Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Everyone adores Christmas . . .
Especially Lizzy Kingham. But this year, she is feeling unloved and underappreciated by her family. The present-buying, decorating and food shopping have all been left to her. So she wonders . . . what would happen if she ran away and left them to it?
Lizzy heads to her favourite place: a beach hut on the golden sands of Everdene. There she meets an unlikely collection of new friends, all running away from something. But the spirit of Christmas gets under Lizzy's skin: soon the fairy lights are twinkling and the scent of mulled wine mingles with the sea air.
Back at Pepperpot Cottage, her family are desperate to find her. For Christmas isn't Christmas without Lizzy. Can they track her down in time and convince her she means the world to them, every day of the year?
Many thanks to Rebecca Gray from Orion for my copy of Christmas at the Beach Hut to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Before I begin Rebecca from Orion has asked people to share their stories of Christmas disasters. I've only had to do the Christmas dinner twice, this year being my third and thankfully nothing has gone too bad or any disasters occurred as of yet. In general I've had no Christmas disasters but maybe you have. So why not comment below and share any disasters that may have befallen you around the Christmas period.
Christmas at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry is just a warm hug of a book that embraces you right from the opening chapter and doesn't relinquish its enjoyable hold right until you have satisfyingly turned the very last page. When I received a copy of the book it was October and although many would say that's way too early to read a Christmas book I dove straight in. Something was calling me and I knew I had to start this little gem of a story. It's a gorgeous, relaxing read, one in which I flew through the pages and really by the end even though I loved the conclusion I just didn't want it to finish because of the lovely atmosphere and sentiment it evoked. It's definitely the perfect Christmas read to curl up on the sofa with in front of a roaring fire and with a glass of whatever takes your fancy at hand. The sentiment behind the story is just perfect - the real magic of Christmas and how it is a time for reconnecting with your loved ones - and it's a timely message that we all should remember. Funnily enough, I was slightly apprehensive before reading as the setting for this book was Everdene Sands as previously featured in The Beach Hut and The Beach Hut Next Door, both of which I have yet to read, but thankfully this didn't matter in the slightest and instantly I was caught up in the pure magic of the story.
Lizzy lives in Astley-in-Arden in Pepperpot Cottage, isn't that such a cute name?, and as she sits down to write her annual round robin to go with her Christmas cards she starts to question many things. As another year draws to a close and the frantic preparations for Christmas ramp up yet another gear Lizzy, now that she has taken voluntary redundancy after 25 years as events organiser at a hotel, has time to sit back and contemplate her life. As she does this she comes to realise maybe she is not as happy as she should be at this juncture in her life? What exactly does she get out of making Christmas as perfect as it can be for her husband Simon and their teenagers Hattie and Luke when they give scant regard to all the effort she puts in? Clearly Lizzie is at a crossroads in her life where the next step/decision she makes will have an important bearing on her future. Right from the get go I warmed to Lizzie, she wanted to do everything she possibly could for her family and in the process she overlooked her own self care and mental well being. This is something that can easily happen to us all. We get so caught up in caring for everybody else that when we take a moment to stop and breath and take stock we wonder well who would do the same for us if we just halted what we were doing? I'm sure many many women will identify with Lizzie but how many of us would be brave enough to take the leap of faith that she does?
Lizzie is seeking Christmas perfection this year but has she bitten off more than she can chew and is it all really appreciated by those she loves so much? She feels everything is her responsibility and a sense of gloom, panic and uncertainty begins to invade her as if her life is falling apart, spiralling out of control and she is powerless to stop it happening. All she wants is the nice tree as decorated by the family, the tasty dinner and suitable presents for all and time where the family can be together. So when Simon fails to tell her that mother-in-law Cynthia will be coming for Christmas dinner that sets the cat among the pigeons and slowly but surely Lizzie starts to think. Hold on a minute I didn't want Cynthia there so why are my wishes being disregarded? Has anyone noticed all the time and effort I am putting in? Will anyone actually notice whether I am there or not? I sensed quite early on that all of this was a culmination of events with Lizzie and it just so happened at a vulnerable time of year for many. Her own personal well being was starting to suffer and although she was offered help from professionals she believes admitting it and taking something would be a failure. Lizzie was a wonderful wife and mother but most certainly she was taken for granted and overlooked by her family. One just presumes someone will always be there to lean on and will do everything but what happens when that person is no longer there what do we do?
