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 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

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

The one where I hoped the Christmas magic would continue

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog post about my daughter believing in Santa Claus. Not unusual. Except my daughter was in senior school and about to turn thirteen.

I shared the concerns my husband and I had about her being bullied at school for her beliefs and the debate we’d had as to whether to tell her what most children had worked out (or been told) years earlier. I canvassed opinion and, without exception, everyone who responded on the blog post or when I shared it on Facebook said to keep the magic going.

Last year we had the most amazing family holiday to Lapland, flying out on Ashleigh’s birthday and returning a few days later. It really was magical and made all the more so because Ashleigh still believed, although the visit to see ‘the real Santa’ was actually one of the least impressive parts of the trip. He seemed a bit bored, insulted her question as predictable (how rude!) and we felt a bit rushed. Not to worry, though, as every other part of the trip was fabulous.

So, as thoughts turned to Christmas this year, hubby and I braced ourselves. Would this be the year she stopped believing?

A few weeks ago, before we went into Lockdown2 in England, Ashleigh and I nipped into town after school to pick up a copy of A Christmas Carol; the book she’s studying in English. As we were driving home discussing the book, the conversation inevitably turned to Christmas.

‘My friends keep telling me Santa doesn’t exist,’ she said.

I have always approached this with my standard answer: ‘What do you think?’

‘I think that I’m probably of an age where, if he doesn’t exist, I should know that….’

I braced myself for her to admit it, slightly gutted that we’d finally reached that point.

‘…but I still think he does exist.’ And then she rattled off the same evidence about her dad making the desk she’d used before. (You can read about that in my original post here).

She stuck with the subject and I couldn’t decide whether she was hinting that she would like me to tell her ‘the truth’ so I tried something different: ‘So your friends say Santa doesn’t exist and you say he does. What would you say if I said he didn’t?’

She looked at me for a moment and shook her head. ‘It would make me cry so I don’t want you to tell me.’

And we changed the subject.

About a week later, it cropped up again. In Religious Studies, they’d been talking about the difference between facts and beliefs. ‘Some of my friends said that believing in Santa was a belief instead of Santa existing being a fact.’

‘What did you say?’ I asked, wondering if this was the moment.

‘I said it was a belief too but I didn’t tell them I believe.’

I felt so sad for her. I sensed she was struggling and wanted it confirming but, unless she directly came out and asked me to tell her the absolute honest truth, I wasn’t going to be the one to tell her. In the turd of a year that 2020 has been, why wouldn’t I want to hold onto this wonderful piece of magic for her for as long as I could?

Then a week ago … and I’m actually crying as I write this because it breaks my heart … she arrived home from school and burst into tears. She had a horrific bullying incident on the bus at the start of the year – so serious it involved the police – and I was scared it had reared its ugly head again but, instead she wailed, ‘XXX and XXX were laughing at me on the bus. They told me Santa doesn’t exist and they laughed at me and said it’s your parents and everyone knows that from, like, when they’re six. They were really horrible.’

She then asked for the truth and I had to admit they were right. To say they weren’t would confuse her, diminish her respect in us, and set her up for further bullying.

She was inconsolable. I asked her what hurt the most: her friends bullying her or discovering Santa didn’t exist. It was the latter and my heart broke even more.

We had lots of cuddles and she was reassured that she’d still put her stocking out and get presents, we’d still put out a ‘Santa Stop Here’ sign and hang the magic key on the door, and we’d still leave treats for Santa and the reindeer. But it was us who’d buy, wrap (and make where required) the gifts and put them out when she’d gone to bed.

I’m so disappointed for her that this little piece of magic was taken away in the year when we need it most. I’m also disappointed in the cruelty of the girls who mocked her, especially as one is meant to be a good friend but I don’t think they really meant to be nasty; it was probably just a surprise to have someone of their age still believing. I tried to imagine myself at their age if one of my friends had still believed. Maybe I’d have laughed too.

A couple of days later, she had a serious question for me. The family of elves who come and wreak havoc…. were they us too? Yes, they were and the reason they often didn’t move was because we forgot or we ran out of ideas!

‘We might as well get it all out there,’ I said. ‘Who else do you think doesn’t exist?’

She looked at me blankly.

I tapped my teeth and flapped my arms.

‘The tooth fairy?’ she asked, laughing. ‘I haven’t believed in her for years. Like fairies really exist! What do you take me for?’

