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My Top Ten Favourite Festive Activities By Heidi Swain

Christmas RoomToday on the book tour for her new book Christmas book called ‘The Winter Garden’, Heidi Swain is sharing her Top Ten Favourite Festive Activities because she is a HUGE fan of Christmas!

So, here we go…

“Heidi

Reading
I’m sure it’s no surprise that books bagged the number 1 spot! December 1st is always reserved for Mr Dickens. The month simply wouldn’t work if I hadn’t reacquainted myself with A Christmas Carol. I also read Trisha Ashley’s Twelve Days of Christmas too and treat myself to new festive fiction. Louise Marley, Sophie Claire and Victoria Walters are on the list this year and I’m starting earlier than usual because otherwise I won’t fit them all in.

Carols from King’s
My Christmas Eve revolves around this choral festive treat. My to-do list has to be completed so I can be ready to watch and listen with a cup of tea and a mince pie. As a person of Pagan persuasion, I find this much-loved tradition of mine something of a surprise, but the voices are so stirring as the light begins to fade. I love it!

Christmas shopping
I love Christmas shopping, as long as I have my trusty list. The chilly weather, bustling streets and frequent tea and cake top ups make it all the more pleasurable. I know it won’t be the same this year, but I can hang on to the memory of those wonderful excursions for now.

Finding the right gift
Nothing beats the pleasure of watching someone opening their gift and seeing their face light up. Finding the perfect present isn’t always easy, but it’s totally worth the effort.

Baking
I’m certainly no Jemma from The Cherry Tree Café, but I do love some festive baking. My repertoire is limited, but nothing says Christmas like a stint in the kitchen assembling my easy cheat mince pies and sausage rolls, with the festive tunes cranked up, a glass of mulled wine to hand and my Santa apron in place.

Scents of the season
Not strictly an activity you might argue, but it can be! Mulling your own wine with festive spices and studding oranges with cloves to release that seasonal smell feels like a pretty good way to spend an afternoon to me.

Decorating
Dressing the house is always a favourite festive activity and generally happens the second weekend in December. I know exactly what’s packed in the boxes in the loft but opening them is always a treat. The hearth is dressed with holly, ivy and mistletoe and the tree is topped with two angels, both created by my son and daughter in Year R. Given that they are 25 and 20 now, the loo rolls and pipe cleaners have certainly seen better days, but up they go!

Festive films
I love snuggling under a blanket to watch a festive film. Like everyone else, I have a teetering pile of DVD’s and it’s an annual treat working my way through them all. I also love the Hallmark channel and all the made for TV films. A totally festive indulgence! I don’t think I could pick a favourite, but ‘Love Actually’, ‘Elf’, ‘Muppets Christmas Carol’, ‘Nativity’… nope. I can’t do it! I’ll just end up listing the lot!

Winter walks
As you may already know, I’m always trying to get folk outdoors in the fresh air, whatever the weather. Although I draw the line at heading out in driving rain! I love getting wrapped up in warm layers and striding out for a bracing walk around my local patch. It’s a great mood soother and in the run up to Christmas, when it’s tempting to stay inside, a super way to recharge the batteries. Throw some snow in the mix and I’m even happier!

'The Winter Garden

Taking in the sights of the season
This is a separate trip to the shopping expedition and with a completely different purpose. Norwich always has beautiful light and window displays and I really enjoy going up to the city, towards the end of the day, to simply admire the decorations and soak up the atmosphere. We’d had the lovely of tunnel of light for the last few years and then there’s the animatronic tableau in the Forum and Jarrolds. All so superbly seasonal!

Crikey, that was the speediest Top Ten I’ve ever written and I could have easily added more favourite festive activities to the list. I know there’s nothing unusual or surprising written here, but these are all things I love to do in the run up to Christmas and beyond and this year more than ever, I’m going to take comfort in the familiarity of them all.

Wishing you all a safe and healthy festive season.

With love
Heidi x

You can buy ‘The Winter Garden’ from Amazon and is available from other good bookshops.

My One True North By Milly Johnson

My One True NorthMilly Johnston is back on our bookshelves with witty and poignant story about lost love and new beginnings.

