Book and a Brew with Ritu – The Christmas Trip by @sandybarker @OneMoreChapter_ #NewRelease #BookReview

What fun! We are on part three of Book and a Brew with Ritu!.

Today, I am beyond excited to have a fangirl moment as brilliant romance author Sandy Barker pops over for a visit! I’ll have you know it took a little time to align our body clocks and timings to work with the UK/Australian time difference, but we managed!

We’ll talk about her latest release, The Christmas Trip, a sequel to the fantastic The Christmas Swap. as well as plenty of other bookish and writerely things!

Hello, and welcome to But I Smile Anyway, Sandy! Let’s get you set with a drink, first. What wonderful warm drink can I interest you in?

I can offer you a typical English tea, or, if you fancy a little something different, I can always brew up some masala tea… or a coffee if you please? Or maybe it is mulled wine we should be sipping since we are talking all things Christmas with your new release out! Let me know. I have my usual samosas and pakoras, and I even baked some of my grandmother’s delicious three-ingredient butter shortbread biscuits, which I thought would be particularly fitting for our catch-up!

First, thank you so much for having me. It’s great that we can finally catch up. Now, normally I’d say a cup of tea – but mulled wine is on offer? I think I have to say yes to that, and I LOVE shortbread biscuits, so yes, please!

Now you’ve got your drink and a nibble, let’s get started.

I always love to find out more about where a fellow author’s journey started. Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to be published, Sandy? I ‘met’ you via the RNA. Were they part of your journey?

Absolutely, the RNA has been part of my journey. I self-published my first book back in December 2017, right as we were about to leave Australia for a one-year sabbatical. We moved to Bali first, and it was there I wrote book 2 in the series. By the time we got to the UK in August, I’d self-published book 2 and was writing book 3. That’s where I discovered the incredible writing community that centres around the RNA. I joined the New Writer’s Scheme for 2019 at the same time I was pitching to agents and publishers in the UK.

When we landed back in Australia in January 2019, I got a publication offer for my first self-published book – the one that became One Summer in Santorini. Off the back of that offer, I secure my brilliant agent, Lina Langlee, and we’ve been building my writing career ever since. I am very grateful for the support of the RNA community, particularly as I started my writing journey. It was a thrill to get to the 2022 conference this year and meet many of my contemporaries in person!

Sandy, you have managed to amass a total of 8 books released since 2019. I am in awe! (Considering it took me near enough twenty years to get my first finished and published…) Where do your ideas come from? I know you love travelling, and foreign shores feature heavily in all your books.

Travel is definitely a strong inspiration for my stories and often the starting point. With Bali, for example, I thought, ‘Who in the Holiday Romance series can I send to this incredible destination?’ That’s when I had the idea of giving a supporting character from That Night in Paris, Jaelee, her own story with most of it set in Bali.

With The Dating Game, which also features travel but is more focussed on the machinations of a reality TV dating show, I was writing recaps of The Bachelor for my colleagues – we were in a sweepstake together during the height of the COVID lockdowns and it was a fun way to connect with them. Those recaps sparked the idea of sending a recapper on the show undercover. That was a blast to write.

And what about you? Where do you get your ideas?

Thank you for asking! My writing tends to find its roots in my own, to be honest. I like to write about life, and situations that are often not openly discussed within our Indian community, with a twist that will engage readers from all backgrounds. It’s always fiction with an educational element, if you like, as many readers of my first novel, and some blog posts always comment on what they have learned about our culture, after reading.

Sandy, is there a favourite book out of the eight of yours that are out there?

I have a soft spot for book 5 in the Holiday Romance series as I got to bring everyone back together and write Tuscany! That was also during lockdown – Melbourne being the most locked down city in the world over the past few years – so it was great escapism to write about such a beautiful destination. But I think The Dating Game is my funniest book.

Do you have a fave of mine, Ritu?

That is a tough question, Sandy! I have enjoyed them all, but I think the Christmas Swap was a particular favourite, because who doesn’t love a bit of festive fun?

Now, I’m a nosy parker, you know. I like to see where others process their creative magic. Where do you like to write? (If I’m not mistaken, I am sure I saw you with a standing desk on one of your social media posts!)

I do have a standing desk, something necessitated by neck issues and headaches I’ve had for twenty plus years.


