It may come as some surprise that despite my slightly obsessive Christmas reading posts I wasn’t a big ‘Christmas fiction’ reader myself. That started to change last year when I indulged myself in a mini Christmas reading binge. However, this year, I allowed myself a full on Christmas romance fest and oh my, have I enjoyed it!
Last year’s reading was essentially just reading any books set at Christmas and this year the plan was to do exactly the same. It started well with Jenny Colgan’s An Island Christmas, which has a mix of drama and romance involving a host of characters who live on a remote Scottish island. But then I read Christmas at Fox Farm by Helen Pollard and I fell in love. Fox Farm is home to Jean’s pottery studio with adjoining gift shop and cafe, based in a close-knit Yorkshire country village. When Jean has a stroke, artist in residence Daisy steps up to keep things running and enlists the help of Alex – Jean’s handsome but stubborn nephew. Secrets are uncovered, family drama’s ensue and Alex’s vindictive cousin seems determined to thwart plans to save both Christmas and possibly Fox Farm. Not only did I love the setting, the characters and the plot, I fell for Alex too (aaah). I could recognise his Yorkshire stubborness (it has been said of me – many times), but his heart was in the right place – he just needed to be coaxed out of his closed off shell. He managed very nicely thank you, once he’d got the idea!
Helen’s book seemed to set the theme, I definitely wanted more romance and so the next book was Always in December by Emily Stone, a fabulous debut featuring Josie and Max. When Josie accidentally collides with Max as she’s on her way to post a particularly poignant letter, it results in an emotional few days that opens her up to the idea of Christmas, something she thought was lost to her. But Max was never meant to be in London and he leaves as planned after Christmas, taking my heart as well as Josie’s with him. Over the course of a year they have several more encounters and the chemistry refuses to go away. I of course fell in love with Max all over again and was willing for them both to get together. No spoilers or hints, as you really need to discover their stories for yourself. The publisher described it as a stay-up-all-night love story and as someone who stayed awake until 3am to finish it I concur, I was also a sobbing mess by then!
Under the Mistletoe by Sue Moorcroft took me back to a country village setting where recently divorced Laurel had returned to stay with her struggling sister and her teenage niece. Laurel, now a successful artist, had left the village twenty years earlier following an incident she is loathe to talk about. Returning means she has to face her demons as well as her old flame Grady. This was another book that was starting to tick my boxes, as well as Christmas we had a country setting (tick), an unresolved/troubled past (tick), family drama (tick) interfering exes (tick) and of course a handsome, empathetic, kind
hero ex boyfriend (tick). Don’t get the impression I’m trivialising the plot, I’m merely highlighting what I’ve started to discover is what I’m drawn too. Also with this book in particular, it also dealt with the issue of bullying and assault and the consequences that can have on both the victim and the perpertrator, It’s very much about a book about acceptance, understanding and forgiveness as well as Christmas and romance. Of course by the end I was in love – again! Grady was just so empathetic and gorgeous. Though I’m not saying whether Laurel was equally as smitten, that’s for you to discover.
Next stop York (tick) and a young widow Megan returning to try and breathe new life into the family bookshop (tick). Rachel Burton’s A Bookshop Christmas was a book that introduced topical issues, here the bookshop is struggling to stay afloat, not least in part to high rents/rates and decreasing footfall. However, it also introduced the seemingly rude and arrogant, but oh so sexy, prize-winning author Xander Stone into the mix (tick, tick, tick – I promise, no more ticks). I really enjoyed this book not just because of the brooding, dark haired Xander and his big brown eyes (yes, Reader I fell for him too!) but because of the setting, the characters, and their background stories. Megan and Xander had been struggling to overcome grief and anxiety as they tried to move forward with their lives, the question is – would it be together? The book also has it’s comic moments though, so it’s a nice balance of romance and realism. It also puts forward a the well argued defence of the Romance genre, not least by the aptly named Die-Hard Romantics Book Club.
Next stop the Scottish Highlands and The Winter Cottage by Rachael Lucas. Rilla has come to the cottage in the Highlands to sort out her late father’s affairs. It’s a place she remembers from childhood, with happy memories of playing with the 3 local Fraser girls from the big house (Applemoore). She also remembers a girlhood crush on their slightly brother Lachlan, who is also visiting and struggling with the upkeep of his inheritance, Applemore House. Rilla finds herself drawn back into the family circle and within Lachlan’s orbit. As she re-discovers old friendships she also discovers old secrets, and re-kindles old emotions, but will they be enough to stop her returning home to New England. With this one I was really rooting for Rilla and Lachlan but I think I was still burning a candle for Xander so my relationship with Lachlan, although he was a lovely genuine guy, was more platonic, but I appreciated his flirting!