Laurie and Pete should never have met. But fate has pushed them together for a reason. Six months ago, on the same night, Laurie and Pete both lost their partners. Struggling to manage the grief, they join the same counselling group – and meet each other. From their sadness, Pete and Laurie find happiness growing and they sense a fresh new beginning. Except, the more they talk, the more they begin to spot the strange parallels in their stories. Then Pete discovers a truth that changes everything. But, as surely as a compass points north, some people cannot be kept apart.

The story is primarily seen from the perspectives of recently bereaved people Laurie and Pete, who’s partners were tragically killed in a car accident. Now, months later the pair of them are trying to deal with their loss and with the help of their friends join a group for people dealing with grief. The group is lead by Molly, a kind woman who helps people deal with losses after the death of her own partner. In this group we meet a range of characters who are recovering from the loss of people and pets and the impacts that these deaths have had on their lives. The people are an interesting collective who are at different stages of their journey and are there to offer support and friendship when things get tough.

I adored this book and absorbed it in one sitting and was disappointed in myself for not reading it sooner. Pete and Laurie are two fantastic lead characters, both are united in grief and are heartbroken for the lives that were tragically taken from them. As the pair of them join the group, we see them tentatively embark on a new friendship and an understanding as they both share their grief and stories. It’s lovely to join them on their brave steps of making first solo cinema trips, dates and adventures together. As the story progresses we see that the pair have more in common than they could have ever imagined and that the lives they were leading, were far from perfect.

The story is a tender and poignant one that focuses on loss and how different people deal with it but with every bittersweet moment in the book, Milly delivers some wit with her Yorkshire humour that brightens the reader up. Having sadly experienced her own loss in the last year with the death of her father, Milly’s writing is reflective and tender with a special insight on grief.

The story sees the return of ‘The Daily Trumpet’ the local newspaper that is always printing apologies for errors in articles, whether it’s a wrong name or an incorrect letter to a word that gives a story a completely different angle. Alan, the poor the editor is regularly using creative and colourful language to describe his staff and the situations and these scenes with Alan genuinely make for hilarious moments.

‘My One Truth North’ is another wonderful story from Milly that delivers laughs, tears and new friendships, filled with warmth and charm, this is another stunning story from Yorkshire’s finest author.

You can buy ‘My One True North’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

The Minute I Saw You By Paige Toon

'The Minute I Saw You’The Minute I Saw You’ is the latest book by Paige Toon.

Some people believe that it’s possible to fall in love simply by gazing into another person’s eyes, but Hannah, who spends her working life staring into the eyes of strangers, has never felt anything out of the ordinary for any of her clients. Then she meets Sonny, and a spark ignites between them that’s hard to ignore and impossible to forget. Weeks later, they cross paths again, but Sonny’s whole demeanour has changed. Gone is the sexy, laidback, confident man that Hannah was so attracted to, and in his place is someone who can barely make eye contact at all. It soon transpires that Sonny is at a crossroads. He’s committed to making serious life changes, but these changes can’t and won’t include romance.
Hannah, who is only temporarily housesitting her uncle’s cottage, has her own reasons for wanting to keep their budding friendship platonic. But as summer hots up and the chemistry between them sizzles, Hannah and Sonny discover that there’s more to each of them than meets the eye.

Yesterday I spent my day with my head buried in Paige’s latest book, a story of new beginnings and friendships.

The story is seen through the narrative of Hannah, who works in an opticians and it’s in this job that she meets Sonny Denton. Both are attracted to each other but agree to be friends, but as they spend more time together, they realise that it’s difficult to maintain a platonic friendship.

I’ve been a fan of Paige’s books for years, they’ve accompanied me on many a bus or train journey, transporting me to another time and place and her latest book was just as absorbing.

Paige has an incredible skill of creating handsome and charismatic men and Sonny was no different, charming, witty and slightly damaged that made the reader want to look after him. I loved Hannah as well, fun and relatable and I really enjoyed the scenes of banter between the pair of them. Both of them have underlying secrets and problems and it’s through their confidence in each other, that they grow strength to face them. There is also the addition of an adorable dog that added a hint of cuteness to the story.

The story is set in Cambridge and is filled with vivid descriptions of the city and the canal activities that was very prominent in the story. The story also included the return of Joe Strike and his wife Alice from Paige’s previous book called ‘One Perfect Summer’ and it was lovely to see the return of the dynamic couple.