So apparently it’s a ridiculous notion that fairies exist but a bearded man in a red suit delivering gifts to all of the children around the world in one night was absolutely plausible. Love it!

So now she knows. This Christmas will be different anyway. We won’t get to see either of our families like we normally would as, with hubby and I having two siblings each, that would be four families connecting on each side. And now, with a non-believer in the house, it will be even more different. We’ll do our best to keep the magic going, though. Right now, I believe in Santa and miracles. Don’t you?

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where I got 1,000 reviews. Woo hoo!

Ask any author and they’ll probably tell you that one of the scariest things about publishing a book is waiting for those first few reviews to come in. What will readers think? Love it? Hate it? Be completely indifferent?

Reviews are exceptionally important because they are our feedback from our customers. I read every single review I receive on Amazon and positive ones absolutely make my day. They’re like a warm hug, a thank you, and a dollop of motivation rolled into one. They inspire me to keep writing.

Negative reviews…. well, I’m sure you can imagine it’s not a warm hug I get from those. Occasionally (rarely) I might pick up something constructive from a negative review that makes me think, but more often than not, it’s just an angry rant and often feels quite personal. Cue tears and reaching for the chocolate.

At the start of 2020, I had a writing goal to get 100 reviews on one of my books. At that point, I already had about 95 on the original version of New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms. When Boldwood relaunched it with a fresh edit and makeover in February, I knew it wouldn’t be long before that goal was achieved. The rest of the series – and the other books due for a makeover – all had about 30-45 reviews each so they were a little way off that goal.

What I didn’t have was a goal to get 1,000 reviews. Definitely not on my bucket list. Not a goal at all. Why? Because, just like a book of mine going into the Kindle Top 10, it felt like such an enormous impossible goal to achieve. Yet yesterday, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes hit 1,000 reviews.

All weekend, it had hovered tantalisingly close. On Sunday night, I went to bed with it at 998. Surely it would be 1,000 by the morning given the rate at which they seemed to be coming in? I logged in on Monday and it was still 998. Then 999. Just one more needed. I couldn’t wait to grab that screen shot with a clean 1,000.

I never actually got it because, next time I refreshed my screen on the afternoon, it had jumped to 1,002. I’d done it! I’d achieved another goal that wasn’t even a goal! Woo hoo!

This morning, at the time of writing, Carly is at 1,014 reviews/ratings. 72% of these (723 of them) are 5-star and 19% (192) are 4-star. So that’s 915 out of 1,014 reviews or ratings (91%) that are positive. I’m so proud of that.

At the lower end, there’s only one actual 1-star review (plus 11 ratings) and it’s a bit mean: “The main character is ridiculous. Her sister is destroying her business, etc. etc. etc. I made it through one-third of the story and just couldn’t make it any further. When the main character has you rolling your eyes, page after page, I refuse to continue wasting my time with it.” Ouch! So it clearly wasn’t for that reader although it’s a shame she didn’t read on as she’d have found out the reason why Carly accepted Bethany’s behaviour but time is precious and why spend it reading something that you’re not enjoying?

For 2-star, there are three reviews (plus 12 ratings) and a couple of them do make me laugh because the reason for the 2-stars is: “Thinking about Christmas and it’s only September. Well, I realised that only after I bought this book…” and “Well, I think it could be worse. Thinking about Christmas and it’s only August. Well, the book will sit pretty on my wife’s shelf and not get read…” What part of a book called “Christmas at….” with a snow-laden cover including a Christmas tree and a blurb which begins “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…” would make them think that the book is anything other than a Christmas one?

Let’s ignore those, shall we? An enormous thank you goes to Nia, my editor at Boldwood Books for the amazing editorial advice which took a good book and polished into a fabulous one which, in the space of only three months has reached 1,000 reviews.

As for the reviewers/bloggers/readers who’ve shared the book love, I am forever grateful. Please keep leaving reviews for authors whose work you love and we’ll feel those hugs, that motivation and that inspiration to keep going.

If you haven’t read Carly’s story, there are a phenomenal number of listening/reading choices:

  • Download the eBook on Kindle, Kobo or AppleBooks
  • Buy the paperback from Amazon, the Waterstones website or order it via any other good bookstore
  • Buy the audio CD from any of the above
  • Buy the large print version from any of the above, or borrow it from your library if they stock it
  • Download the audio CD from Audible, Kobo, SCRIBD, AppleBooks, Libra.fm, or Chirp (USA only)
  • Borrow the audio version from your library via the uLibrary app or Hoopla in the USA and Canada
  • Stream it via Spotify, Deezer, AppleMusic and YouTubeMusic

Big hugs

Jessica xx

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…?

