Just For Christmas
(Poldore, Book 1)
Trade Paperback, 457 pages
Ebury Press, November 7, 2013
Christmas Romance, Contemporary Romance, Literary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Source: The Book Depository
Book Synopsis: When Alex Munro learns that the love of her life is getting married to another girl, all she wants is to be alone – and as far away from Edinburgh as possible.
Moving to a Cornish cottage, which comes complete with the world’s scruffiest dog, Alex finds that her new neighbours are determined to involve her in their madcap Christmas festivities.
Then she meets her sexy neighbour Ruan – and somehow Alex doesn’t want to be alone this Christmas after all. But having lost one fiancé, Ruan has no intention of letting anyone get close to him again...
I first heard about this novel thanks to one of my giveaway winners -- Irena @ Book Dust Magic. When I notified her that she had won the Gratitude Giveaway here on my blog (this was a Thanksgiving giveaway), she selected this book as her prize. I immediately loved the cover, so I then read the synopsis at the TBD site, and decided, right then and there, that I had to buy the book for myself, and read it. And I'm SO glad I did!
Although this novel certainly does have Christmas elements in it -- there's a Christmas pageant included, after all -- it goes beyond being merely a heartwarming holiday tale (although of course there's nothing wrong with that), and delves into issues of self-identity, belonging, and coming of age. I have therefore classified it as literary fiction, as well.
The female protagonist is one of the most likable ones I've ever met in fiction. She has the courage to go on that all-important journey of finding herself, attempting to move beyond the disappointments of unrequited love, as well as her difficult relationship with her father, who has raised her on his own. She must also deal with the lingering presence of her mother, who abandoned the family when Alex (her full first name is "Alexandra") was around three years old. Adding to this is her unconventional choice of profession, although her father was the one who initiated her in it. She is a harbor master.
Alex decides to move from Grangemouth, Scotland, which is her hometown, to the (fictional) town of Poldore, Cornwall, on the southwestern point of England. Her arrival in the small town, in order to assume a position she had interviewed for, and settle there, initially stirs up some controversy, as her new neighbors had never had a female harbor master before. Alex still pushes on with the firm determination not to allow the opinions of the townspeople to define who she is, or what kind of job she can perform.
Ruan, the man Alex meets in Poldore, has had love troubles of his own -- his fiancee was never found after she went out to sea in a small boat one day, after a heated argument with him. He is haunted by her memory, and pretty reluctant to embark upon any new romantic relationships. I loved this character! He's just a wonderful person all around, as well as a very attractive guy. Especially wonderful is the fact that he actually lives in a lighthouse, which he bought and renovated himself.
Lucy, the daughter of Eddie Godolphin, Mayor of Poldore, is another great character. She and Alex end up becoming best friends after Alex defends her in a totally unprovoked attack, at "The Silent Man", the pub owned by Lucy's father. Lucy has a secret she doesn't just share with everyone, but she does share it with Alex, whom she trusts implicitly.
Lucy has a self-confidence that Alex admires and envies. Alex also wishes she had Lucy's intuitive fashion sense, as she herself has never been 'a girly girl'. In spite of their differences, the two do become great friends, and they give each other excellent relationship advice.
Amazingly, Alex's so-called 'true love', Marcus, her childhood buddy, shows up not too far into the novel, telling Alex that he "misses her", and, at one point, that he's "confused" about his true relationship with her. He just struck me as a massive dork, and absolutely NOT the right guy for feisty, unconventional Alex, who, like Ruan, wears her heart on her sleeve. Seeing Marcus again is part of Alex's coming of age, as she suddenly realizes that this man -- who has always called her "Al", just pales in comparison with Ruan.
The romance between Alex and Ruan is built up gradually, and is very sweet. I really appreciated this; it was very much in keeping with the holiday mood of the novel. Bailey explores their feelings and moods, as well as their evolving relationship, very realistically, without ever becoming maudlin.
Other memorable characters are Gloria, Alex's long-lost mother, who proves that, even in fiction, people shouldn't be stereotyped, and the incomparable Sue Montaigne, who organizes the yearly Christmas pageant, and ropes Alex into taking on a lead role in it.
And then there's Buoy, the stinky, unkempt dog (as described by Alex herself) who simply 'comes with the cottage' she has rented. Alex is definitely not 'a dog person', and tries to get rid of Buoy, as he has the unfortunate habit of taking over the only bed in the cottage, leaving her to sleep in a chair in the living room. However, as the novel moves along, Alex begins to like, and then get fond of, the old dog. When Buoy surprisingly becomes a hero, their friendship is forever sealed.
This novel has a nice mix of comical and dramatic events. Alex's predicament when Marcus sees her in a new way is funny and rather poignant at the same time. So are Buoy's determined attempts to follow Alex just about everywhere she goes. Sue also provides several comical moments, with her bossiness and tendency to do everything herself, instead of delegating tasks.
The one character I did not like was Marissa, which will become understandable to anyone who reads the novel. She's a very shallow person who is not above manipulating people to get what she wants.
There are books that, for me, have 'a cinematic quality' about them, and this is definitely one of them! Even while I was in the process of reading this one, I felt so close to the characters, as if I, too, lived in Poldore, and got to know everyone in town. I also felt as if I were watching a movie at the same time. It would be so wonderful if this novel were, indeed, made into a movie! We need quality material for Christmas films, and this book certainly provides it!
The pacing of the story is a bit slow at first, which I really didn't mind at all. Bailey set up her story very nicely, and has the reader really get to know Alex. Her writing is flawless -- not too wordy, and not too stark. Later on in the book, there are certain dramatic events, and the story picks up. But again, the slower pace at the beginning did not annoy me at all; I was instead totally immersed in the story, which I loved from page one!
As the title seems to imply, this story is not really "just for Christmas". Instead, the themes explored by the author are well-suited to any time of year. However, setting her plot at this very special time of year makes these themes shine even more!
I highly recommend this jewel of a book to anyone who loves the holiday season, solid, well-rounded characters, and just the right mix of comedy, romance, poignant moments, and drama. What a great Christmas gift this book would make for some lucky reader!
Before writing her debut novel The Night Before Christmas, British writer Scarlett Bailey was a cinema usherette, a waitress, and a barmaid - but always a writer. A lover of romance, Christmas, comedy and perfect heroes, Scarlett, who also writes under her own name Rowan Coleman, decided to write books that are perfect to curl up with in front of a real fire on Christmas Eve, whilst waiting for Santa to pop down the chimney.