I’m delighted today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of A Winter’s Dream by Sophie Claire: published by Hodder & Stoughton on 1st October, it’s now available as an ebook, audiobook and in paperback (which I know you can find on the shelves in Tesco too…). My thanks to Myrto at Hodder for the invitation and support, and for my advance reading ecopy.
I first discovered Sophie’s lovely writing through the short stories she contributed to the Miss Moonshine anthologies, but I was delighted to finally try a full-length novel last year, The Christmas Holiday, that I thoroughly enjoyed (you’ll find my review here). I had hoped to follow through with a review of A Forget-Me-Not Summer in June when it was published in paperback, but you’ll know that life went a little pear-shaped and I just had to take some books off my reading list. So I was delighted when both Sophie and her publishers let me know that this new book was coming – seriously, who wouldn’t want to spend more time in Willowbrook, especially with Christmas on its way?
Liberty has never been a risk-taker. She loves the routine of her quiet life in the charming village of Willowbrook, with her Labrador, Charlie. But the arrival of a mysterious gift prompts Liberty to make some changes: starting with a daily challenge to say yes to everything for the month of December…
Fearless and independent, Alex could hardly be a less obvious fit for peaceful village life. But after an accident cuts short his promising motorcycling career, he finds himself in Willowbrook in search of new direction.
When the pair become unlikely housemates, sparks fly at Damselfly Cottage. Will living together prove impossible – especially when the first snow falls? Or, cut off from the outside world, can they help each other find what it takes to be brave this Christmas?
I so enjoy Christmassy books – and I really have to say that I thought this book was just wonderful. Sophie Claire is a superb story teller – her writing wraps you up in a warm hug, and it’s just lovely to allow yourself to enter the lives of her characters, watch them change and grow and find things that make them happy in a way that warms your heart and makes you glow inside.
It was lovely to be back in Willowbrook, and to meet again many of the characters whose company I’d enjoyed at my last visit. I must say though, if you’ve never had the pleasure of spending time there before, you’ll have no problems reading this one (third in series) as a standalone – this is the kind of series I like, where the location and background characters follow through but the main story follows a new set of lead characters.
Liberty works at The Button Hole with Evie (you know, that gorgeous little shop where you can buy everything you need for your sewing projects, and they have those beautiful hand-made quilts…): after a traumatic event, she’s living alone at Damselfly Cottage other than her companion Charlie the labrador, and is content with her quiet life and routine, walking the dog, enjoying her home and its surroundings, sewing her quilts in the evenings by the fire. But there comes a point where “content” becomes “in a rut” and “boring”: she decides December will be her month of saying “yes” to everything, no matter how uncomfortable or frightening.
And that decision brings Alex into her life, and into her home as a lodger – French, a former motor-cycling world champion, his career ended after injury, looking for a long-lost relative while deciding on his next move. The author’s excellent at male leads who begin by being pretty obnoxious – everything he does and says rubs lovely Sophie up the wrong way, and he really doesn’t seem to care. But he’s distinctly “hot”, not as miserable and standoffish as he first appears, just carrying rather a lot of personal baggage, and things slowly begin to change when they both drop their defences a little – although being snowed in together really tests their growing friendship.
And that’s the point when everything starts to become distinctly Christmassy, and it’s just perfectly done – choosing a Christmas tree, a bit of walking through the snowy landscape, building a snowman (or more accurately, a snowdog…), and some sledging that really tests Liberty’s newfound bravery. It’s all just perfectly done, as they feel their way through their tentative new friendship – and it’s not even Christmas yet, that’s still to come, after Alex has left for home and she’s on her own again.
But life’s rarely that predictable, and the story moves away from Willowbrook as Liberty tests her bravery even further – and has a whole new set of experiences (in the most beautifully detailed and drawn locations – which will come as no surprise if you’ve read the author’s books before), a Christmas she never expected, and a confession she just has to make that takes more courage than anything she’s faced before. I SO want to say more about the last third of the book – I adored every moment – but really don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I’ll resist the temptation (but you’re going to love it!).
The characters in this book are just so beautifully drawn. You can’t help caring for Liberty, feeling her sadness and loss, and taking her to your heart – but Alex also has quite a back story, along with an emotional complexity and a well-hidden warm heart, and you soon find yourself very much in his corner as he discovers he needs to find some bravery too. The wider cast of characters is wonderful – strong and supportive friendships, the possibility of the perfect partner for Liberty in Ethan, a new friendship with his mother (which changes her life a little too), and a few well-developed dramas, secrets and surprises that really keep the story moving. And a particularly special mention for labrador Charlie – however allergic you might be, I guarantee he’ll become your new best friend too.
A gorgeous romance, everything Christmassy you could possibly ask for, a really well told story, the strongest of characters, a touch of armchair travel, plenty of emotional content, a few gentle laughs along the way… there was absolutely nothing about this book I didn’t enjoy, and I’d really urge you to add it to your Christmas reading list. Warm, uplifting, heartwarming… a really lovely read.
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.