Saturday, 26 December 2015

Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin

The Blurb

San Francisco, 1976. A naïve young secretary, fresh out of Cleveland, tumbles headlong into a brave new world of laundromat Lotharios, pot-growing landladies, cut throat debutantes, and Jockey Shorts dance contests. The saga that ensues is manic, romantic, tawdry, touching, and outrageous - unmistakably the handiwork of Armistead Maupin.

The Review

A few months ago I put out a request for books set in San Francisco, and one book (or series of books) got mentioned over and over again.  Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City had somehow passed me by - I'm really not sure how.  But as soon as I started reading this first instalment, I knew I was going to be hooked.

The 'tales' belong to a wide and diverse cast.  Mary Ann is new to San Francisco, moving into lodgings at 28 Barbary Lane.  She's quiet and uncontroversial, very different to the other tennants living in the house.  Mona seems unsure of what she wants from life and relies on sedatives to get through the day, Michael is gay, skint and looking for a good man (I loved him, especially in the scene with the jockey shorts in the bar), Brian sleeps with any woman he can find and landlady Anna Madrigal grows marijuana in the garden... plus there's an array of supporting characters each with their own secrets.  Their lives are carefully and cleverly interwoven to create one world from what is essentially a series of short stories.

I liked how the scenes were snappy - most just a few pages long - and there was a lot of dialogue which added to the already fast pace.  The dry humour and cutting remarks reminded me of a soap opera and have retained relevance 37 years after they were first written.  Maupin lived in the San Francisco he was writing about and it shows, there's a realism in even the most outlandish of situations and that made me care about the characters and their plight.

This book is older than I am, and I imagine it was shocking when originally published (and probably still would be now to some readers!)  Race, sexuality, drugs and infidelity are key to the plot and talked about openly, nothing is off limits.  It was refreshing to read a book where every character is going through their own problems yet isn't overwhelmingly depressing.  Somehow there's an uplifting air to Tales of the City despite the unfulfilled lives of the majority of the cast and to me that's conveyed through the genuinely touching where the characters reach out to each other.

The only negatives for me were that it took a while to get my head around so many different stories and I had to google some of the seventies American references to fully understand the story.  But despite that I found myself so drawn to this wonderful world that I went straight onto the next book in the series.  I need to know what happens next! 

I've not read anything quite like this before.  And I loved it.

Tales of the City is out now, published by Transworld.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

My Favourite Reads of 2015

It's time for the annual Books with Bunny end of year round up!  My favourite books of 2013 and 2014 were pretty diverse and full of some fabulous reads, but 2015 was another brilliant year of reading for me!  Here are my highlights (click on the links below each cover for a full review)...

"Startling, shocking and unashamedly dark, this is a thriller that will leave you with an uncomfortable feeling for weeks, but somehow, despite that, I'm absolutely gagging for more..."

"An absolute winner full of charm and the type of romance I adore- a love story between two ordinary people."

"Every once in a while a book comes along which blows your mind and breaks your heart.  Letters to the Lost is one of those books."
"I cried during the opening chapters and I wept at the end.  This book was devastatingly brilliant, and the warmth of Alex and Nadia's relationship radiated off every page.  It's the kind of book that makes you want to tell those you love just how special they are to you and to wrap them in a bear hug and never, ever let go."

"Whatever your age, whatever your outlook, whatever your can learn from this book.  It encourages introspection and self awareness, and is a perfect way to help you reassess what is important to you.  Not to anyone else, YOU."

"Cressida McLaughlin has an easy-to-read writing style and a chatty and engaging voice, which reminded me of Sophie Kinsella.  I can absolutely see why she's so highly regarded within the genre."

"I read All of the Above in two sittings, and if I could have cancelled everything else in my life to be able to read it in one, I would have.  It was that good."


"From the nasty, vicious backbiting of the first chapters through to the disturbing bitter end, Only Ever Yours had me hooked. 

