Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Ellie Browne has left behind her high-flying job in London to return to the charming Buckinghamshire village of Little Leyton. Working shifts at The Dog and Duck and running her own doggy-day-care business, Ellie's looking for a much simpler way of life and a good old fashioned Christmas.
But Little Leyton's landscape is changing; Johnny Tay, Ellie's ex, wants to pick up where they left off; sultry property developer Max Golding, has moved into the village and is ruffling feathers; and rumour has it that the pub, which holds a special place in Ellie's heart, might be sold. Suddenly, life's looking a whole lot more complicated. . .
Can Ellie juggle her emotions and commitments in time to celebrate Christmas?
I had never read any thing by Jill Steeples previous to reading Christmas at the Dog and Duck but as I am a sucker for a good Christmas book I decided to give this one a go. The blurb sounded promising but I'll readily admit I wasn't overly impressed with the cover. It's festive in some ways but it's the dark background which really detracts from the overall look the designers were trying to achieve. I know it's meant to be the night sky but for me it doesn't work at all making it not the most eye catching of the all the Christmas books published this year. It may seem silly to focus too much on a cover but I feel the cover for the book is the first thing a reader looks at and it plays a crucial role in whether people would want to buy the book or not. I think this book needs much more colour to make it stand out on the bookshelves and not be forgotten amongst the hundreds of Christmas books published every year.
In between the covers of this book there is a fairly decent story waiting to be read. I say fairly decent because it had plenty of promise but there were a few parts which didn't have any place in the book and I know several other people have felt the same having read their reviews. There was great potential here but it didn't 100% come to fruition but still come the end I was glad I had tried this book even just to satisfy my curiosity.
Our main character Ellie Browne has returned to her home village of Little Leyton after being made redundant from her high powered job in London working as an accountant. So her pace of life and long hours has drastically changed and she is now at a crossroads in her life and must decide what avenue she wishes to venture down next. Now back in the village this is her thinking time, a time to re-evaluate and reassess. Her parents are away in Dubai for a number of months so she is living in the family home rent free.'Coming home was meant to give me some clarity to offer me the opportunity to live a simpler less stressful life, but with each passing day spent in Little Leyton it looked as though life was getting more complicated by the moment'. Ellie has set up a dog walking business 'A Dog's Best Friend' and spends her days walking the villagers dogs and thinking over everything. Here is where she first encounters, in what was a funny incident, Max Goulding who turns out to be a property developer and who has restored the local hall. It's clear from the outset there is a spark between the pair but throughout the book there are misunderstandings and a complete lack of communication which provide twists and turns aplenty.
Firstly I thought the dog walking business and also coming back home to start over again had been done before in other books I had read and maybe even a bit better. I would have loved to have seen something new and fresh. My second major problem with the book was there was absolutely no mention of Christmas until 75%, I kept an eye out for this as it was supposed to be a Christmas book, even then Christmas only really featured at the very end. So readers expecting a delightful festive read won't get this in Christmas at the Dog and Duck., it really shouldn't be marketed as a Christmas book at all and it's misleading. Putting all this aside and forgetting the fact storylines start and never fully develop there is the bones of a good story here it just needed more refinement.
As well as running the dog walking business Ellie works shifts in the local pub 'The Dog and Duck' run by landlord Eric and his daughter Josie. Josie is Ellie's best friend and they spent many a time together as they grew up enjoying fun and frolics in the pub. Josie was a character who I felt could have been utilised more, she had a storyline then it abruptly ended and there was barely any mention of her after that. In fact I think that's probably what the problem was with this book too many storylines were introduced and then tapered out without proper development. Sticking to two or three might have been better. Ellie, as well as facing challenges in her personal life, now also has to worry about her job in the pub as the tenancy is up and new owners are stepping in. What changes will they bring? Will Eric stay? Will the community loose the pub they hold so dear to their hearts and where countless memories have been created over the year? I would have loved a bit more of a fight regarding this issue. Everything was shrouded in secrecy and they all seemed to give in to the inevitable without really getting to the bottom of things without a good fight. But a few twists and turns made me see this was necessary but that only came towards the end. In the middle of what is essentially a love story with some side stories were the refugees in Calais. This appeared out of nowhere and felt totally wrong and out of place for a book in this genre. It wasn't the place for it and again if you are going to tackle such a prominent issue tackle it full pelt not half heartedly. It was brought up, there was a trip and then forgotten about as with several things in this story. It felt like the author wanted to highlight this problem we see on the news everyday but like others who have read this book it just didn't feel right within the overall context of the story.
Christmas at the Dog and Duck could have been a really good story instead it only felt average for me but through the issues I had with the story I could see the really good parts that were waiting to come through and shine but never got the opportunity to do so.I think that's what made me keep reading on as Ellie and Max were likeable characters even if they had their faults too but all characters need that no one wants to read of perfect people the entire way through a story. Ellie had strong character traits at times yet there were others where I just wanted to shake her and say come on just find out the truth and don't be taking things you happen to see as word .Ask the people involved and stand up for what you feel is right. There will be more from Ellie and co with Summer at the Dog and Duck published next year and there was just enough that kept me interested in this story that would make me want to pay a return visit just to see how Ellie and co are getting on now.
Many thanks to Aria via NetGalley for my copy of Christmas at the Dog and Duck to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.