I typically get up between 5 and 6 in the morning and write or edit for a couple of hours before switching gears to my day job. A couple of years ago, I also went part-time – 4 days a week instead of 5 – and I treat Fridays as a workday – but for my author job. Sometimes, it’s fun to get out and take my laptop to a place with a view – the beach or a winery – and hole up there for a day of writing.

I have such trouble finding time during the term to write because my teaching job uses up all my reserves, and as I have a commute, driving around an hour every day, on top of my working hours, the holidays and weekends are my time to create, the way I want. Maybe one day, I might drop a day, too! But I think that is a while away, yet! (Because I do love my day job, too…)

Where’s your favourite place to write?

I love writing in my writing nook at home, but I’d love to be one of those authors who can camp out at a cafe, bashing out the words, while people-watching and finding even more inspiration! Alas, time and my other life as a teacher as well as a big family person mean that I have very little time for whimsical ideas like that… one day, though. I am scoping out local cafes to have a try!

I’ve read each one of your books, so far, Sandy, and loved them all. Have you ever written a manuscript that is sat, hiding on your desktop, or idling on a USB stick, that you haven’t had published, for whatever reason?

I think we all have at least one of those – hee hee. I do have a few story ideas that are ‘trapped’ in various notebooks and I have a short story (about 15k words) that I’d like to develop into a full-length novel one day. But it’s very different from the romcoms I write. And thank you for the kind words about my books. I’ve got Marriage Unarranged loaded up on my Kindle and can’t wait to get into it – it looks like such a fun read. Thank you so much, Sandy! I hope you enjoy it when you get around to reading it. If your TBR is anything like mine, I know it’s a slog to fit all that reading in around life and writing, too!

Before I warble on about all manner of other things, let’s bring it back to the book of the moment, The Christmas Trip, and top up that mulled wine! This is a sequel to the fantastic The Christmas Swap, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And, lucky me, I got to read an ARC of The Christmas Trip, which was equally wonderful. Did you always plan for a sequel, or was it something that was borne after seeing the way readers lapped up these characters?

I didn’t plan on a sequel when I wrote the first book, but a lot of readers who read The Christmas Swap wondered ‘what next?’ for the May Ladies – Chloe, Lucy and Jules – so I had a think and ended up writing The Christmas Trip, bringing them all back together. I also wanted to set it in a location that was unique to these characters. I love Hawaii and wrote about Maui in A Sunset in Sydney, so I decided to set this book on the island of Kauai.

Have you ever had Christmas in a warm part of the world?

I have! We celebrated in Kenya a few times, growing up, as my parents were both born there, so it would coincide with the odd visit. However, it was never Christmas as we knew it, since all the times we were out there at that time, we were celebrating another family wedding! At least four, I think, and turkey and all the trimmings were a distant dream! But Pops and Mum always bought our presents along, and we would have our Christmas dinner at home when we got back!

I must ask… are you a Christmas geek? And what is Christmas like, for you, Down Under? I know we rarely get a white Christmas over here, but it is even less likely for you!

I am a complete Christmas geek. The Christmas Swap actually came about because I wanted to write about some of the Christmases I’ve had in the past – including in England and Colorado. Here in Australia, it’s typically a hot day, so we sip champers and eat seafood. I always make a pavlova too. That sounds great! I have family in Perth. Maybe, one day, we can try an Aussie Christmas, with them!

What about you? What do you and your family do for the holidays?

If we are home, despite being Sikh, we always celebrate Christmas the traditional way. As a child with my parents, and now, either at my in-laws or at our home, with the turkey and full trimmings! I love getting the tree up on the 1st December, but have to station it in a place where Sonu Singh, our cat, cant chew off the branches, or bat off the baubles! There are less wrapped presents underneath too, nowadays, since the kids are teens and they prefer an envelope with cash!

Now, back to your bookish plans, Sandy…

I may be being cheeky here, but are there any plans for a part three? If not, what do we Sandy Barker-ites have to look forward to, from you, next? I hear there may even be a collaborative offering in the pipeline…

Not sure about a part 3 for the May Ladies – maybe one day. At the moment, Fiona Leitch and I are putting the finishing touches on a co-authored project we’ve been working on in between other books. We call it Big Little Lies meets Gone Girl. It’s a sexy suburban noir thriller set in contemporary Melbourne. I am also working on a labour of love – a dramedy set in Sydney called Tilly Finnegan, Begin Again. I’m about 1/3 of the way through that. And I have started a new rom-com series. I can’t say much about that at the moment, but it will be a lot of fun to explore a range of romantic tropes throughout the series.

