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A few weeks ago I had run out of books to read and having read all of the ones that interested me in my local library, I decided to pop into Sainsburys on the way home from work and see what books they had. The first one that I spotted was by Erica James. I have read a few of her books and really enjoyed them but my local library has never had any in beyond what I've already read, which has been rather annoying. I don't usually buy hardbooks because of the more expensive price tag but as I was in a rush, I made an exception on this occasion and finally got round to reading it over the last week or so.
THE PLOT AND CHARACTERS
The book follows the lives of several main characters:
MAGGIE is trapped in a loveless marriage and dreams of escape. It's not that her husband, Dave (or Mr Blobby, as Maggie frequently refers to him) treats her particularly badly but he's certainly not as nice as he could be. Lazy and unwilling to do anything for himself when he could get put-upon Maggie to do it, he and his domineering mother have put on Maggie for years. Having accepted the status quo for so long now, is it too late to change the way her life is or can she find the courage to make the fresh start she's been yearning for?
ETHAN is also involved in a marriage that's getting nowhere. His wife, Francine, is obsessed with outside appearances and desperate to maintain her status as queen bee amongst her social set. Unfortunately for Ethan, the recession has hit his business hard and money isn't half as plentiful as his spoilt wife believes it to be.
ELLA has recently ended a long-term relationship and is feeling more than a bit emotionally bruised at the circumstances. Throwing herself into her work as an interior designer, she crosses paths with Maggie and Ethan so these aren't three entirely unrelated narratives.
I really liked all of the main characters and this is common across all of the Erica James books that I've read so far. She seems to have a knack of writing likeable and down-to-earth characters that come across as 'normal' and at times, flawed. They were perfectly offset by less likeable supporting characters - such as their respective partners in Maggie and Ethan's cases - which made me root for them all the more.
WRITING STYLE AND NARRATIVE
The book is easy to get into without being overly 'fluffy' in writing style. The narrative is third-person focused so it's almost like we are watching their lives unfold from a slight distance but are still privy to their thoughts and feelings.
All in all, I really liked this book. The plot is nothing ground-breaking but this doesn't let the book down as there is a strong focus on the characterisation, which is very good and all of the characters are well-rounded with some definite flaws that make them seem more real. Erica James is one of my favourite authors and this book didn't disappoint at all. If you're also a big fan of her work, I'd imagine that you'd also like this one.
Maggie Storm is really fed up her life. Her husband Dave only ever speaks to her when he wants a cup of tea or the sitting room to be hoovered, and her son Dean isn't the model child either. She works as a cleaner for families who make her feel worthless, and she doesn't know why she puts up with it. When she meets Daryl by chance at a neighbour's house, Maggie gets a glimpse of what it could be like to be loved properly, but something is holding her back. Maggie made a New Year's Resolution to hold back on what she wants and what she thinks, and she doesn't want to break it just yet. Decorator Ella Moore gets a commission at Ethan and Francesca's home, and is sick of being treated like a lacky by Francesca. Ethan on the other hand is more than affection to Ella, and she doesn't feel entirely happy about it. She's recently got out of a relationship with Lawrence and his 2 children, so she isn't ready to dive into anything new just yet. Are either Ella or Maggie ever going to pursue the happiness that both of them deserve? Or are the promises they've made themselves too hard to break?
I first read an Erica James novel a few years ago called Tell It To The Skies and really enjoyed it, although the subject matter of the tsunami wasn't exactly all that happy. I was drawn to this book because of it's gorgeously wintery looking cover, but after reading the book, I can't help but feel the publishers have only gone for this theme of cover because of the season the book is being released it - it really doesn't have much to do with the book at all since it isn't specifically set in winter or at Christmastime! Either way, I was really looking forward to reading the book, and quickly got stuck in.
The book begins introducing us to the character of Maggie Storm. She is a woman deeply unhappy in her loveless marriage, but hasn't the means or know-how to go about leaving her husband Dave. Maggie works as a cleaner, a job she is quite happy to do because it suits her, but it seems Dave isn't so proud of his wife's occupation. One of Maggie's clients are Ethan and Francesca, a wealthy couple who seem equally unhappy as her and Dave. James writes the comparisons between the two couples very well, and whilst they are wildly different, they have similarities you wouldn't expect to find too. The way she weaves the characters together despite their differences is very clever - Ella also comes into the book through Ethan and Francesca, working as their decorator. All 3 sets of characters lead very different lives but are brought together by this wealthy couple who have everything financially but nothing emotionally.
Maggie is a really likeable character and I very much enjoyed following her throughout the story. You can see she is a strong willed woman who has to hide behind the façade of her marriage to Dave, and I was longing for her to break free of it. I really was willing her on and it makes for great reading, because you are constantly wondering when and if Maggie is ever going to stand up for herself against Dave and his awful mother. Things do happen for Maggie as the book progresses but I don't want to give anything away for readers so I won't go into any more detail about them! Ella is also a great character for the book, but she did annoy me at points. Ella seemingly keeps sucked in by her ex-boyfriend and I kept getting annoyed by this. I could understand why she would go back to him because she still had feelings but you can sense how it is all going to end and you have to wonder how Ella can be so blind, especially when you consider his awful daughter Alexis and her behaviour towards poor Ella.
Perhaps the most riveting part of the book for me was definitely the relationship between Ethan and Francesca. It was somewhat of a farce from the start of the book, and I was just waiting for it all to implode. You get the sense that things are going to go drastically wrong for the pair, but it isn't clear whether it is all going to as you're reading. Ethan was a nice character, he was clearly in his marriage for better or worse but you have to wonder why he couldn't stand up to his awful wife and tell her the reality of their financial woes. Despite outwardly trying to be a strong man, he is really very weak, and that is reflected through his illness and lack of action towards it. Francesca is just awful and I hated her straight away, she treated Maggie and Ella like they were rubbish, it did just make you hate her even more which made for even better reading!
As I mentioned before, even though the cover would hint at a somewhat Christmas-sy tale, that isn't the case. Yes, the book begins at Christmas and New Year time but after that it progresses through the year and even into summer for a holiday with the characters. I think the cover was chosen because of the time of year of release for the book, but it is a shame it doesn't fully reflect the story but there you go. The pace of the book was perfect, it moves along well and doesn't linger too long, but does focus on where it needs to so you don't miss anything. The way these 3 very different sets of characters are brought together is perfect - it's believable, it allows for good drama, and I found the book quite hard to put down because I was engrossed in finding out how it would pan out for these characters. Overall, it's a really good and well written book that I found very enjoyable to read and would recommend.
ISBN: 978-1409101864. Published by Orion in November 2010. Pages: 448. RRP: £14.99
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com.
Thank you for reading.