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Jenny Colgan – Christmas At Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop

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Couldn’t miss this one this year.

Publisher: Little Brown (Hachette)
Pages: 389
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-751-55180-8
First Published: 7th November 2013
Date Reviewed: 17th October 2018
Rating: 4/5

Rosie is looking forward to Christmas. Having moved from London to a small rural town (having broken up with her non-committal boyfriend and finding someone better), she’s ready to experience the season in her little house and community. But Stephen’s mother, the lady of the manor, is still frosty towards her, and, now adding to the stress, Rosie’s family want to visit from Australia. It’ll be a trial fitting her family into the house and ensuring her shop stays afloat with the prospect of snow on the way.

Christmas At Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop is a cute story that, given its advent setting, makes a great book for the weeks prior to Christmas.

Colgan exploits all the stereotypes to good effect: snow; little town; big cold houses; a bustling community. She even throws in the idea of Australians experiencing snow. This she does well, using easy language that’s nevertheless not nonliterary, and getting the balance between conflict and good company just right. It’s all very cosy, down to the traditionalism of the big glass jars in the sweet shop and the joviality of most characters. Development happens but suffice to say that whilst the plot works and the characters are the main aspect, you don’t mind not being blown away by either. The plot devices bring people together and are well solved; one device works as it does precisely because it’s in a Christmas book.

There are but a couple of low points. Firstly, the arrival of Rosie’s family means the arrival of some difficult characters, smarmy people with smarmy children who it’s hard to reconcile with the rest of the novel. And secondly, there is the use of the derogatory term ‘mong’ (‘a person with Downs Syndrome’; Oxford Dictionaries defines it as ‘a person who is stupid or who has learning difficulties’). This word is used by Stephen when he’s recovering from an accident and is in hospital, high on pain reliever – what we’d now call ‘out of it’. This obviously brings in prejudice where it was not needed and does not gel with Stephen’s personality (otherwise incredibly emphatic).

Besides this, and in general, the book is a really good seasonal read, and exactly the kind of chick-lit you want at Christmas; it’s the second in a series but stands fully alone – you may want to read the first (either before or after would work equally well) but you certainly don’t have to.

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Susanna Fraser – A Christmas Reunion

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Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?

Publisher: Carina Press (Harlequin)
Pages: 76
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-426-89924-9
First Published: 24th November 2014
Date Reviewed: 15th December 2014
Rating: 3/5

It’s the early 1800s and Catherine is to be married at Christmas time. It won’t be a love match, but then she gave up hope of anything between her and her cousins’ cousin, Gabriel, five years ago, when her uncle sent him to war so that the lovers would not cause issues. Gabriel, illegitimate and poor, was no match for a landed heiress. But Gabriel will be returning for Christmas and Catherine must make sure they don’t find themselves alone under the mistletoe again.

A Christmas Reunion is a short novella that presents a look at the turning point of a couple’s relationship.

It’s a nice set up but given the scope, a lot is left out of this story and this does affect the reading. We only learn about the beginnings and the defining moment of the friendship between Catherine and Gabriel via flashback and thus the necessary time for becoming attached to them is completely missed out. The reader has to be willing to take the author’s word that they love each other and given how short the (written) story is, the present part of their tale isn’t developed enough to offset the lack of knowledge. It’s a case of ‘they love each other? Great. Moving on…’ Put simply, this novella really needed to be a full length novel.

The history is well written except for a few spots wherein the English 1800s characters use American English. ‘You wrote me’ is perfectly acceptable in a book about Americans, but completely out of place in Georgian England. These spots are joined by a few proofreading errors that, due to the short length of the book, are very noticeable.

There is a mini reveal that occurs as the story descends towards the finish line that puts previously kind and caring characters in an unbelievable and somewhat nasty place. It’s not the idea of the scene – that is all well and good – but the execution does unfortunately mar what is otherwise a fair cast of characters.

What works in the novella is the way the secret of Gabriel’s heritage isn’t drawn out. Yes, it’s a novella so it couldn’t have taken long, but it is to the book’s credit that it is dealt with swiftly and without shock tactics. And good also is Gabriel’s relationship with his ward. It’s well written and is a nice touch.

A Christmas Renunion isn’t going to win any awards and it isn’t particularly believable, but it is firmly set in its season. The holiday is part and parcel of the story rather than just a backdrop and therefore it’s a fair offering if you’ve an hour or so free and want to feel more festive. That it’s historic surely helps.

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