Challenge Participant


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Twelve Days of Not Just for Christmas by Alex Brown

Today I am very pleased to be part of the Not Just for Christmas blog tour to celebrate Alex Brown's latest visit to the beautiful village of Tindledale.

A seasonal delight from the No.1 best-selling author of The Great Christmas Knit Off and The Secret of Orchard Cottage.
Kitty, who runs the Spotted Pig Tea-rooms in the picturesque village of Tindledale, thinks she's come to terms with her husband Ed’s death on active duty. When she learns that Ed’s army dog, a black Labrador named Monty, is being retired and needs rehoming, it awakens her heartache once more.
Amber runs the pet parlour, but her love of dogs extends to rescuing abandoned pooches and now her tiny cottage is overflowing with homeless hounds. The only answer is to open a proper rescue centre but where will the money come from?
Kitty knows she could never take on Monty – it would be too painful, but with more than one dog needing a home this Christmas, is a miracle too much to hope for?

I really enjoy visiting Tindledale, it depicts a traditional English country village, and I would love to wander around, stopping for a cup of tea and slice of cake at the Spotted Pig Tearoom before visiting Hettie's House of Haberdashery and whiling away the hours at one of the craft sessions with the other villagers.

In 'Not Just for Christmas' Kitty, the Spotted Pig Tearoom's owner takes centre stage. She has recently lost her husband, Ed,, who died while serving the country at war, but is given the oppurtunity to rehome Ed's best friend, Monty the Labrador, when he is retired from the Army. She is, of course, of two minds whether she can take him on, however one of Ed's fellow comrades also visits, himself injured at war, and makes the decision even harder.

Amber, who works at the village's pet parlour also is heavily involved in this story, her love of abandoned pets sees her turning her mum's home into an animal sanctuary, something which sees her mum putting her foot down but her determination to rescue all the homeless pets, including Monty, a good home and she decides to look for other solutions.

I really enjoyed this novella and would recommend it to anyone who wants to take their first visit to Tindledale. Alex Brown's books are fantastic stories to loose yourself in on a long winter evening. There are a whole cast of characters who pop in throughout the stories, each book being the story of one or more characters and allowing the reader to find out their history and following their story. 

The author, Alex Brown and her publisher, Harper, have very kindly offered me the opportunity to allow one of my blog readers the chance to visit Tindledale themselves and I therefore have a competition to win Alex's back catalogue of books, which includes all the Tindledale books, aswell as Alex's series of books set in the beautiful Carrington store. To be in with the chance of winning this backlist please enter the Rafflecopter prize draw below:

The competition ends at midnight on 23 November and I will draw the winner on 24th November. The prize will be sent direct from the publishers.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Happy Birthday Old Bear by Jane Hissey (Blog Tour)

Today I am very excited to welcome Jane Hissey and Old Bear to my blog. They have been on a week long blog tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Old Bear's first book being published.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the publication of the first Old Bear book in 1986, author and illustrator Jane Hissey has created a brand new story: Happy Birthday Old Bear, which will be published in September 2016.

The toys are getting everything ready for Old Bear’s birthday party, helped by their new friend, Elsie the elephant, who plans on giving Old Bear a painted umbrella as a present. They tie ribbons on the gifts, play party music and make a birthday cake, but when they head into the garden Elsie and her umbrella are blown away by a gust of wind and have to be rescued!

Featuring the soft-toy characters belonging to Jane and her family, this latest Old Bear adventure, illustrated with enchanting original artwork, promises to charm and delight children; both existing fans and those discovering Jane’s work for the first time. 

Praise for Old Bear:
‘I'm not sure you ever grow out of Old Bear stories.’ The Bookbag
‘Sometimes I worry that books that we've loved for years might one day fall out of favour…but Jane's books seem to comfortably buck that trend.’ Read it Daddy
‘Every child deserves to be read to about Old Bear, his many friends, and adventures.’ Our Book Reviews Online
‘Jane Hissey’s characters make so many simple childhood experiences interesting and exciting and we love the way that the toys use their imaginations.’ Story Snug

Happy Birthday Old Bear is published in September 2016 priced £11.99

I am very privileged that Jane Hissey has written a special blog post about how Old Bear has changed over the 30 years of publication.

