reading to my roots in North Yorkshire, and opened a specialist teddy-bear shop of my own. (The boyfriend was no more at this point).
I ran Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire (not the one in London) for nearly 2 years and it was such a joy to be surrounded by teddy bears and bear-related products every day. I had some wonderful regular customers who shared my passion, but also had some shockers:
The woman who allowed her daughter to urinate on my carpeted floor instead of taking her to the public toilets then made out it was all my fault because I hadn’t let her use my staff toilet (which I had no insurance to let customers use and would have meant clambering over my stock and past my safe so that wasn’t going to happen)
The many occasions where I arrived on a weekend to find somebody had vomited in my doorway so I had that to swill away before opening up
The seemingly lovely man who distracted me by asking me to get a large bear down from the top of the display shelves, saying he’d return later with the cash. In the meantime, his accomplice slipped behind the till and tried to empty it. Fortunately I’d locked it but that didn’t stop him stealing my mobile which was on a hidden shelf below the till
The local woman who made it her mission to go around all the independent shops and tell them they were going to fail because all independents did sooner or later
The parents who’d send their kids to “play in the bear shop while mummy goes on the tanning beds” in the shop opposite
The various others who’d damage or shoplift
Ooh! I just had an unexpected rant there! Back to National Teddy Bear Day…
I met my husband a couple of months after opening Bear’s Pad. We met online and, as we lived a couple of hours away from each other, our first date was in the small market town of Helmsley. I took a small jointed teddy bear with me and decided that, if I liked my date, I’d give him the bear to remember me by. Yeah, soppy. I did like him and I did give him the bear although I was gutted to discover recently that he’d completely forgotten this! Rude! The bear – Hermann (named after the German manufacturers) – became our holiday bear, going away with us on all our holidays with a little backpack we got off a cheap doll. Hubby knew Hermann was our holiday bear but had completely forgotten how he came to be in his possession. Men, eh?
When we married, we had a Cherished Teddies bride and groom on the top of our cake and plush bears on the top table.
Bears have remained a strong theme and influence for me. My book, Bear With Me, is inspired by my experiences of having a teddy bear shop and learning how to make artist bears, although you don’t have to like teddy bears at all to enjoy it as the teddy bear shop (called Bear With Me) just happens to be the setting; bears aren’t the main theme.
In every book I write, I ‘plant’ a bear. It is usually there to give the protagonist comfort and is often a reminder of the past. Sarah in Searching for Steven turns to her childhood bear, Mr Pink, for comfort. Elise in Getting Over Gary hurls her bear, Marmite, across the room because he was a gift from her husband who has just betrayed her. In Callie’s Christmas Wish, a musical bear is a valuable link to the past for octogenarian, Ruby, and, in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Carly gives her sister a bear purchased from Bear With Me to convey a special message. A picture I bought of a bear and the words ‘Be Brave’ inspired part of the storyline for Christmas at the Chocolate Pot Cafe. These teddies and collectible bears certainly have some power!
Some people don’t get why a grown adult would love teddy bears but I can’t see my interest ever waning. I don’t buy many plush bears anymore, tempted though I might be, as I don’t have the room. Over the years, I’ve given about 20 binbags full of teddy bears to charity. I find it so hard to say goodbye but I tell myself that they’ll go to loving homes! I have a cabinet in the office full of collectible bears and a few others spread around the room. It’s not possible to feel down when surrounded by their pudgy faces and outstretched arms, waiting for a cuddle.
My plush bears have certainly given me comfort over the years and, as I say, they’ve changed my life. If I hadn’t bought that first collectible one, I wouldn’t have opened a bear shop, I wouldn’t have met my husband, and I probably would never have finished writing my first book.
Happy National Teddy Bear Day. Why not give your teddy a cuddle and thank him or her for being there for you over the years?
I was fifteen when Dirty Dancing came to the UK cinemas (October 1987). I remember a friend saying she’d seen it and loved it but I’d never heard of it and, with no social media around, I don’t remember there being much hype.
It was a few years later when I first saw it on video and I wondered why I hadn’t bothered with it sooner. I absolutely loved it. Since then, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it. I own the DVD, more recently replaced by the twentieth anniversary edition on Blu-ray, and also the soundtrack on CD (which is on in the background as I write this).
Yesterday, I took my daughter to see the stage version in Leeds and it was fabulous. We didn’t have the best seats as I only booked tickets a few weeks ago, but we still really enjoyed it.
We’d seen Strictly Ballroom a few years ago and it was very close to the film so I was interested in seeing how close the Dirty Dancing adaptation would be. Much of the dialogue was exactly the same, and most of the songs were there, although some were significantly shortened and a couple were instrumental rather than lyrics. I had one big disappointment here: ‘She’s Like The Wind’ was instrumental only. For me, that song is iconic to the film, especially as it is sung by Patrick Swayze, but perhaps that’s a reason why it wasn’t included. It was disappointing not to hear it, though.
There were new songs and new scenes. With a film I know and love so well, it’s a little weird seeing new parts.
Some certainly added value; particularly those around character development for Baby, Johnny and Baby’s parents.
