Now that Christmas has come and gone, we’re looking forward to a new year. 2021 will see me setting a fresh reading target with Goodreads. I’ve been involved in the reading challenge since 2015 and 2017 was my best year with 60 books completed and reviewed. This year I began with a modest 40 titles, which has ended with 67 books read and reviewed! Covid has been a contributory factor, as it probably has been for many people who, like me, have turned to reading to fill in time usually spent on activities outside the four walls of home.
Having completed 67 books (it will actually be 68 as I’m currently coming to the end of The Catch by T M Logan) it has been an extremely difficult job to pick ten titles. There have been many five star reviews; books that have entertained and which I have enjoyed. In creating this list I have looked at all of my 2020 reads and tried to find the ones which, for me, had that extra something.
So here’s my list and although there are ten, they all have an equal placing as my favourites of 2020. There’s quite a variety here – a lot of psychological thrillers, yes, as I’ve developed quite a taste for them. But you’ll also find romance, crime and a couple of historical novels in the mix. As a lover of fantasy- and Arthurian legend in particular – it was also great to discover a new author this year – James Wilde. His trilogy Pendragon, Dark Age and The Bear King also deserve a mention.
So that’s it for another year, but there’s no let up for me. As a Netgalley reader and reviewer I’ve already completed my first 2021 novel – Wendy Dranfield’s Find My Child, due to be published on 25th January. It’s her debut for Bookouture and I have to say she’s set the bar high for the coming year.
Wishing you all a safe and healthy new year. I’ll be back in January with my monthly update.
Every year during this run up to the festive season, I always seem to get pulled back into memories of childhood Christmases. Of course it was a long time ago and things were vastly different then. For a start it was less commercialised: a gentler time where we were far more innocent as children and keen to believe in what was then a magical as well as religious celebration.
Growing up, most of us believed in Father Christmas. I think I must have been six or seven before I learnt the truth. Unlike us, these days kids know far more at a much earlier age. They wouldn’t be fooled by tales of a red suited man with a large white beard climbing down the chimney to delivery presents. During one particular December a girl in my class told us all that she’d actually met and spoken to Santa. I had always wondered how one man with a sleigh and a team of reindeer could possibly bring toys to children all over the world in one night. Magic, I was told, but after she had boasted to the class about this, I wanted to come face to face with the big man and ask him how he achieved this feat. Of course had he really appeared I’d have probably been too scared to say anything, and hidden under the bedclothes instead! On this particular Christmas Eve, however, I stayed awake only – yes you’ve guessed – to end up being massively disappointed when humans crept into my room to leave presents. Years later, when I was at college, one of our lecturers told us he believed telling his children Father Christmas existed was a terrible thing to do. It was a lie and he didn’t feel comfortable misleading them. Instead he told them we all gave each other presents at Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that because although it is a myth, for younger children there’s something magical in believing for a while that this big, jovial bearded man in red and white is real.
Christmas at junior school meant decorating the classroom with multi-coloured garlands. The taste of the glue as we created the linked chains, licking the edges of each one before sealing it into a loop, (no self adhesives in those days) has left a lasting memory. When complete, the garlands were hung across the classroom ceiling and along the walls with red paper bells. Although the bells were kept in a cardboard box and used each year, the garlands were thrown away. It meant we had another round of glue licking to look forward to next year.
ADVENT CANDLES AND GINGERBREAD HOUSES
I remember grandmother worked with a German woman called Marta. Every year she would make Advent candle displays and give one to her as a Christmas present. It was always exciting to light a new candle every week knowing that each flame brought Christmas closer. Her other speciality was a gingerbread house with red paper curtains. Its roof was decorated with Smarties and the walls with silver bobbles and Iced Gems. Picture below in case you have no idea what these are!
Sunday School was held in the Victorian school house in the village. No longer used for teaching, it hosted jumble sales, whist drives and other village events. Every December we would all go carol singing to raise funds for St Stephens, our local church. As we lived in a rural area we would travel in two cars (one driven by the Sunday School teacher, the other by her son) and tour around the local villages singing. Sadly not everyone appreciated our vocal efforts and I remember at least one or two houses where lights went out as we stood by their front door singing.
CAROL SERVICE AND NATIVITY PLAY
Every year St Stephen’s held a Christmas carol service that villagers and all the Sunday School children attended. Each of us was given a figure or an animal to place in the nativity scene set on a table next to the pulpit. We also had our own school nativity play, of course, which saw our mother’s busy making costumes. There was always excitement over which role we would get. My best was a shepherd, the worst a sheep!