A fun and sexy story that was a joy to read from start to finish. Paige has written another tender and uplifting book that will have you laughing and crying in equal measure. ‘The Minute I Saw You’ is an unique tale, with relatable and fascinating characters that stays with you long after you close the final page.

You can buy ‘The Minute I Saw You’ from Amazon and is available from good bookshops.

Married At First Swipe By Claire Frost

Married At First SwipeClaire Frost is back with another hilarious story about relationships and friendships called ‘Married At First Swipe’.

Hannah lives life on the edge. Never one to pass up on a new adventure, she has truly been living her best life. But once the adrenaline wears off, she wishes she had someone to spend the quieter moments with too. Learning that her best friend’s online dating business has taken a hit, she comes up with an idea that just might solve both of their problems. Jess has been with her husband for twenty years. They have a stable marriage, great kids and run their own businesses. But what looks like a perfect life from the outside has its own problems within, and with her business on the brink Jess can’t help but wonder where the spark has gone in her life, and whether settling down is all it’s cracked up to be.
When Hannah embarks upon her latest scheme: finding a man using Jess’s dating app and meeting him for the first time at the altar, both women start to realise the grass isn’t always greener. Can Hannah help her friend save her failing business or will Jess stop her from making what could be the biggest mistake of her life?

The story is seen through the narrative of best friends Jess and Hannah who work together on Jess’s dating app called ‘Save the Date’.

The women have been best friends for years and are polar opposites of each other. Where Jess is settled, married her high school sweetheart with twins, Hannah is a flighty character who’s at her most happiest travelling the world and taking part in adventures whilst bar tending to provide her with spending money. Now settled back in Manchester, Hannah envies Jess’s life with the perfect husband and family, but behind closed doors Jess’s life is far from perfect, her business isn’t doing well, money is short and she’s tired of constantly having to pick up after husband and children. It’s on a night out that the friends come up with the plan of finding a husband for Hannah through ‘Save the Date’. This will provide plenty of exposure and interest in the fledging business as well as get a husband for Hannah, the thing is Hannah will only meet her husband on her wedding day.

As the story progresses and Jess finds a potential husband for Hannah, both women are having to face changes in their lives, the huge media interest in the unorthodox way of finding a husband as well as judgement from family and friends.

I really enjoyed this story, it’s only Claire’s second novel, but she’s already an author that I look forward to reading. Her writing is charming, fresh and flows at lovely pace, engaging, poignant with humour riddled throughout.

The characters are relatable, Jess is at a turning point in her life, she’s unhappy in her marriage, struggling with work and Hannah’s wedding is potentially the lifesaver of ‘Save the Date’. She throws herself into the exposure from the upcoming nuptials and begins to see only the status of the wedding and not the actual wedding itself. I loved her Hannah’s attitude, she’s a daring and trusting person putting all her trust in her best friend to find her husband. She’s an open-minded, but is prone to moments of insecurity especially with her mother, who’s like a Hynacinth Bouquet character with airs and graces.

A frank and honest story about relationships and the pressures of society, ‘Married at First Swipe’ is a deliciously fun and quirky story that explores relationships and sometimes looks can be deceiving and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

You can pre-order ‘Married At First Swipe’ from Amazon and will be available to buy from good bookshops from 4th February 2021.

Heidi Swain Reveals New Book – The Winter Garden

'The Winter GardenHeidi Swain has revealed her festive book for 2020 called ‘The Winter Garden’.

What the back cover says –

Freya Fuller is living her dream, working as a live-in gardener on a beautiful Suffolk estate. But when the owner dies, Freya finds herself forced out of her job and her home with nowhere to go. However, with luck on her side, she’s soon moving to Nightingale Square and helping to create a beautiful winter garden that will be open to the public in time for Christmas.

There’s a warm welcome from all in Nightingale Square, except from local artist Finn. No matter how hard the pair try, they just can’t get along, and working together to bring the winter garden to life quickly becomes a struggle for them both.

Will Freya and Finn be able to put their differences aside in time for Christmas? Or will the arrival of a face from Freya’s past send them all spiralling?

Sounds like the perfect festive story to curl up with.

You can pre-order ‘The Winter Garden’ from Amazon and will be available to buy from good bookshops from 1st October 2020.