Hello reading friends!
So much as happened since the arrival of 2021, that December already feels a long way away! However, I hope the following wintery reads offer some escapism in a world that still feels far from certain. Please don’t be put off by Christmas covers, all the books highlighted would make equally great January reads. And of course I had to include a heart-tugging emotional family drama and this month’s comes from Kate Hewitt – the wonderful When You Were Mine.
Stay safe, until next time.
CHRISTMAS WISHES by SUE MOORCROFT
Having enjoyed darker stories in November, I was ready to read some Christmas romance and Sue Moorcroft’s Christmas Wishes, set in Stockholm, promised some armchair travel too.
Hannah Goodbody is a luxury goods retailer who is thrilled when Nico Pettersson, an old schoolmate, visits her shop in historic Gamla Stan, the bustling medieval part of Stockholm. From the outset, Hannah and Nico get along well. However, Hannah is already in a relationship, whilst Nico is run ragged juggling work as a marketing executive with his responsibilities as a single dad to two little girls.
As Stockholm is a city I have yet to visit, it was wonderful to escape to the wintery setting. Christmas Wishes is sprinkled with comforting Swedish traditions, fascinating locations, as well as tempting descriptions of seasonal food. So much so that I plan to bake Saffron buns! (Traditionally eaten on December 13th, St Lucia’s Day, celebrating the Festival of Light, in the spirit of Advent and Christmas).
Also, it was refreshing to discover the space given to Nico’s story – interesting to read from a single dad’s point of view. Sue Moorcroft never shies from gritty issues, even in Christmas fiction, and I found myself really rooting for Nico and the wonderful family he tries hard to stitch together. If you are searching for a feel-good festive read, set against a snowy backdrop, exploring family issues as well as romance, then it is all wrapped up beautifully in Christmas Wishes.
FESTIVE SPIRITS by KATE ATKINSON
Sometimes it can be hard to carve out reading time during December, but Kate Atkinson’s Festive Spirits is a wry, pocket-sized collection of only three short stories that will brighten any wintry day. Great to read with a coffee, or perhaps to give as a little gift. Atkinson’s writing is as sharp and juicy as a plump tangerine – ‘Beatrice, Maude and Millie – had been furious babies, red-faced, clutching their fists like tiny boxers, bellowing their way through the dark watches of the night. They hadn’t improved much since, whereas Ben was placid, contented, almost stupefied.’
Also, all author’s royalties and profits from the sale are donated to the Sightsavers charity.
THE SNOW SONG by SALLY GARDNER
December is traditionally a time for magic and fairy tales, and I couldn’t help but be drawn to The Snow Song by Sally Gardner. Just look at that stunning wintery cover!
Initially, I wasn’t certain whether this was a children’s book or one for adults, and on further investigation discovered that Sally Gardner is a best-selling, award-winning children’s author, which made perfect sense. However, soon it became clear that this is a feminist fairy tale that sweeps the listener to a snowy land filled with superstition and fear.
Set in an isolated village, where life is dictated by rules fashioned by men, life changes dramatically for Edith when she loses her voice. Once mute, the other women feel confident to confide their secrets, and as the snow begins to thaw, so the powerful patriarchy that governs the community begins to shake. The Snow Song includes all the elements required of a fable – Edith, the young heroine trapped at home with her alcoholic father; Demetrius, a mysterious traveller; the villainous butcher; the mountainous setting.
There is a lyrical quality to Amanda Bright’s narration that flowed well and felt right for a fable story. The combination of both voice and scene-setting is so vivid that it was easy to picture how the characters might look if it was adapted for stage. Hearing The Snow Song swept me back to the classroom and my favourite time of day, when the teacher would read before releasing us for home. One for lovers of magical realism or mystical tales. The Snow Song reads like a modern-day classic.
A WINTER’S DREAM by SOPHIE CLAIRE
Normally, I read a book and then want to discover more about the author. However, when I noticed Sophie Claire
set herself a month of December challenges, otherwise known as a month of being brave – running 10k, learning to knit, making the 13 desserts of Christmas etc – challenging others to say ‘yes’ too, I had to read A Winter’s Dream.
Although this has a festive cover and Christmas does feature briefly, I recommend this as a January read, as its themes include confronting fears, shaking things up, trying something new. At the heart of the story is the romance between Liberty (a cautious homebody, happy to work in the local quilting emporium, selling threads and fabric) and Alex (a rather sexy professional French motorcyclist). If reading at present is all about escape, then Sophie Claire’s writing made it easy to journey to Liberty’s quaint woodland cottage and Alex’s friendly family Christmas in Provence. Both places I was more than happy to spend time.
I failed to set any December challenges, but Liberty’s (and Sophie’s) actions have inspired me to focus on what I can achieve in January – and the rest of the year.
WHEN YOU WERE MINE by KATE HEWITT
When You Were Mine by Kate Hewitt is a heart-tugging, page-turner that cements Hewitt as one of my favourite authors of emotional fiction. Beth is a single mother who, through a set of unfortunate circumstances, loses her son Dylan to the foster care system. Ally is a mother of well-rounded almost-grown teenagers who is keen to offer support, and to open her comfortable home to children in need. Dylan is a loving, shy little boy, who refuses to speak.
Told from alternating viewpoints, we see Beth’s struggle to regain the care of her son, whilst Ally discovers that the perfect home-life she has worked so hard to create may not be all that it seems. In the middle of it all is Dylan, who tries his best to do the right thing. Hewitt is a master of character development, and each character grows in a way that feels natural/realistic. I know nothing about the American care system, but the detail sounded authentic and we were offered just the right amount – enough to be interesting, without swamping the story. When You Were Mine explores a mother’s love (whether biologically connected or not) and how when things go wrong, everyone deserves the chance to make things right. One for lovers of family drama with a tender heart.
TOGETHER BY CHRISTMAS by KAREN SWAN
The covers of Karen Swan’s Christmas novels are like festive treats – hard to resist. However, don’t be fooled by the soft-glow cover image or even the romantic blurb. Yes, Together by Christmas is a traditional will they/ won’t they love story, BUT it also touches upon the horrors and longer-term consequences of war.
Lee Fitch is a successful celebrity photographer and devoted single mother, who finds it impossible to trust in romantic relationships. As we weave back and forth between Christmas in Amsterdam and events that took place years earlier, when Lee worked as a war photographer, we discover why. In addition, we are introduced to a cast of Lee’s friends who, as well as supporting Lee and her young son, are also interesting and fun, adding the lightness readers expect of a Christmas romance.
Amsterdam in December sounds magical with festivities beginning on the 5th December with the arrival of Sinterklaas, continuing on until Christmas Day. It was interesting to hear of the canals icing over and residents coming together to ice-skate and enjoy community time outside. With themes of trauma and forgiveness, there was no hint on the cover as to the true subject matter of Together By Christmas and, although that didn’t bother me, I feel it may be helpful for readers to be given a better flavour of the content. Perhaps it was felt that combining Christmas and PTSD may be a hard sell. That said, I very much enjoyed Together By Christmas and believe reading a Karen Swan novel may have become my newest Christmas tradition.