Monday, 20 December 2021

MIRANDA'S CHRISTMAS MUSINGS!

 Well, hello my darlings, long time no see! I'm delighted to be back with you and chatting about my absolute favourite thing: CHRISTMAS BOOKS! Christmas is tremendously special for me, and combining the love of the season with romance is a complete winner. I've got ten special books to share, so I'm going to dive straight in.


Picture credit: amazon.com

DEAR SANTA by Debbie Macomber is a lovely way to kick off your festive reading; I always enjoy her Christmas books. How many of you remember writing letters to Santa when you were little, with a wish list? How many wishes came true? Lindy Carmichael's just had her heart broken - then her mother gives her all her old Santa letters, and Lindy realises sometimes Christmas wishes do come true, with a little help from you-know-who. No, not Voldemort, of course I mean Santa!


Picture credit: amazon.com

Fancy a cowboy for Christmas? Don't we all! Vicki Lewis Thompson gifts us the scorching novella It's Christmas, Cowboy, and we do need to pop this in our Christmas stocking. With the always-poignant trope of second-chance-at-love, old school friends Tucker and Lacey reconnect. And boy howdy, do they ever! This is fast and furious, so if you've only got a short break, choose this.


Picture credit: amazon.com

And speaking of cowboys - ranchers - ranch builders Kelly Hunter's Must Love Christmas is totally fabulous, one of my 5 star reads this year. Seth Casey is such a dream hero, strong and rugged and sexy and capable and, well, also nice. Madeline is the rich girl who owns the ranch he wants to own, and she says no to his offer to buy it. I thought this might degenerate into a fight (sorry Kelly, I should've known better), but they're both so heroic it turns out to be a heart-grabbing romance. The scene on Christmas Day here is enough to move even the stoniest of Christmas scrooges (sniff). 


Picture credit: amazon.com

Rebecca Raisin is a new-to-me author this year, and I read the two books loosely linked to Flora's Travelling Christmas Shop and loved them: Rosie's Travelling Tea Shop and Aria's Travelling Book Shop. Both were terrific, especially the latter (it's about books!). I couldn't resist the third one, set in the most fairytale of all places at Christmas: Lapland! I'm not kidding. With reindeer and snow and hot chocolate and omigosh the food, and Christmas trees and, cough, Connor, a bit of a Christmas grinch. Flora's about the sort that out, quick smart. This is a gentle romance, and it's sparkly with tinsel and glitter and everything Christmassy.


Picture credit: amazon.com

From Lapland to Edinburgh! I discovered Jenny Colgan last year, and she combines warm humour and romance with festive fun and food: a complete reader seduction. When you add in the booky setting for The Christmas Bookshop, it's winning all the way. At first I wasn't sure if I was going to like Carmen: she was aimless and a bit thoughtless. When her mother and sister foist her into a pretty hopeless destined-to-fail job at the bookstore, it takes a while for Carmen to shine. But, happily, shine she does, and just in time for Christmas. The romance is a little bit different, and the quirky characters totally capture your heart. 


Photo credit: amazon.com

Sweet Christmas Secrets is a stunning anthology with ten festive Regency stories written by ten Aussie authors. Kudos to them all! I had a fabulous time reading my way through the lushly romantic stories. Every one is just long enough to sit and enjoy as a mini break in-between all your Christmas busyness. They each feature a letter and/or a secret, and there are many misunderstandings and broken hearts before we get our happy ending. What a Christmas bliss bomb.


Photo credit: amazon.com

While we're in Regency mode, treat yourself to the charming novella A Christmas Love Redeemed, by fan favourite Alison Stuart. It's a second-chance-at-love story, and it's simply lovely. Another one to enjoy with a quick hot chocolate and a fruit mince pie. Our hero is French (swoon) and the heroine English, so that leads to high tension when the hero is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Such a special treat.


Photo credit: amazon.com

Who can resist the two sweet cherubs on the cover of Their Yuletide Healing? Not I! This is another new-to-me author, Mindy Obenhaus, who writes for Harlequin Love Inspired, a series where faith is a main element in the books. Have to say, faith and Christmas sort of go together, and also reconciliation and forgiveness and healing. Here the town Scrooge suddenly finds his guarded, lonely heart invaded by these two little foster kids and their foster mom. Just. Beautiful. 


Photo credit: amazon.com

It truly is a pleasure to read another Christmas story from Sarah Morgan, and The Christmas Escape is marvellous. And, again, shock, off we go to Lapland! Is the Universe telling me something? Do I need to book an escape to Lapland? (Yes. The answer is obviously yes.) It's not just snow and the cold and festivities, however. This is a deeply moving story of a little family in crisis, of reconciliation, and a zinger do-I-hate-you-or-love-you? romance. (Spoiler: love. The answer is obviously love.) 


Photo credit: amazon.com

I've been told the cover of Trisha Ashley's book One More Christmas at the Castle is all glittery and gorgeous, so it almost seemed sacrilegious to read it on my Kindle. I wanted all that razzle dazzle in my hands, sigh. But any which way you read this book you'll love it. You'll also put on weight just reading about the lavish food, oh my. I have no idea how these characters stayed trim. All that walking in the snow? An elderly widow invites a few key people from her family and friends - and the Heavenly Houseparty catering company - to mastermind her last Christmas at the castle (bit sad). The burning question is who will inherit, but I kept getting distracted by the Christmas cake and cheese straws and...never mind. Not one but two romances here, so terrific, and a fabulous cast of characters. And I'm not going to mention decorations or the food any more. Although there was the mulled wine and the mistletoe...no. A wonderful book that happily wallowed in Christmas from beginning to end, and it made me happy. I now want to live in a castle and have Heavenly Houseparties cater for me, forever. Enjoy.

