Sunday, 19 July 2015

Christmas in July: Catherine Ferguson - Humbugs & Heartstrings

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Two ex-friends. One Christmas to remember …

Bobbie's boss Carol is a real misery-guts, dedicated to making the lives of everyone around her unhappy in pursuit of every last penny. What makes it worse is that the two women have history: they were once best friends.

When handsome hotelier Charlie steps into the frame the two women go to battle as one sees a romantic future and the other a possible lifeboat for her business.

With wonderful warmth and humour – and the odd mince pie fight – the women are forced to confront their shared past, the turbulent present and, most importantly, the potential of the future.

Amazon link: Kindle

Humbugs & Heartstrings is the début novel from Catherine Ferguson, a slightly updated version with a modern twist of the classic Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol. Despite a gorgeous, cheerful, colourful cover I wasn’t expecting that much from this read, just another run of the mill Christmas novel. But I was delighted to be proven wrong and I raced through this book in a day and found myself lost in the world of Bobbie and Carol. Admittedly the book was slow to get going but after several chapters it began to pick up pace. Now if you want an overly Christmas book maybe this is not the choice for you, I kept thinking where were all the Christmas elements – snow, magical setting and the usual traditions associated with the festive period. Yes there is mention of the Christmas Fayre much later in the book but that seemed to be it more or less. If you can get past this there is a satisfying story just waiting to be read.

Roberta Blatchett, other wise known as Bobbie, works at Spit and Polish cleaners under her stingy boss Carol McGinley. Former friends and now enemies (well at least on Carol's part) they side step each other on a day to day basis (which is difficult in a cramped office) with Carol barking orders and instructions when necessary. Of course Carol makes Bobbie do all the most demeaning tasks and treats her like utter rubbish. You may feel why is Bobbie persisting with such treatment in the workplace? Bobbie has her own burdens to shoulder and she needs this job to support her family. Her dad died when she was young leaving leaving her mother too rear two children. Now younger brother Tim is in need of an operation as he has scoliosis. Like any good sister Bobbie is scrimping and saving to raise as much as she can for this private operation so that goes along way to explaining why she puts up with the insufferable Carol.

Right from the start I was intrigued and desperately wanted to know what caused Carol and Bobbie to have such a dramatic falling out, this burning question was essentially what kept me reading. The Charles Dickens element of the story really kicked in when Bobbie visits a fortune teller Mrs. Cadwalder who warns there is a storm coming over her relationship with Carol and three messengers will soon visit her. This certainly had sparked my interest even more. Amongst the many ridiculous things Carol forces Bobbie to do is to find a cheap hotel room one which has all the luxuries but without the steep price. This brings Carol into contact via email with Ronald MacDonald -needless to say that's not his real name. I adored the banter back and forth in the emails between the pair and when we discover who R.MacDonald really is a love connection is established. One which both Carol and Bobbie are intent upon pursuing but for very different reasons.

When hotelier Charlie arrives on the scene Carol sees her chance to get funding for the business. Funding which is badly needed so she tells plenty of tall tales to get her own way but Bobbie views him as a love interest and I really wanted her to find some happiness of her own. After all she does so much for everyone else now it's time for some reward of her own. It is much deserved. But in any good book the path of true love does not run especially smoothly and Bobbie is out to thwart Carol's happiness at every given opportunity. The Christmas Fayre organised by Bobbie to raise funds is where everything comes to a head and culminated in some funny scenes. But apart from this there was plenty going on as some of Carol's back story, opinions and feelings were revealed. As I've said this was only the really Christmassy aspect to the book but I get the overall message based on the title.

Bobbie was such a likeable character who had qualities that were generous and admirable and plain for all to see. In her situation she really was stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to keep her family going and re-establish her friendship with Carol whilst also reigniting her passion for art and design. Bobbie never gave up no matter how woefully Carol treated her. The things she made her do and the put downs would be enough to turn anyone off continuing to attempt to make peace. But I suppose Bobbie remembered the good times she shared with Carol in the past and wished that there were more special memories to be made in the future.  She must feel underneath that tough exterior that the real Carol may still exist. As mentioned before this book is like a modern day A Christmas Carol so who do we liken to Scrooge? Why Carol of course. To me she was just plain rude and nasty, yes we uncover her troubles the further into the book we go but I think no matter how horrid a situation you may find yourself in it really is no excuse to treat people the way she did. If she only stood back and took stock of her problems they mightn't have seemed so insurmountable and maybe then she could have accepted that Bobbie wasn't so bad after all. There are numerous important lessons to be learned here as Scrooge also learns in the classic tale. To me if Carol understood the value of friendship and the support of those around her, her life and business would not have presented her with so many difficulties.

Humbugs & Heartstrings was a different Christmas chick-lit read but one I thoroughly enjoyed. Catherine Ferguson used A Christmas Carol to great effect and I fell in love with Bobbie but by the end a tiny tiny part of me may have felt some empathy towards Carol. There were numerous twists and turns which helped keep the pace of the book going the further we dove into the story. I found this book can really be read at any time of the year as the story and the characters will really appeal. Do the girls reconcile? Will the business survive? Is romance permanently on the cards? Go buy Humbugs & Heartstrings to find out. Meanwhile Catherine second book her summer release Green Bean & Summer Dreams awaits me on my Kindle. Will Catherine's storytelling abilities live up to expectation in book two. Well I'm off to find out.

I'd like to thank Emma for reviewing Humbugs & Heartstrings from her own copy.

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