Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

 
 
Just a quick note to say Merry Christmas. I hope you all have a fab Christmas and New Year! x

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas Crafts 2013

I'll use any excuse to get the craft box out - and what better excuse is there than Christmas? One of my favourite parts of Christmas is sitting down with my daughters (and very occasionally and usually under duress, The Husband) to make something festive. Add some Christmas music to craft away to and finish off with a Christmas film and you've got yourself a pretty perfect afternoon!

This year, I bought the girls a make-your-own-stocking kit (for a bargainous £1 for both the Santa and snowman stockings - thank you Wilkinson).
 
 

Then, after seeing a Sky advert (and not Tesco like I stated on Twitter and Facebook - sorry Sky), we made these sweet-filled Santas out of crepe paper and loo rolls. The best bit is, after Christmas we get to rip them open and eat the sweeties - yum!
 
 
And here they are on the tree:
 
 
I like to make my girls a handmade Christmas card and have started incorporating some sort of sweet. This year, I made Christmas trees with the trunk being a little pocket that holds a small festive chocolate bar.
 
 
And finally, I had to make a festive bookmark to use while reading my Christmassy books.
 
 
And the 5yo had a go too!
 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Mistletoe & Memories by Matilda Maxwell

 
 
Eden is enjoying student life and starting to get into the spirit of Christmas when her former high school nemesis Declan shows up. Declan made Eden miserable at school, using every opportunity to humiliate and ridicule her, but when he turns up in York, he seems to have changed. He's matured and softened and Eden begins to think they can finally be friends - or perhaps even more.
 
But has he changed or is he still the same old Declan underneath?
 
Mistletoe & Memories is a New Adult novella which can be read in an hour or two, making the perfect book if you have a bit of spare time to curl up and read in between rushing around getting everything sorted for Christmas. Eden has been hurt by Declan in the past, so she is understandably wary of him to begin with and I felt for her as her memories of Declan's taunting resurfaced. Despite this, Eden can't help being drawn to Declan so I hoped that he had changed as I'd really warmed to Eden and wanted her to be happy.
 
I enjoyed Matilda Maxwell's style of writing. It was relaxed with a nice balance of humour and heart and the story kept me interested throughout as I kept reading to discover what was in store for Eden and Declan.

Friday, 20 December 2013

My Top Ten Books of 2013

 
Click here to see review

 
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Click here to see review

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Book Awards: 2013

I've read some fantastic books this year so I thought I would share some of my favourites:

Cover of the year:
 Billy & Me by Giovanna Fletcher

 
Billy & Me was my Cover Star for July. You can see my Cover Stars post here or see my review of the book here 
 
 
Festive Cover of the year &
Festive Book of the year:
Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop
 
 
Christmas at Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop was my Cover Star for November. You can see my Cover Star post here or my review of the book here
 
 
Summer Book of the Year:
The Longest Holiday by Paige Toon
 
 
You can see my review here
 
 
Summer Cover of the year:
Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop by Abby Clements
 
 
Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop was my Cover Star for August. You can see my Cover Star post here or my review of the book here
 
 
 
Hero of the year:
Leo from The Longest Holiday
 
 
Leo was lovely! He pulled off the gorgeous, brooding hero to perfection and certainly made me swoon.
 
 
Heroine of the year:
Helen Walsh from The Mystery of Mercy Close
 
 
Helen suffers from depression and can feel herself being swallowed more and more as the book progresses. Helen is a fantastic, funny character but she is also brave and strong and I admired her for that.
 
You can see my review of The Mystery of Mercy Close here
 
 
Book of the year:
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
 
 
I read Life After Life quite early on in the year, but even then I knew it would be a strong contender for my Book of the Year. You can see my review of the book here 
 
I've read some fantastic books throughout the year. You can see all my reviews here
 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Festive Guest Post: Jaimie Admans

 My Top Ten Christmas Films


1 – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation


My number one favourite Christmas movie of all time! A year is not complete without watching this at least once over the holidays! The third one of the National Lampoon ‘Vacation’ series, this time Chevy Chase tries to make Christmas perfect for his extended family who are visiting for the festive season. Obviously, things go wrong. It’s quite old now, made in 1989 I think, and I still don’t think there’s been a better Christmas movie since!

I don’t even have a favourite moment for this one, just all of it!



2 – Elf




Will Ferrell is the human raised by elves who goes to New York to find his real father. There he meets quirky Zooey Deschanel and spreads Christmas cheer. I love this movie so much, it’s really funny and has a great festive soundtrack!

