Holly Brown doesn’t celebrate Christmas. It’s never been a happy time of year. Her mother died at Christmas giving birth to her. She was brought up by Strange Baptist grandparents who were kind & loving but didn’t do the secular side of Christmas. Holly married Alan & discovered the joy of Christmas trees, paper chains & silly games. Then, eight years ago, Alan died just before Christmas. He fell through the ice trying to rescue a dog. Holly has given up on Christmas. She restructured her life to avoid it. She caters for posh house parties most of the year but during winter, is a house sitter, choosing the most remote locations possible.
This year, the job she had lined up in the Scottish Highlands falls through & she takes on a last minute emergency post in Lancashire. Jude Martland is in the US, avoiding Christmas at his family home, Old Place, after his brother ran off with his fiancée last year. Holly takes over from Jude’s regular house sitters at the last moment to look after the house, Merlin a gorgeous old lurcher, Lady, an ancient horse & Billy the goat. Holly doesn’t bargain on the rest of the family & the weather conspiring to revive her Christmas spirit. Holly & Jude get off to a bad start with grumpy trans-Atlantic phone calls that cut out with the bad reception. Their spiky, bad-tempered conversations are a delight. This is a romantic comedy so we know where the relationship is headed but it’s a lot of fun seeing how these two people who have been hurt in love, get over their mutual antipathy & become friends.
The rest of the Martland family are delightful. Noel & Tilda living in the Lodge, with their granddaughter Jess staying for the holidays. Becca, the horsey, kind-hearted aunt who helps Holly with the horses. Old retainers, Nan & Richard living in almshouses in the village. Somehow, Holly is convinced to provide the traditional family Christmas house party for the family, including Guy & Coco, the model & aspiring actress he stole away from Jude the year before. Guy turns up to freeload when he hears Jude is away but Jude’s sudden return to stop Holly taking advantage of his aging relatives changes everything. Holly has also been reading her late grandmother’s diaries about her work as a nurse during WWII & it turns out there’s an intriguing connection to the Martland family. Holly & Jude continue sparring with misunderstanding piled on misunderstanding until Holly is the only one who can’t see that she & Jude are made for each other.
This is a gorgeous book. The setting, in frozen Lancashire with the house cut off by snow; the wonderful characters- gentle Noel, bossy Tilda, charming, untrustworthy Guy & selfish Coco; the humour and the food. I haven’t mentioned the food yet. This is one of the things I love about Trisha Ashley’s books. She is obsessed with food. Holly is a fantastic cook & we’re treated to descriptions of roast dinners, stuffed pike, egg & bacon muffins, Christmas cake, chocolate cake in a mug, & a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. This would be the perfect book to read on a winter’s afternoon with a pot of tea & some chocolate at the halfway mark. But, I couldn’t manage that in Melbourne. Luckily it’s been a cool weekend for summer & I could still have the tea & chocolate while I wallowed in this lovely romantic story.