It's one of the best books I've ever read, and I've read a lot."

"Perfection in the form of contemporary romance."

"This book took me back to the heady days soon after leaving home where freedom is both liberating and downright scary.  It's a challenging time and Counting Stars portrays that perfectly."

"Belle and Jim's story is heartfelt and beautiful, gorgeously written in a way that tugged hard on my heartstrings.  Don't be fooled by the Christmassy exterior -  Every Time a Bell Rings is a novel that can help you reassess your place in the world at any time of year."
 "I know I'll be coming back to it again, and my copy is proudly stood on the shelf of 'keepers' - books I want to reread and recommend and lend to anyone who'll listen.  Brilliant."
"Powerful, relevant and extremely accessible, I Call Myself a Feminist should be essential reading.  It's empowering. It's enlightening.  It's thought provoking.  It's downright brilliant."

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Santa Maybe - Scarlett Bailey

The Blurb

Amy Tucker is single. So single in fact she hasn’t had a man in her room for three years and her idea of a good time is buying new kitchenware at Ikea. So when she wakes up on Christmas Eve to find a strange man at the end of her bed, she is more than surprised.

Least of all, when the beautiful man claims to be Santa and has sexy stubble to rival George Clooney.

Santa whisks Amy on an exciting and unforgettable journey around the world through time and space. But can he really make Amy's Christmas dreams come true?

The Review

This novella's been sat unread on my kindle for a long time.  That's not because I didn't want to read it, because I did.  But I just can't get my head around reading overtly Christmassy fiction outside of the festive season, and as there are so many new seasonal releases each year I seem to end up with a backlog each year. 

I'm really glad I decided to read this one.  Scarlett Bailey (alterego for Rowan Coleman) writes with a verve and energy that make me desperate to turn the pages at breakneck speed.  Santa Maybe was no exception.  With elements of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, this is a fun read about life, love and family. 

When Amy finds Santa in her bedroom, she doesn't know what's going on.  Is she dreaming?  Hallucinating?  Or could the man in red really be the love of her life?  She's taken on a magical journey through time and space, visiting faraway lands and mixing with Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, and as Christmas draws nearer she's faced with the ultimate choice - family or true love?

There were times I had to suspend my disbelief as this is essentially a festive fairytale for adults, but that's the beauty of fiction - anything can happen!  And in Santa Maybe it probably does...

A read to whisk you away from the Christmas mayhem to a place where anything can happen.

Santa Maybe is out now, published by Ebury Digital.

Friday, 4 December 2015

A Miracle at Macy's - Lynn Marie Hulsman

The Blurb

One lost dog. Two lonely hearts. A Manhattan Christmas full of magic.

Shy homebody Charlotte is planning her usual quiet Christmas celebration: Turkey for two for her and her beloved pet dog Hudson. Only, this year, little Hudson decides to take matters into his own paws and give his favourite human a holiday adventure she’ll never forget.

When Hudson runs away the week before Christmas, Charlotte is devastated. She’d rescued him from the trash years before and gave him a place in her home – and her heart. But with the help of uptight Englishman Henry, Charlotte ends up on a magical treasure hunt around Manhattan to find her furry, four-legged bestie.

Spotted in Central Park as one of Santa's Little Helpers, or last seen in the arms of a supermodel in Times Square, Hudson leads Charlotte and Henry on a very merry dance around the Big Apple, where love, (or should that be Christmas?!) actually is all around.

The Review

As soon as I saw the cover for  A Miracle at Macy's I knew I had to read it.  Christmas, New York, a cute as a button puppy - it looked like the perfect Christmas read.

Once I started reading, I knew I'd enjoy the story.  I immediately warmed to Charlotte, the quiet protagonist, and fell head over heels in love with her mischievous pup Hudson.  His personality shone through as much as that of any of the human characters and made me care about the major plotline - finding Hudson when he goes missing just before Christmas. 

