The Nutcracker by E. T. A Hoffmann, illustrated by Sanna Annukka Ltd (Review)

The Nutcracker by E. T. A Hoffmann, illustrated by Sanna Annukka Ltd

Blurb

Hoffmann’s classic Christmas fairy tale, immortalised by Tchaikovsky’s ballet, is brought to life by the gorgeous contemporary artwork of Finnish illustrator, Sanna Annuka.

On Christmas Eve, Fritz and Marie excitedly await the arrival of Godfather Drosselmeier and the marvellous gifts he brings for them every year. When Marie discovers a curious nutcracker doll among the presents, she suddenly finds herself caught up in an age-old battle before being transported to a magical world of sugar-frosted castles, chocolate kings, and true love.

Sanna Annukka is familiar to many from her collaborations with Marimekko. The Nutcracker is her third book project.

This cloth-bound edition combines the charm of Hoffmann’s original nineteenth-century tale with the freshness of Sanna Annuka’s gorgeous illustrations. A beautiful gift to give and receive.

Review

As most of you know by now I love the story of The Nutcracker and I read a new edition of it every year. The story for me will always have 5 out of 5 Dragons and thankfully this edition was not abridged so I could enjoy the story in full.

Over the past few years I have read some beautifully illustrated copies of this story and last year’s was a pop up book version, which although abridged really made me smile as the detail of the book was stunning. The illustrations in this year’s edition for me was rather a shock and not what I had expected but this year due to the pandemic I had had to order my copy rather than explore an actual book shop.

The illustrations in this book are bold and only use a limited range of colours but they work so well together and you can really see how Annukka is influenced by her love of printing and Finnish design. The only issues I had was that the illustration of the mouse king sadly did not have seven heads but just the one. You could clearly see it was the mouse king because it was a mouse with a crown but I did miss the seven heads. The other issue I had was that there was an awful lot of black used that made certain illustrations appear rather gloomy.

I really enjoyed reading this edition and I am glad I chose it because in a bookshop I might have overlooked it as the illustrations are not something I would usually choose. However, I really liked how different the illustrations were and how they expertly added to the story. As usual 5 out of 5 Dragons from me.

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Purchase Links

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie (Review)

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie

Blurb

There’s a chill in the air and the days are growing shorter… It’s the perfect time to curl up in front of a crackling fireplace with this winter-themed collection from legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie. But beware of deadly snowdrifts and dangerous gifts, poisoned meals and mysterious guests. This compendium of short stories, some featuring beloved detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, is an essential omnibus for Christie fans and the perfect gift for mystery lovers.

INCLUDES THE STORIES:

– The Chocolate Box

– A Christmas Tragedy

– The Coming of Mr Quin

– The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest

– The Clergyman’s Daughter

– The Plymouth Express

– Problem at Pollensa Bay

– Sanctuary

– The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge

– The World’s End

– The Manhood of Edward Robinson

– Christmas Adventure

Review

I chose this book as one of my Christmas reads and I was so pleased I did because I thoroughly enjoyed this book. 

I absolutely love Poirot and Miss Marple so it was wonderful to read some short stories that include them. Poirot always makes me laugh as he really is such a big head but never seems to see it. Miss Marple on the other hand always comes across as an interfering old woman but of course she is also a genius who can work out any mystery. 

My favourite stories from the book were Sanctuary, Christmas Adventure and The Clergyman’s Daughter. These stories were wonderful reads and really shone out for me from the other stories.

I loved this series of short stories and they really put me in the mood for Christmas and went particularly well with a nice mug of hot chocolate. I highly recommend this book to either dip into or read in one go and give the book 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was an English writer known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. She also wrote the world’s longest running play, The Mousetrap. She also wrote 6 novels under the name Mary Westmacott.

Christmas at Highclere by The Countess of Carnarvon (Review)

Christmas at Highclere by The Countess of Carnavon

Blurb

Highclere Castle, known as ‘the real Downton Abbey’, bustles with activity at the best of times, but it is never more alive than at Christmas. Christmas at Highclere is a look behind the scenes at the routines and rituals that make the castle the most magical place to be throughout the festive season.