Taking matters into her own hands and sick of being left to do everything with very little help Lizzie makes a decision to leave. She wants to become the woman she wants to be instead of the woman that suited everybody else. She flees to Everdene where her friend has a beach hut and where she thinks she can be alone to contemplate everything and to think what she is feeling about all of this and what can be done about it? On one hand admired her courage and bravery but on the other hand was it just a decision made on the spur of the moment and one she would deeply regret? Will her family sit up and take notice? If I had been Hattie I don't think I would have liked to arrive home and find my mum gone at Christmas time.
As she arrives at the beach hut in the darkness of winter Lizzie is surprised to find it already occupied by a young man called Harley. I loved how we had different chapters told from both Lizzie and Harley's viewpoints leading up to their introduction allowing the reader to learn more about their backgrounds and situations. We got inside their hearts and minds to view their thought process and how they came to be at the hut. Harley hadn't had things easy either although his story was radically different to Lizzie's, they decide to spend the time together at the hut. Yes some may say why stay with a stranger but that's the wonder of this book that special things happen to remind us of the Christmas message and the author didn't make me feel as if this was unnatural or out of place. In fact at times I wished I could have joined them in the beach hut msyelf, it just seemed so welcoming and cosy and a place where all your troubles are left at the door.
Harley is fleeing his own stresses and strains and as soon as he reaches the hut that he is caretaker for during the summer months he has time to reflect. Family life for Harley is not all that good and he wonders how he can get his mother and sister out the situation they find themselves in. Or have things gone too far? Lizzie and Harley opened up to each other and although Lizzie was avoiding motherly duties so to speak she took on this role with Harley. I don't think she was a person who could ever fully rest. She always wanted to help people but she had reached the point where she wanted appreciation and understanding from her family for the help, support and love she has given unconditionally for so long. Will her marriage and the family unit survive Lizzie leaving or will Simon, Hattie and Luke finally wake up and realise that people can't be taken for granted and do something to fix things before it's too late and Christmas will be tainted for ever more?
The final duo to join the little unit at the beach hut is Jack and his son Nat who arrive to stay next door. Jack is still reeling from his own trauma yet wants to make Christmas the best he can for his little boy. Really he wants to crawl under the covers and forget everything but that can't happen. He has to keep going for Nat who loves the wonder of Christmas and Jack can't let this be ruined forever. Jack knows he has to start a new chapter, to leave the past behind him and to open his heart to new possibilities and friendships. By accident he meets Lizzie and Harley and he is embraced into the fold.
The beach hut took on a place of sanctuary and refuge for those that needed it. It had the most stunning setting and it was small and had just what one needed. It meant that all the frivolities and extras went by the wayside and they went back to basics. The hut allowed everyone to forget about their worries and nothing bad could happen there. Problems were shared but the question remained could everyone's worries be solved? I did think the last quarter or so of the book was slightly rushed and I would have loved even more fleshing out of the resolution of everyone's issues. Saying that I did like how things were resolved it's just I was enjoying this book so much I wanted even more. That's me just being greedy I suppose. Regardless of this one minor issue I had with the book I loved every minute of Christmas at the Beach Hut. It was absorbing, captivating and sparkling and I just loved the message the author was trying to convey and I think she did this brilliantly with such sensitivity and honesty.
Veronica Henry has written the most heart warming, splendid Christmas book and one which I enjoyed very much from the first word until the last. Definitely recommended to be part of your Christmas reading pile this year.
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