What followed was a madcap campaign to reunite Charlotte and Hudson, made all the more high profile by Charlotte's event organiser aunt Miranda gaining celebrity supporters and designating the gorgeous Henry to keep the search in the limelight.  The New York backdrop was a perfect winter setting and Hulsman showcases what the city has to offer throughout the novel.  Her first hand experience of the city over the holidays is evident and had me longing to be there!

There was so much tension between Charlotte and Henry, I loved how their relationship sizzled!  It was an old fashioned romance with a new twist.  There need to be more nice guys like Henry in romantic fiction!

Humorous, touching and oh-so festive, A Miracle at Macy's is a feel-good read to banish the winter blues. 

A Miracle at Macy's is out now in ebook format and paperback on December 17th, published by Harper Impulse. 

With thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Emily Benet's Advent Calendar!

Emily's Advent Calendar of Christmas Goodness

As families grow, the pattern of Christmas changes. Us little kids are now big kids. Some of us have our own kids. We take it in turns to see different sides of our extended families and our traditions adapt and evolve. Although Christmas isn't as breathlessly exciting as it was when I was little, there are still plenty of things I love and look forward to. Here's my advent calendar of the best bits. I hope I've included at least one of yours:

1. Spontaneous Carol Singing - (you can always rely on my British family to burst into song at the dinner table. Classics include 'Who Killed Cock Robin?' and 'I am the music man'. My Colombian family sing too, though a little less in tune. Meanwhile my Spanish family have yet to make their carol singing debut.)

2. Mince pies and double cream - (to be eaten for breakfast in the days running up to Christmas.)

3. Lighting the Christmas pudding - (more fun than eating it.)


4. Midnight Mass - (with my Mum pointing out the nativity she finished late at night on the kitchen floor.)

5. My Grampa - (with his big smile. You'll be greatly missed this year.)

6. Cheese, crackers and port - (appearing when you think you can't eat any more...)

7. Bad jokes in Crackers - (Knock knock who's there? The same joke as last year!)

8. Stockings - (nothing is as exciting as feeling the crackle of a stocking at the end of your bed. If I ever have kids, I'll love making them one.)


9. Christmas Dinner - (thanks auntie, I don't know how you do it year in year out.)

10. Christmas Tree Smell - (reminds me of a special village in the Pyrenees, my childhood paradise)  

11. Fairy Lights - (twinkly white ones please)

12. Mulled Wine - (Oh, go on then.)


13. Mulled Cider - (to be drunk outside, with a hog roast)

14. Charcoal smell in the air - ( just pretend you know what I mean)

15. Cousins - (especially looking forward to seeing the one who went off to live in Nepal!)

16. Sherry - (Crofts for my auntie, Tio Pepe for me and my grandma)

17. Baubles - (big, glass ones.)


18. Downton Abbey Grand Finale - (there's always some finale or other to be watched on telly.)

19. Siblings Unite - (I haven't celebrated Christmas with my brother for 3 years. Funniest guy ever. Can't wait!)

20. Mimosas in the morning - (a tradition yet to be made but I'm working on it.)

21. Kids - (without them, all the adults tend to doze off watching the telly.)

22. Wrapping paper - (little or big, a present isn't a present if it isn't wrapped up!)


23. Games - (charades, Cranium, Lego... there's got to be at least one game.)

24. Family - (more than presents, what I look forward to at Christmas is spending time with the people I love! Soppy? Maybe. But it's true!)

I'm writing this from Bogota, Colombia, where there are no seasons. It's neither cold nor hot and I have no sense of Christmas yet. I know it's around the corner though and soon it will smell of oranges and cinnamon. Writing this has made me excited. I hope it has put you in a festive mood too. Wherever you are, whatever your traditions, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas!
Emily Benet is the author of Harper Impulse titles The Temp and #PleaseRetweet.

Author Bio-
Emily Benet is an award winning blogger and author. Her new novel #PleaseRetweet is out now and is all about society's obsession with social media, a subject close to her heart!