Lady Carnarvon will guide you through Advent, Christmas preparations and Christmas Eve all the way through to the day itself, and beyond. Learn how the castle and grounds are transformed by decorations, including the raising of a twenty-foot tree in the saloon, the gathering of holly and mistletoe from the grounds. All the intricacies of the perfect traditional Christmas are here: from crackers and carol singers. The festive feeling is carried through to Highclere’s Boxing Day traditions, the restorative middle days and the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

This book also tells the story of historic Christmases at Highclere – of distinguished guests warming themselves by the fire after a long journeys home through the snow, unexpected knocks on the door, and, always, the joy of bringing family – and staff – together after a busy year.

As well as telling the stories of Highclere Christmases past and present, Lady Carnarvon provides recipes, tips and inspiration from her kitchen so that readers can bring a quintessentially British festive spirit to their own home. Lady Carnarvon divulges the secret to perfectly flakey mince pies, the proper way to wrap presents so that you and your guests are guaranteed a Christmas to remember.

Lavish, celebratory and utterly enchanting, Christmas at Highclere is celebration of one of the UK’s most beloved historic houses and is the perfect gift for any Downton Abbey fan.

Review

My husband and myself are massive fans of Downton Abbey and so I bought this last year for my husband’s Christmas present and it has been on the recipe book shelf waiting for Christmas to arrive. 

I picked this book up to look up some Christmas recipes as I wanted some new challenges for the Christmas season and quickly decided that I would be making the Yule log for Christmas. However, I then decided to start reading the book from the beginning and all of a sudden I was hooked and could not put it down.

I love the Countess’ writing style, she is very skilled and brings everything to life beautifully. The Countess starts with the season of Advent and how the castle prepares for the Christmas period by decorating for opening and also what preparations they make for family and friends who will be visiting over the period. The Countess then continues through the festive season until Epiphany.

This book has family history and traditions, personal anecdotes about the family’s past Christmases and then recipes peppered throughout the book all linked to the different stages of the festive period. The accompanying pictures are absolutely stunning and they really show how stunning the castle is, although my favourite pictures are of the family’s many dogs.

I absolutely loved this book and I have several recipes that I will be trying out on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I highly recommend this book and definitely give it 5 out of 5 Dragons. I have also added the other books the Countess of Carnarvon has written to my wish list as I really want to read more of her work.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

A former auditor for Coopers & Lybrand, Lady Carnarvon is the wife of George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon. Today, she manages affairs at Highclere Castle, home of the worldwide television drama Downton Abbey, including overseeing its grounds and gardens and many special events such as the Egyptian Exhibition in the cellars of the Castle.

Fascinated by Highclere’s history, Lady Carnarvon has written four books. The first two are about the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. Her latest are New York Times Bestseller Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere, and Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey.

Christmas Cakes and Mistletoe Nights by Carole Matthews (Review)

Christmas Cakes and Mistletoe Nights by Carole Matthews

Blurb

Fay and Danny are madly in love and it’s all Fay’s ever dreamed of. But she left everything – including the delightful cake shop she used to run – to be with Danny on his cosy canal boat The Dreamcatcher. And as she soon finds out, making delicious cakes on the water isn’t always smooth sailing!

Then Fay gets a call from her friends, a call that sends her back to her friends and the Cake Shop in the Garden. It will be hard being away from Danny but their relationship is strong enough to survive . . . isn’t it?

Fay soon falls happily back in love with her passion for baking – especially now she’s on dry land again! – and starts to wonder if she ever should have left. With Christmas around the corner, Fay is determined that her friends will have a very merry time, but does that mean even more time away from Danny? Can Fay really get everything she ever wanted in Christmas Cakes & Mistletoe Nights.

Review

I actually bought this book last year but I didn’t get around to reading it so I dug it out for my Christmas reading list this year and I am so pleased I did.

This is the first book I have read by Matthews and it won’t be my last, I also didn’t realise that this book is a sequel so I will be buying the first book in the New Year as I really want to read about how these characters came together.

Fay and Danny are a lovely couple and I will be honest Danny has the patience and kindness of a saint and will do anything to please Fay, which includes looking after her friends and putting up with her sister. Fay is a very caring character who almost feels too much for everyone and at times I do wish she would perhaps say no.

My absolute favourite character is Lija. Lija is grumpy and prickly but she really does have a heart of gold and her swearing is very funny at times. Rainbow is also a lovely character but she can be extremely annoying at times.

