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Big Girl Small Town By Michelle Gallen

Big Girl Small Town‘Big Girl Small Town’ is Michelle Gallen’s debut novel and was shortlisted for The Costa First Novel Award.

Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn’t like gossip and she isn’t interested in knowing her neighbours’ business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers. Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way. But Majella’s safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.

I was immediately drawn to this book after it was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel of the Year written by a Northern Ireland author and nothing could prepare me for the pleasure and joy this story provided during lockdown.

The story is seen through the narrative of Majella, a woman who lives with her mother and works in the local chippy with her friend called Marty. Majella likes the simple pleasures in life, ‘Dallas’, cleanliness and good hygiene. The story starts with the police investigation into her grandmother’s murder and its latest developments which is the talk of the small rural town.

Everyone wants to know everyone’s business, but Majella prefers to keep herself to herself. Her mother hasn’t recovered, after her father suddenly disappeared and spends most of her time feeling sorry for herself and drinking.

The story is mostly based in the chip shop called A Salt an Battered! that Majella works in and this setting provides hours of entertainment with residents from the local, gossipy town coming in for their curry chips whilst putting the world to rights under Majella’s watchful eye.

As a a native of Northern Ireland, I am slightly bias that we produce some of the best comedy writers with our unique dialect and sayings. And for me ‘Big Girl, Small Town’ wholeheartedly embraced it with one liners that made me roar with laughter and snort at the sheer timing of lines as well as names of the characters and the history of their titles.

Majella herself, is the star of the show. She’s not backwards in coming forwards and has a sensitive soul that takes no crap. I envied her for her enjoyment for the simpler things in life and also felt such an empathy with her with her troubled relationship with her mother.

The book has been described as ‘Milkman’ meets ‘Derry Girls’ and I’m saddened to say that I couldn’t get into ‘Milkman’, for me it was a difficult book. But this book was a joy to read from start to finish and one that I wholeheartedly enjoyed, with relatable characters and scenarios and anecdotes.

With an insightful protagonist and a sharp tongue that observes the drama and rumour mill of a small Irish community wonderfully. ‘Big Girl, Small Town’ embraces Irish wit and drama tremendously and showcases the wondrous and occasionally complicated sayings that keep people on their toes in this fantastic debut novel.

You can buy ‘Big Girl Small Town’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Love Your Life By Sophie Kinsella

Love Your Life‘Love Your Life’ is the latest book by Sophie Kinsella.

Ava is sick of online dating. She’s always trusted her own instincts over an algorithm, anyway, and she wants a break from it all. So when she signs up to a semi-silent, anonymous writing retreat in glorious Italy, love is the last thing on her mind. Until she meets a handsome stranger. . . All she knows is that he’s funny, he’s kind and – she soon learns – he’s great in bed. He’s equally smitten, and after a whirlwind, intoxicating affair, they pledge their love without even knowing each other’s real names. But when they return home, reality hits. They’re both driven mad by each other’s weird quirks and annoying habits, from his eccentric, naked-sauna-loving family to her terribly behaved, shirt-shredding dog. As disaster follows disaster, it seems that while they love each other, they just can’t love each other’s lives. Can they overcome their differences to find one life, together?

Sophie is back with an rollercoaster of a story packed with big personalities and hilarious situations.

The story is seen through the narrative of Ava who fed up of online dating and its disasters, so she takes herself away to Italy in a romantic writing retreat and it’s on this retreat that she meets a man called Dutch, who she falls in love with. But the unique thing with the relationship is that, they reveal very little about themselves having fake names Dutch and Aria. But when they are back outside in the real world, Ava and Matt realise that they’re are two completely different people and have to really work at their not so perfect relationship.

From the offset, this book is an enjoyable story, Ava is a passionate and driven character who’s obsessed with finding real love much to the amusement of her friends, but can sometimes come across as quite a flakey character with starting so many projects but never ending them. Her relationship with Matt, once they are back home is completely different. Matt is unhappy with working for the family company whilst Ava is a believer of working for living and not living for working. The couple find themselves battling to adjust to their new lives and this makes for interesting and funny reading.

