Christmas is coming, but not everyone is looking forward to it.
Let’s get something straight, up front. This is not the kind of book I’d normally read, never mind review. My reading matter of choice generally tends to be populated by slavering monsters, tormented spirits, demented killers and the like. Therefore, when I was asked if I would like to review Susan Buchanan’s The Christmas Spirit, I decided to broaden my horizons. In fact, this is my first “Chick-Lit” novel. My wife reads it fairly often and, on the whole, tends to enjoy it, so I thought “Why not?”
So what’s it about?
When the baker/owner of the Sugar & Spice café breaks her leg, a temporary replacement comes to town to cover the baking duties and along the way, Natalie helps five people going through hard times: Jacob, fresh out of university can’t seem to find a job despite his influential family and good degree; Rebecca is going through a difficult break-up of a long-term relationship; Recently widowed Stanley dreads the first Christmas without his wife; no matter how many hours Sophie works, she can’t seem to impress her boss, workaholic Meredith, who prefers the office to any kind of social interaction.
Can Natalie help them find some Christmas Spirit before it’s too late?
What I found instantly appealing about this book was that author Susan Buchanan employs a similar technique to Stephen King, one of my usual authors of choice, to keep me hooked from early on. Like King, she effectively uses foreshadowing, giving us a snippet of where things might lead. The Christmas Spirit could have been just an ordinary festive romantic comedy in which Natalie meets the other five main cast by complete coincidence. However, by telling us that Natalie has a hidden agenda, a hit-list (if you will) of folks who need help, and who are the real reason she is in town, I was intrigued from pretty much the first page. How will Natalie find and help these people? How does she even know they need help? Is there more to Natalie than meets the eye?
What’s interesting about this story is that on the whole, it’s the five troubled individuals we follow, as they try to overcome their various problems. Natalie, and her wonderful array of Christmas Cakes Of The World, generally sit on the sidelines, acting as a catalyst, for each of their stories, gentling guiding them to solve their own problems, rather than just jumping straight in with the answers. In fact, Natalie is such a bit player in her own story that sometimes I found myself hoping for a little more of her. That said, the five separate stories intertwine, Love Actually-style, with each other just enough for them to be distinguishable from each other, but quite clearly all part of the same narrative, rather than an anthology of unrelated events.
I’ve used the phrase rom-com, and there is an element of that in this book, but largely, it’s a festive, heartwarming tale. To compare it to films again, it’s more akin in tone to something like Miracle On 34th Street than it is to, say, Notting Hill or You’ve Got Mail. In fact, I got a strong feeling of The Holiday, Joanne Harris’s Chocolat and just a touch of Mary Poppins.
If you’re looking for an uplifting read, with a little mystery thrown in, but largely bags of festive fun then maybe you also need The Christmas Spirit.
Susan Buchanan lives in Scotland with her husband and their two children. She is the author of four novels: Return of the Christmas Spirit, The Christmas Spirit, The Dating Game, and Sign of the Times. She is currently working on books five and six: The Proposal and Just One Day.
Susan is also a proofreader, editor and translator, and when not working, writing, or caring for her two delightful cherubs, loves reading, the theatre, quiz shows and eating out – not necessarily in that order!