Her debut book, Shop Girl Diaries, began as a blog about working in her Mum's chaotic chandelier shop. It was commissioned as a book by Salt Publishing and later turned into a short film starring Katy Wix which was shown at The London Short Film Festival 2014.

Her second book, The Temp, began as a serialised novel on Wattpad. It racked up two million hits, leading her to sign a two book deal with Harper Collins.

Emily runs Blogging and Social Networking workshops, lectures at Universities and has contributed to numerous publications including Publishing Talk, Mslexia and Writers & Artists. Her guidebook Blogging for Beginners is available as an ebook.

Check our her weekly blog, join her Facebook Author Page or check out her Tweets. She can't promise to be serious though.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

5 Insider Tips for Christmas in New York by Lynn Marie Hulsman

If you’re lucky enough to spend the run-up to Christmas, or the magical day itself, in New York City, you’ll likely want to experience all of the events you’ve seen in the movies and on television. And you should! There’s nothing like seeing a couple get engaged on the ice at Rockefeller Center while Santa Claus looks on. Or walking along 5th Avenue to see the iconic window displays. And you wouldn’t want to miss a trip to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street to visit Santaland and make your own miracles and memories.

But don’t skip the off-the-beaten path offerings my fair city has to offer up during the festive season. Here are a list of five of my favorite less heralded “must-dos” for the holidays in New York:

The Holiday Train Show, New York Botanical Garden, The Bronx

If you’ve never been to the New York Botanical Garden, you are in for a treat. The grounds are breathtaking in any season, and the ride up on Metro North is pleasant and relaxing. There’s always a holiday thrill in this air during this event, and it’ll whet your appetite for the big day. The trains themselves are glorious, and the bonus is that all the train displays are made out of barks, leaves, fruit, nuts, branches, and twigs!

Panna II Indian Restaurant, East Village


There is a strip in the East Village called Indian Row, dotted with dozens of curry-heavy restaurants. I have been going to this one for decades. Warning: It shares a staircase and tiny landing with a competitor, and the minute they see you coming, the wooing begins. Hold your ground and go to Panna, where you’ll be welcomed in a matter-of-fact way by the owner, Mr. Khan. The Christmassy part? All the lights and sparkles and foil decorations make the tiny eatery look like it got bombed by Santa. Plus, it’s open on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

The Arch at Washington Square Park, West Village

Washington Square Park enjoys a rich literary history with connections to Louisa May Alcott, Edgar Allan Poe, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and others. It’s in the historic New York University neighborhood, and is a pleasant place to walk and people watch. On December 9th at 6 p.m. they will light the giant tree, which will be followed by caroling.  And on Christmas Eve, enjoy more carols (led by a brass quartet) at the Arch, and sing along with l the locals who stay in New York for the holidays. 

The Big Apple Circus, on the Campus of Lincoln Center, Upper West Side


This wonderful show, which changes themes each year, relies less on animals and more on human fats of skill, acrobatics, and showmanship. It’s so fun to be under the Big Top smack in the middle of Manhattan. It feels like taking a trip! And when the circus is over, wander out onto the plaza at Lincoln Center and take photos by the famous fountain and lighted steps. The tree will be lit, and you’ll glimpse the buildings that house the world’s most famous opera and ballet companies.

Grand Central Station’s Holiday Fair, Midtown East


Not only can you shop for unique gifts here during the holiday season, there are events such as art installations and music concerts to immerse yourself in. There are trains every year, and if you get hungry, you can grab a bite at the food court, or if you want to splash out, have a meal at The Oyster Bar. Sit at the counter and watch the ancient, hard-boiled New York waiters and cooks prepare your stew to order in the one-of-a-kind countertop kettles. And on your way out, stop at one of New York’s best-kept secrets: The Whispering Arch. Physics makes it possible for you to stand meters away from a friend and hear the message that he or she speaks, even with a turned back.