So what are you working on next?

I’m currently editing book 2 in The Rishtay Series, due for release in June 2023, and working on the ideas for book 3! (Honestly, I can’t believe there is more than one book in me!)

Your collab with Fiona sounds amazing, and Tilly Finnegan, Begin Again, too. (I am now singing Michael Finnegan under my breath, I’ll have you know! Earworm!)

Now, much as I’d like to keep supping wine with you, I know you have a busy schedule, what with it being publication day, Sandy! Thank you so much for taking the time to pop over and visit! I can’t wait to do it again!

Thank you SO much. What fun questions! 

Good luck with the release, Sandy! I loved reading The Christmas Trip, and I know others will love it, too!

So much to look forward to, from Sandy (and Fiona Leitch, too!). I can’t wait!

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of The Christmas Trip so please find my review below, as well as the buy links and some more information about my fabulous guest, Sandy!

The Blurb

It’s a year on and our three May Ladies are all loved up but still living worlds apart.

Chloe has had a whirlwind year amongst the glitz, glamour (and demanding work) of Hollywood. She’s taken on the role of Assistant Producer on the film, ‘An Extraordinary Woman: The Eloise Capel Story’, Archer’s passion project and as Archer’s girlfriend, she’s now schmoozing with A-listers.

Jules is immersed in her Melbourne life, working for a non-profit and sharing an increasingly crowded flat on the waterfront with flatmate, Ash ― and their frequent visitors: Ash’s boyfriend, Davo, and Jules’ love, Matt, and his dog, Dexter. She’s considering moving out on her own, only Matt keeps hinting at Jules moving to his vineyard down south.

Lucy, meanwhile, is stuck in long-distance-relationship hell. While her career is flying high ― a promotion and frequent trips to the US for work ― her relationship with Will has stalled. She doesn’t want to be a part-time girlfriend, finding their time apart agonising, but Will seems perfectly content.

When Archer’s planned Parisian proposal at Christmastime is derailed by an ash cloud over Europe, he hatches a plan to bring all six of them together for a Christmas ― and a marriage proposal ― to remember. In Hawaii!

Join the May Ladies and their loves in the most beautiful destination yet for a Christmas filled with mayhem and misunderstandings, and rocking romance around the Christmas tree!

My Review

The Christmas Trip: A gorgeous Christmas romance to escape with in 2022 by Sandy Barker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always love a chance to revisit characters who made an impression the first time round, and knowing we were meeting the May Ladies again was a thrill in itself.
I love Sandy Barker’s stories. Modern romances with a bit of heat but a lot of love and plenty of hiccups along the way!
This time our ladies are firmly ensconced in their relationships, but so busy the year has flown by with not much chance to be together.
The effects of an ash cloud result in the three of them being together again, for Christmas, on a beautiful tropical island with their plus ones by their side.
Lucy, Chloe and Jules have plenty to keep them occupied, as each is weaving their way through the maze of long-term relationships. Still, we also meet some great new characters, like Leilani, the housekeeper, or Mama to all, and the immature but intriguing Audrey.
And there is always a little drama to keep the action going!
The descriptions of the idyllic Hawaiian island where they spend Christmas make me want to jet off on holiday too!
I really enjoyed the story, and I’d be more than happy to hear a little more about how they get on in the future!
Many thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins UK, One More Chapter, for an ARC in exchange for an honest opinion.

These are the buy links for #TheChristmasTrip

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon CA | Amazon US

KoboiBooks | Nook | Google Play

And here’s a little about Sandy and her other books.

Sandy is a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list, and many of her travel adventures have found homes in her novels. She’s also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover and a coffee snob.

Sandy lives in Melbourne Australia with her partner, Ben, who she met while travelling in Greece. Their real-life love story inspired Sandy’s debut novel One Summer in Santorini, the first in the five-book Holiday Romance series with One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins.

The series continues in Paris, Sydney, and Bali with Tuscany the final destination in the series. Sandy’s novels The Christmas Swap and The Christmas Trip celebrate her favourite time of the year, and her romcom, The Dating Game, is set in the (fascinating) world of Reality TV.

Follow Sandy:

Spidey’s Serene Sunday – Part 374 – New Beginnings


“Every moment is a fresh beginning.” 

T.S. Elliott

Time to keep it calm and positive this week, eh Spidey! Especially after last week’s Asda fiasco!

