2 November 2009

Book Review: Last Christmas by Julia Williams

Cat and Noel Tinsall are having a few troubles in their marriage at the moment. Cat is struggling to juggle her home life with her job as a columnist, and Noel is scared of being made redundant, something he doesn't want to share with his wife.

In the small village of Hope Christmas near to where Noel's engineering company is building an eco-town, the residents there are gearing up for Christmas. Marianne is still reeling after being dumped by Luke, her fiancĂ©e; and farmer Gabriel is helping his young son Stephen get over the abandonment of his mother Eve.

Will all 4 be able to get over their worries before the festive season is upon them once more? Or is their Last Christmas their last happy one?

When I heard that Julia Williams was bringing out a Christmas-themed novel, I was really excited because a) I love Julia's book and b) I absolutely adore Christmas. I was even more happy when I saw the cover of the book for the first time - it really captured the essence of Christmas in one picture and couldn't wait to read it. As soon as it came through my letterbox, I picked it up ready to devour and did so within a few days... I couldn't put it down! Suffice to say it's put me right in the Christmassy mood even though it's only early November, but there you go! This is Julia Williams' third novel following Pastures New (which I loved) and Strictly Love.

The book begins with a flashback to the relationship of Marianne and Luke which took place "Last Christmas". The pair seem happy in love, but when the book comes back to the present day, we find all is not as it was, but  no reason is given for the break up of the relationship. Marianne is very likeable, and you can see how badly she has been hurt which just makes you hate Luke even more. The slow but perfectly steady character development of Marianne was wonderful to read and I felt we really watched this character grow as the book progressed and it was part of the story I loved. Luke on the other hand was arrogant and horrible, and I think Julia has done a great job in making him totally hateable! Gabriel is the other resident in Hope Christmas who we see a lot of and I loved him straight away - he was vunerable, a great dad and the way Williams' has written the relationship between he and Stephen was so heart-warming.

When I started reading the book, I didn't actually realise that the Tinsall family didn't live in Hope Christmas but when I did, I wondered how this would fit in to the story. As the book goes on, it becomes far clearer, and I loved the references to both London and Hope Christmas at different times of the year and felt it was very cleverly done by Williams to interlace two stories like this. Cat Tinsall is a harassed mother trying to juggle a career and motherhood, and also a terrible problem with her own mother. This story was quite emotional to read and made my eyes well up on occasion but it fitted in perfectly with the book and was so wonderfully written, credit has to go to Williams for the gentle handling of such a plotline. Noel was a bit frustrating for me, not opening up to his wife but I grew to like him more as the book goes on and you see that his heart is in the right place.

Time is very cleverly used in the book too. The book is flits backwards and forwards between Last Christmas and the present day, and it's almost like a jigsaw puzzle coming together... things are slowly revealed and become clearer as it goes on. We also get to see another side to the characters, a happier side which was nice to see and I think Williams made the time transitions seamless and I really enjoyed the back story popping up every now and then. Christmas isn't the main theme throughout the book, it really focuses into it towards the end when the nativity play issue becomes prominent but it is a wonderful festive read nonetheless, and the idea of family and love is high throughout the book as it should be at Christmas and throughout the year too.

This is an utterly charming Christmas read that I absolutely adored and will be re-reading sometime in December when I won't feel so guilty for feeling so Christmassy! Julia Williams weaves a wonderful tale that travels not only across the country but through time as well, and seems to do so seamlessly. It's a very heart-warming and touching story that isn't afraid to tackle some serious and upsetting issues but in a great way with a writing style that makes it easy to devour very quickly. I loved every page, and I can't recommend it enough!

Rating: 5/5

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