Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Neve Whitaker loves managing the Stardust Lake hotel. She gets to work alongside her wonderful family and she's spending Christmas on the most enchanting, snow-covered island in Scotland. So why is her heart so heavy this festive season?
It might have something to do with the gorgeous actor Oakley Rey, the man she finished with before he left for California and the man she loves more than anything. With Oakley's career in Hollywood soaring, Neve is convinced she'd only hold him back. She had to end it with him - at least that's what she keeps telling herself.
But now she has a secret she's struggling to keep, and when Oakley arrives on Juniper Island determined to win her back, Neve is thrown off balance. Will Neve's fear of having her heart broken again push Oakley away for good, or is it time for her to take a leap of faith?
Christmas Under a Starlit Sky is the second in the town called Christmas series from Holly Martin following on directly from Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky. To say I loved book one would be an understatement considering I said it was the best Christmas book I have ever read, that's really saying something considering how many of the Christmas books I like to indulge in that are published each year. Book one couldn't have been more perfect, it ticked all the boxes and the holiday village on the small isolated Juniper Island that Holly Martin created was simply stunning. So well was it described that I felt I had such a clear, vivid image of everything in my head from the log cabins to the husky puppies, and the reindeer to the village with all it's unique shops offering some incredible gifts. There was something for everyone to get them in the festive mood no matter what time of year you read the book. Christmas was certainly here in abundance and I was delighted this was the case as I often say that in Christmas books there can be a distinct lack of Christmas or the title fails to relate to the book. Thankfully everything you could wish for was here.
My only worry beginning Christmas Under a Starlit Sky was having enjoyed meeting Pip and Gabe so much in the previous book, and all of the Christmas and holiday village descriptions had been painted for the reader so wonderfully by Holly, was would I experience the same feelings in book two that I had been wonderfully overwhelmed with when I first encountered Juniper Island? What more could there have been to say in this regard? Yet at the same I was so glad of a return visit picking up from where we had last left the characters. This time we focus on Neve, Gabe's sister, and I was eager to see just what had the Christmas season had in store for her as only brief hints as been previously given as to how she was feeling or what her situation could be.
There was no messing around once I began this book as we pick up exactly where book one finished and it refreshing to see that we didn't have a huge time gap and instead this book felt like an extension of the first story or even if you read the two books one after the other it would read like one long delightful story that you could go on reading forever and it wouldn't feel in the least bit dragged out. The fact we were focusing on Neve and her story was great yet at the same time we could see how Pip and Gabe were getting on in the fledging stages of their relationship and also not to forget Little Wren who steals the show once again and the readers hearts. The scene with her and Oakley and the one of life's big questions was hilarious but dealt with so well. I don't think the book would have worked in the same way if Pip and Gabe's story was the sole focus of book two. It needed a change in direction and yes we got that but without losing all the charm and warmth so evident in book one that had made me love it so much.
I was glad to see new characters come to the fore in the form of Ivy and Adam, and also we saw very briefly more on the periphery I would say how Luke (Neve and Gabe's brother) is fairing with the romance side of things which was lovely considering how much of a closed book he had appeared to be before. The more I read through this book the more I realised just what a truly talented author Holly Martin is and that these two books really are the best thing she has ever written. All the setting up had been done in Pip and Gabe's story and readers were familiar with the cast of characters so it felt like we just got straight down to business and the story could just flow nicely. There was real depth to all aspects of the storyline and although you might figure out the conclusion fairly easily that didn't matter in the slightest as it was more about the journey and how we reached that end point that really mattered.
Neve is now allowed to shine throughout the story although she is not the happy person she once was. She has given up everything to come and manage the hotel for Gabe and in doing so has put her own hopes and dreams aside. She loves the island but she is beginning to think she loves her ex Hollywood superstar boyfriend Oakley Rey even more .She has been miserable the last few weeks in the run up to the grand launch of the hotel and all it has to offer and her love for Oakley still shines strong. So that begs the question just why was she the one to do the dumping considering how much she loved Oakley? Obviously there was a lot more going on than at first meets the eye. Thankfully Oakley wasn't this huge star that had his head in the clouds and wouldn't talk to anyone and he arrives on the island with just a week off from filming determined to win Neve back by any means.