Today I am using one of my children’s experiences to reflect on for the day.

Now, as most of you know, Lil Man is an avid cricketer, and all he has wanted to do, over the last few years is excel at what he loves the most. He spends time every day outside, practicing bowling, and batting where he can, taking on the tips of the coaches he encounters, to perfect his Leftie Spin bowling.

He was with one particular club for the first part of his cricketing career, and though he had matches and training, he never felt as if he was being pushed in the right way. Overlooked for games he should have been playing, and this was noticed by a good few of the other club members.

When he was selected to play for district cricket last year, he was over the moon, and it was suggested that a club change might be better for him, to a place where he gets pushed and is able to showcase his talents to the right people.

The house move meant that this was a viable option, which we took on, and this year the boy has been training with a club which is generally playing in Premier and First division games and boasts a good number of county players already.

He’s been really focussing on his training, and we have been supporting him in every way we can, even when he does something crazy like split his bat in half when he played a cracking shot in training a few weeks ago! (New bat was delivered, all knocked in, yesterday, phew!)

And the last couple of weeks, he has been playing some friendly games ahead of the season start. Initially, we were told he would probably be in the Sunday Development team, for the lads who are working well, but not quite at the main team levels, but he was selected for the third team this week, and for a moment was even considered for the seconds, too. (Well done, son!)

And guess who he was playing this week? His old team! He was a little worried about facing them, and the possibility of a bit of a backlash because he left them, but it was actually a joy to see how happy they were to see him!

Okay, so they lost, but with a very close score, and he bowled well, getting two wickets as well!

He sits and beats himself up, convinced that he’s the reason they lose, but cricket is a team sport, and he didn’t even get a chance to bat. And, no, he didn’t give away loads of runs, which is what he is convinced of.

But, what he doesn’t realise is that the club are already recognising his raw talents, considering they were ready to play him in the second team, today!

Working on making him realise that every day is a new beginning, every match is a new start, and that this new club will be amazing for him.

So, what advice would give a youngster who can’t see his own successes because he clouds over at the smallest of what he thinks are failures?


Wishing you a wonderfully peaceful Sunday, Peeps!

Spidey’s Serene Sunday – Part 324 – New Beginnings


“Every story has an end, but in life every ending is a new beginning.”


Thanks Spidey, for those little pearls of wisdom.

It’s true that in life there isn’t just one beginning, and one ending.

Yes, we are born, and yes, we die. That is the ultimate beginning and ending.

But we need to think of life as a series of chapter books. We aren’t just one book. We are a whole set of them.

Each new part of our life starts anew, and when that part ends, we begin the next.

Babyhood, childhood, new schools, college, university or work, relationships, marriage and/or children,and so on.

They are all the different books in our life series.

Similarly, I like to think that every day is a new beginning. Each morning I wake up and thank God for giving me another day. Sure, the problems or issues from the day before won’t have gone, but you can bring a fresh perspective to what you are doing.

New beginnings are on the horizon for me… Huge new beginnings… that’s why they’re on my mind. I’m nervous, but excited, too. Big changes, but a lot the same, too.

Sorry, I know I’m being cryptic… but soon, I promise, my blogily, I will tell all!

So, tell me, do you believe in new beginnings?

Have a peaceful Sunday Peeps.   

Spidey’s Serene Sunday – Part 287 – Starting Afresh


“No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.”


Thank you, Spidey for a thoughtful quote there.

This next week heralds a whole host of ‘new’ beginnings, what with much of the country starting to get back to some semblance of normality, once schools start up again.

It’s been a strange five months, what with the pandemic and lockdown, as we. can pretty much all agree, and one thing that has become obvious, is that schools opening are essential for the rest of the population to begin to get themselves back to work, etc.

So, we will be starting back, excited to see our new children, or our old, hoping to bring some stability to the lives of some children who have lived through a time unlike any other.

But, it won’t be like they remembered, especially for the younger ones, who had only begun their school life mere months before being instructed to stay at home.

And it will be equally different for the older kids, too, with limited mixing with others, and a whole host of catching up for all pupils to do.

But there are apprehensions, too. Parents still worrying about how schools are going to function in a way that is safe for their children. Adults worrying about whether this is safe for them, as well as their family members back home, who they will be mixing with every evening.

Still, we soldier on.