Old Bear started out life as just a bear. My grandmother gave him to me when I was born and he was my constant childhood companion. I had a largely outdoors childhood so he often needed repairs and I remember my mother stitching him a new nose and eyes when they were presumably lost in the fields! Her stitching remains to this day and helps to give him his unique look.

When I became an illustrator, and was asked to write and illustrate a children’s picture book, I decided this old bear  (though 30 years younger than he is now) should be my lead character.
It is interesting; when you first draw a toy that is to feature in a book, before its character has developed through the story telling, it’s just an illustration of a toy; there is no ‘life’ This must have been the case with Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear before they developed their own personalities.

This is the very first drawing of my original group of chosen characters. It was done as a sample drawing before I wrote ‘Old Bear’ and was included on the title page of the finished book. The toys are all just about recognizable but their characters are completely undefined. They stand or sit awkwardly and it is obvious I am still experimenting with capturing their texture and choosing expressions and posture

As I drew Old Bear more and more (throughout that first book and then the subsequent twenty or more books) I found shorthand ways of showing his texture, of indicating the movements he was capable of.  I got to know his shape and form and determined the expression he should have (kind, cheerful and wise.) In other word he became ‘Old Bear’ not just an old bear. 

As Old Bear himself travelled the world to visit schools, bookshops and libraries in such far flung places as Australia and the USA, he left a little bit of his fur wherever he went and is now pretty threadbare. It hasn’t helped that he has also had an attack of the clothes moths and had to spend a short time in the freezer! The slight changes in appearance are noticeable in the more recent books where he has lost much of the velvet from his paws and a bit more of the fur from his nose. But I  
draw him from life and that’s how he is. I say it’s all part of growing old gracefully!

Happy Birthday Old Bear by Jane Hissey

Happy Birthday, Old Bear - Old Bear (Hardback)

To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Old Bear and friends, Jane Hissey has created an entirely new adventure featuring the beloved characters, filled with the charm and beautiful illustrations for which she is acclaimed. The toys are getting things ready for Old Bear's birthday party, helped by their new friend, Elsie the elephant, who plans on giving him a painted umbrella as a gift. When they head into the garden, Elsie and her umbrella are blown away by a gust of wind and must be rescued!

Publisher: Salariya Book Company Ltd
ISBN: 9781910706725

Whenever I pick up an Old Bear book by Jane Hissey it is as if I am transported back to childhood. I really enjoy reading the stories and seeing the lovable toybox characters who, along with Old Bear, are enjoying fun and friendship throughout.  The characters are all toys that could be found in any child's toybox and, through Jane Hissey's beautiful illustrations are easily identifiable by children of all ages. 
Old Bear stories are books that I enjoy giving to children aged 0 to ten years. The books make beautiful presents for births, christenings, birthdays or just because and can be shared at any time. Jane's beautiful illustrations are perfect for young children to look at and talk about with their peers or adults. They can be used to tell the story without reading the prose or be looked at while listening to Jane's fantastic story.
I really enjoyed this book, as with Jane's back catalogue Old Bear is a great character to share with young children and with this being a very important landmark publication I would love to share the love of Old Bear with all my blog followers.
From Sarah's Book Reviews I would like to wish Old Bear a very happy 30th anniversary.

Thank you to the publishers, Scribblers. for sending me the book to review and inviting me to be a part of the celebration blog tour.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor

Today I am pleased to welcome Hazel Gaynor to my blog. The Girl from the Savoy is based in the 1920's, an era which I am very interested in.

 The prologue starts in 1916, where Dolly is waving her sweetheart, Teddy, off to war. Teddy believes he will soon be back home with Dolly, however Dolly is not so sure. Fast forward to the start of the story, and Dolly is a housemaid, but has secured herself a job in The Savoy, an upmarket hotel in London. She knows it is one of the best hotels in London and Hazel Gaynor's descriptions of the hotel gives the reader an insight into this expensive and ornate decor and experience of the hotel. I have never been to the hotel, only seeing it on television and on the pages of magazines, but would love to experience The Savoy and through Hazel's narrative I feel I have a sense of a day at The Savoy.

Dolly works as a maid within The Savoy and works in order to pay for tickets to the theatre, where she would love to be, on the stage, entertaining the audience. However, there are lots of girls just like Dolly and it is a difficult occupation to go into.  Along the way Dolly meets with both Loretta, a star of the stage, and Perry, a songwriter, who is also Loretta's brother.  Loretta is hoping that she can make Dolly the new star of the stage, however there is the conflict in Dolly's jobs where she must be invisible at The Savoy whereas she must have a presence and be seen on the big stage.

