Before I take my Christmas break (and prepare my Christmas message!) I have just one more slightly-shorter-than-average review for you. I had the great pleasure of meeting author Julie Houston at the Book Connectors Leeds Chrismas bash, and I really meant to read her Christmas novella, An Off-Piste Christmas, rather sooner than this. Remember how much I loved Looking for Lucy? You’ll find my review here, and an interview. An Off-Piste Christmas is just 127 pages long, full of Julie’s trademark humour and more than a touch of heartbreak, and another lovely read to fit around your many Christmas tasks.
The last thing Harriet Westmoreland wants is Christmas away from home, particularly when skiing, snow, heights and freezing her backside off are on the menu. While her own family, together with her best friend Grace’s, are soon whizzing down ridiculously high and scary mountains in the fashionable Italian resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, Harriet is stuck in the remedial class on the nursery slopes unable, it seems, to remain vertical.
Tired of trying to stay upright in the dunces’ class, Harriet decides to overcome her fear of heights and take her bruised body off to explore the refugios in the magnificent Dolomites above Cortina. And maybe catch a glance of George Clooney, rumoured to be in town… But what happens next triggers a totally unexpected avalanche of events which proves that, for friends Harriet and Grace and all their families, Christmas really is a time for little miracles…
I’ll admit that I did feel a little lost at the very start of this one – as the holiday party assembled at the airport, there were just so many characters and some really complicated relationships, and I did struggle to work out who was who. If I’d read The One Saving Grace and Goodness, Grace and Me, all would have been fine from the first page. But don’t be put off by that – there is some quick catching-up with the background, and within a few pages, Harriet was my best friend, and I was really enjoying the author’s superbly drawn characters. Amanda, in particular, was simply wonderful, horrendously over-the-top, a wonderful creation. And the author has draws very well some difficult teens.
The setting of Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Italian Dolomites is very well described as background to the story, with lots of lovely detail around food and drink, but it’s the story itself that really hooked me. Surprisingly touching and emotional amid the ski-lifts and apres-ski and surrounding humour, it really won my heart. This was a lovely read – if you’re not already too busy putting on the sprouts, do see if you can fit it in before Christmas.
My thanks to Julie for my advance reading copy.
About the author
Julie Houston is Yorkshire born and bred. She lives in Huddersfield where her novels are set and her only claims to fame are that she taught at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old school and she was rescued by Frank Bough when, many years ago, she was ‘working as a waitress in a cocktail bar’ at the Kensington Hilton in London.
After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country.
She now teaches just a couple of days a week but still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the last fifteen years, and, when not distracted by ebay, geneology (so time consuming but so interesting – she recently discovered her husband is descended from the poet Shelley and the Duke of Milan!!) and crosswords, she spends much of her time writing.
Julie is married, has a twenty-one-year-old son and eighteen-year-old daughter and a mad cockapoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book.