Then I have the big clear out still happening, as well as improvements being made on the house, a build up to another new beginning, hopefully.

I’m tired from a few days in school, as well as hefting boxes around, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

And finally, I’ll be beginning my 46th voyage around the sun on Thursday.

Yes, I will be turning 45! Eeeek! What can I do to celebrate, when I will be in school and also taking a child for teeth extractions?

I don’t know, but there is something you wonderful readers could do for me.

The book, Marriage Unarranged, is on sale from now, until Thursday evening, on and


A bargain!

It would be amazing if you could download your copy, and/or share this offer, so my book baby could get out into the world, even further!

That would be the best birthday present ever, to see my book rankings going up, even for a few days.

Right, now I am off to try and do some more clearing up!

So… tell me, is there anything you are planning on starting over?

Have a peaceful Sunday Peeps.  And enjoy your week! ❤ 

Spidey’s Serene Sunday – Part 253 – New Beginnings


Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.     

Henry Ford

Firstly, welcome back to Spidey and his wisdom on this first Sunday of 2020!

Today he brings with him a quote full of insight.

Often, we complete a task, then find out we didn’t quite get there. The first feeling is failure. time to lament how rubbish we are, and wallow in self pity.

What if i told you that was poppycock?

Fail is not negative.

Fail is this:

F - First
A - Attempt
I - In 
L - Learning

You see, this is where you have to embrace the power of YET.

Just because you didn’t get it now, doesn’t mean you’ll never get it. It just means you need a little (or lot) more practice, and you can get there.

It’s all in the power of the mind, and your perseverence.

I nearly succumbed to the whole “I am cr@p” thing this week, after being elated at getting the proof copy of my book, Marriage Unarranged. I have read, reread, tweaked, edited, submitted for feedback, changed and reread this manuscript so many times, I was sure there would be no errors…

Then a dear friend who is reading for review purposes came back to me with a note to say she was enjoying it, but there were a couple of niggles, with silly punctuation errors (only a few) and a couple of spelling slip ups, and that she knew how hard I had been working on this, so to make it better, to check it one more time, with a fine tooth comb.

I was, initially, devastated. How could there be any more errors? I have worked my backside off to get this baby perfect!

But she gave me a couple of examples, and when I checked, lo and behold, she was right.


Now I really did have to go through it again, not reading the story, but looking at the mechanics. That is one of the toughest things to do. I can’t even read aloud in a monotone voice, because I am one of life’s storytellers, and as I read words, the emotions and accents come out naturally. (Ask my class and colleagues… they love me reading Rastamouse – Irie, man!)

After posting in one of the extremely supportive groups I am a member of, on Facebook, I got lots of ideas, and started looking through the book with a ruler, pen and my Post-its. Then, I pulled up the word document, and the formatted Vellum version, and corrected the errors I had been told about. And went on from there, finding a few missing full stops, or speech marks, and a couple of spelling errors that I wouldn’t have picked up easily via spell check, or grammer check, as they were real words, but not the right ones.

And one of the members offered to proof read the document again for free, in exchange for a testimonial for her business website.

Note to all wannabe writers out there: publishing a book is an expensive business at the best of times. You can get sucked in by vanity publishers, or stuck in a vicious circle of finding the best editors/cover designers/formatters etc. and find that money can leak through your pockets so fast, if you aren’t savvy. I have had to spend some, but I have to say, compared to what I have seen others mention about their spend for a book, I haven’t done badly at all. I have relied upon word of mouth, and recommendation for many services, and by being open to helping others, I have found many people willing to help me with a lot of the services that you would usually pay for. Looking it up, the average self published author will spend between $2-4000 for a book. I think my spend, once I order my author copies, including editing, cover design and some promotion, will be $1200. So, if you find anyone offering, genuinely, to help, from beta readers to covers, consider the offer carefully. It can help you cut your costs, but make sure you trust them, and are confident of their recommendations and work too.

So, now I await the feedback from my proofreader friend, then I can resubmit the files, (hoping page count doesn’t change – that affects the cover size, and my designer is on holiday, and of there are any alterations, it might mean that the paperback is delayed) and hope my version of perfection is acheived, finally!

Here’s hoping the next time Spidey visits, there will be a much improved version of my book available! It’s just not quite there, yet!

So… tell me, is there anything you can’t do, quite, YET, but are persevering over?

And, if you did want to preorder the Kindle version of my soon-to-be released book, just click on the following link –

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