Mini Reviews #7: Loss and Christmas

I know Christmas is all about the jolly and the merry, but, you know… Sometimes, it’s not that simple. And sometimes, an author gets that feeling of loss and Christmas just right. As they do here – three times over.

I was offered these ARCs by Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are strictly my own.

A Miracle on Hope Street, Emma Heatherington

Story

Can a single act of kindness change a life forever?
To many people Ruth Ryans has everything: the perfect job, a home to die for and a loving family. But it’s all lies. As Christmas approaches, Ruth feels lonelier than ever. Then Ruth meets Michael. A man who, on the night of her father’s death the year before, she showed kindness to during his darkest moment. That one single act, his miracle, helped change his life forever.
Can one act of kindness really change a person’s life? Ruth decides to find out and plans to make this Christmas the most perfect one ever, opening up her home to those who need her help – the lonely, the lost and the ignored.
This Christmas actions will speak louder than words and Ruth Ryans’ kindness will create little miracles for everyone … including her own battered heart.

Opinion

While this book has a happy ending, it is not a happy book. I wrote about this last year as well, but for many people, Christmas is one of the hardest periods there is. The idea that everybody should be happy, when so many people have it so hard? It can be hurtful to anyone who isn’t lucky enough to be able to fully “celebrate Christmas”.
For Ruth Ryans, that is exactly the case. Her sister is across the country, her father died almost exactly a year ago and her mother? Well, she walked out on them years earlier – just when, as Ruth put it, “she needed her most”. Faced with feeling even more alone now, as she is struggling with the grieve of her father’s death, Ruth just about breaks down. She has an advice column, but how is she supposed to help others when she’s feeling so utterly lost herself?
And then – she decides to do just that. Rather than just give people words of wisdom, of help and of comfort, she’s going to take action. Throughout the story, we’re shown fragments of 6 people’s lives as they decide to write in for Ruth’s advice column. The way Emma Heatherington set up the story so that we get to see exactly what brings these people to write to Ruth gave it a layer of depth that, honestly, I wasn’t expecting from “just a Christmas book”.
It’s been a while since I read a book that set out to be emotional. And, I was actually taken aback by how well that was done. The author manages to unveil the different layers both of Ruth’s and “the man whose life she changed” stories. The six people Ruth decides to help are all, in their own way, so incredibly deserving. And at the same time, they – along with that same man – give Ruth the framework she needs to deal with the biggest reason for her loneliness this season: her mother’s absence. The build-up of that final reveal is executed so masterfully that – even if you do figure out the last “plot twist” before it’s actually narrated (and you might, it is somewhat obvious) – it honestly left me in tears.
A Miracle on Hope Street takes place during the 8 days before Christmas and on Christmas day itself, with a prologue one year earlier and an epilogue one year later. Honestly, I would’ve been fine with 6 more epilogues. Emma Heatherington so skilfully sets up this unnamed town in Ireland, the family situation and all of the invitees (heartbreaking and hope giving all at once!) that I would’ve been happy to stay in her world a good while longer.

Rating: 4.75/5 (Goodreads)

Cupcakes for Christmas, Kate Hewitt

Story

Always the baker, never the bride…
Olivia James has always been happy running a tea shop and bakery in the Cotswold village of Wychwood-on-Lea. She’s helping her friends find their happily-ever-afters, topped by the perfect wedding cake. But as Christmas approaches, Olivia is home alone and questioning her choices while eating too many of her own specialty confections.
When Simon Blacklock, a handsome, whimsical stranger, breezes into her shop and buys a cupcake and then returns the next day and the day after, Olivia begins to dream. Can romance blossom amidst the sugar and flour? And after a lifetime of living on the side lines, is she brave enough to star in her own story?
Simon may be hiding a painful secret, but Olivia harbours secrets of her own. If they can dare to risk their hearts, this Christmas might be the most magical yet!

Opinion

Kate Hewitt has this way with emotions that means you can always count on her to get them just right. I already knew she did that beautifully in her series on The Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite but, as I’ve now discovered, it’s a universal thing for her books, apparently.
I have to admit that it took me a while – longer than with her other books – to get into the story of this one. There were these little things that just didn’t strike me as “quite right”. From the relationship between Olivia and her mother, to the way Simon was acting at times… It just made me a little… Uneasy? That’s probably the best word I can find to describe it, right now.
Of course, because, you know: this is Kate Hewitt, it turns out I was *right* in feeling a little uneasy. Right, and, on to the plot. Kind of. Whereas I could see from pretty early on what general direction Olivia’s mother was moving in, Simon kind of caught me unaware. And he certainly got me *in the feelings*.
The author certainly takes her time to set up the atmosphere and the characters of this holiday read, but seeing Olivia slowly unwind from her spinsterhood, as well as the development of her relationship both with her mother and with Simon? It made for just about the perfect cosy holiday read. Best accompanied by cupcakes – of course!

Rating: 3.25/5 (Goodreads)

The Christmas Wish, Tilly Tennant

Story

Christmas is coming but it doesn’t feel that way for Esme Greenwood. Recently jilted by her cheating fiancee Warren, she’s had enough of London life and escapes to Thimble Cottage in the Peak District, home of her beloved grandmother Matilda.
While Esme mourns for the wedding she’ll never have, Matilda puts her granddaughter back together again with comforting words and generous helpings of fruitcake and together, they plan the trip of a lifetime, to Lapland to see the northern lights, somewhere Matilda has always dreamt of going.
But tragedy strikes and when Matilda dies, Esme screws up the courage to go on the trip on her own to honour her beloved grandmother’s wishes. At the airport she meets a motley crew of characters including Zach, a handsome, brooding, out-of- work actor and together they set off for an adventure.
Beneath the indigo skies of Lapland, Esme and Zach grow closer. But when Esme is bombarded by messages from Warren promising he’s changed and she discovers that Zach is hiding something very significant – will her head be turned? And when a trip to the northern lights reveals the full extent of Zach’s own secret past, is there any hope that Esme will get the happy ending that her grandmother wished for her?

Opinion

There’s something incredibly sad about someone coming to the realisation that their relationship isn’t what they thought it was. There’s something equally (more?) sad about someone realising the way they are being treated isn’t okay. No matter how much they might try and defend that other person’s behaviour.
Throughout this story, Tilly Tennant does an incredible job of not only revealing the truth of Esme’s situation, she also manages to allow her character to get beat down again and again. It’s not necessarily fun to read, but it did make for a very compelling read.
What made this even better? Well, the story just takes place in freaking Santa-country. I mean, they go visit the real Santa in his actual town with his actual elves and surrounded by actual snow. I know I mentioned this for “The Summer Getaway” as well, but the author has a way of really making a location come through life through her words.
So if you’re in need of something to make you feel more Christmassy than you have in a long while? And you’re more than willing to take some sadness and tears with that deal? Then this is your book!

Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads)

Honestly, I feel like I need to warn you that reading these may definitely end in some tears. On your part that is. I can guarantee you there’s tears in the books. So, you know, keep your tissues ready. And be sure to check out the rest of my Christmas– and this year’s blogmas-posts!

-Saar