Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Emma's Review: Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market by Heidi Swain

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Ruby has finished with university and is heading home for the holidays to save up for her trip around the world in January. Against her father’s wishes, she takes on a stall at the local market, and sets about making it the best Christmas market stall ever. There’ll be bunting and mistletoe and maybe even a bit of mulled wine.

But with a new retail park just opened on their doorstep, the market is under threat. So together with all the other stallholders, Ruby devises a plan to make sure that Wynbridge is the first port of call for everyone’s Christmas shopping needs.

The only thing standing in her way is Ruby’s ex, Steve. It’s pretty hard to concentrate on saving the world when he works on the stall opposite, especially when she realises that her feelings for him are still there…

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With her third novel once again Heidi Swain takes her readers back to the small town of Wynbridge but this time for a festive visit in the form of Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market. This book has one of the nicest Christmas covers that I have seen this year with such a spectacular winter scene that brings you slap bang into festive mode, I only hoped the Christmas cover connected to the actual plot as too often there can be a distinct lack of Christmas in books even though they are marketed around this time of year. There is often only the briefest of mentions given to Christmas which can prove very frustrating for readers.

I've read Heidi's previous two books and I do feel she is an author who is getting better with each book and settling in and finding her writing style. Summer at Skylark Farm was a really enjoyable book this earlier this year and I found it better than her first offering The Cherry Tree Cafe. We're lucky to get a second offering from Heidi this year, this third book revisits some of the characters we have met before. Some we only get brief mentions of, and others play a more prominent role but the main focus of this Christmas story is on Ruby Smith. Ruby has decided to drop out of college and will not pursue her masters instead she is planning on taking time out to travel the world. In the meantime she needs to build up her funds and thankfully The Cherry Tree Café has provided the perfect opportunity in that they need someone to run their stall at the Wynbridge market in the run up to Christmas. Ruby had previously worked in the café as a waitress and knows Lizzie and Jemma well so she gladly accepts their offer with open arms. The only problem is that she is forced to move back in with her parents for the few weeks before she leaves in the New Year which wouldn't be an issue only for her strained relationship with her dad following her decision to stop studying.

In some ways Ruby seemed like a free spirit determined to do what was best for her as she had a new long term goal in mind and was anxious to see it come to fruition. 'I was going to repair my relationship with dad, find a way to get over Steve Dempster, have fun with my best friend Bea, earn myself some extra money and then head straight to the travel agents and book a ticket to somewhere hot,exotic and exciting'. In other ways I felt she needed some guidance and a push particularly when it came to the romantic side of things and also with her dad. There was too much pussy footing around him instead of coming straight out and saying - Dad, this is the decision I have made either lump it or like it. If her mother could be supportive of her life choices why couldn’t her father? But it's only as we reach the resolution towards the end that things all started to make sense and I felt I should take back my previous thoughts and judgements as they had been made all too soon and maybe rather rashly. Ruby is so upset to find her Dad can't be happy with the decision she has made but wonders is there more to it than first meets the eye. Throughout the story there was an overwhelming feeling of things unsaid, things hidden and for a reason and my curiosity was certainly aroused. 'Where had the reasonable Dad, I loved so much disappeared to, I wondered and more importantly was it going to be impossible to find him again before I left town?'. One thing for sure is that Ruby is a girl who once she makes up her mid sticks to it and she is certain she doesn't want to let Jemma and Lizzie down in any way and through sheer hard work and grit the stall will be a success. Who wouldn't want to buy Jemma's delicious tempting bakes and treats not to mention all the Christmas crafts Lizzie lovingly pours her heart and soul into?

Ruby takes time to settle into the business of running the stall at the small town market. She is terrified that she will have to encounter her ex-boyfriend everyday for the next few weeks as he runs the fruit and veg stall alongside his father Chris. Steve and Ruby had had such plans for the future and were going to go to uni together and strengthen their relationship. A tragic incident put paid to all their dreams and Steve cruelly dumped Ruby. 'I reminded myself that he had dumped me and no amount of cheeky chappie banter could make up for all the hurt'. Something which she finds it very hard to forgive him for, it doesn't help either that there has been a cold war of sorts between her own father and Steve's. To be honest I didn't envy Ruby having to face an ex every day particularly when you could see there was still a small flame inside her that only needed a little push to re-ignite once again. I mentioned above how I hoped Christmas would feature in this book and it certainly does, well the run up to Christmas features prominently as well as the big day and really for lots of people that is the most exciting part and Heidi pulls it off very well here only increasing my longing for all the Christmas fun that is to come in the next few weeks. 

Soon Ruby realises she may have taken on more than she bargained for when sales are sluggish at the market and in general the entire market is not doing the best. The traders seem to be hiding something and I found it so frustrating they wouldn't just come out and say what was going on. But I suppose when your father works for the council you wouldn't be the first person people coming running to with their issues. Before she knows it Ruby finds herself involved in bringing life and spirit back to the market and Wynbridge itself despite being in the face of stern opposition. Ruby shows she is one tough cookie and a person who when is pushed the best side of her will appear. I loved how once the problem that lingered over everybody was out in the air that the traders and community were determined to make Christmas in Wynbridge the best ever. They certainly weren't going down without a fight and Ruby spearheaded most things. 

I loved how Lizzie and Jemma and also Angela (who serves in the café) were there to help too but yet didn't dominate Ruby's story in the slightest as their story had previously been told and we only more or less needed updates about them. As for best friend Bea she had one thing on her mind and would have been in pure despair if things didn't turn out the way she wanted them to. Ruby is constantly torn between loyalty to her father but also loyalty to the traders she has come to call friends and it was interesting to read of this struggle and how she developed over the course of the story. I thought the ideas she came up with to reinvent Christmas time in Wynbridge were brilliant. The annual switching on off lights was spectacular not to mention the usual Christmas tree auction with this year the added bonus of a spectacular baking and crafting bonanza. The scene with Santa and an elf was hilarious.  In fact Ruby was an inspiration who only spurred the other traders on to better their own stalls and build that sense of friendship and community spirit in the face of adversity and hard times.

Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market was a nice, quick, easy read more than suitable for this hectic time of year when you can just grab a few minutes to read in between all the Christmas preparations and excitement. It was great to return to the same setting and characters with a few new introductions as it felt like reuniting with old friends and having a nice catch up. There was a good strong storyline here with a message for all and I loved seeing how it all played out. Would the market survive or had Ruby and co done enough to see it through for many years to come? Would Bea ever get out of the funk she seemed to have found herself in? Would Ruby resolve things with her dad and not believe rumours and scare scaremongering? Would she find the happiness and love she so deserves ? Would the ladies of the Cherry Tree Café continue to have success with the café and develop their friendship? All those questions and many more were answered in the most delightful way that will bring a smile to your face and give you that warm cosy feeling you need on a cold winter's day. This book was a delight to read and really it should make it's way under many a Christmas tree come the 25th of December. 

Heidi is already hard at work on book number four and I love the title and the sound of the story having read the blurb, Coming Home to Cuckoo Cottage is one I will look forward to reading next year. Meanwhile don't forget to buy Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market.

Many thanks to Emma for reviewing Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market which we received from the publisher via NetGalley. 

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