I loved both Neve and Oakley and their passion for each other just radiated from the pages but there was so many twists and turns and ups and downs that they had to navigate before any sort of reconciliation could be considered. I loved how Oakley was determined to fight for what he really wanted but on the other hand some of his views re marriage and babies seemed a bit strong and that he was pushing these onto Neve. 'He loved her and he needed her in his life and he had no intention of leaving here without her'. Neve seemed very vulnerable throughout this story and when she first catches sight of Oakley again after so many weeks apart she really wants to just run into his arms and let everything go but something is stopping her and there had to be a very good reason for this. 'Every bone in her body screamed at her to take in that last step, lean her head against his heart and feel his arms around her, with his head resting on top of hers as he always used to hold her. But she couldn't'. As things become clearer as to the reasons behind the breakup I was torn as to who I supported more. Neve is normally cool, calm, organised and collected but now she has descended into an emotional mess. Neve obviously was going through a lot but I resented the fact she told such a major lie and then clearly couldn't get out of it. There were so many chances to tell the truth and I literally wanted to shake her and say come on just spit it out, but then if that had happened too early we wouldn't have had much of a book. As for Oakley he appeared selfless in some ways, but selfish in others, but still he really was the character who I developed a real soft spot for. Despite his profession he seemed very real and grounded and I hoped things would come right between himself and Neve.
As I have said there were new characters introduced who may have just gotten a name check before but now they have their own part to play in the overall story and both Adam and Ivy brought another delightful romantic strand to the story and rivalled Neve and Gabe for the readers affections. I thought their introduction to each other was hilarious as Ivy had gone for her usual morning walk around the islands before opening her painting gift shop. Unfortunately those naughty Shetland ponies make a reappearance once again and Adam on secondment from Gabe's London hotel has to rescue Ivy. A spark is ignited between the pair and like Neve's situation you would hope happiness and something more could develop between the pair. But both Ivy and Adam have things in their past which makes them hesitant to embrace new love in the present. Ivy had promised herself not to get involved with anyone again and just to embrace the time she has on the island painting in her unique way and selling her paintings to the guests. But something is tugging at her heart and she knows Adam is someone special and it could develop into something more but the question remains is she willing to take that risk and jump into the unknown or is she too fearful of what she can't have that may cause long term hurt and upset? As for Adam although not on the same scale as Oakley in terms of likeability and hunk factor in my opinion he was still a good character and I could see that himself and Ivy would be perfect for each other. But as with Neve's situation miscommunications, misunderstandings and lack of getting out exactly what is on one's mind plays an important role in the development of these two characters relationships. Still I was rooting for their happy outcome and surrounded by everything Christmas and in the magical setting of Juniper Island surely things would work out OK?
So where did my earlier fears of everything Christmassy being already written in book one come into question? Well the answer is not in the slightest, Holly found more to describe to us and my love for this special island just grew and grew. I particularly loved the inclusion of scenes with Neve's two horses, they were touching and poignant in equal measure. The islanders shops in their homes seemed so special and unique to each individual and just perfect for the setting. In fact Holly just brought the island even more to life than before whilst at the same time writing a brilliant Christmas love story with characters who became firm friends and you only wished the best for all involved. Both stories were excellent but Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky ever so slightly edges it out for me but that's not to say I didn't thoroughly enjoy Neve's story. I felt the ending wrapped things up perfectly and I'm not left wondering about a return visit to the island.
I think Holly has written the Town Called Christmas series to perfection and now I look forward to what she will bring to her readers in 2017. As the nights draw in and it gets ever darker and colder you couldn't go wrong with picking up this book and whether you read book one or two first it doesn't matter at all as soon the characters and the island will get firmly under your skin and won't let go that easily.
Many thanks to Bookouture for my copy of Christmas Under a Starlit Sky to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.