Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Emma's Guest Review: Harriet Evans - A Winterfold Christmas

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Winterfold has always sprung to life at Christmas - the purple wisteria might be a distant memory, but in the crisp air of December, the glow of candles at the window and the warmth of the kitchen offer you a warm welcome.

As Martha Winter's family fill the empty rooms with their laughter and cheer, the ghosts of the past are pushed into the shadows.

Welcome to Winterfold. And the healing magic of Christmas.

Amazon link: Kindle

A Winterfold Christmas is a novella briefly continuing the story of the Winter family whom we met in A Place for Us which I reviewed back in January. At the time I remember wishing that there would be more to come from these characters as I felt readers needed just that little extra to tie up all the loose ends. Thankfully Harriet Evans has fulfilled my wish and I was delighted to be reunited with a family who struck a chord with me when I had first met them. Described as a festive reunion my only question was - would Harriet Evans be able to recreate the magic captured so perfectly in A Place for Us? I had my fingers crossed she would as with that book I felt the author had really stepped up her writing to a whole new level in venturing into a family saga type book. How she dealt with the fall out within a family from so many secrets was excellent. With this story for me there was always a danger having read so much during the year that I would have forgotten the characters and certain details but within a few pages it all came flooding back and this 95 page novella (short but sweet) was well worth the read if only to reunite with an intriguing cast of characters.

The story begins in November and each chapter follows a different character in the lead up Christmas Day. Joe Thorne works in the local pub and is in a relationship with Cat - granddaughter of the matriarch of the Winter clan Martha. To make himself feel useful particularly as his son will be away over the festive period with his ex wife, Joe volunteers to cook the Christmas dinner. Woe betide anyone who gets in the way of tradition at the Winter household. Things have been the same for years with customs, traditions and parties observed for as long as one can remember. Has Joe bitten off more than he can chew especially when he insists on doing numerous things at once? God love poor Joe he really only wanted to fit in with the family of the woman he adored. As for Cat there is something troubling her and she just can't put her finger on it. She is safe, secure and happy with Joe so why can't she relax and enjoy Christmas with the man of her dreams and young son Luke. Florence - Martha's daughter had a great storyline in the previous book and here really she only gets a fleeting mention more a checking in/updating rather than anything else. But none the less it was nice to see how happy she now is.

Lucy, another granddaughter of Cat, has seemed to have really matured and appears to be a lot more happy and content with her life. She has a new job on a magazine which may not be the most high brow but she is satisfied with her lot. A new flatmate of the opposite gender has her heart a flutter but he is so different from anyone she has ever met before. Needless to say he is oblivious to what is right before his eyes. I have to say Lucy's tradition of present wrapping and all her little quirks surrounding the evening were such a nice bonus and I'm sure many of us will identify with them.

What of Martha, stalwart of the family in good times and bad? Well she seems to be a very different character to the one I first met. A grief shaped hole just seems to be ever deepening and she is stuck unable to see any way forward 'a great big hole waiting to swallow her up if she let it'. I just felt desperately sorry for Martha. She could see all around her members of the close knit family were moving on whilst she remained stuck in the same place, anchor less and needing support and comfort. She feels what is the point of keeping going? The scene in the church is oh so memorable and powerful and very carefully written and did strike such a chord with me. Martha is weary, sad and bruised emotionally and doesn't know how to be comforted or to comfort. 'Everyone's coming home and they're all moving on and they've got these wonderful new lives and I – I want to go back in time, not forward'. Does Martha come to any sort of peace once the family reunite? Will the Christmas dinner go without a hitch? Will you once again fall back in love with these characters? 

A Winterfold Christmas is a beautiful, fitting read for this time of year and it's just the right length too. Perfect to pick up and read a few pages in between dashing about preparing for Christmas. My only issue with it and this is more to do with if you have not read A Place for Us is that you will not appreciate the story and its characters. Yes the background information is slipped in but to really understand the depth of feelings and emotions experienced by each person we meet you should really read the full length novel first followed by this straight after. You will then get much more from this novella as the Winter family are special and deserve to be given a chance just to show you how remarkable and resilient they are. 

Authors often say novellas following on from a novel can be read as a stand alone or I myself might comment that it's perfectly ok to read part two in a series without having read the first instalment but I would urge you not to do that here as you would be missing out on the ups and down the various members of the family have already experienced. Harriet Evans has given her readers an apt conclusion to the story of the Winters and I am very glad to discover how life panned out after such upheaval in their lives. The family and their story have now been put to rest. So where will Harriet take her fans to next? In May Harriet releases The Butterfly Summer. Keepsake is the house mentioned in the blurb and already I am curious as to what is in store for us.

Many thanks to Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for my copy of A Winterfold Christmas via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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