Every Christmas Lizzie promises herself that things will change and she will leap into the new year a new woman. And yet here she is again, at the beginning of December and nothing is different. Her girls have grown up and left home, her husband Henry is slumped in front of the TV and she is alone in the kitchen, seeking refuge in the cooking sherry and talking to her Gary Barlow calendar. She’s also been very diverted by handsome new neighbour Marcus and she knows she shouldn’t be …
So when best friend Ann suggests a weekend away in the country, Lizzie jumps at the chance. Will this Christmas escape give Lizzie some much needed perspective and allow her to mend her marriage? Or will Marcus prove to be too much of a distraction?
Amazon Link: Kindle
Earlier this year I read the wonderful book Kitty's Countryside Dream by Christie Barlow and since I have finished that book I had my fingers crossed that Christie would publish a Christmas book. Thankfully my wish was granted and I couldn't wait to dive into this festive treat as soon as the beautiful cover was unveiled on Twitter. The tagline on the cover for Lizzie's Christmas Escape says it is 'A sparkling, feel good Christmas romance' which is just the kind of read you want for this time of year, one with which to curl up on the couch and enjoy reading by the fire. I adored this book from start to finish and virtually inhaled it as I more or less read it in one sitting.
This is much more than your average Christmas book it had characters that you were rooting for from the outset. Their actions made you challenge just whether what they were up to was the right thing to be doing. Normally we're meant to be on the main female protagonists side from the beginning and throughout but there were times in which I wavered as I questioned whether Lizzie was rushing into things too quickly. But this just made for an even better meatier read alongside all the Christmas elements. I will say the one thing that was starting to frustrate me was the break mentioned in the title. If something like a break, bakery, café etc. is mentioned in the title you do expect it to feature in the book. I was thoroughly enjoying reading the story yet I was waiting and waiting for said break to materialise and it didn't until near the end and was only for one night. Normally I would think hold on this is a bit of a cop out but not so in this case, the author had done such a magnificent job of setting the scene, introducing and developing the characters and laying down their problems, issues and feelings that the break came at just the right point in the book and proved pivotal to the last quarter of the story. It was expertly done and provided a shocking moment or two that I had never seen coming at all and I love to be surprised like that.
Lizzie's Christmas Escape opens as Lizzie Stevens is in the kitchen staring out the window at the snow covered streets and contemplating how she has reached the point she is at in her life. It's cold, chilly and constantly snowing outside as it's the month of December and Lizzie is normally looking forward to the run up to Christmas buying all the presents and food, decorating the house, Christmas parties etc but this year is different. Her two children Abbie and Freya are away at college and although they will be home for the holidays she misses them desperately. As for husband Henry, he is always out at work from dawn until dusk and then comes home plonks himself in front of his beloved darts with a beer and asks what's for tea? It's the same old same old routine and Lizzie is beyond fed up on the monotony. She may have married young but she loved Henry and devoted all her time to being a stay at home mum but now the girls have fled the nest Lizzie is at that point where change needs to happen. One can only put up with lack of communication and affection from your husband for so long. 'For the past year, every evening had had more or less the same routine. Last Christmas I had sworn to myself that things would change, and yet here we were again, at the beginning of the festive season and everything was exactly the same as it had been last year'.
Lizzie is a woman who is facing an emotional crisis and her actions may have repercussions for everyone. I can't say I have been in the same position as Lizzie but I did feel for her throughout the story and as it develops and her heart rules her head when maybe she should have stepped back for a moment and taken stock of what was going on I should have been berating her and not agreeing with what was going on. But it's the brilliant writing of Christie Barlow that has you not being so judgemental and just spurring Lizzie on to find some sort of happiness as you could see that she had just reached that point when enough was enough. You give and give for so long and getting nothing let alone some form of appreciation in return that at some stage you have to snap. New next door neighbour Marcus and combined with the excitement and silliness of the Christmas season is the catalyst that sparks a journey for Lizzie. A journey which will see lots of fun, laughter, emotions, anger and heartache coming to the surface.
Marcus is the perfect gentleman and new to the area as acting manager of the local department store. Right from the moment Lizzie glimpses him out the window early one morning she feels a rush of affection that maybe could grow. Marcus was charming and showed so much attention to Lizzie that I wouldn't blame her for feeling flattered having been made to feel so redundant in her own home. Soon she is going for walks with Marcus and his dog Frank and meeting him in town and her thoughts often turn to him when she should be working on her small sewing business or making dinner for Henry. I did think things seemed to happen quite quickly and Lizzie seemed to get carried away in the moment and even when best friend Ann offers her advice Lizzie didn't seem to take any heed. Marcus seemed to totally forget that Lizzie was married and pushed himself forward a bit too much. Yet somewhere at the back of my mind I was happy that Lizzie was breaking the mould and appearing to be happier. All she wanted was to feel loved again and to have that that human contact and affection that has been so sadly lacking for her. Lizzie was torn between a rock and a hard place and I was too as I didn't know what I wanted to happen or in fact how everything would turn out but as I have said there was a crucial turning point that took this book to another level and numerous twists and turnings that I didn't see coming but had me eagerly reading to get to the end to see how everything would be resolved.
I can't fail to mention the wonderful character Christie Barlow created in Lizzie's best friend Ann Sandeman. She is a teacher married to Dave and they have a son Leo who is away in the army. Normally I can take or leave the best friend or side kick to our main female character but here Ann was written just as well as Lizzie and she had her own storylines all which added flavour and depth to the overall story. Together Lizzie and Ann were a great team and had a friendship that was deep and long lasting and either woman could confide in the other. Ann always offered sound, realistic advice and wasn't afraid to tell the truth even if it might have hurt Lizzie's feelings. She could see Lizzie was tearing off on sort of a crusade to find herself but it mightn't have all ended like a bed of roses. She was always truthful and prepared to bring Lizzie bang down to earth with a bang if need be. I loved the camaraderie between the pair and the scenes of the pair going to their weekly Bingo sessions or just shopping were packed with humour and laugh out loud moments. Ann was full of vitality and with her around there was never a dull moment. As it's a Christmas book there had to be mentions of Christmas festivities etc and there were plenty slotted in nicely to the overall storyline. There is a real festive feeling in the air as Ann and Lizzie go to the Christmas markets and buy presents, go ice skating, indulge in hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts and hear carols and Christmas music. It really got me in a Christmas mood and that's what a book like this should do.
Lizzie's Christmas Escape is the perfect Christmas read or if like me a book to read at any time of year just to give you that warm feeling. It's a story of a woman who has grown tired of life and needs a new perspective and the run up to Christmas seems to give her that in more ways than one. Behind the bright colourful, Christmassy cover is a story that has real depth and emotion balanced with humour and frivolity and above all else a genuine friendship that many people could only aspire to. Christie Barlow told the story so effortlessly and it's clear she obviously had so much fun writing it yet she told Lizzie and Ann's story with such tact that you fall in love with the pair and just want to give both of them a big hug or even pull up a chair at the table and enjoy a glass of wine and a good natter. I feel like Ann could solve any problems I had. In the run up to Christmas there will be lots of Christmas books published but don't let Lizzie's Christmas Escape pass you by.It's wonderful and I loved every minute of it. Amidst all the madness of Christmas preparations sit back, relax and enjoy. I'm just sad this brilliant story is over and do hope Christie Barlow won't keep us waiting too long for the next one.
Many thanks to Bookouture for my copy of Lizzie's Christmas Escape to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.