I really enjoyed this book and I will be looking for more of Hazel's work in the future.

Thank you to the publishers, Harper, for sending me the book to review.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Blog Tour - by Liz Nugent

Today I am very pleased to welcome Liz Nugent to my blog. Liz's new book. Lying in Wait, is released on Thursday and is a great read, full of twists and turns and leaves the reader waiting to the very explosive end.

I asked Liz Nugent about the importance of class within her novels:

Class plays a big part in both of my novels Unravelling Oliver and Lying in Wait. Mostly, I use it for comic effect because, let’s face it, snobbery is ridiculous and funny, and everyone gets it wrong. The middle classes think the working class are criminals and the working class think the middle class are rich. The upper classes actually don’t care. They are too busy trying to find ways to keep the heating on in their draughty old stately homes.

I write mainly about middle class characters, and their struggle to keep up a lifestyle they often can’t afford because I think, for them, it is all about appearances.

In Unravelling Oliver, Oliver went to boarding school and then to university, but because he was financially cut off by his father, he had a very real anxiety about being able to keep up with his friends socially. He never lived in real poverty; he never went hungry, but the shame of his circumstances led him to make terrible, terrible decisions with tragic and devastating consequences, which rippled outwards for decades to come. When he finally had the money to match his social class, he became the ultimate snob, sneering at those, like Barney, who he felt were beneath him.

Barney was a salt of the earth working class man who dated a girl from the ‘posh’ house. He never felt good enough for her and when he was usurped by Oliver, he didn’t even put up a fight because he felt that Oliver was better than him, a cut above. Poor Barney!

When I wrote Lying in Wait, and set it in the recession of the 1980s, the matriarch, Lydia’s family has been defrauded by their accountant, a member of her husband’s Old Boy’s club. She cannot deal with the shame and the humiliation so they decide to keep it to themselves. They move their son from a public school to a state school, under the pretence that it is more convenient, because it is closer to home. Lydia is determined to keep her late father’s legacy intact. When Laurence later meets a girl (no spoilers!) from a working class background, he is terrified of introducing her to his mother for many reasons, but one of them is the girl’s social standing.

Speaking on a personal level, I grew up in a middle class family but worked in the Arts for many years. The Arts is a tremendous leveller. You don’t make it in the Arts because of who your Daddy is, or where you went to school. Queen Victoria is quoted as saying ‘Beware of artists, they mix with all classes of society and are therefore most dangerous’! Artists challenge societal norms and often make people uncomfortable. That’s our job!

Thanks, Sarah, for giving me the chance to write about such a thought-provoking topic and for taking part in this wonderful blog tour!

Thank you to Liz and the publishers, Penguin Randomhouse for sending me this book to review and inviting me to be a part of this blog tour.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Blog Tour - The Dog Who Dared To Dream by Sun-Mi Hwang

Today I am very pleased to welcome Sun-Mi Hwang to my blog. The Dog who Dared to Dream is the second book by Sun-Mi and is her second book to be translated into English. Her debut novel, The Hen who Dreamed she could Fly sold over two million copies worldwide.  

The Dog who Dared to Dream  is the story of a dog named Scraggly. Born an outsider because of her distinctive appearance, she spends most of her days in the sun-filled yard of her owner’s house. Scraggly has dreams and aspirations just like the rest of us. But each winter, dark clouds descend and Scraggly is faced with challenges that she must overcome. Through the clouds and even beyond the gates of her owner’s yard lies the possibility of friendship, motherhood and happiness – they are for the taking if Scraggly can just hold on to them, bring them home and build the life she so desperately desires. The Dog Who Dared to Dream is a wise tale of the relationship between dog and man, as well as a celebration of a life lived with courage.

I have been asked to share the first chapter of the book with my blog readers and I hope you enjoy.......

The brown dog lifted her head off the ground and growled as she nursed her pups. But that was it – she didn’t even bare her teeth. ‘I thought he’d come only after we starved to death,’ she muttered.

The wire mesh gate, covered with a blanket, opened with a clang. Cold air rushed in. Shivering, she glimpsed the changing colours of the persimmon tree outside as the old man entered the large metal cage. His footsteps had given him away; she wouldn’t have remained so calm if it had been anyone else. After all, it had only been thirteen days since she’d given birth.