Then there is Stan and Stan is a character that you can’t help but adore. He really is a perfect gentleman.

Fay rushes back to her friends Lija and Stan when Stan becomes ill and Danny follows shortly afterwards with their canalboat and there is where the story begins. Fay now helps Lija run the cake shop and helps Stan to get better all with Danny helping and supporting where he can.

I truly loved this story but I will be honest I was expecting a bit more baking involved as most of the story is set in the kitchen of the cake shop. I can’t wait to read more about Fay and Danny and give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Carole Matthews born 1960 is a British author. Matthews has published 34 novels and currently lives in Milton Keynes with her husband.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay (Review)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

Blurb

When a letter arrives for unhappy but ordinary Harry Potter, a decade-old secret is revealed to him that apparently he’s the last to know. His parents were wizards, killed by a Dark Lord’s curse when Harry was just a baby, and which he somehow survived. Leaving his unsympathetic aunt and uncle for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry stumbles upon a sinister mystery when he finds a three-headed dog guarding a room on the third floor. Then he hears of a missing stone with astonishing powers, which could be valuable, dangerous — or both. An incredible adventure is about to begin!

Review

I love the Harry Potter books and I have read them many times over but what I have always wanted to own and read is the illustrated editions by Jim Kay and finally I own the first one after my best friend bought it me for my birthday. I saved it for my December reading as I always associate the Philosopher’s Stone with Christmas for some reason.

It has been a few years since I read the first books in the series but I will be honest that it was wonderful to be back in the wizarding world again with some of my favourite literary characters that I have grown up with. It was so good to meet Dumbledore again as he is by far superior in the book to the films and he is such a funny and eccentric character in the book.

So, as you can tell I love the book and I bet most people are familiar with the Harry Potter books so I will just say reading it with the illustrations is fantastic and the only way I want to read the Harry Potter books from now on. The illustrations are stunning in this book and so well-chosen for the story, they really add to the story. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons and highly recommend it to all Potter fans.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository | Foyles | Waterstones | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Joanne Rowling born 31 July 1965, is a British writer and philanthropist. She is best known for writing the Harry Potter series. Rowling also writes crime fiction under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

Christmas Murder: A Chilling Short Story Collection by Val McDermid (Review)

Christmas is Murder: A Chilling Short Story Collection by Val McDermid

Blurb

The Queen of Crime Val McDermid is a master of the dark and sinister story, and these powers are demonstrated in full force in Christmas is Murder, a festive collection of chilling tales.

From an irresponsible baron whose body is discovered beneath a silver birch tree, to an author who is haunted by the spiteful presence of a jealous writing partner, the characters McDermid conjures are enigmatic and dangerous, never above suspicion.

Follow Tony Hill and Carol Jordan as they track a deadly killer who is preparing to strike on Christmas Day, and lose yourself in a festive exclusive – a recently unearthed case for a classic detective duo, set as the lights are going out across Europe.

These evocative, atmospheric tales will shock and delight. This is the perfect book to curl up with as the frosty winter draws in and each night gets darker than the last, written by one of our greatest living crime writers.

Review

I was so excited to see this book and immediately ordered it off Waterstones. I love a good Christmas murder mystery but sadly I was rather disappointed with this book.

The first thing I really disliked was the fact that a lot of these short stories seemed like they should have been longer but that McDermid had just removed chunks of the story to make it shorter. They jumped around too much and there was no development which even in a short story should be present.

The second thing that got on my nerves was the fact that some of the stories basically had nothing to do with Christmas and even if they did the link was tenuous at best. For a Christmas murder mystery book this was a disappointment for me.

I did however like some of the stories, my favourite was The Girl who Killed Santa Claus. This story was wonderful and a really good short story and was a welcome change from the rest of the short stories.

I am afraid I have only given 2 out of 5 Dragons to this book and I will be honest and say that I will not be reading another Val McDermid book as I just did not enjoy her writing.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository | Foyles | Waterstones

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Val McDermid is a No. 1 bestseller whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies. 

She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award. 

She writes full time and divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.