A heartwarming, short festive story of friendship and family from bestseller Jessica Redland. You can find out what happens to Carly next through exploring her best friend Tara’s story in 
Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café

The one where it’s all a bit strange

There are some pivotal moments in recent history where individuals, depending on their age, can recall exactly where they were/what they were doing when they heard the event happened. Some examples include:

  • The shooting of John Lennon
  • The fall of the Berlin Wall
  • The death of Princess Diana
  • 911

But this is probably the first time in my lifetime that we can add an entire year to the list. 2020. The year where everything and nothing happened. We might want to forget it but we won’t be able to because the global pandemic has impacted on every part of everybody’s lives.

How much of an impact there has been will massively depend on an individual’s circumstances and their mental health. What I might consider disappointing/inconvenient based on my circumstances might have a tremendous impact for somebody else. Therefore, what I’ve written below is very much how I might view things but I do recognise that the events may fall into an entirely different category for someone else…

For some, the impact has been disappointing and inconvenient but not necessarily life-changing or devastating – the annual holiday cancelled, a birthday not celebrated in the usual way, missing face to face contact with friends and family, a new alien work environment based from home. 

For others, the impact has been more significant – job loss or reduced hours leading to financial worries, a holiday of a lifetime/ wedding/ anniversary/ big birthday cancelled, being kept away from a loved one in a care home.

And there are those for whom this year has been a tragedy – illness, cancelled operations, bereavement, not able to properly say goodbye to loved ones, businesses failing, acute loneliness and depression and, of course, exam results and the impact of that on college/university places or employment.

My immediate little family of three has been fortunate so far, falling mainly into that first category of a disappointing and inconvenient year: holidays, theatre trips, celebrations for my hubby’s 50th birthday and my birthday all cancelled. Zoom has been a weak alternative to meeting family face-to-face but we still have our jobs and we’ve both worked from home for several years so haven’t had to adjust to that. We have, however, had an unexpected family bereavement – not to Covid – and that was hard, not being able to rush round and give hugs. But we have been lucky and I count my blessings every day for that.

But today feels odd. Strange. Wrong. Because today I should be at my graduation ceremony.

I achieved my Masters in Creative Writing at the back end of 2019 but it was through Open University so ceremonies take place all over the country, with lesser frequency in the north. I’d hesitated as to whether to bother when the ceremony at the nearest venue to us – Harrogate – would be almost a year after graduating but hubby and the munchkin said I should definitely do it and they would be there cheering me on, as would my parents. When Covid hit, all graduation ceremonies were understandably cancelled for the foreseeable future. I have no idea when it will be considered safe to have an event like this again or how they will catch up with the backlog. Will there be any point in attending a ceremony two or three years after finishing? It feels like the moment has passed.

This weekend, I would also have started getting organised ready for our holiday over the October half term. At the start of the year, we booked a week in Portugal for May half term and a holiday cottage in Lancaster to be in easy reach of both Blackpool and the southern Lake District. Portugal was cancelled and, with Lancashire moving into a Tier 3 lockdown yesterday, that’s also cancelled. We had already made the decision not to go while they were Tier 2 as it made no sense to travel from a Tier 1 part of the country into a higher-risk zone, especially knowing we wouldn’t be able to do what we’d planned for our holiday anyway.

What am I doing instead?

I’m staying at home as usual, waiting for a courier to collect the swab kit for my Covid test. I was randomly selected and invited to do this as part of the research survey undertaken by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Dept of Health & Social Care. I agreed I was happy to participate and, yesterday, my kit and instructions arrived in the post.

Also in the post was a box of author copies of Making Wishes at Bay View from the print-run that has gone into The Works. A case of normality arriving alongside this strange new world.

It all feels very surreal. If someone had told me last year to guess why I wouldn’t be able to attend my graduation ceremony and what I’d be doing instead, I’d never in a million years have predicated this. Yet this is the new normal.

And seeing as ‘normal’ is different, is it too early to put up the Christmas tree this weekend? Yeah, you’re right. Maybe I need to wait until November. Ooh, 1st November falls on a Sunday. Could I…?

