After yesterday’s excellent introduction to Away for Christmas from author Jan Ruth, it’s time for some reviews from me today. It’s been so lovely to see this book getting such wonderful write-ups from blogger friends over the last couple of weeks, every word of them so totally deserved – this novella really was something rather special. Let’s take another look at that blurb:
Jonathan Jones has written a novel. Losing his job a few days before Christmas means the pressure is on for his book to become a bestseller, but when his partner drops her own bombshell, the festive holiday looks set to be a disaster.
When he’s bequeathed a failing bookshop in their seaside town, it seems that some of his prayers have been answered, but his publishing company turn out to be not what they seem, and when his ex-wife suddenly declares her romantic intent, another Christmas looks set to be complicated.
Is everything lost, or can the true meaning of words, a dog called Frodo, and the sheer magic of Christmas be enough to save Jonathan’s book, and his skin?
I’m sure everyone can already tell from that description that this is the perfect read for anyone with an interest in books and publishing. Jonathan’s hunger to become a published writer is infectious, but every aspiring published writer will equally identify with the hours spent tweaking a couple of paragraphs and making no discernible progress. Jonathan’s tangles with the publishing world have a distinctly uncomfortable whiff of authenticity – hopefully his encounter with the world of book blogging a little less so. Faced with a bland and unsuitable cover, a missing chapter and a distant and uncertain publication date, the route to a solution could almost be a handbook (albeit a highly entertaining one) on how to self-publish.
I loved the whole bookshop story too – but who doesn’t love a bookshop story? I know Rhos-on-Sea well – beautiful in summer, desolate and dismal in the winter – and the warm glow that develops around Beachside Books as its fortunes are transformed is just perfectly described.
Others have said they didn’t entirely take to Jonathan, although he grew on them as the story progressed – I must say I was on his side, cheering him on, from the very beginning. This is what Jan Ruth does so very well – her characters are real people, they live on her pages, and being real people you like them some of the time, but sometimes they don’t behave quite as you’d like them to. I loved the relationships in this story – the group of “friends” at that first Christmas gathering, the partner, the ex-wife, the daughter – all marked by the most accomplished characterisation, with an absolute authenticity in all their dialogue and interactions. Life, throughout this book, is complicated – but life so often is, and it’s the way it captures that is just one of the things that makes the book so thoroughly excellent. Life is also sometimes heartbreakingly sad, and at other times ridiculously funny – and the balance in this book is absolutely right.
I was particularly impressed that so much was packed into just over a hundred pages. Nothing felt rushed, no emotions or situations unexplored, every thread perfectly tied up into a perfect Christmas bow. An absolutely gorgeous read, and certainly not just for Christmas.
Home for Christmas has been on my kindle since it was first published in 2014 – I also have a signed copy sent to me as a gift last year by the author – and having so enjoyed the new novella, it seemed like a good time to try some of Jan Ruth’s short stories too. There are three in Home for Christmas – long short stories making up just shy of 100 pages. I’m not always the biggest fan of short stories – it’s that “selling short” thing, often not enough depth or character development, and just as you’re getting into the story, it ends. But I have to say I loved these – all those prejudices and preconceptions about short stories and what they can and can’t deliver really went straight out of the window.
An emotive trio of stories with festive themes.
Rudolph the Brown-Nosed Reindeer
Rick isn’t looking forward to his lonely corporate Christmas, but it’s the season of goodwill and magic is in the air.
An off-beat love story. It’s time Rick wore his heart on his sleeve, or is it too late? Lessons in love from an unlikely source.
Jim’s Christmas Carol
Santa and Satan pay a visit. One brings presents, the other an unwelcome presence.
Paranormal reality. Jim’s played with fire, it’s time he got his comeuppance, but from who?
Home for Christmas
Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa la-la la-la, la-la la-la. Tis the Season to be jolly…
Romantic-comedy. Pip might accidentally find her true vocation, but the folly of her fibs are about to catch up with her.
My personal favourite? The third, Home for Christmas – but only by a whisker. I loved the homecoming girl trying to impress the locals – a perfectly drawn Welsh village location, and the sceptical postman is a superb creation – and the whole story around the amateur dramatic group, the will-they-won’t-they of the developing romance and the wonderful supporting cast.
But both other stories were excellent too – and very different from what I expected. Rudolph takes a corporate Christmas event in the country – don’t those words give you a chill to begin with? – and makes it the backdrop for a life disintegrating, a brush with “Breaking the Mould” and other possibilities, and a beautifully unexpected ending. Jim’s Christmas Carol takes us into the heart of a family at Christmas, shows us their problems and challenges, throws in a few characters we (and they) aren’t expecting, mixes in a soupçon of the supernatural (or does it?) and a touch of spice, and we watch the situation as it plays out with wicked humour and an edge of mounting horror.
So what had I expected? I certainly expected “festive themes” – and they were very much present, but so originally handled. And I always knew I’d be getting the wonderful characterisation, the true-to-life relationships, the well-judged humour, the vividly drawn Welsh settings. If you fancy something a little different at Christmas – maybe the continental nativity scene of the first story rather than the fully decked tree – these stories might just be exactly what you’re looking for.
About her books
Jan Ruth writes contemporary fiction about the darker side of the family dynamic with a generous helping of humour, horses and dogs. Her books blend the serenities of rural life with the headaches of city business, exploring the endless complexities of relationships.