Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Residential-home caterer Connie has had one online-dating disaster too many. Hurt in the past and with her son to consider, now she's feeling hesitant. Then one of Connie's residents sets her up on a date at a beautiful German Christmas market - with the promise she'll take a mini-bus full of pensioners along with her...
Amongst the twinkling lights and smell of warm gingerbread in the old market square, Connie heads off on her date with a checklist of potential partner must-haves. Baker Henrich ticks all the boxes, but when Connie meets Henrich's rival William, she starts to wonder if ticking boxes is the answer.
Will Connie's wish for love this Christmas come true, and if so - with who?
Many thanks to Random House UK via NetGalley for my copy of Finding Love at the Christmas Market to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
No doubt about it, there has been such a wealth of fabulous Christmas books published this year and from the ones that I have read there has not been one so far that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. We need some festive cheer now more than ever after the year we have all endured and Jo Thomas provides this in spades in her new Christmas book Finding Love at the Christmas Market. This book just screams out make me into a Christmas film as soon as possible. It was just brilliant from start to finish and although I was sat on my sofa reading this, I truly felt like I was transported to a stunning Christmas market.
The descriptions throughout of every aspect of the markets were just fantastic and mouth-watering with so many delicious foods and fun activities on offer. The best way of describing this book is that it’s like a Christmas fairytale with a feeling of good versus evil as the Old Town battles to win the Christmas competition which they have not won for 10 years. This is an exciting and engrossing read with lots of Christmas sparkle, magic and delights with of course some romance added to the mixture for good measure.
Not one negative can I find about this book, not that I was really looking that hard as I was really enjoying reading about the escapades of Connie and the residents of the Lavender Hill retirement flats. Immediately we are thrown straight into the action as Connie is navigating her way down the motorway in a mini bus with the aim of catching a ferry to the continent, the final destination being a German Christmas market. The aim of what will turn out to be such a memorable trip is to scatter their friend Elsie’s ashes and Connie being the youngest and perhaps most steady is the chosen leader. She provides the meals to the residents on a daily basis run by a local catering company but really they are not up to much and Connie would one day love to have her own catering business rather than work for one.
The cast of characters we are introduced to in the first few chapters are hilarious and I could just picture them all crammed into the minibus eager to get going on this adventure that would be such a change for them all and which would bring such excitement. To be honest I don’t really think they knew what they were letting themselves in for but they were all along for the ride and would soon throw themselves at any new and unusual experience that came their way. Of which there were many. Pearl, Norman, Maeve, Alice, Ron, John, Diana and Graham make up the group alongside Connie but I will leave you to read for yourselves to discover more about their stories and their own personal reasons for going on the trip. But I will say recreating their own Christmas memories list at the markets was just such a wonderful added touch that brought such a smile to my face and of course plenty of well needed laughs too.
Connie has an ulterior motive for bringing her motley crew to the markets. For weeks she has been messaging a man whom she met on a dating website, she feels such a connection to Heinrich and really feels that he could be the one after having such a disastrous love life since her husband left her. Recipes and lists have kept her sane since the departure of her husband and she has written a checklist when it comes to men and so far Heinrich seems to be ticking all the criteria fairly well. She is desperate to meet him to see will the final pieces fall into place and whether her list will be completed once she sets eyes on him? That all consuming love she can feel is within her grasp.
She has five days to make all her dreams come true. To be honest I thought she rushed into things at such a frighteningly quick pace because she craved long term happiness so desperately. It was almost like she moulded things regarding Heinrich to suit her criteria even if there were warning signals that she was doing her utmost best to quash. I just didn’t buy that as soon as she met him that yes he was the one. I think she saw things that weren’t there because she was really worried about going back to the drawing board and starting from scratch again and really she didn’t go that little bit deeper and listen to her gut instincts when perhaps she should have.
Heinrich seemed way too good to be true. He carried out every little detail in relation to wooing Connie to perfection and he was determined that the New Town and his confectionary business would once again triumph in the annual competition and see the town emerge rich and victorious. Heinrich, in my mind, was blunt, refreshingly honest and truthful but this all came across as being arrogant. His actions had led to others suffering and I could sense he was desperate for love but was he doing the same as Connie and trying to change her to fit the perfect picture he had in his head and for what reasons was he really doing this? Through Connie trying to take control of her own life and find some happiness, she finds herself involved in a lot more than just finding love at the Christmas markets as a battle rages between old and new town.
New town has an alive, loud and bustling market with all the mod cons and attractions. It seemed very much like an outdoor Christmas themed amusement arcade and not really to the taste of Connie and the group. Old Town seemed much more up their alley and mine too with its timber framed buildings, cobbled streets, market square and chalet type huts selling all kinds of Christmas themed goods. That’s what really sets this book apart from some other Christmas themed books that are out there this year. The wealth of descriptions could have been overwhelming and killed the momentum of the book. Instead all the imagery I was reading about just added to my enjoyment of the book as a whole. I could picture everything so clearly and the food all sounded so tasty and just what you want to eat whilst strolling around market stalls or ice skating.
On the other side of the coin is the Old Town where the residents are struggling with their livelihoods as not many tourists visit their side of the town. They haven’t won the Christmas competition in years and baker William feels under enormous pressure that his creation this year will see Old Town emerge victorious. If not the consequences don’t even bear thinking about, both for William himself and the residents. I felt desperately sorry for William, he had such a weight on his shoulders not to mention his personal life wasn’t the best either. But I loved how Connie and himself eventually meet and the way their storyline developed was just pure perfection and so magical and this is where for me I felt like the good versus evil came into play. I loved also how the will they/won’t they amongst the main characters was just that the entire way through. You really didn’t know how things were going to pan out and that’s the way all books should be. I hate knowing too soon what the eventual outcome will be. I prefer the element of surprise and thankfully I found that here. As is mentioned in the book you can have all the right ingredients but if the alchemy isn’t right it’s a disaster. It was up to Connie to see whose alchemy she identified with the most.
Finding Love at the Christmas Market is definitely one of my reading highlights of this year. It gave me a much needed lift with lots of important messages to be taken from it. It’s a ray of light amongst the darkness of winter and reminds us that love can still be found when we think all is lost. That fun, laughter and companionship will see you through challenging and confusing times and provide plenty of laughs along the way. No one should forget the special and unique time that is Christmas that holds such a special place in the hearts of so many. If you need a pick me up or really just want to read a really good Christmas book that actually delivers on all things Christmas rather than pretends to, then do yourself a favour and read this wonderful book. As soon as you start, you’ll be dying to find out do all Connie’s Christmas wishes come true?