The Lion Book of Christmas Poems by Sophie Piper (Review)

The Lion Book of Christmas Poems by Sophie Piper

Blurb

This poetry anthology includes both jolly and thought-provoking poems old and new to take the reader on a journey through the Christmas season, from the advent of winter to the dawn of the new year. Poems cover much-loved themes including the Nativity and the love and peace of God at Christmas time; the busyness and joy of family life and Christmas preparations; and hope for the new year. Poems are from names including Charles Causley, Steve Turner, Clare Bevan, Edward Lear, Emily Dickinson and many more modern and traditional poets. The anthology is enlivened with pictures and photographs to showcase a whole range of jolly Christmas styles. The giftable hardback format makes this a special book to share at home, whilst the wide scope of the poems makes this equally valuable for teachers looking for assembly and classroom resources.

Review

I really wanted a book of Christmas poetry this year so I was really pleased when I saw this little book on the Waterstones website. 

This little book contains poems by Sophie Piper who has also compiled this book and poems by poets such as Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti and many more. The book also contains stunning illustrations that have been done by a number of illustrators.

I love this little book that can easily be read in one sitting or dipped into when the mood takes you. The poems are well selected and really bring about the spirit of Christmas there are also a few carols inside as well. There are poems for everyone within this book and I will be honest my particular favourites are the ones about animals.

I highly recommend this little book for children and adults and it would make a perfect little stocking filler to read over the festive period. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository | Foyles | Waterstones | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Sophie Piper is the author of numerous religious books for children, including Little Bunny’s Easter, My Baptism Book, and When You Were Small.

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (Review)

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

Blurb

Imagine a year without Christmas.

No crowded shops, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That’s just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they’ll skip the holiday altogether.

Theirs will be the only house on the street without a rooftop Frosty the snowman; they won’t be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash; they aren’t even going to have a tree. They won’t need one, because come December 25 they’re setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But, as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences – and isn’t half as easy as they’d imagined. 

Review

The first Christmas movie I watched this year was Christmas with the Kranks and I loved it! Then my best friend told me that it was based on the book Skipping Christmas so I immediately went on to Waterstones and ordered myself a copy. Thankfully I was not disappointed.

The first thing I noticed was how faithful the movie is to the book and that was really good as I always hate it when the movie is so far from the book. Luther and Nora are husband and wife who are about to spend their first Christmas without their daughter but Luther wants to celebrate Christmas differently this year. When Luther thinks of Christmas he just sees expense and mobs of people so he decides this year Nora and himself will skip Christmas and go for a cruise instead.

Nora loves Christmas. She loves the decorations, the parties, the present buying absolutely everything but Luther persuades her this year they will go on a cruise and through the book you can see how Nora is affected by the lack of Christmas traditions in her life. Nora is a typical housewife who spends all her time dashing from one charity thing to the next, who is always helping the needy and making sure everything at home is just right.

Luther however is always counting the money and to be honest is a really selfish character and he really got on my nerves at times and I must admit this does come across in the film but the film had more of a comic element to offset the selfish behaviour. I really felt sorry for Nora having to deal with Luther through all of this but I was pleased he got his comeuppance and everyone was happy.

The other characters who were my favourites were Spike and Ned Frohmeyer. Spike was a real character and Ned was the typical nosy neighbour but there for anybody in need and always trying to bring the street together to be the best they can be.

At just under 200 pages this book took no time at all to read and was a good light-hearted quick read that made me laugh. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons and highly recommend it to anybody who wants a funny read over the festive period.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository | Foyles | Waterstones | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

John Grisham (1955) is an American novelist, attorney, politician and activist. He is best known for his legal thrillers.

Christmas at Woolworths by Elaine Everest (Review)

Christmas at Woolworths by Elaine Everest

Blurb

Even though there was a war on, the Woolworths girls brought Christmas cheer to their customers

Best friends Sarah, Maisie and Freda are brought together by their jobs at Woolworths. With their loved ones away on the front line, their bonds of friendship strengthen each day. Betty Billington is the manager at Woolworths, and a rock for the girls, having given up on love . . . Until a mysterious stranger turns up one day – could he reignite a spark in Betty?

As the year draws to a close, and Christmas approaches, the girls must rely on each other to navigate the dark days that lie ahead . . .

With so much change, can their friendship survive the war?

Review

I picked up this book before Christmas last year from a book stall at a Christmas fair but I never got around to reading so it was added to my Christmas list for this year and finally I have managed to read it.