So that's my little list. Happily I have many, many more also ready to go, including my annual reread of the classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. If you click on the link you'll see I've indulged in a very special new edition. 

Merry Christmas, dear readers. May your festive time be merry and bright, and I hope Santa brings you some wonderful reading.

Do stay safe and well, and hug your precious ones tight.

Loads of love from Miranda xxx

Love to love: Christmas! Everything and all things Christmassy!

Love to laugh: I'm a bit like Cassandra Samuels, I love funny Christmas movies.

Love to learn: What are you reading? And some last minute hot tips for the Christmas stockings? Please tell? Pop it all in the comments. below. 

Monday, 13 December 2021

There was a time Christmas was banned - Was it all Cromwell's Fault?

By Cassandra Samuels

Believe it or not, back in 1647, Christmas celebrations were forbidden by law. No festivities were allowed and there were big consequences for disobedience, but how did it happen?


Care of Creative Commons



The parliament won the Civil War in England, and Oliver Cromwell and his mates decided to incarcerate King Charles at Hampton Court. The Church of England was abolished and replaced with the Presbyterian Church. They had strict ideas about how the people should behave. The Presbyterian Church believed the religious holiday was for prayer, not parties.

"Oliver Cromwell statue outside Parliament" by UK Parliament is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
 

They brought in new restrictions that did not go down well with the populace. These new restrictions included no more than 12 days of Christmas celebrations. All the shops had to stay open on Christmas Day, and no decorations were allowed.

by Sister72 is licensed under CC BY 2.0   

The people were not happy and all throughout England, Scotland and Ireland they refused to conform. Armed forces had to be brought in to control the people and stop festivities. Even the church wardens at Westminster Abbey were arrested for not stopping the celebrations. The Mayor of London was verbally abused for trying to take down decorations of holly and ivy that adorned the shops. The Mayor of Norwich turned a blind eye and was summoned to explain himself. It all ended in a riot that culminated in an explosion, and the death of forty people.

care of creative commons

 In the following years, there were more riots that ultimately led to the second civil war after King Charles was executed. Revolution followed. 

Christmas was reinstated and the people were happy. So, although it wasn't solely Oliver Cromwell's fault, he was part of the parliament that brought in the Puritan restrictions and caused such drama.


Love to Love: Christmas movies and books including our own Breathless Anthology.

Buy here


Love to Laugh: at the joy of my grandsons when decorating the Christmas tree.


Love to Learn: That when things are bad, I have so much love and support from friends and family.


Monday, 11 October 2021

Beta Readers: Why You Need Them

 


By Marilyn Forsyth

When my first timeslip, Gwenllian’s Ghost, was (finally) finished, I was advised by an editor that it was 45 000 words too long to even be considered by a publisher (100 000 max for a debut author).


Well, I culled those 45K words. The problem was, I knew that story so well it was impossible to recognise whether I’d cut out scenes and chapters that were vital to the story. I needed to find readers who could look at my story with fresh eyes and give me objective feedback on what worked or didn’t work in my manuscript.

I needed beta readers.

What is a beta reader?

“A beta reader is a test reader of an unreleased work of literature or other writing who gives feedback (to the author) from the point of view of an average reader...This feedback is used...to fix remaining issues with plot, pacing, and consistency. The beta reader also serves as a sounding board to see if the book has the intended emotional impact.” (Wikipedia )


How do you find beta readers?

My crit partners, family and friends, and members of my writing group, had all given valuable feedback along the journey. But I needed the point of view of readers who belong to my target audience—who actually read and love the timeslip genre—and who wouldn’t be concerned about hurting my feelings. My ego was not important; all that mattered was that the story was authentic and enjoyable.

I chose to go with a paid Beta Reading Service, and I could not have been happier with the result.



The Historical Quill  guarantee comprehensive feedback from at least 6 readers (I ended up with 8). I wrote a short premise of the story and readers were selected from those who indicated they’d like to see the whole manuscript.

The feedback was amazing!

Overall, it was very positive, (except for one reader who hadn’t read a timeslip before and thought the contemporary story unnecessary). After reading through all 8 critiques, I let the comments percolate for a day or so before I went back to my story.


I made note of each reader’s comments (positive and negative). If two or more commented negatively on the same thing, it was obviously something that needed working on. If one reader didn’t like something that another reader liked, I went with my gut in deciding what to do about it. I was lucky that some of my betas were from Wales and they were able to point out mistakes I’d made (with geography - Google maps is not infallible).

Like I said, I couldn’t be happier with the History Quill service. It was fast (6-week turnaround) and efficient, and most of the negative comments were constructive. They’ve helped me make Gwenllian’s Ghost the best it can be. I’ve asked for 5 of those beta readers to be on my ‘street team’ when my story gets published. Now, all I have to do is get Gwenllian’s Ghost out there.

Have you used a beta reader service? How was your experience?

Love to Love: Spring! The Botanic Gardens at this time of year are magical.


Love to Learn: my way around One Stop for Writers. Genius! (And they have an article about where to find beta readers here.)

All images are free to use.