Reviewed by Emma Crowley
A talented young jewellery designer fights to rebuild her life and family by solving the mystery surrounding a diamond brooch given to her by her grandmother.
When Grace Manners takes up residence on the Wittering Manor estate in Sussex, she little realizes working alongside eccentric Fraser Stratton will change her life. Since her husband disappeared, along with most of their money, Grace has struggled to make ends meet and the little cottage on the estate is both a refuge and a workshop for her jewellery business. It's only when Grace begins to uncover the story behind a beautiful diamond brooch she inherited that she becomes drawn into a family secret that threatens to destroy what little she has left...
The Christmas We Met is the latest gorgeous read from Kate Lord Brown, I have only previously read one of her books The Perfume Garden but simply adored it. So I was delighted to see she had a new book out and even better Christmas was in the title. Admittedly it isn't all based around Christmas but the opening scene set deep in a snow covered countryside in January 1979 set us up very nicely for what was to come. This book was a slow burner for me but the deeper you got into the story the more you became involved with the characters and were eager to discover how all the tangled webs of lies and secrets eventually would hopefully resolve themselves. For there was plenty of mystery and intrigue that kept me rapidly turning the pages lost in the complicated lives of Grace, Fraser, Jack and co. The Christmas We Met presented me with a nice alternative to all the light and fluffy Christmas reads which are released in the run to the madness and fun that is the festive season, there was depth, substance and real emotion to this storyline and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The quote on the very first page sums up an awful lot about this story as the main character Grace is a jewellery designer and jewellery overall plays a vital role in this book, in fact it is almost a separate character in itself. 'She is more precious than jewels. And nothing you desire compares with her'. Jack and Grace first meet in the depths of a cold winter's day as she is struggling to locate her dog after stopping on a journey. Grace is slipping and sliding in the snow when Jack arrives almost as if her knight in shining armour to rescue her. Instantly you could see there was a tiny spark between the pair and as a reader just hoped that could ignite into an even bigger flame. 'In the way of life nothing was to be simple for us, but then, often what's most worth having takes some fighting for. Maybe that's how you get to appreciate things'. Grace had been on her way to Wittering Manor to visit Fraser Stratton who can be described as nothing only eccentric and charismatic but the question still remains why was she going there in the first place? A successful jewellery designer should not have need to apply for the position of secretary to a retired diplomat who lives a life of chaos and disorder. But Grace has been through the toughest of times and is slowly inch by inch attempting to crawl her way out of the deepest hole of misery she had found herself in through no fault of her own.
Grace was a character who I could see really developed and changed and went through such a life altering process over the course of the novel. In the beginning she was heartbroken and torn apart after the death of her husband leaving behind his clothes on a beach and swimming out to sea. Sam had plenty of enemies in the form of creditors and people who held grudges against. Obviously he couldn't take the pressure any more but is that really any excuse to leave his wife and child to deal with everything? Grace has both her house and business taken from under her and she is forced to start from scratch. It's a time of adjustment and coming to terms with everything. Will working for Fraser be just what she needed or has she just opened a whole other can of worms best left sealed? It was obvious to the reader that Grace was enveloped in a whole world of pain and loss but there seemed to be something else eating away at her which proved quite a revelation when finally revealed. Grace did appear like a fish out of water as herself and her daughter entered the world of Fraser and Jack. She had been stripped of all her comforts and all that she knows and now it was time to strike out on her own and forge a new life. But was there something unbeknownst to herself drawing her to Wittering Manner in order to uncover secrets buried firmly in the past but knocking firmly on the door in the present?
This could have been a run of the mill Christmas book but Kate has made this different, it's packed full of questions, problems and deception. It has the added bonus of focusing on Fraser who is writing his memoirs and Grace is helping him stay on track and organised. Jack who is godson to Fraser runs the estate and god he certainly was a hunky character. Who wouldn't love a man who played polo? I so wanted Grace and Jack to get together but the shadow of Sam still remained and as Grace was receiving slightly threatening cards and jewels on a monthly basis maybe someone didn't want her to find love again? I had my suspicions about this but I won't say whether they were confirmed or not.
What separates this book apart from what's out there in the Christmas genre at the moment is that it has the historical element as we are taken back in time as Fraser reveals his life story and that of his family. These sections interspersed throughout the book were really interesting and Kate nailed them perfectly. I became so enthralled reading about Paris and a tiara that had gone missing or at least part of it. I was dying to know the connection to the present and had to keep reading until I reached the very last page.
So much happened throughout the book yet it was wasn't difficult to keep track. Every character was utilised well and each had their role to play. Housekeeper Ellen was a treasure, the backbone and support system for the family and in a way became the same for Grace. The attention to detail in the book is phenomenal and it's clear Kate has spent quite some time on her research. Before reading this I never paid much attention as to how jewellery is made. I confess I'm not the biggest fan of jewellery. But here all the descriptive pieces as Grace begins to rebuild her life's work suited the story perfectly. They weren't too technical as to put the reader off but proved invaluable in helping the story along. Each chapter went month by month and we were told the gemstone for that month and what it symbolises which I thought was a really nice touch. Does Grace eventually uncover the story behind the brooch she inherited from her grandmother Margot? Does she find the happiness she deserves or has fate a few more surprises up its sleeve? Well discover the answers yourself by picking up this engaging read which kept me hooked until the very last page.
I hope Kate doesn't keep her readers waiting for her next release as I am now a firm fan and am interested to see what place and time she will take us to next. If you've never read a book by Kate before you'll enjoy this one so make sure The Christmas We Met is on your Christmas wish-list this year.
I'd like to thank Emma for this fantastic review of The Christmas We Met which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.