 
Favourite moment: The Baby It’s Cold Outside duet between Buddy and Jovie!


3 – The Santa Clause

 
Tim Allen knocks Santa Claus off his roof and puts his jacket on, unwittingly becoming the next Santa. Then follows the year in which he transforms into an old, fat, bearded St Nick! I absolutely love Tim Allen in anything, and he’s just brilliant in this! It’s so funny, with some great lines and sarcastic comebacks!

Favourite moment: when Fed-Ex deliver the Naughty and Nice list!


4 – The Polar Express



Lovely animated film with Tom Hanks. A boy who doesn’t believe in Santa anymore is picked up at night by the Polar Express train to visit the North Pole on Christmas Eve. It’s a heart-warming story that never fails to put a smile on my face!

Favourite moment: I love the part where they sing When Christmas Comes to Town, and also Josh Groban singing at the end!


5 – Jack Frost



Inattentive dad Michael Keaton dies but comes back as a snowman in his wife and son’s garden to make amends for the less-than-fatherly ways of when he was alive. Get your hankies ready at the end!

Favourite moment: The end, if I can see it through my tears!



6 – Fred Claus



Santa’s little brother Fred, played by Vince Vaughn, needs money. Santa promises to give him what he needs, but only if he pays a visit to his family in the North Pole. However, the North Pole is in danger of being shut down, and it’s up to Fred to save it!

Favourite moment: *ahem* The Jeffrey Dean Morgan cameo, I might have a little crush on him!



7 – Christmas In Boston



Gina and Seth are lifelong penpals, but when the opportunity to finally meet in person comes up, they both chicken out and send their better-looking best friends. Of course, they then meet each other while spying on the date their friends are having while pretending to be them while they are pretending to be their friends. It’s not as bad as it sounds, honest!

Favourite moment: The end, when the truth finally comes out!



8 – Holiday In Handcuffs



When Melissa Joan Hart’s fiancée dumps her just before Christmas, unable to face another year of her mother’s disappointment and matchmaking attempts, she kidnaps Mario Lopez with a pair of fluffy pink handcuffs and forces him to pretend to be her boyfriend over the vacation with her family in a remote log cabin.

Favourite moment: When he tries to tell her family what’s really going on and no one believes him!



9 – Christmas With The Kranks



Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis decide to skip Christmas and go on a cruise instead, until their daughter announces she’s coming home and expects the usual Christmas celebrations. By now they’ve alienated their neighbours with their refusal to do anything Christmassy, and suddenly have a matter of hours to put together the Christmas that Blaire and her new boyfriend are expecting.

Favourite moment: When the police go to pick up Blaire and her boyfriend Enrique from the airport with a sign that reads N. Reeky!



10 – Single Santa Seeks Mrs Claus



The title says it all really, Santa’s son comes to town looking for a Mrs Claus before he takes over his dad’s job. He falls for a Christmas-hating single mother instead. It’s ‘Five afternoon movie’ finest, but it’s so cute too!

Favourite moment: Steve Guttenberg’s magical decorating abilities!






Jaimie Admans is a writer of chick lit and YA. Her latest book, North Pole Reform School is out now and available here

You can find out more about Jaimie and her books on her website or follow her on Twitter.



 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

All Things Christmassy

The blog and I have been feeling very festive during the last few weeks:



I've released my free festive short story, A Beginner's Guide To Christmas, along with an accompanying quiz, playlist and gingerbread recipe.

http://www.jenniferjoycewrites.co.uk/2013/11/release-day-beginners-guide-to-christmas.html

I wrote a piece of flash fiction, To Family, At Christmas, which you can find on the She Loves To Read blog, and a short story, A Fairytale Christmas.

http://www.jenniferjoycewrites.co.uk/2013/11/festive-reading-list-2013.html


I compiled my Festive Reading List and a list of Free Festive Reads and made a Christmassy bookmark.



I blogged about my Festive Cover Stars and had a little help with Festive Guest Posts from Trish Hills, Donna Trinder and Jaimie Admans.