Sending hugs to anyone whose 2020 has hurt/is still hurting. Hang on in there.

Jessica xx 

The one where Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes is published

Carly's Cupcakes Tagline 2 Twitter

Today is the publication day for a brand new version of Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes through my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books. This story was originally a short novel at 46k words and an indie release from me in October 2017. The title hasn’t changed but it has a new cover and some fresh content.

What has changed?

Length: The story is longer by about 12k words

Perspective: It is now a 1st person perspective story instead of 3rd person like the original version

Story: The overall story is the same but I have added in more detail around Carly’s backstory with her best friend, Liam. There’s also more about Carly’s sister, Bethany, which explains why Carly keeps giving her chances despite her being a liability to the business. As a result there are lots of new scenes for the reader to enjoy

I love this book. It still touches on some emotional issues like all my stories but, being set purely in December, it is a little lighter and more romantic.

Carly's Cupcakes Tagline Twitter

Is Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes part of a series?

STARRY SKIES HI RESIt’s the start of two books which follow-on from each other and have an overlap of characters.

I would strongly encourage readers to read Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes before Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café which is currently available for pre-order here. This sequel was previously released under the title of Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Café but it has been freshly edited too and is significantly longer.

The owner of The Chocolate Pot, Tara, is good friends with Carly and their businesses are next door to each other on Whitsborough Bay’s Castle Street. Tara features throughout Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and reveals something about her past to Carly that readers find out a lot more about in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café. They’re also able to discover what happens next to Carly in Starry Skies which starts the same Christmas of Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes but takes place across a full year, front and back-ended by the festive season.

Carly's Cupcakes Review FB

Should I download it if I’ve already read the original? 

Yes please! It’s FREE so why not treat yourself to the refreshed version? Even if you’re not likely to read it again, I’d still encourage you to download it … just in case. I’m hoping to get near the top of the Free Kindle Chart too.

Screenshot 2020-08-13 at 16.36.36

Screenshot 2020-08-13 at 16.39.17At the time of writing this, it had already made it to #313 but, just before posting, Amazon’s chart positions updated and it’s shot up to #73! I hope it will go even higher which should then increase awareness of me as an author among new readers who may then discover my other books. So you’d be helping me a lot if you download this. Thank you so much.

It’s also grabbed several number one slots in the free chart, 3 of which are listed above, although free books don’t get the coveted orange bestseller flags.

 

With New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms at #66 in the overall Kindle chart at the time of writing and a #96 position for Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow, I’m thrilled to be able to declare something I never thought would ever happen:

I HAVE THREE BOOKS IN THE TOP 100 KINDLE CHART AT THE SAME TIME!!!!

WOO HOO!!!!!!

Thank you to everyone who has made this possible and an enormous thank you to my brilliant editor, Nia Beynon, for her ever-insightful feedback to shape my work to be even better, and to Ellie Foot at Boldwood Books for the gorgeous graphics.

Where can I find out more?

If you’d like to know more about Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, I’ve pasted the blurb below and you can read a post on Boldwood Books’s blog about what to expect from the book here.

Hope you enjoy your Christmassy trip to Castle Street. I loved writing this book and hope you love reading it just as much. You can access it for FREE on Kindle here. It is going to be available for free to Kobo and AppleBooks readers too but offering a book for free from publication day rather than as an offer down the line is a little more complicated so it hasn’t materialised on all platforms on the same day.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

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 Whitborough 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…?

A heartwarming, short festive story of friendship and family from bestseller Jessica Redland. You can find out what happens to Carly next through exploring her best friend Tara’s story in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café.

This is a new and updated version of Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes which has been previously published.

What readers are saying about Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes:

’Pure Christmas magic! Mix in some fairy lights, snow and sweets and you have a perfect holiday tale.’

’It is a feel-good story that lets you escape into a beautiful setting.’

’My first Christmas book of this year and it will be hard to beat.’

’This well-crafted story was a quick and engaging read that captivated, entertained, and squeezed the heart.’

’This was the right story at the right moment: uplifting, heartwarming and engrossing.’

’I can’t begin to tell you how much I love Jessica’s books’

’Jessica Redland can’t put a word wrong, her books are a real pleasure to read, so well written and you feel as though you are part of the story.’

’Another absolutely fantastic read by a truly fantastic author.’

Screenshot 2020-08-13 at 16.26.43