The old man closed the gate behind him and placed a steaming pot on the ground. He blew out cigarette smoke, his face becoming blurry. ‘Now you guys aren’t so green any more,’ he said, reaching down to remove the pups. They kept suckling, their eyes closed. ‘You rascals! You’ll kill her with all that sucking.’

‘I’ll say,’ murmured the mother dog. She slowly got to her feet. ‘This litter has quite an appetite.’ She looked exhausted. Her teats were red and swollen and her fur was stiff. She began to wolf down her breakfast.
The old man crouched nearby and finished the rest of his cigarette, watching her. She was shivering. Her shoulder bones protruded from her thin frame. The pups snuffled around, looking for their mother’s nipples, whining for her attention. She didn’t pay them any mind, focused as she was on eating.

The man turned off the kerosene heater in the corner. It had been on all night long. ‘All different colours,’ he remarked.

Two were entirely brown, two were brown with white spots, three were brown with black spots, and one was very dark, almost bluish black.

‘Just a few more days of hard work,’ he said, stroking their mother with his rough hand. ‘We’ll find them owners soon.’

The mother dog finished the entire pot, but she wasn’t quite full. She licked the remnants on the ground and looked up at the old man, who was holding a spotted puppy that had been pushed off the blanket they had been lying on.

He tutted. ‘The firstborn . . . ’ He looked down at it sadly. The puppy was already stiff. ‘Weak from the very beginning, and now it’s gone.’

‘That one was born too weak,’ sighed their mother. ‘It didn’t even suckle properly. Why is it always the firstborns that make me cry, every time?’ She lay down again with a grunt. The pups burrowed into her, nudging her with their heads and tapping her with their front paws. Her belly jiggled gently. The babies struggled for nipples. The two strongest ones, both brown, pushed their siblings aside and settled in the middle. The black pup fell backwards in the tussle. She tried to push her way back in but couldn’t clamber over her siblings’ legs. Whimpering, she tried again. But nobody moved aside.

The old man gazed down at her. ‘You’re certainly not the weakest. Why are you letting yourself be shoved away?’ He placed the small, lightweight pup on his palm. ‘How did your mother come to have an odd one like you? Your fur’s come in already. And you’re all black!’

Thank you to the publishers, Little, Brown, for sending me the book to review and inviting me to be a part of the tour.

‘It’s a first for me, too,’ said the mother dog. ‘Their father doesn’t look like that.’

The black pup sniffed the man’s hand. It smelled of metal. She knew this scent. Earlier, her siblings had pushed her, causing her to topple over onto the bare floor. She had hit her head on the wire mesh, and this smell had enveloped her. Her eyelids fluttered, her head hurting anew. She opened her eyes slowly to see the man’s wrinkled face, patchy with dark scabs, burned by the sparks that landed on his face when he soldered.
‘Look at you! You’re the first to open your eyes!’ The old man plucked a brown pup nestled in the middle and set down the blue- black puppy in its place.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Romeo and Juliet (A Colouring Classic) and Pride and Prejudice (A Colouring Classic)

Romeo & Juliet - A Colouring Classic (Paperback)Pride & Prejudice - A Colouring Classic (Paperback)

Adult colouring books are very popular at the moment, the current craze across the world. I like many of them, and there are hundreds on the market. However, if I am totally honest I like the orginial books by Johanna Basford and Millie Marotta - pictures made up of lots of different elements and the zentangle designs where patterns are drawn inside of detailed outlines. There are now many different styles of colouring books on the market and there are many which seem to of jumped on the band wagon and not done it very well.

I was sent both of the books, Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice to review and I admit I was nervous about if I would like them or not. The books in general are good quality, made of sturdy, heavy paper through which colour does not bleed but I would prefer, when making these books, for the publishers to only print the designs on one side of the paper. I am always nervous that the medium chosen to colour in the designs may bleed through and therefore ruining the design on the other side. Also I may decide to frame a picture and therefore miss out on the design on the other side. The designs are clearly drawn and there are definite black outlines on all pictures.  Some of the pictures also have quotes from these famous books which add to the design. And now comes my disappointment - there are many designs which include people, which I don't think have a place in adult colouring books. It is very difficult to colour in people without them looking like a child's colouring and I don't think they add anything to the pictures, rather deflect the attention from the beautiful designs.
Thank you to the publishers, Little Tiger, for sending me the books to review.