And finally, my family and I went to a wet and thundery Reindeer Parade.

http://www.jenniferjoycewrites.co.uk/2013/11/reindeer-parade-2013.html
 
 
Click here to see all Christmas posts

Monday, 16 December 2013

Short Story: A Fairytale Christmas

 
‘Thanks for this, Charlie. You’re a star. I’ll make it up to you later, I promise.’
Charlie doubted her sister could make this up to her. It was Christmas Eve and instead of enjoying a lengthy lie-in before celebrating in the pub, she was spending the day with Suzy, her four-year-old niece. Charlie didn’t usually turn down the opportunity to spend the day with Suzy – the kid was hilarious and sweet, the kind of kid Charlie would want if she ever met Mr Right – but not when there was a large vodka and cranberry juice (it was Christmas, after all) with her name on it. She deserved that drink. She deserved the five or six that would follow until she forgot about the fact that she was spending yet another Christmas as a single woman.
Why did Thomas have to ditch her in December? Couldn’t he have waited until the January sales at least?
‘I’ll buy you a drink tonight. I’ll buy you two.’
‘For starters,’ Charlie mumbled when her sister turned her attention to little Suzy, making sure she was buttoned up and decked out with hat, scarf and gloves.
‘You be a good girl for Aunty Charlie, ok? And remember: Santa is watching even more closely today. Speaking of Santa.’ She turned now to Charlie and bit her lip. ‘I sort of promised Suzy that she could go and see Santa this morning. He’s at the bookshop on the green.’
Charlie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She counted to ten. Then twenty. It wasn’t working. ‘Can’t you take her later? You said you were only working until three.’ Charlie’s sister had been called into work at the last minute as someone had called in sick (aka had a raging hangover), so now Charlie was not only saddled with Suzy, but God knows how many other hyper brats waiting in line to see the big man in red.
‘He’s only there until two. Can you take her? Please?’
Suzy gazed up at Charlie with her big blue eyes, fluttering the long lashes Charlie coveted. ‘Please Aunty Charlie. I’ll be good as gold, I promise.’
Damn! How could Charlie say no to that without coming across as the miserable devil child of Scrooge and The Grinch? She couldn’t and so she found herself crossing the village green, Suzy’s little hand clasped in hers, towards the children’s bookshop. She hadn’t stepped foot inside the shop for twenty years, not since she was a little girl herself and had regularly sat cross-legged on the rug for story time every Saturday afternoon.
The shop hadn’t changed a bit. Fairytale Forest was a magical trove of discovery for children and Charlie found herself gazing around the shop in awe, not even noticing the chaos surrounding her until a robust boy crashed into her, almost pushing her into a display of festive reads.
‘Hey, watch out. Santa’s watching, you know.’ The threat had worked a treat on Suzy for the past twelve weeks.
‘He’s not. He isn’t even here.’ The boy tore off again, this time colliding with a toadstool and sending it clattering across the room. Charlie took a proper look around the shop now, ignoring the nostalgia and instead seeing the shop for what it was; a cavern of agitated kids and their even more agitated parents. Kids wailed and stamped and moaned and their parents had long ago given up trying to soothe them.
‘Merry Christmas, flower. Would you like a mince pie?’ Doris Walker, the owner of Fairytale Forest, wafted a plate of freshly baked mince pies in front of Suzy. ‘Go on, have two. It’s Christmas.’ She straightened and offered the plate to Charlie. ‘I’m afraid we’re running a bit late.’ She lowered her voice, but Suzy was too busy chomping her way through her first mince pie to listen to the grown-ups chatting. ‘The Santa I booked arrived drunk. Honestly, you could smell the whiskey from across the shop. So I’ve had to rope my nephew Julian in to do the job. He’s just getting changed in the stockroom.’
Great. Charlie wasn’t sure she could take much more of the noise. It was at times like these that she was grateful she had such bad luck with men. Who knows, if Fred Gailey hadn’t broke her heart when she was eighteen, they could be married with a bunch of kids by now. This bedlam could have been a daily thing.
Charlie shuddered. No, Fred had done her a huge favour. As had all the other losers over the years.
‘Ho Ho Ho!’ The stockroom door opened and out stepped Santa, his trousers a little too short and the pillow up his top not quite plumping out the jacket enough, but none of the kids seemed to notice or care. A cheer erupted, almost deafening Charlie, especially as Suzy was one of the loudest.
‘Aunty Charlie? Do you think he’s the real Santa?’
‘Of course I do.’ Charlie hoped Suzy wouldn’t start questioning the logistics of one man delivering presents all across the world during one night. She didn’t have the energy to even try to think up a lie. ‘He’s looks like the real Santa to me. He’s got a beard and everything.’ The bushy beard smothered Santa’s face, with only his twinkly blue eyes showing. Charlie wondered how the poor bugger could breathe with that fluff stuck to his face.
‘Merry Christmas, little girl. What’s your name then?’
It seemed like Boxing Day was almost upon them by the time Charlie and Suzy made it to the front of the queue, with only Doris Walker’s extra mince pies making the wait bearable.
‘I’m Suzy and this is my Aunty Charlie.’ Suzy had hopped up onto Santa’s lap and was running her chubby fingers through the synthetic beard. Charlie prayed she didn’t pull it off. Her sister would never forgive her if she shattered the magic of Christmas for Suzy.
‘Have you been a good girl this year?’ Santa asked and Suzy, eyes wide and innocent, nodded her head. She’d seemingly forgotten the incident with her mother’s expensive perfume and the felt tip drawings on her bedroom wall. ‘And what about your Aunty Charlie? Has she been a good girl? Or is she on the naughty list?’ Santa winked at Charlie and she felt her cheeks grow warm. Was Santa flirting with her?
‘My mummy told my daddy that Aunty Charlie’s sad because her idiot boyfriend dumped her two weeks before Christmas. Do you think you could bring her a new boyfriend to make her happy?’
Charlie’s cheeks burned brighter than Rudolph’s nose. ‘Come on, Suzy, time to go.’ Grabbing the child, she pulled her off Santa’s lap and tucked her under her arm.
‘My present!’ Santa held out the wrapped gift, which was suspiciously book-shaped, before Suzy could start to wail.
‘Thanks,’ Charlie mumbled. She couldn’t forget her manners, no matter how mortified she was, especially in front of Santa.
‘You make sure you’re a good girl for your Aunty Charlie,’ Santa called after a wriggling Suzy as Charlie hauled her out of the shop.
‘Aunty Charlie? I can’t. Breathe.’ Suzy rasped beneath Charlie’s grip so she put the child down once they were safely across the road from the bookshop. They crossed the village to Charlie’s house, where she entertained Suzy with festive films. Her humiliation had subsided substantially by the time Suzy’s mother picked her up, but she still needed a drink. A large one.
The pub was packed, its patrons already merry. Charlie fought her way to the bar and joined the bustle of thirsty customers.
‘Can I buy you a drink?’
Charlie turned towards the voice and was greeted by a pair of sparkling blue eyes.
‘Do I know you?’ He looked familiar but Charlie had never met the man before.
He leaned in close to whisper in her ear. ‘Have you been a good girl this year?’
Charlie gasped. ‘Santa?’ Her Rudolph-cheeks returned as she realised who he was. So this was Doris Walker’s nephew? He was quite dashing without the fluffy beard.
‘Ssh.’ He put a finger to his lips. ‘I’m incognito. I go by Julian while undercover.’ He tapped his nose. ‘So can I get you that drink?’
‘Should you be drinking? You’ll be operating a flying sleigh in a few hours.’
Julian gave a wave of his hand. ‘The reindeer do all the hard work. I just sit there looking jolly.’
‘In that case, I will have a drink.’
A couple of hours later, when Charlie’s sister had managed to sneak out of the house to nip over to the pub and reward Charlie with vast amounts of alcohol, she found her sister in the very capable looking hands of a handsome young man with sparkling eyes and a warm, infectious laugh. It had been a long time since she’d seen Charlie laugh like she was now, unabashed and clutching herself around the middle. Charlie looked so happy and content with her new friend. Perhaps she’d buy her sister those drinks another time.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Festive Cover Stars: Last Christmas by Talli Roland