THE CHRISTMAS TREE
The tree we had lasted several years. It was replanted in the garden after the festivities. When it became too large we simply bought another one. Decorations were mostly tinsel and baubles, although I do remember my grandmother’s tree had red candles on it. They were slotted into small metal holders which clipped onto each branch of the tree. Thankfully the candles were never lit – it was far too dangerous!
The bird on the Christmas menu was goose, not turkey. My grandfather kept chicken (we sold eggs) and pigs and would raise geese to sell at Christmas. My grandmother, who was a wonderful cook, made all the Christmas puddings and cakes and vegetables came from the garden. Food was good, plain and wholesome. Maybe if we had lived in a town things would have been slightly more sophisticated but village life was all about local produce. There were no supermarkets locally, even in our nearest town. Instead we relied on places like Home and Colonial and International Stores, both now long gone. And as far as a festive tipple was concerned we had sherry, and maybe the odd bottle of whisky to celebrate New Year. Now I think of the huge selection of food and drink available in the supermarkets I realise how spoilt for choice we all are.
So those are some of my memories of Christmas past. You know, the rose tinted ones which overlook the fact there was no central heating and living on the edge of Salisbury Plain, exposed to the elements, meant snow could cut us off for a couple of weeks during winter months. This resulted in no bus service and the local farmer taking his tractor and trailer across the fields to the next village to get food supplies. Being such a small community, we had no school, no shop, no post office and no pub. It meant my grandfather occasionally travelling to the next village to a pub called The Prince of Wales, for a drink. Failing that, he would drink at home. My grandmother was a great wine make -, usually elderberry or dandelion – and her wheat wine was legendary, Many people said tasted like whisky.
Each December I return to St Stephen’s to place a wreath on my Dad’s grave, and as I look around I realise how much the village has changed over the years. I have no idea how many people lived there when I was a child, but in 2019 there were 157. They still have no shop, no pub, or school, but that no longer matters. People have cars, they are mobile. Or they can shop on line for pretty much everything they need. The farm has gone, replaced by four large detached houses (one with a swimming pool) and the farmhouse has been completely refurbished. The manor too has seen new build in its grounds and several cottages have been upgraded. There is a small swathe of council homes, most of them now privately owned and properties have also sprung up on available pockets of land. Despite its size, the place has a modern face. People work from home or travel to the nearest train station six miles away where there is a main line to London. Now, like many other communities whose families once stayed in their villages for generations, there are few villagers left. Instead it has become an ‘escape to the country’; a prime location for those seeking a better quality of life – and who can blame them?
This is my penultimate post of this year. I’ll be back just before New Year with my list of favourite reads of 2020. In January started out with 40 reads as my Goodreads challenge. Completed books currently stand at 66 – blame Coronavirus as I don’t think I would have had as much time to read had things been normal. Anyway, I plan to list my top ten reads and know it will be difficult choosing as there have been some really amazing books this year.
In the meantime here’s wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and I’ll catch up with you soon.
Today, I’m pleased to welcome author Lizzie Lamb onto my blog. Her latest book Harper’s Highland Fling was published on 9th November and is her seventh Scottish themed novel, all of which feature feisty heroines and handsome, kilted heroes.
ABOUT HARPER’S HIGHLAND FLING
After a gruelling academic year head teacher Harper MacDonald is looking forward to a summer holiday trekking in Nepal. Her plans are scuppered when her wayward niece, Ariel, leaves a note announcing she’s running away with a boy called Pen. The only clue to their whereabouts is a scribbled footnote: I’ll Be in Scotland.
Cue a case of mistaken identity when Harper confronts the boy‘s father – Rocco Penhaligon – accusing him of cradle snatching her niece and ruining her bright future. At loggerheads, Harper and Rocco set off in hot pursuit of the teenagers, but the canny youngsters are always one step ahead. And, in a neat twist, it is the adults who end up in trouble, not the savvy teenagers.
Can Cupid convince Harper and Rocco that they have found their soul mates?
Fasten your seatbelt for the road trip of your lifetime –
It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
LIZZIE TELLS US WHAT INSPIRED THAT WONDERFUL COVER
After looking through various stock photo websites for the cover of Harper’s Highland Fling, I stumbled across Stuart McIntyre’s fabulous portfolio of wedding photos, most of which feature Scottish locations. I found an image I liked and asked Stuart if I could use it for the front cover of my book. Not only did he agree, he went the extra mile and contacted the young couple featured in the photograph, asking them if they minded being featured on a book cover. Luckily they said ‘YES’. All they asked in return was a signed paperback, which I was happy to send to them soon after publication day. We have since become friends on Instagram, but the story doesn’t end there. Stuart’s offices are in Hamilton (near Glasgow), close to where my mother and father had their first home and two miles from where I was born (Craigneuk). Since this book is dedicated to my mother I feel like I’ve come full circle. My mother died before I published my first novel so this feels right, somehow. Everyone has said how much they love the cover; so romantic, so atmospheric. It was created by Gail Bradley and we plan to redesign all my covers in 2021. I hope that Stuart will be able to provide me with another stunning photograph for #7 – working title: Dark Highland Skies using one of the photographs from his other website).