I will be honest I struggled at the beginning of this book and I wasn’t entirely sure I would continue reading it but thankfully I carried on as I could see it was going to be a good story. The reason I struggled was due to Everest’s writing style, when there are a lot  of characters all talking Everest doesn’t make it very clear who is saying what and in several instances there aren’t even quotation marks to show there is a dialogue going on which really put me off. However, once I got used to it I soon got into the story.

My favourite character of the book is Ruby who is Sarah’s grandmother. Ruby looks after everyone and includes everyone as family even people she has just met. If she sees they need help she is there doing whatever needs to be done. She is also a big believer that any problem can be solved with tea and is regularly making a brew.

Freda is a wonderful character who I really felt for as she seems to get the worst luck in this book but bless her all she wants to do is do her part for the war effort and keep on going. Sarah who is married to a Spitfire pilot and has a baby daughter is also the same and happily goes the extra mile for anybody in need. 

I will be honest I would have loved a bit more about Betty because she was a fantastic character that I really wanted to see more of. Betty is a leader and a strong woman who is a true friend to Sarah, Maisie and Freda. 

This book is detailing the run up to Christmas through these friends’ lives and it is beautiful and really enjoyable. I absolutely loved the story and the excessive use of tea because as a massive tea drinker myself I believe that tea solves most problems. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons just because I struggled with Everest’s writing style but I do intend on reading the rest of the series.

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Purchase Links

Amazon

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Elaine Everest was born and brought up in northwest Kent and has written widely – both short stories and features – for women’s magazines. When she isn’t writing, Everest runs The Write Place creative writing school in Dartford Kent, and the blog for Romantic Novelists’ Association. 

A Wedding in December by Sarah Morgan (Review)

A Wedding in December by Sarah Morgan

Blurb

In the snowy perfection of Aspen, the White family gathers for youngest daughter Rosie’s whirlwind Christmas wedding.

First to arrive are the bride’s parents, Maggie and Nick. Their daughter’s marriage is a milestone they are determined to celebrate wholeheartedly, but they are hiding a huge secret about their own: they are on the brink of divorce. After living apart for the last six months, the last thing they need is to be trapped together in an irresistibly romantic winter wonderland.

Rosie’s older sister Katie is also dreading the wedding. Worried that impulsive, sweet-hearted Rosie is making a mistake, Katie is determined to save her sister from herself. If only the irritatingly good-looking best man, Jordan, would stop interfering with her plans…

Bride-to-be Rosie loves her fiance but is having serious second thoughts. Except everyone has arrived – how can she tell them she’s not sure? As the big day gets closer, and emotions run even higher, this is one White family Christmas none of them will ever forget. 

Review

This book centres around three main characters Rosie, Katie and Maggie and each chapter is based on one of these characters and shows the story from their perspective and it really does work brilliantly because you get to see how their lives intertwine and how they are also separate. The other thing I loved about this book was the descriptions of Aspen. It sounds so perfect and made me desperately want to visit in the winter to see the snow.

Katie and Rosie are sisters and Maggie is their mother who has always been there for her two daughters no matter what. Katie has her own personal problems but she prefers to interfere with her sister Rosie’s wedding than deal with her own problems and I must admit Katie did drive me a bit insane. She was altogether a bit too much for me and was a character I would have shouted at more than once.

Rosie is adorable, she is kind and loving but also really needs to stand up for herself so when she occasionally does in the book I always did a little jump for joy. Rosie and Dan are having a whirlwind romance and are getting married and Dan’s mother Catherine is organising all of it very last minute. I kind of liked Catherine but at the same time I did find her a bit pushy with everything and I really felt sorry for Maggie with it all.

Maggie and Nick have been living apart for ages and have not told their daughters and they are also on the brink of divorce. I really enjoyed reading about these two characters and it was wonderful to see the two of them grow and learn about each other.

The thing I loved about this book the most was seeing how the characters all grew and developed all of which they couldn’t have done without being together. It really was a lovely story if rather annoying in places. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository | Foyles | Waterstones | Wordery

About the author

USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes romance and contemporary women’s fiction and her trademark humour and warmth have gained her fans across the globe. Sarah lives near London, England, and when she isn’t reading or writing she loves being outdoors.