 
This year I decided to start a Book Of The Month feature to give a special mention to the wonderful books I have read. So I thought why not celebrate wonderful book covers too?
They say don't judge a book by its cover but we all do, right?

Feel free to add your thoughts on the covers or even suggest your own 'cover stars'.
 
Last Christmas
 
 
 
I love this cover because it's festive while not being in-your-face Christmassy. It's so pretty and detailed, with the subtle touch of snow and wreaths to give it a festive feel. I'm immediately pulled into the scene, into the secluded, softly lit street and I want to know who the couple are and what their story is.
 
 
You can read my review of Last Christmas here or click here to see all 'Cover Stars'
 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Gingerbread Snowmen

In my festive short story, A Beginner's Guide To Christmas, Ruth has pretty major problems when it comes to baking a batch of gingerbread snowmen, but I have an easy recipe that even Ruth should be able to manage.

Ingredients:

150g plain flour
1tsp ground ginger
75g butter
50g caster sugar
2tbsp golden syrup

Place the flour, ginger and butter in a bowl and rub until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Add the caster sugar and golden syrup and mix together until you have a dough.

Wrap the dough in cling film and pop in the fridge for at least an hour. Go and put your feet up with a cup of tea. DO NOT use this time to do housework. It's against the rules, ok?

... at least an hour later

Pre-heat the oven to 170C

Take the dough out of the fridge and remove cling film (I have to point this out in case Ruth is reading). Knead lightly then roll out onto a floured surface.