Oh how fickle I am, Xander was banished once I’d met Marcus in Covent Garden in the Snow by Jules Wake. Tilly works as make-up artist for The London Metropolitan Opera Company in Covent Garden and causes chaos when she opens up a virus attachment on the PC sending the email intended for her fiance Felix to everyone in the companies contact list. This disaster coincided with the arrival of Marcus Walker the new Director of IT. By way of recompense and on probation re a possible promotion Tilly is charged with being her department’s contact with the IT division. This increasingly brings her into contact with the ‘drop-dead gorgeous’ Marcus, he of the voice that could melt chocolate, green eyes, high cheekbones and short dark hair – whoah I’m definitely in. Needless to say things do not go according to plan on many fronts and Marcus comes to the fore, which is very apt given the theatre setting. I really enjoyed this, it had warmth, humour, pathos and of course a liberal sprinkling of sexual chemistry and lust. I loved learning more about the backstage workings of the Opera and was quite sad to leave it – nothing whatsoever to do with Marcus (I might be lying here).
In Snowflakes Over Moon Cottage by Lucy Daniels I was back in a snowy Yorkshire village to meet single mother Susan, and her young son Jack. Susan has started to think about having a relationship but her online dating experience has been a disaster until she agrees to meet Douglas who on paper (or should that be on screen) appears her type. Before that meeting materialises the school she teaches at has a visit from children’s author Douglas MacLeod. His arrival was unforgettable he was a six foot, dishevelled man mountain with red hair, a clumsy manner and a honking laugh and this was the same man Susan had agreed to go on a date with. But we all know appearances can be deceptive, and Douglas has hidden depths, unlike Jack’s father who makes an appearance after 5 years to ‘claim’ his son and it appears, Susan. Now I have to say on paper Douglas wouldn’t initially be my choice (I definitely prefer my men dark) but he grew on me, he was lovely, warm, kind and nurturing so I was definitely wanting a spark to flare up between him and Susan and appreciated the slow burn. Throw in a local veterinary practice and animal centre (run by Susan’s friend), with both playing a large part in the ensuing proceedings, a lovely gentle old neighbour and his dog, the build up to the School Nativity and Christmas Markets and it had a lovely warm Christmassy vibe, with a nice sprinkling of romance.
The Postbox at the North Pole by Jaime Admans. Now this book is Christmas and I defy anyone not to be drawn into the world of Santa and the Lapland style Christmas village that forms the setting. Sasha began to hate Christmas after she lost her mother as a child, her father couldn’t cope and left her to be brought up by her Nan. He was always in contact though, usually from far flung places and now he’s in Norway and needs Sasha’s help after his heart attack. Just for Christmas, he’s hoping she’ll help with the Reindeer rescue centre he’s working at. Having just lost her job, though her father doesn’t know that, Sasha agrees. It’s not an auspicious start when she’s met at the airport by the very tall and taciturn Taavi, and when she arrives at the centre, by dog sled, it gets worse. It turns out the centre is more aptly a Christmas village that has seen better days and her father works as Santa. But the setting, the Northern Lights and the magical effect of the spirit of Christmas gradually start to work their magic. When she sees the letters that children and adults from all over the world write to Santa every year – she realises that she can helps spread that magic by replying to some of them. In addition there is also Taavi, kind, gorgeous, damaged and totally fall in lovable with Tav. Sorry Marcus, you’ve joined Xander I’ve moved on. The slow burn chemistry with Sasha and Tav really worked and I was praying for a HEA (I’m getting the lingo now) with this one. It might be a bit ‘Hallmark’ Christmas and would definitely make a great film, but it really evokes that childlike magic of Christmas and maybe it would do us all good at times to believe and dream.