Lynn Marie Hulsman lives in New York.  Her Christmas novel A Miracle at Macy's is out now, published by Harper Impulse.


Twitter: @lynnmariesays


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Jane Lark's festive Q and A!

It's December!  And that means the start of #HarperXmas! Kicking off the festivities is Jane Lark talking about what she loves about Christmas and sharing a festive excerpt from I Found You...
What are the top three things you love about Christmas? 
Buying and Decorating the Tree. 
For years we had a fake tree, then about seven years ago we decided to buy a real tree, because everyone said they didn't really drop needles anymore and I got the real tree bug. Now I wouldn't be without a real tree. We put it up early to get the most out of it, so a fortnight before Christmas, and it's a family outing to go and choose it. Our tree also always has a name (because of a cartoon) and the same name, that was first given by my daughter, Roger... So like a king it's Roger the whatever number every year. And then there is the joy of opening all the boxes you haven't looked in for a year and getting out all the glittery things to decorate it I love the fairy on the top best :D It gives me good chills even thinking about it. I always call it getting Christmas out of the box.
Family and friends
We've spent most Christmas's as a little threesome, my husband, my daughter and me, but now my Mum and Dad have been freed from other commitments they come over too, and getting together with others makes it a really different sort of day. Feasting in a small crowd never quite feels the same.
The 'whole-holiday' 
I  take the week off between Christmas and New Year, and I love the days in between, late starts, loads of time for writing, with the flames in the wood-burner keeping me warm as I curl up on the sofa in a Christmas Jumper, and have the christmas lights twinkling on the tree in the corner, and that's when people pop round, so there's usually lots of mulled wine, christmas port, nibbles and games. I-do-love-a-mulled-wine ;)
What was your best Christmas present?
The guitar I got when I was eight, I always wanted to be able to play an instrument and I love the guitar! It's so cool watching people play it! :D 
What was you worst Christmas present? 
The guitar book I got when I was eight to teach myself how to play guitar :( I'm rubbish at learning from books, I'm an activist, I never read instructions, I always learn by doing, and I am not a natural musical genius - my parents didn't pay for lessons. #I-never-learned-the-guitar... Ha Ha Ha. My brother did though, a friend taught him on my guitar. Maybe it'll be on my next to do before list.
What's you best memory of Christmas? 
I can't pick just one, I have two. My first one is of my daughter, it was her second Christmas, she was 18 months old ( she is a lot older than that now). I went into her room in the morning to wake her up. She stood up in her cot rubbing her eyes and then looked at her pile of presents in sparkly paper all covered in bows with absolute awe and then excitement. The second one is from when I was about ten maybe. It was Christmas Eve and my dad had spent an hour in the kitchen in the evening. Another factor is - I had a knee length school coat with a red lining. Now after my brother and I had gone to bed, there was a noise outside my bedroom and my door opened, then my dad came in crawling upright on his knees, with a white beard made out of toilet tissue (yes, what he had been doing in the kitchen) and my school coat on turned inside out, with his shoes tied to his knees. He said "Ho, ho, ho." Then went out to go into my brother's room, and I chased him, jumped on his back and pulled off his beard :D  
What are you looking forward to this Christmas? 
Besides all of the above things in my best Christmas list, a tasty turkey dinner and cold turkey and bubble and squeak the day after ;) 

As part of the Harper Xmas event, I thought I'd give you a little peek into Jason and Rachel's lead up to Christmas in I Found You. The story plays out over Christmas time. All my stories have a very strong family leaning as well as lead character focuses, with good and bad relationships, and in I Found You, Jason is a real family guy, so when he falls for a girl his parents don't like, it leaves him stuck in the middle and having to choose his priorities, Rachel or his family... That's a horrible ask over Christmas. (He has loads more dilemmas too, but I'll leave you to find those out in the book ;) )