Cut out your snowmen shapes (or whatever shape you want. It doesn't have to be snowmen. It doesn't even have to be Christmassy. They're your biscuits, you choose).

Place your snowmen (or other shapes) onto a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack.

If you're decorating (which you don't have to - your biscuits, your choice), allow the biscuits to cool completely first.


Baking gingerbread biscuits has become a tradition for my family, but we don't always decorate them the same way. Sometimes we make gingerbread men and cover them in coloured icing and add sprinkles but last year we made a mix of men and snowmen and decorated them with pre-made icing (the ones in the little tubes) and mini chocolate beans. This year I'm planning on making stained glass gingerbread men (before they go in the oven, cut a circle [or other shape, your biscuits etc] out of the tummies and place a boiled sweet in the hole. The sweets melt [or something] and fill the hole, setting again when they're out of the oven). I've never tried these before, so they may end up like Ruth's!

Last year's gingerbread men & snowmen



A Beginner's Guide to Christmas is available to download for free at smashwords, Barnes & Noble and iTunes and you can also add it to your Goodreads.
 
Click here for more information about A Beginner's Guide to Christmas.
 
 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A Cinderella Christmas by Holly Kingston

 
 
Dancer Lucy is usually consigned to the chorus line whenever she works in the theatre, but this Christmas she has a bigger role in the pantomime. She isn't entirely happy with her costume but being in the pantomime means she gets to work with actual celebrities. Lucy has a massive crush on actor Ryan Aspall, who will be playing Prince Charming and Lucy can't help admiring reality star Charmaine, aka Cinderella. She isn't the most talented actress but she puts herself out there and wins the roles, unlike herself who is crippled with fear at the thought of being centre stage.
 
With the fairytale playing out on stage, will Lucy get her happily ever after too?
 
I'd been looking forward to reading A Cinderella Christmas as it sounded like such a fun, festive read (with a gorgeous cover too) and I wasn't disappointed. I was immediately drawn to the character of Lucy, who I thought was a fantastic character and very believable. She's fun and caring but also insecure and needs to stand up for herself, which only made me warm to her more. Lucy thinks Charmaine has taken her under her wing, but it seems Charmaine is taking advantage of her eagerness to please, particularly with her dog, the adorable-sounding Lenin.
 
I loved the feeling of being backstage at the pantomime, watching the story unfold during rehearsals and costume changes. Holly Kingston's writing is light and fun, with some proper laugh-out-loud moments, which makes perfect chick lit reading.
 


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Last Christmas by Talli Roland

 
 
Last Christmas, Lucy was dumped by her long-term boyfriend, Robert. This year, she plans to abandon all the festivities and hole herself up in her studio flat with a bottle of cheap wine. But when she runs into Robert - and his fiancée - and he announces he is getting married on Christmas Day, Lucy finds herself telling a little white lie. She can't let Robert know she is spending the day alone, so tells him she is hosting a huge party.
 
Once Lucy's work colleague, Mimi finds out, she runs with the idea and Lucy finds herself planning a spectacular party. The party planning helps to take Lucy's mind off the disastrous last Christmas and she begins to wonder if she is finally ready to move on.
 
As a novella, Last Christmas is perfect for curling up with when you have a free evening. It's a quick read but it's jam-packed with fun and we quickly get to know the characters. I thought Lucy was a great character. Her confidence was obviously knocked when her relationship with Robert broke down and it has taken her a long time to pick herself up, but she finally begins to feel like her old self again once she throws herself into the planning of the party. I also loved Mimi. She doesn't mince her words but she is loyal and clearly cares about Lucy.
 
If you're looking for a quick but highly entertaining festive read, then Last Christmas is the book for you.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Posts of Christmas Past

I thought I'd have a wander down (Christmas) memory lane and link to my favourite festive posts since I started the blog *glides serenely down the lane. Then slips onto arse on the ice*

Short Stories:

Christmas Eve in New York
Christmas Spirit 


http://www.jenniferjoycewrites.co.uk/2011/12/christmas-songs-quiz.html


Christmas Songs and music:

Christmas Songs Quiz
Top Ten Christmas Songs
Top Ten Christmas Films 


http://www.jenniferjoycewrites.co.uk/2011/12/top-ten-christmas-films.html


Crafts & Baking:

The children and I are HUGE fans of Christmas crafts and baking. Click here to see what we made last year.


http://www.jenniferjoycewrites.co.uk/2012/12/christmas-crafts-baking.html
 
 
Click here to see all Christmas posts