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Claire and Neil Archer run the successful Sugar Loaf Hotel in County Wicklow, Ireland, but the recession has hit hard and they are beginning to struggle, relying heavily on the Christmas trade to tide them over. Claire, in particular feels a strong pull to the hotel and is doing everything in her power to ensure her guests have a comfortable and memorable stay.
The first chapter focusses on the hoteliers and their background, leading the reader to believe the book is going to be all about them, but after a few chapters it becomes clear that each one tells the story of a hotel guest, visiting over the festive season. This is done very cleverly with each chapter being called after one of the hotels rooms, and then leading on to the story behind the people staying in these very rooms.
At first I worried that with so many characters I would soon forget the ones earlier in the book and would confuse myself, but soon I was so absorbed in each person's circumstances that I didn't care. Later it became apparant that the stories are not really connected anyway so it wasn't an issue.
It is very difficult to describe the plot of this book as it varies so much from character to character, and there are too many people to describe without giving away their secrets. Each person has a valid reason for escaping to the hotel for Christmas, and it is very enjoyable untangling this aspect of each of their lives.
We see a young couple with a baby who have escaped overbearing families in order to snatch back some family time of their own. Added to this there is a group of older women brought together through the loss of loved ones, as well as a man who is heartbroken as a result of his wife's affair. These are just a few of the people we are introduced to and each character draws you in with their realistic depiction and human qualities. I'm sure that every reader of this book will be able to find something or someone that they can identify with.
At one point there is even a nice little ghost story thrown in, and while whimsical and fancifal, it does explain a lot about the colourful history of the hotel, and is quite heartwarming in a way.
This is the first book of Sheila O'Flanagan's that I have read and I was impressed by her storytelling ability and relaxed writing style. Each person goes on something of a journey during their brief stay at the Sugar Loaf, and while many of their paths don't cross, it is interesting to imagine this group of people from varied backgrounds, thrown together at Christmas due to a variety of personal reasons. It's almost like those times when you sit in a crowded room and people-watch, trying to work out who people are and what kind of lives they lead, except in this instance we really do find out some of the answers, satisfying our curiosity.
Each story is beautifully told and because each chapter is a little story in itself it makes it an ideal book to pick up and put down as it is easy to pick up where you left off. There are plenty of seasonal references and I only wish I had a good old coal fire to curl up with when I read this!
Claire and Neil Archer love running the Sugar Loaf Lodge Hotel in Ireland. It's always been Claire's dream to have a hotel, and there is definitely something special about the Sugar Loaf Lodge that keeps people coming back time and time again. However, the financial crisis has hit the hotel hard, and Neil and Claire are worried about filling the rooms up. When Christmas comes around though, it seems people still want to go away as the rooms magically begin to fill, and Claire feels like a special festive season is upon them all. Join the Christmas residents of the Sugar Loaf Lodge hotel for one special Christmas season, and find out what brings each of them to the hotel at Christmas time.
It has been a while since I read one of Sheila's books, so when I was sent this gorgeous festive themed read, I couldn't help but tuck in straight away. The cover looks beautiful in the image to the left, but it is so much more beautiful in real life, with a sparkly heart on the front, and is certainly a book you'd be proud to be seen reading! The book is actually a sort of short story collection rather than one big novel, which actually suits the book because you can dip in and out of it quite nicely, and I can certainly imagine it will be a great one to read on a cold winter evening in front of the fire! So I dove straight in hoping to love it, and luckily for me, Sheila didn't let me down!
The book begins introducing us to the hotel owners, Neil and Claire, and I thought we would be following them over the christmas period, but that turned out not to be the case. I really liked them as a couple, O'Flanagan writes them as a nice pair that begin the story with a real homely feel because they adore their hotel, and straight away I felt like I wanted the hotel to be okay, just because of them! Instead of following the hoteliers, we are instead treated to a room-by-room story about each of the guests, and the reason they came to be at the hotel at Christmas. This works really well because it allows for interactions between the guests to keep the story in the present but also allows us to go into the back story of these characters which really allows you to get absorbed into their stories.
I don't want to tell you too much about them because the beauty of this book is seeing the stories unravel as you read them, but I will tell you a bit about what's inside. We meet a couple who seem to be having problems, but it isn't at all clear to everyone else why they seem to not be speaking to each other during their stay. There is a group of older women who decide to spend Christmas together rather than be alone on Christmas day. There's also a young couple who flee to the hotel with their baby to get away for their warring families, and a bit of a magical ghost story thrown in too. We get a visit from some characters from one of O'Flanagan's previous books Anyone But Him which was great fun and it was nice to catch up with them and see what they are up to. A single man trying to get over the break up of his marriage also descends on Sugar Loaf Lodge and meets up with another single female resident, what will happen there? They are definitely a great bunch of characters, and ones that you will want to read about as the book progresses.
I really enjoyed every single page of this book, and would highly recommend it, especially as a festive story! However, I can imagine enjoying this book at any time of year because while it is set at Christmas, it isn't too focussed on that fact and that means you can pick this up and enjoy it whenever. I found O'Flanagan's writing style was very warm and easy to read, and she makes each of the characters one you will care about. The way she weaves the stories together despite the fact they are all a bunch of strangers is fantastic as it draws the whole book together, and I really enjoyed the use of the alternating first and third person story telling devices. I think this is a wonderful short story collection, it captures the magic of Christmas, love and family perfectly, and is a really superb read. Definitely recommended!
ISBN: 978-0755375158. Published by Headline Review on October 14th 2010. Pages: 320. RRP: £12.99
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com
Thank you for reading.