Like Sophie’s previous books, the characters are a great bunch of personalities from Ava and Matt to their outspoken friends bunch of friends. I particularly liked Nell, she’s a strong, robust character battling Lupus but doesn’t stop the illness from speaking her mind and living her life and Matt’s friend Topher who also wasn’t afraid to speak out. There was also the addition of a buoyant Beagle called Harold, who was the star of the book with his cuteness and disobedient behavior.

Fun and witty from the first page ‘Love Your Life’ is another warmhearted story from Sophie that is packed with laugh loud and tender moments that will have you smiling throughout.

You can buy ‘Love Your Life’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

The Smugglers Wife – Extract

The Smugglers WifeIf you’re a fan of historical fiction, you’re in for a treat as I’ve an extract from Evie Grace’s new book called ‘The Smuggler’s Wife’, the latest in ‘The Smuggler’s Daughter’ series.

It was all very well Louisa warning her off. Grace’s eldest sister had her best interests at heart, but she didn’t know that she had a fancy for Isaiah so strong that she couldn’t eat or sleep.

Not only was he a Deal boatman who could be relied upon to go out in the fiercest of storms, risking his life to save others whose vessels foundered on the Sands, he was landlord of the Rattling Cat pub and a notorious smuggler. He was a loner – Grace often saw him walking along the beach with his grey longdog at his heels – yet he was leader of a gang, capable of inspiring respect and loyalty. The contradictions intrigued her, and it helped enormously that he was also dark and handsome and at least as tall as her, she thought, smiling to herself

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Louisa stepped across the hall and stood between Grace and the front door as she tied the laces on her boots.

‘Back to the market before it closes – I forgot to buy the bread.’ It wasn’t a lie exactly – she had accidentally on purpose forgotten to pick up a loaf with the rest of the shopping.

‘Haven’t I told you before to take a list with you?’

On many an occasion, Grace wanted to say, but she managed to bite her tongue just in time.

‘I don’t feel so good, having been staring at the accounts all morning. Maybe a breath of fresh air will perk me up. Why don’t I come with you?’

‘You look well enough to me,’ Grace said, standing up. Tall, slender and blue-eyed, they were peas from the same pod, except that Louisa was five years older than Grace and an inch shorter, and her hair was a dark brown while Grace’s was the colour of ebony.

‘Where is your sympathy for your hardworking sister? Let me put my ledger away and fetch my bonnet. It’s a lovely day. We can walk along the beach afterwards.’

‘Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to go and have a liedown?’ Grace suggested, but Louisa had made up her mind.

Her plot foiled to see Isaiah again, Grace reached for the willow basket on the shelf, at which a pair of green eyes peered over the top.

‘Oh Kitty,’ she said.

‘What’s that creature doing, lazing around in there when she’s supposed to be earning her keep?’ Louisa grumbled lightly

‘She’s done her work for today – tell me when you last saw or heard a meaker?’

‘Not for a while,’ Louisa admitted.

‘Mrs Witherall next door says she’s overrun with them while we have none, proof of Kitty’s prowess.’

‘I’ll suggest she gives her board and lodgings then – on a permanent basis.’

Grace’s exclamation of protest sent the fluffy black cat leaping out of the basket on to the floor.

‘You wouldn’t? I couldn’t bear it!’ Grace noticed the alteration in Louisa’s expression. ‘You are shamming me?’

‘I am indeed. Although I was very annoyed when Isaiah pressed you into having her, she’s turned out to be rather endearing.’ Smiling, Louisa looked down to where Kitty was winding herself around her legs, then glanced back up. ‘Hark. Do you hear that?’

Straining her ears, Grace listened for the faint medley of sound coming from the distance. Gradually it grew louder, and she began to distinguish the individual parts: the voice of the town crier; the steady beat of a drum; cheering and laughter; a piper’s merry hornpipe; a troupe of fiddlers scraping their strings. The church bells pealed, and the ships’ bells clanged relentlessly from the roadstead.

‘What is it? Has the world come to an end?’ She pushed the front door open. Kitty dashed outside and shot back in again

‘Miss, miss, ’ave you ’eard the news?’ One of a gaggle of shore boys who were half running, half walking along the alley stopped outside Compass Cottage. Fourteen-year-old Cromwell’s face was as brown as a nut, his eyes alight with excitement.

You can buy ‘The Smugglers Wife’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Merry Christmas From Handwritten Girl

Merry Christmas From Handwritten GirlIt’s no big shock to say that 2020 has been a strange old year and most likely the year, that everyone will be glad to see the back off.

