When Alex Munro learns that the love of her life is getting married to another girl, all she wants is to be alone – and as far away from Edinburgh as possible. Moving to a Cornish cottage, which comes complete with the world’s scruffiest dog, Alex finds that her new neighbours are determined to involve her in their madcap Christmas festivities. Then she meets her sexy neighbour Ruan – and somehow Alex doesn’t want to be alone this Christmas after all. But having lost one fiancé, Ruan has no intention of letting anyone get close to him again…
I’ll own up – I’m an absolute pushover for books set at Christmas, and look forward immensely to that time when the sparkly covers appear on the supermarket shelves (and the cover of this one is absolutely beautiful…). I also have to own up that Scarlett Bailey’s alter ego is one of my favourite authors – one of her books featured in my top ten of last year, and I’m looking forward immensely to her new one. These Scarlett Bailey Christmas outings are a little lighter – in previous years we’ve seen The Night Before Christmas and Married By Christmas as well as the digital novella Santa Maybe – but they show the same wonderful story telling skills, the large cast of real-life characters, the female lead who becomes your best friend as you struggle along with her, and a lovely warm feeling that’s absolutely perfect for Christmas reading.
Alex has had a best friend called Marcus since childhood – he calls her Al and “mate”, and they get into all kinds of scrapes together. At the point she realises that she wants him to be rather more than her friend, he doesn’t take her seriously and decides to propose to the glamorous Milly. She then finds that her father – who brought her up after her mother walked out when she was very young – has some secrets that entirely change their relationship. So she decides to move from Grangemouth to Cornwall, to the lovely town of Poldore, to take up her post as harbourmaster. Alex is used to working in a man’s world, a little shy but highly professional in her work, and she begins to build her new life.
She takes up the tenancy of a small cottage which comes with a boat to ferry herself across to the harbour, and a sitting tenant in the form of a smelly and unfriendly dog called Buoy, who she has to learn to live with. The hub of the community is the pub The Silent Man – she strikes up a friendship with barmaid Lucy, who turns out to have secrets of her own, and immediately clashes with Ruan who runs small boat tours out of the harbour. She gets drawn into the community with a role in the Christmas pageant, organised by the larger-than-life Sue, and the preparations for it drive the story forward. At the same time, Alex’s life gets a great deal more complicated when her former life impacts on her present.
I adore stories with a real sense of place and community, and there are some big characters here that absolutely enthrall. Ruan is suitably gorgeous, with a sad background that you ache to be healed. Alex is a wonderful strong character, and you yearn for her to make the right decisions and bring happiness into her life – but there are many twists, turns and misunderstandings along the way. And running through it all – or walking in through one door and out of the other, before taking over the bed – is the wonderful character of Buoy, one of the most real dogs I’ve come across in fiction in some time.
This was a simply wonderful book – just Christmassy enough without ever being cloying, filled with fantastic characters, a vividly drawn setting and with a story that keeps you turning the pages in your hope for a happy ending. I loved it – and if you love Christmas and a really feel-good story (and eccentric dogs), so will you.
Scarlett Bailey has loved writing stories since childhood, before becoming a novelist she worked as a waitress, cinema usherette and bookseller. Passionate about old movies, Scarlett loves nothing more than spending a wet Sunday afternoon watching her favourite films back-to-back with large quantities of chocolate. Currently she lives in Hertfordshire with her dog and very large collection of beautiful shoes.
Just for Christmas was published by Ebury Press on 7th November 2013, and is available in paperback and for Kindle.