Reviewed by Holly Martin
Piper Chesterfield lives a glamorous life travelling the world and reviewing the finest hotels. She calls nowhere home, she works alone and that’s how she likes it. For long ago Piper decided that to protect her heart she should lock it away.
So when Piper’s next assignment brings her to the newly opened Stardust Lake Hotel for the festive season, the last person she expects to face is Gabe Whitaker, the man who broke her heart so completely she could never love again.
But Piper isn’t the only one who has been frozen in time by heartbreak. Gabe hasn’t forgotten the golden-eyed girl who disappeared from his world without a trace.
Now fate has reunited them on Juniper island, can the magic of Christmas heal old wounds? And can this enchanting town be the one place Piper can finally call home?
I'm going to make a bold statement right at the beginning of this review (well a bold statement for me anyway considering I am quite critical and fussy when it comes to my definition of a good book) and just say Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky is the best Christmas book I have ever read. Now that's saying something considering the amount of books and Christmas books I read every year. Yes I've read really enjoyable books in this genre plenty of times before but never before have I felt so all encompassed in the story and so caught up in all the Christmas magic as well as the excellent storyline throughout the entire book. I read this book in early September months before the actual excitement and preparations of Christmas begin to kick in (although this does occur earlier and earlier every year) but still I totally felt that Christmas was just around the corner so immersed was I in the story of Piper and Gabe and the simply wonderful Juniper Island.
Holly Martin absolutely nailed every aspect of the storyline to perfection. Some may say there is too much fussiness and commercialism surrounding Christmas these days but in this book it is here in abundance and what an imagination Holly has in creating the Stardust Lake Hotel. The entire concept was so unique and magical, every last detail was thought of from little to large and it all felt so real it was just such a pity that the hotel and all that goes with isn't real because I'm sure if it was it would do a roaring trade. I had read Holly's White Cliff Bay series last year which featured two Christmas books as well as a summer based story and though they were enjoyable they didn't fully hit the mark for me but Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky was just brilliant and I never wanted it to end but when it did I was left with a huge smile on my face. Truthfully I haven't been this excited about a Christmas book since I first read Alex Browne's The Great Christmas Knit Off and that's saying something considering how much I love the Tindledale series.
If the gorgeous cover doesn't just scream Christmas and cosy fires in a log cabin and get you in a festive frame of mind then Holly doesn't keep her readers waiting as straight away we are taken slap bang into December and the few weeks leading up to Christmas. Piper Chesterfield is a mystery guest reviewer for The Tree of Life magazine and travels the world visiting all kinds of hotels and enjoying the life it offers. Yet at this stage in her life having travelled and run away from things for so long and for painful reasons that become apparent to the reader fairly early on Piper has has enough and is about to begin a sabbatical. She has one last review to do before she is taking six months out to reassess everything and ponder what direction her life may next take. Her final job takes her to Juniper Island, a tiny island in the Scottish isles and home to the Stardust Lake Hotel which is just about to begin its first ever season.
The whole concept for the hotel was something I had never heard of before and instantly it was a place I wanted to visit. It sounded so warm, cosy, inviting and an idyllic winter wonderland perfect for a pre-Christmas getaway. Just as Piper experiences all the resort has to offer for the first time I felt I was right there with here as it seemed as if each corner you turned there was so much to see, experience and just soak up. As she boards the Juniper Island Airlines, little does she realise so much will change for her in such a short space of time as past events and people she has kept firmly rooted at the back of her mind will make a reappearance and that steely resolve she has may just start to melt. Piper was a fantastic character, she wasn't perfect in any way she had her flaws and I could see how what had occurred in her past deeply affected her and why she felt the need to run away from what she perceived to be a major hurt.
Piper get the surprise of her life when she arrives on the island and discovers the hotel is run by her best friend Gabe and his sister. She hasn't seen him since a tragic event 12 years ago and has had no contact with him either. So Gabe is equally as surprised to see Piper turn up on his doorstep back to the village where they spent some lovely holidays together. I really liked how Holly told us more or less within the few chapters what had caused Piper to leave so suddenly and why she more or less abandoned Gabe. They had had a deep connection and bond, a love that Piper still harbours to this day and one misunderstanding and awful event saw that broken. But now she is on the island Piper has to face up to her past and at the same time write a review for the resort, something which she keeps secret from Gabe.