But during 2020, for some it was the re-ignition of their love for reading, providing a world of escapism from the pandemic and for others, occasionally myself, it was difficult to concentrate resulting in a trail of half read books.

But one thing that remained consistent throughout the year, was the release of great books. 2020 saw the return of some of our favourite authors such as Marian Keyes and Irish writer, Louise O’Neill who turned her hand to crime writing winning the Crime Fiction Book of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards.

As I take this time off for Christmas to hopefully finish the half read books and the treats I’ve bought myself. I would just like to say thank you to everyone who has supported the website through the year. To the authors, publishers and everyone who has taken the time to stop by, it means a lot.

I hope during Christmas and the New Year, you all enjoy a well deserved break and get the opportunity to indulge in some fabulous books, food and hopefully company.

Take care of yourselves during these times, enjoy the festive films and books and know in the future, brighter times are ahead.

See you in 2021

Handwritten Girl x

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday By Milly Johnson

I Wish It Could Be Christmas EverydayIf there’s one book that will get you into the spirit of Christmas this year, it’s Milly Johnson’s latest festive offering.

Six people all going to different places are forced to hole up in a small inn on the North Yorkshire Moors. Bridge is meeting her soon to be ex-husband Luke to sign a piece of paper that will officially begin the end of their marriage. She wanted to see him for five minutes tops, because she can’t stand the sight of him. Or is she just afraid to be in his presence for any longer than that because what she feels isn’t the hate she pretends to have for him? Luke is meeting his soon to be ex-wife Bridge for the shortest of meetings. He has moved on from his disastrous marriage to her and the last thing he needs is to be trapped with her for four full days when dangerous old feelings could resurface. Industry boss Jack is on his way to a meeting with a Japanese client who cancels at the last minute. It’s a dratted inconvenience having to spend Christmas with a bunch of strangers. But is it really – for someone who is lonely and craving company? Mary has been in love with her boss Jack for four years and this was her big chance to show him she was flesh and blood not the mere useful equivalent of an office stapler. Now she has four days to show him that he needs her in his personal life… but has that chance come too late? Charlie and Robin are going to Aviemore for a snow-filled, luxury Christmas with all the bells and whistles they can muster. Having to spend it with a group of strangers instead, cooking their own dinner would be a complete and disastrous let down to them… wouldn’t it? Six people – some at peace with themselves, some work in progresses, some lost… all take and give from each other in this festive fun-filled feast. A story packed with broccoli, snowmen, carols, paper chains, mince pies, plum tomatoes and cherries… kindness, wisdom and above all hope.

The story is seen through the perspective of 6 people who are all travelling on a snowy winter’s night. The weather is so torrential that they all pull over in a hotel called Figgy Hollow Inn, that is lying vacant but is completely prepared for Christmas. The 6 people are all at crossroads in their lives but during the 23- 27th December, they become firm friends and come to some realisations about themselves.

Outspoken Bridge is meeting her ex-husband Luke to finally sign their divorce papers, married couple Robin and Charlie were off to Scotland for their Christmas celebrations, whilst businessman Jack and his PA Mary were on their way to an important business trip.

As usual, Milly has produced another book that will literally have you feeling warm and glowing inside. With the magical setting of the Figgy Hollow Inn, it’s festive and welcoming setting as well as the wealth of indulgent food on offer that literally has the reader salivating with each page.

I loved the characters so much and had a connection with each one. Bridge and Luke are a complex couple, after years of arguing and moving on, they’ve finally decided to sign the papers but whilst in Figgy Hollow, they remember the good times when money was less but they still loved each other. These parts make for poignant and warm reading as the couple reflect on old times. Robin and Charlie bicker like a old couple, but there’s a deep love between them even though there’s quite an age age between them. Charlie was the gentleman of the story, exuding charm and wisdom to the party with his gentle nature. Whereas Mary has been in love with her boss for years, but Jack has never seen her in this light, but it seems the magic of Figgy Hollow is making him look at his PA in a new way. The magical setting of Figgy Hollow is making everyone reevaluate their lives as well as the importance of friendship at this time of year.

‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ is another charming story from Milly, delivered with her trademark tenderness, love and wit and is story of hope, magic and new friendships. This book is Christmas wrapped up with a festive bow.

You can buy ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.