After teaching her 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, Lizzie decided to pursue her first love: writing. She joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), quickly followed by Boot Camp Bride. She went on to publish Scotch on the Rocks, which achieved Best Seller status within two weeks of appearing on Amazon and her next novel, Girl in the Castle, reached #3 in the Amazon charts. Lizzie is a founder member of indie publishing group – New Romantics Press, and has hosted author events at Aspinall, St Pancras and Waterstones, Kensington, talking about the research which underpins her novels. Lizzie romance Take Me, I’m Yours, set in Wisconsin, also achieved BEST SELLER status >travel>USA. Her latest novel – Harper’s Highland Fling – has been declared her ‘best one yet’ by readers and reviewers. In it, two warring guardians are forced to join forces and set off in hot pursuit of a runaway niece and son. She has further Scottish-themed romances planned and spends most of the summer touring the Scottish Highlands researching men in kilts. As for the years she spent as a teacher, they haven’t quite gone to waste as she is building a reputation as a go-to speaker on indie publishing, and how to plan, write, and publish your debut novel
Lizzie lives in Leicestershire (UK) with her husband, David.
She loves to hear from readers, so do get in touch . . .
How did we get to 30th November so fast? It’s a really strange phenomenon that during 2020 it’s been a quieter year for me and yet I seem to have more to do. The arrival of this month saw the annual clock change in late October. For a while we had lighter mornings, but for a good part of last week waking up to fog and unable to see across the valley, has made it feel as if we’re getting up in the middle of the night. I remember when I was working, that the last week in January was the time when I walked home from the bus stop in dusk rather than dark. So I measure the beginning of a move back to lighter evenings by that time.
I guess the one big event during November was the arrival of my new computer. My old one had given me just over ten years of good use, albeit with several changes of keyboard and monitors. A bit like Trigger’s broom on Only Fools and Horses with 17 new heads and 14 new handles! I looked at all in ones and was tempted, but eventually opted for another, smaller tower, new 24″ monitor and a good quality keyboard. As a touch typist I’ve got through a load of these in ten years. Usually the I went first, then the E, S and L. It seems to me that keyboards aren’t meant to last. During my working life the letters on the office computer kreyboards I used were more robust and didn’t wear off after a few months use as they do today. Yes, I know, maybe I should have splashed out a bit more money, but even the more expensive keyboard I’m now using doesn’t feel as if it will be any more durable. I guess only time will tell. Oh, and almost forgot, I also have a camera, where previously I had to use my husband’s laptop in order to use Skype to catch up with friends and relatives. All in all, three weeks into the use of this new computer set up, and I’m really pleased with my purchase.
On the 3rd of November we had our last Tuesday lunch out before Lockdown No 2. We had been eating out since early July when we came out of the first lockdown, keeping out of the city and visiting pubs in the surrounding villages instead. All the pubs we’ve been to have observed strict hygiene rules and we never once felt compromised. Some of the those we used to visit still have yet to reopen, opting for a takeaway service instead. Coming out of lockdown No 2 this week, we will be in a Tier 2 area instead of 1, as we were previously. This has seen us having to cancel a planned lunch out with friends. Christmas certainly is going to be different this year!
I hope having to make these sacrifices will get us all safely to the time when the vaccine becomes available and life gets back to some form of normality. It’s easy to tell yourself that you don’t know of anyone who has had Covid and to query whether it’s actually as bad as everyone says. Or whether, as some believe, it’s only people in towns and cities who get it. Hand on heart I’d only heard of cases through friends of friends. And then two weeks ago my best friend called me to say her son had a temperature and was self-isolating. His Covid test came back positive but thankfully he has come through the whole episode safely. It certainly goes to bring home the fact that it is out there and you can become infected when you least expect it.
And finally where am I with my writing? Well everything is going well at the moment. Happy to say writing mojo has made a reappearance. At the moment I’m trying to balance working on book 10 with reading and reviewing, which I’ve been doing throughout the year. I have to say there have been some amazing new titles during 2020 and I’ve currently earned my ‘100’ badge from Netgalley. However, despite having a huge appetite for other authors’ work, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that my own writing is as important. I’m hoping for a late spring publication with this, the second part of the Cornish Estuary trilogy. Currently working hard and pushing forward with it. Wish me luck.
And so, that’s about it for the month. See you all at the end of December when I’ll be looking back at the year and my memories of 2020.
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