Right from their first encounter after so many years apart you could see the spark still remained between Gabe and Piper and lots of water had flowed under the bridge and yet they couldn't quite bring themselves to discuss what had happened as both were equally hurting and at points I thought stubborn also. Gabe summed up how he felt very well. 'We were in love. I was going to propose to her and she threw it all away.We never broke up, she never said goodbye. She just vanished. She broke my heart and I spent so long hoping she would come back and now she's here, I need to know why she ran away'.
Apart from the animals that steal scenes in this book it is Wren - Gabe's daughter who is obsessed with Frozen who dominates every scene she is in and I mean that in a good way. She is that extra little sparkle throughout the book and one of the factors which help in establishing a tentative truce/ reconnection between Piper and Gabe. Wren was sweet, adorable, innocent and inquisitive and oh so honest that you couldn't but fail to fall in love with such a wonderful character who just added something special to an already very special book. Without Wren the book wouldn't have been the same she allowed Piper to trust again and as Wren always said what she felt Piper began to hear things which made her stop and think that maybe she had been in the wrong. 'She had spent almost her whole life believing she couldn't trust anyone, that she wasn't loveable or worthy enough'. I sincerely hoped Gabe, Wren and all the other residents could change Piper's viewpoint.
Holly really got the balance right between the issues Gabe and Piper have alongside the preparations for the opening of the resort and the first guests and journalists arriving. It could have all been about Gabe and Piper perhaps avoiding each other or skirting around what they really wanted to stay but instead Holly threw in a few mishaps along the way. But also it was the descriptions of every aspect of the resort that just totally had me in their thrall and made me feel so festive despite the time of year I read the book. It may be a cliché to say it but it really was a winter wonderland. From the log cabins with their fairy lights and log fires nestled on the grounds with the Northern Lights as their night time background to the glass igloos where a cosy night could be had. All the scents and sounds of Christmas were mentioned too – Christmas trees, pine cones, berries, holly leaves, mulled wine, hot chocolate the list is endless. I thought the idea of the residents of the island converting parts of their homes into stalls selling all things Christmas was just ingenious and the mouthwatering descriptions were brilliant - the mince pie, cakes, ornaments and chocolate all seemed to die for. It was quite nice to see a brief mention of Penny from the White Cliff Bay series too. As for those naughty Shetland ponies they provided a few laughs as did the reindeer and husky puppies. Basically Holly thought of everything you could think of yourself and lots lots more and encapsulated everything about Christmas without it all being rammed down your throat and it all just made for such a really feel good read perfect for a cold winter's day or really any time of year if you are a Christmas book fanatic.
There were a few other characters mentioned throughout the book and I feel they will come more to the forefront in the second book in the series. The only thing I wonder about having loved this book so much is can Holly recreate the same magic I experienced in Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky in the next book? All the descriptions have been laid out for the reader and we have a fair idea in what direction book two will go in so I hope it can live up to the extremely high standard and expectations that the story of Piper and Gabe has done for me. The development and reconnection of the relationship between Gabe and Piper was a joy to read and I wanted nothing for the best for them but they were both so hurt and there are a few twists and surprises along the way that you are never surely certain of the outcome and that's the way a good book should be. I hoped that Piper could come to terms with everything that had gone before and maybe think more about the future and her happiness instead of always running away and reviewing hotels. Juniper Island and all its quirks may just be the place she never realised she badly needed in her life. It's so warm and inviting both Piper and the readers may never wish to leave.
Don't hesitate to buy Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky. You will not be left one bit disappointed as it is impossible to stop reading once you start. Make sure it is at the top of your Christmas reading list. Thankfully we don't have to wait long for the next book in the Town Called Christmas series as in Christmas Under a Starlit Sky we will return to Juniper Island once more to read of Neve (Gabe's sister) story and I for one cannot wait.
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.