My last Christmas book review of the year, and I’ve finally got round to reading The Christmas Holiday by Sophie Claire, published by Hodder & Stoughton in September/October, available for kindle (currently just 99p), in paperback, and as an audiobook. The e-copy I read was my own, purchased via Amazon.
I’ve mentioned before, I know, that short story collections are a wonderful way of getting a taster of authors’ writing without committing yourself to reading a full book. Having read her gorgeous short stories in the Miss Moonshine anthologies (and you’ll know how much I loved them – reviews here and here), I was really looking forward to reading more from Sophie Claire – and was delighted when I realised that I could do so straight away. And the icing on the cake for me was when I realised that, as well as being one of the Writers on the Edge, Sophie is also part of Novelistas Ink – where several authors are already friends, and such a lovely supportive group.
This is her first traditionally published novel under a three-book deal with her publishers: the second, A Forget-Me-Not Summer (previously published by a small press as Her Forget-Me-Not Ex) will be published for kindle on 26th December, with the paperback to follow in June 2020 (available for pre-order – and yes, I have!).
So, after all that, did I enjoy the book? Oh, of course I did…!
Can a trip away lead you home?
After a bad break-up, eternal optimist Evie Miller has moved to the small village of Willowbrook to finally pursue her dream of opening a craft shop. Unfortunately, with money worries and an ex-boyfriend determined to track her down, her fresh start isn’t going entirely to plan.
Jake Hartwood is also looking to escape his past. Haunted by the loss of his wife, he’s determined not to get close to anyone again – and the last thing he wants is to be celebrating this December.
Hoping to avoid the festivities, Evie and Jake arrange to escape Christmas together as friends in Provence. But will the magic of the season change things between them?
And what happens if one of them starts to feel something more?
Two main characters wanting to escape Christmas for very different reasons – Jake to wallow in grief, Evie to escape the pressures of her family, her money worries and her persistent ex. It doesn’t look as if it promises to be “the perfect heart-warming read full of festive magic”, does it? But worry not – it really is!
I took to Evie from the very beginning – really loved the fact that she was pursuing her dreams by setting up her quilt-making shop and business, despite all her financial issues and the quite dreadful dismissiveness of her parents. Needles and thread and fabric aren’t my natural comfort zone, but her enthusiasm is entirely infectious. Her character has an immense warmth – ok, maybe she’s a tad too talkative and relentlessly cheerful for some, and she could maybe do with bursting into song a little less frequently – and has considerably more depth than you can see when she first appears. Every setback, every put down begins to hurt – and there are points in the story when you’d really just like to give her a hug and help make things better.
But if you’re looking for really deep dark depths, Jake’s the character you’ll be looking for – although you might rather prefer his rather wonderful four-legged companion, dalmatian Smoke, when you first encounter him. The way Jake’s grief is depicted is really excellent – slowly revealed, and explored with great sensitivity – and I really liked the way his character slowly unfurled, allowing his true self to shine through.
There’s plenty of snow and sparkling lights back in Willowbrook, but the story takes a different turn when the action moves to Provence – but what it might lose in terms of Christmassy feel is more than made up for by the developing warmth of the unlikely (and perhaps transient) romance. I really liked the way the story was developed from the perspectives of both characters, the transitions particularly well-handled, and the insights that provided into their thoughts and feelings.
It was the author’s short stories that drew me to the book, and I enjoyed her handling of a novel every bit as much. I thought the pacing of the story was exactly right, the characters well-drawn and complex, the dialogue perfectly done – and I’m always a real pushover for a strong, well-told story of fresh starts and second chances. I also very much enjoyed the setting of Willowbrook, the archetypal Cotswold village, set amid the snow, beautifully described – although I’ll admit that I perhaps didn’t get quite the same strong sense of place from the French setting, but by that point I was more engaged by the developing relationship and where it might go.
A really enjoyable read – and I’ll look forward to reading more from this very promising author…
About the author
Sophie Claire writes emotional stories set in England and sunny Provence, where she spent her summers as a child.
She has a French mother and a Scottish father, but was born in Africa and grew up in Manchester, England where she still lives with her husband and two sons.
Previously, she worked in Marketing and proofreading academic papers, but writing is what she always considered her ‘real job’ and now she’s delighted to spend her days dreaming up heartwarming contemporary romance stories set in beautiful places.
Sophie is a member of Novelistas Ink, a group of writers who meet regularly and share a blog. The Novelistas’ support and encouragement was invaluable during her journey to publication and continues to be so.