Excerpt from I Found You 

“I was thinking…” This was also shouted, but then he came to the bedroom door. “What would you say about going back home with me for Christmas, to Mom and Dad’s?”
My heart hammered, and my hands hesitated as I dished up his food. “Jason, they hate me.” We’d only been together for five weeks, I’d never lived this normal sort of life, but wasn’t five weeks a little early to be showing me off to his folks. Especially when they’d made it plain they disapproved of me.
“Rach.” He came toward me. “I know it’ll be difficult, but I want them to like you, and I don’t want to tell them about the baby over my cell. I want to tell them in person. Do you think you can handle it?”
I shrugged. I didn’t want to meet his family. I knew they blamed me for him and Lindy splitting up, and they liked Lindy. I wanted to be with him, yes, but I didn’t want to play the whole happy family thing with his parents. I didn’t know how to do it.
“They’ll like you…” His hand ran through my hair. “…when they meet you. They’ll see what I see in you.”
I wasn’t so sure.
He kissed my cheek, then moved behind me, wrapped his hands about my waist and kissed my neck, before whispering to my ear. “I love you, I won’t let them upset you, but I know they’ll take it better if we go there.”
I still hadn’t gotten used to him saying those words. I love you. He said them like he really meant them too.
I rested my head back on his shoulder. This was his parents he was speaking of, his parents who cared about him, and I knew he cared for them. He loved them, too. I shouldn’t keep him away from them then, just because of my fears. He’d said he was committed to me and the baby. I shouldn’t have anything to be afraid of.
I sighed, as his lips brushed my neck again. I should go back with him, and support him in putting things right with his mom and dad. I guess this was payback for crossing the bridge to the nice side of life.
“Yeah, okay, if you wanna go…”
He lifted me off my feet for a moment, swung me round and then set me back down, before turning my head and kissing my lips, then saying against them, as he looked into my eyes, “We’ll go the day before Christmas Eve and stay for five days. You’ll need to get the time off work. Will that be okay?”
“Yeah, probably, they can ask the students to do more shifts over Christmas anyway.”
“You’re wonderful. I’ll book the tickets today.”
“No, you, are the wonderful one.” I was terrified, and Christmas was only a week away. I wasn’t wonderful, and he really ought to know it before he took me home to meet his mom and dad. Perhaps I should say… I sighed. I didn’t want to risk him walking away now, I’d only just got used to his kindness, I didn’t want to lose it, or him. Seriously though when was the moment to share the reason for all the wrong decisions I’d ever made in my life and warn him there was likely gonna be a lot more. I wasn’t who he thought I was, not really.   

Jason and Rachel's story in I Found You continues in their free Halloween scene in I Still Love You and I'm Keeping You, and they appear in all the contemporary books about their friends and family, Just You, I Need You and Free Me (and there's more to come). 
To make sure you don't miss out on new releases follow Jane's Amazon author page

Author Bio
Jane is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional historical and contemporary romances and a kindle bestselling author, who has been shortlisted twice for the UK's readers' romance awards. She began her first novel at sixteen, but fate derailed her. She has Ankylosing Spondylitis yet continues to have a reputation as a prolific writer. When she completed her first novel at thirty-five it was because she was determined not to reach forty still saying, I'd like to write a novel. Now Jane is thrilled to be giving her characters life in others’ imaginations. She is also a Chartered Member of the Institute of Personnel and Development and uses her knowledge of psychology to bring her characters to life. 
“Basically I love two things, history and I’m a sucker for a love story. I love the feeling of falling in love; it’s wonderful being able to do it time and time again in fiction, and my understanding of people helps me create the intense relationships that capture the mind and the heart.”

I Found You
On Barnes and Noble
Just You
On Barnes and Noble
I Need You
On Barnes and Noble
I Still Love You
On Amazon
I'm Keeping You
To be released... Follow Jane Lark on Amazon to know when it's published.
Free Me
Currently only available in ebook format via Amazon (note the free kindle app can be downloaded on any phone, tablet or laptop)