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.

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