(This review will have spoilers, however, I think it’s giving too much credit if I suggest the book has anything to spoil. I found everything very predictable, but it’s up to you, read on at your own risk!)
As is the way with Christmas tales, I was expecting a fairly frilly romantic comedy. I was hoping for something cute and cuddly, that would really get me in the Christmas spirit. It turns out that I am not a girl designed to read adult romance stories (particularly those of the Christmas variety.
It is important to note that I went into this book blind, it was suggested to me on iBooks and I decided to download it (it was cheap, it had Christmas in the title, what could go wrong?). I hadn’t read the original (Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe) but was assured by the opening pages that it wouldn’t matter.
While it’s true that I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on any vital posts, there were countless references to the events of the first book, and to what happened in between. I now have no desire to read the first book as I know literally every event, and after reading this, I don’t think I’ll be picking up any other books by this author.
First up, let’s look at the characters in all their stereotypical glory. First, we have the two sisters, Laura and Becca. Both of these characters have very clear roles, one is an angel, the other the devil. I personally like my characters to have a little more depth than that. For Laura, the only interesting thing about her was that her husband had passed away – and that’s not even a piece of information about her character! Laura is the quintessential domestic goddess; she cooks, she cleans, she lives in a cottage, she takes care of her kids… blah blah blah. While there is nothing wrong with the domestic goddess as a character, I would have liked something more – maybe she had a temper, maybe she liked to watch horror movies in bed while the kids were asleep. Anything!
While we’re talking about Laura, there’s one more thing I have to address. I don’t class myself as a feminist, however, the idea that the only way Laura could become whole after the death of her husband was by finding another boyfriend deeply offended me. I shall say no more about it.
Now let’s look at the protagonist, Becca. Becca is just stupidly messed up. For a book of this length and genre, one vice would have been more than enough, but instead, she was an alcoholic pill popping, sex addict – who was able to give it all up cold turkey – a little unrealistic.
However, I use the word ‘protagonist’ lightly, as I feel the book actually spent more time talking about Laura and her struggle getting over her husband than it did about Becca. We are constantly greeted with long descriptions of how Laura was a broken woman after David died, and how Matt saved her from herself. Personally, I would have preferred a little bit more information about Becca’s past and less about her extended family.
I did, however, have a good giggle at Sam and Matt. Never have I read two characters who have been so obviously created by a woman. They’re handsome, do nothing but indulge their love interests and stick around even after being told that they don’t have a chance – it was hilarious.
I won’t dwell too long on this next point but Cherie Moon… Willow… Ivy Wellkettle… who named these characters?
I’m surprised I’ve made it this far through the review/rant without mentioning my least favourite thing about romantic novels INSTA-LOVE. Sam was in love with Becca before he’d even met her! Why couldn’t there have been a cute, getting-to-know-each-other section? Once again, a little unbelievable.
I can’t say this book really had a lot going for it in the writing department either. Although there were some funny moments or sentences that left me thinking “aww, that was nice”, 90% of the time I wanted to take out a red pen and start editing.
On multiple occasions, I found Debbie explaining her jokes. In case you don’t know what I mean, I’ll give you an example, to paraphrase:
“You did know David, right?” Becca asked Laura, when obviously she knew him because they were married and have two kids.
As the reader, I can’t say I was thinking ‘oh my gosh! Laura didn’t know her husband?… wait… oh… I’m so glad she explained that – I was really worried for a second there’. It led to a lot of repetition and unnecessary sentences.
I should also make comment about the overwhelming use of British pop culture references. Although there is nothing inherently wrong this, I don’t think it overly affected the novel, it has greatly decreased the shelf life of the piece. In a couple of years, these references will be obscure. In fact, but next Christmas, they will have lost all their charm. It definitely won’t be becoming a Christmas classic.
Finally, let’s look at the actual plot of the novel. For a book with an ex-alcoholic protagonist, this book sure spent a lot of time writing about drunk characters; Laura, Cherie, Sam, Matt – basically everyone in the book (except the kids) was plastered at some point, most of them more than once. Personally, I found this a little insensitive due to the nature of Becca’s problems, and it really isolated her from the action of the novel. I think, all in all, I’ll stick to the more innocent YA romances from now on.
Overall, I gave this book 2/5 stars (More like a 1.5 if I’m being honest). Although the book did give me a slight Christmas buzz and did have some funny moments, it left me with an overwhelming feeling of annoyance and relief when I finally turned the last page. I wish the story had been more about Christmas, and that less time had been spent retrospectively. The story was predictable, stereotypical and cliche – but if that’s what you crave this Christmas, then go for it!
Sorry that this review was so harsh – I have extremely strong feelings on the topic! Please check out some of my happier reviews to cheer yourself up!