Some added more to the political situation in the USA at the time. It was 1963 and a lot was changing there, particularly regarding civil rights. Part of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech (which actually happened during the time the film was set) was included in a new campfire scene, culminating in the singing of ‘We Shall Overcome’. And there was more made of Neil Kellerman going on his freedom ride and his motivations around this. I personally felt that these scenes disrupted the story (sorry) and actually made Neil into a confusing character when he didn’t need to be anything more than the slightly creepy arrogant relation to Max Kellerman that he is in the film. But perhaps someone not so familiar with the film (is there such a person?) might disagree.
Also, I didn’t understand the character of Tito Suarez. In the film, he’s the conductor for the house band and he performs a brief tap-dancing routine with Max Kellerman. Clearly, from the brief conversation they have during the finale concert, they’re very good friends too. However, in the musical, Tito’s role seems to change and he’s giving advice to Neil and Johnny but there’s no set-up of their relationship to understand why he’s suddenly the advisor, as well as a conductor and a singer. Hmm.
Oh, and don’t get me started on Mr Schumacher becoming some sort of comedy magician instead of one half of a doddery old couple stealing wallets.
These were small points, though. What a delight to hear the film’s two most iconic lines:
“I carried a watermelon”
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner”
Absolute classics! Johnny had to pause for a very loud audience reaction after his line!
The sets were stunning and the many set changes were brilliantly handled. I was particularly impressed with how they achieved the scene dancing on the log over the chasm and the practice lifts in the water. As for the dancing, it was superb throughout. And that final lift? Incredible.
So, whilst I have a few niggles here and there – probably because of my love for the film exactly how it is – this really was a wonderful show and I would highly recommend anyone to go and see it. You really will have the time of your life!
And whilst Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey can never be replaced as Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman, the leads in this show were very impressive. A huge congratulations to all the cast.
And you can get a Johnny teddy bear, complete with leather jacket and sunglasses. How cute is that?
Do you ever have one of those days that start off full of excitement and high expectations, but go horribly wrong? I had one of those days today.
My 12-year-old daughter is going to a Girlguiding festival over August bank holiday weekend and the theme is ‘Disney’. I promised her I’d take her to Primark to get some cheap Disney clothes.
We drove an hour to the retail park just outside of York. She complained of a headache when we got there and then, when we were inside Primark, she said she felt sick. Primark is the opposite end of the retail park to the toilet block so it was a bit of a dash. She wasn’t sick but felt it and looked pale.
Leaving her in the seated area outside the toilets, I bought water, Calpol, and a Poundland bucket for the journey home, just in case. Just as well because she was sick on the way home. When you have a phobia about people being sick, like I do, this is a pretty traumatic incident.
Halfway home, we discovered that the main road was closed due to an accident and we had to turn back on ourselves and take a diversion. With so many vehicles on the alternative route, there were parts of the journey that were stop/start and others that were stationary. We tried a shortcut that would have bypassed the accident but were stopped by the police because the shortcut was a narrow-is country lane and they didn’t want loads of traffic using it, risking further collisions. Fair enough. We ended up having to rejoin the traffic we’d left, much further behind than we’d been before, and stuck behind a combine harvester which held us up even more.
It took nearly two hours to get home, instead of one. We finally made it home, our only purchases of the day being the water, some Calpol and a sick bucket but thank goodness for the sick bucket!
A song I absolutely hate played on the radio en route and I didn’t have the energy to try to change station. It’s a standing joke how much I hate this song and how, despite it being from the early 90s, the local radio station seem to constantly play it. When I got home, I discovered I had been wearing odd earrings. A minor point but it seemed to add to the ‘rubbishness’ of the day.
I work freelance marking HR assignments and they’d piled up while I was gone. Some of them take a lot longer to mark than others and my inbox seemed to be full of those ones so each one took an eternity to plough through. The quality was very poor and none of them passed which is always disappointing. Then my right shoulder started aching really badly, undoubtedly from hunching over the steering wheel for two hours, rigid as a board, trying to ignore my sickness phobia and then feeling tense still as I desperately tried to catch up on my work and stop my day being a complete write-off.
But then I looked up the accident online and suddenly my bad day paled into significance. My shopping trip had been a disaster, my daughter had been sick, and we’d been stuck in traffic but this was all trivial stuff because it turns out that, in that RTA, someone died.
According to the report on the York Press website (you can read it here) “a 61-year-old man from the Sheffield area, suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene”. Two children in the car, aged 9 and 10, were taken to hospital, one of them by road and one by air ambulance “with injuries not believed to be life-threatening”. There are no details about how the accident happened other than that it involved the man’s car, a car transporter and an HGV. I’m not going to speculate what might have happened as that would be unfair but, if a car was up against a transporter and HGV, it’s probably a bit of a miracle that those two poor children weren’t killed too.
Given the ages, I’m guessing this might have been a grandfather out with their grandchildren. Again, the article doesn’t say. Could have been their dad, an uncle, or perhaps just a friend. Whatever the relationships, how traumatic must that have been? Those two children are at an age where they’ll likely always remember that accident, and their lives will change forever from today.
My thoughts are with the poor children and all the families involved as well as the two drivers of the other vehicles as their lives will have now changed forever too. And my thoughts with the emergency services who deal with tragic incidents like this every day. Hats off to you. I’m not sure I could do that.
I’m sure there were many fed-up and irate people stuck in the traffic today but give me two-hours of traffic any day instead of what those involved in the accident have been through and will go through going forwards. Scary stuff.