A Country Village Christmas by Suzanne Snow was a nice change as it featured more mature main characters which made me feel less old, compared to some of the other young romantics I’d been reading about. That said still plenty of lingering glances and tender kissing going on. It features single, workaholic Olivia who has gone home to pack up her father’s house now that he’s gone into a retirement complex. What she wasn’t aware of was that he’d also allowed his friend Tom to stay there. That would have been less of a problem if Tom hadn’t been the man she was whiskers away from inviting into her room after a brief encounter the day before she arrived. Oooh the chemistry was never far below the surface with this one. Tom, now trying his hand at writing had been a bit of a heartthrob actor in his younger days, striding round in breeches in a costume drama – be still my beating heart! It’s not a superficial as I might make it sound. Olivia has problems she needs to address and Tom had a traumatic lack of confidence that resulted in him leaving acting, since which he’s been rudderless. As a heavy snowfall means neither can escape the village, their enforced confinement makes them re-assess their lives and each other. Yes, well I know I’m a tart and I’ve just been besotted with Tav, but with the breeches and the Poldark image I had in my head, as well as the idea of a penniless, struggling writer, I might have fallen for Tom as well.
Sorry Tom, I’m afraid you’ve been cast adrift quite soon because I’ve just met Daniel and he’s simply lovely. – handsome, kind, caring … you get the picture. 25 Days in December by Poppy Alexander is not a traditional Christmassy romance as it also dealt with much harder hitting issues, especially grief and loss. It features young widowed mum Kate along with her young son Jack, she lost her husband to an IED in Afghanistan. For Jack’s sake she tries to maintain a brave face but Christmas is hard, not to mention costly when she doesn’t have much to spare. At Christmas her poorly paid job at a department store sees her freezing outside, dressed as an elf selling Christmas trees. For several years, Daniel has admired ‘The Christmas Tree Girl’ from afar and when he bought his tree the previous year, he’d been with his wheelchair bound sister. This year, he too is on his own. As it all takes place in December, things do move along a little faster than they would in real life, but hey, real life isn’t that great for most of us at the moment so I’m happy to suspend belief in how quickly some aspects of the plot work out. While it is a book grounded in real life issues, it’s still a romance and all I wanted was that happy ever after for Kate, Jack and Daniel. Surely with a bit of Christmas magic that could happen?
Finally, I met Finn in Christmas Carols and a Cornish Cream Tea by Cressida McLaughlin. Now, by this stage I was obviously so in love, with the idea of love I was falling for anybody, because lovely as he was, blonde hair and blue eyes are not generally my thing (OK so there was that brief dalliance with David Beckham, but that was a while ago). Meredith Verren doesn’t like Christmas, (the reason for which gradually become apparent), but as she’s currently promoting Christmas hampers it makes it hard to ignore. After she meets Finn, who seems on a mission to find her inner Elf, it becomes even harder to ignore, as does he, which is something she’s losing a fighting battle with – me too! There’s a very Christmassy feel to this book as the small Cornish coastal town it’s set in is organising it’s own Christmas lights festival. There’s a great supporting cast, not least being Meredith’s friend and organiser extraordinaire, Anisha. Throw in family and career issues and nothing is straightforward, so will it be a happy Christmas for Merren and Finn?
So there you have it, it’s official, I am a complete tart. How I’ve managed to remain happily and monogamously married for 34 years is a complete mystery to me! It’s safe to say this is the first time I’ve ever read so many romances consecutively and I’ve discovered quite a few things about myself I hadn’t been aware of. Although all the books have had a Christmas theme, that’s really been a hook/setting for the romance and I’ll admit it’s the romance I found myself more drawn to. I’ve even found myself identifying a mental checklist of things I tick off when they occur and find myself inwardly smiling. I’ve discovered that what really does it for me, is not bodice ripping type lust but tenderness. Though I’m not adverse to considering a bit of shirt undoing (I draw the line at having to sew back buttons) once the other boxes have been ticked!
I’m probably over sharing here – nothing new, but if any authors are wanting to sell their book to me I’ve found myself hooked by, in no particular order and not exclusively,
- A definition of muscle and/or hint of bicep (ideally under a white shirt) but I’m not fussed whether it’s wet or dry.
- A tender touch of his forehead against
- His gently pushing a strand of hair behind
- Long, lingering furtive looks.
- A hint of a smile.
- Fingers catching or lightly grazing.
- A thumb being sympathetically rubbed along the inside of the wrist.
- Tender kisses on the forehead, behind the ear, the back of the neck …
Oooh better stop there methinks before this gets out of hand! Needless to say I happily found plenty of the above in the aforementioned books and will be seeking out more of the same in the future. Better warn the OH to watch his step!