Deck the halls with boughs of holly...!
While the sun streams in through the open window and social media alerts inform me that everyone I know is jetting off on their summer holidays, I can be found with my nose in Carole Matthews’ latest Christmas-themed novel, writes Georgina Butler.
Internationally bestselling romantic comedy author Carole lives in Milton Keynes and releases two books a year – one in time for some summer fun and one as a Christmassy treat.
Tales of romance, family and friendship guarantee a page-turner every time and Carole’s dedicated fans eagerly await each new release.
Some of her books are set in the ‘Costa del Keynes’ (a little Carole-ism which I find myself adopting with frightening regularity) and showcase local haunts, while the rest feature other parts of the UK, often with a few chapters spent in some exciting location or other (giving our Carole the perfect excuse to escape her office in the new city and enjoy a research trip with partner Lovely Kev).
I was fortunate enough to receive a pre-release edition of “Calling Mrs Christmas”, the twenty-third novel from this talented lady.
Unsurprisingly, this Christmas cracker shot straight to the top of my “to read” pile!
Pick up any of Carole’s books and you can expect upbeat prose, strong storylines and captivating characters - “Calling Mrs Christmas” delivers these and more.
Cassie Smith, age thirty-five, of Hemel Hempstead, has been out of work for a while after being made redundant from her job as a ‘dedicated and diligent dogsbody’ (secretary) for a small engineering company.
Teetering on the edge of depression (like so many people finding themselves in this all-too-familiar contemporary scenario), she relies on her partner Jim to keep her spirits up.
A fruitless hunt for work, dwindling finances in the run-up to Christmas and a desire to feel useful inspire Cassie to use her love of all things Christmas to earn some money.
She begins charging for small festive tasks – wrapping presents, writing cards, tree decorating – and her business, Calling Mrs Christmas, is born.
Cassie is delighted with how popular her venture is but soon the lavish requests of multimillionaire client Carter Randall start monopolising all of her time.
Fortunately, she can rely on kind-hearted Jim to look after the rest of her customers.
Buoyed by the success of her endeavours, Cassie finds herself increasingly drawn towards Carter as she works to create the perfect Christmas for his adorable children.
Invited to accompany Carter and his young son and daughter on a luxury trip to Lapland, Cassie finds herself torn – spending time in the winter wonderland evokes feelings for Carter she cannot ignore, but she still loves solid, dependable and caring Jim.
As the big day approaches, Cassie finds herself facing a heart-breaking choice that could change her life forever.
While “Calling Mrs Christmas” is set around the Yuletide season, there are many layers to this yarn and the twists and turns will have you laughing out loud one minute and holding back tears the next.
This is not your standard Christmas read – although there is plenty of festive cheer and ample good tidings to all men, the traditional moral messages are wrapped up and presented in a fresh new way.
In her usual assured writing style, Carole writes in the first person as Cassie, with chapters in between penned in the third person and focusing on Jim.
The parallel storyline running alongside the cautiously developing romance between Cassie and Carter follows Jim in his job as a prison officer at a young offenders’ unit.
Carole delves right in to the gritty reality of life working with juvenile offenders – disturbed and dangerous, but also vulnerable, young people - and these chapters really ensure the reader warms to Jim (who could be loosely based on the real-life Lovely Kev, eh Carole?).
His reluctance to expose Cassie to the unpalatable parts of his day job and his need to help two of the ‘lads’ nearing their release date make for an engaging simultaneous plotline that will tug at your heartstrings.
The characters featured in “Calling Mrs Christmas” are all unforgettable and likeable - even Carter’s ex-wife, Tamara - they are real people, with flaws and complex personalities that draw the reader in.
Christmas is a time for family and the close connection between Cassie and her sister Gaby is a central theme, alongside their relationship with their mother (who has always been ‘somewhat neglectful of her maternal duties’).
Cassie’s yearning for stability and a family of her own is a key catalyst in the narrative – part of the appeal of Carter is his children (he can offer financial security, romance and a ready-made family unit).
Ultimately, “Calling Mrs Christmas” reminds us of the importance of love and the necessity of appreciating the little things – but you will have to get your own copy to discover the final destination of Cassie’s emotional rollercoaster ride!
This heart-warming tale perfectly captures the real spirit of the festive season.
While less astute authors can come dangerously close to forcing saccharine “Xmas cheer” upon the reader, Carole’s cast of characters and well-paced plot succeed in leaving you with a warm glow long after the final chapter draws to a close.
“Calling Mrs Christmas” is a seasonal page-tuner that I just could not put down.
It is the perfect gift to yourself for any time of the year – indulge in a little Carole Matthews magic today!
> “Calling Mrs Christmas” is available in hardback now through Amazon and will be published in paperback in October (ready to get you in the mood for the Christmas countdown!).