Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

A Proper Family Christmas by Jane Gordon-Cumming: a rollercoaster of a celebration with a great deal of chat

William really isn’t into Christmas – all that jingly tinselly presenty stuff makes him feel queasy. He’d like to spend it alone in his vast old house with his cat. But Haseley House could be a gold-mine in the right hands – and William’s relatives want to make sure it does end up in the right hands! Hilary intends to ignore Christmas. With her son Daniel away, she won’t have to conceal how desperately she still misses Ben. But widows aren’t allowed to spend Christmas alone, and it sounds as if William might need her support. Frances, the nanny, was hoping for a break from spoilt little Tobias, but now she’s told they’re to stay with his eccentric grandfather in some spooky old house. Can Hilary possibly be having feelings for another man? Will Frances overcome the snobbery threatening to separate her and Daniel? This particular family Christmas is going to change everybody’s lives.

I was much amused to get this book in my Christmas stocking from my sister-in-law-to-be especially as she’s very well aware of my ongoing allergy to any kind of a family Christmas (thanks, Sue!) and my constant desire for seasonal solitude (apart from seeing her good self, of course …).

So, Christmas seemed to be the ideal time for a spot of light reading and the rollercoaster plot kept me going through the plethora of mince pies and glitter. I gather it was originally published by the now defunct Transita (a press focusing on the older woman) and this fitted in nicely with the family theme.

There’s certainly a heck of a lot happening in the story and I felt I’d experienced about a year’s worth of high- and low-octane events all pressed within the framework of a few days over the holiday period. This becomes both a strength and a weakness of the novel – in that I can well see how it would be ideal in a madcap kind of film, but I’m not entirely sure it works successfully as a book. I’m not convinced either that I ever fully got to grips with the different family members or what their various secret agendas were in terms of getting William, the centre around which the cast of characters orbits, to bequeath his house and fortune to a worthy recipient. Plus there’s a heck of a lot of dialogue and I longed for some setting or description to provide a better balance and a bit of a breather here and there. My, but how they talk and how liberally they use those pesky exclamation marks (sigh …).

Perhaps because of this approach, I found I didn’t have much sympathy with the people, and felt widow Hilary, as a would-be heroine, was difficult to empathise with. Not that there was anything particularly horrible about her, but she didn’t grip me as she should have done. Sharing the limelight with Hilary in terms of female roles was the nanny Frances, who was again perfectly nice but rather bland. They were the sort of women you meet at a party but then instantly forget.

That said, the menfolk did seem to be written with a degree or so more clarity, which was an unexpected blessing. Though I was initially confused to be told two or three times at the start how selfish and miserly William was – whereas in fact he’s lovely in a grumpy-but-sweet way. So I could have done with less telling me what I should be feeling about William as he was more than able to reveal his own character himself. Indeed I wish he’d been on the stage, as it were, more often, as he brought a degree of sense to the sheer lunacy of proceedings. He had some great one-liners too, which I don’t really want to reveal in case they’ll spoil your fun. Suffice it to say William was great, and I loved his cat, Scratch, too – the real hero of the piece (and at last in my recent reading matter there’s a cat who doesn’t come to any harm, hurrah!…). I also thought Hilary’s son, Daniel, was a breath of fresh air, but he and Frances did seem to declare undying love way too quickly, which was definitely unrealistic – though perhaps more acceptable in a film.

Mind you, one character I did feel very sorry for was poor Leo. Yes, he’s tremendously irritating and self-obsessed to the point of caricature (surely he must have one redeeming feature but I fear it escaped me …), but everyone in the whole family, and even the cat, is unremittingly horrid to him and it did get somewhat wearing. I admit he’s too thick-skinned to catch on to this, but even so some glimmer of seasonal courtesy from the rest of the bunch might have been nice.

That said, in the end, though it’s not the best-written book I’ve known (see my comment above about those exclamation marks …), it was pleasantly light and certainly indicated that my so-far eighteen year resolution to never have a family Christmas again was probably the best decision I’ve made. Or one of them anyway. Talking of endings, I did enjoy the final few pages of the book, where William sorts the whole family out (at last) in terms of their futures and romantic relationships with his customary common-sense and brevity. Well done to him. Oh and the decision of who gets everything in the will was charmingly done indeed. It left me with a smile on my face and enough sense of post-Christmas cheer to get me through the New Year. Just.

A Proper Family Christmas, OxPens 2008, ISBN: 1 904623 11 5
Also available as an ebook

[Anne remains determined to keep Christmas family visits at bay by the simple solution of having absolutely no spare beds in her house. It’s worked so far …]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

7 comments on “A Proper Family Christmas by Jane Gordon-Cumming: a rollercoaster of a celebration with a great deal of chat

  1. Hilary
    January 19, 2012

    Thank you, Anne! Well, I’ve been waiting for years for a heroine to share my somewhat unpropitious name (nearly always spelt wrong, often pronounced wrong, sometimes commuted to Valerie) and I’m rather sad that she isn’t more of a gripping personality. The search goes on …

    The set-up for the book sounds excellent, though, and even with its slight drawbacks, it looks like a candidate for a suitable seasonal read.

  2. annebrooke
    January 19, 2012

    Ha! I hadn’t thought about that, Hilary – there should definitely be more novels with your name in. We should set up a campaign! :)

    Anne
    xxx

  3. Hilary
    January 19, 2012

    And the possibilities for plot complication are endless, as half the characters in the book will call her Valerie …. it’s a real selling point!

  4. Jackie
    January 19, 2012

    This sounds like a decent bit of fluff, though all those bland characters might take some patience. Glad it didn’t turn into a horror novel or a mystery-though the latter might’ve been fun, but I digress. Applause also for Scratch the cat as the hero of the piece. Your sister-in-law must have a sense of amusing irony, which makes me smile.

  5. annebrooke
    January 20, 2012

    A definite possibility, Hilary – or should that be Valerie?!

    And yes, indeed, Jackie – on all counts! :) I also do think that Scratch the cat was crying out for his own book – he certainly had style :)

    Anne
    xxx

  6. Jane Gordon-Cumming
    January 21, 2012

    Thanks for reviewing that, Anne, and I accept all your fair comments. No, I’m not a deep writer. My aim is to amuse, and I do find dialogue so much easier than the ‘boring’ bits in between. Readers seem divided on whether they identify or not with the main characters, but I will say I had a lovely letter from a widow in Hilary’s position, telling me that APFC had got her through her first Christmas without her husband, because she’d laughed so much. Now that’s what makes writing worth while!

  7. annebrooke
    January 21, 2012

    Thanks, Jane! I would say that the “boring” bits in between absolutely shouldn’t be boring at all, and should help balance out the dialogue and indeed highlight the humour, but I appreciate it’s a tricky balance to achieve :)

    Pleased your widow found it helpful though – that’s great news!

    Anne
    xxx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on January 19, 2012 by in Entries by Anne, Fiction: 21st Century, Fiction: humour and tagged , , , , , , .

Categories

Archive

Editorial Policy

The views expressed in the articles and reviews on Vulpes Libris are those of the authors, and not of Vulpes Libris itself.

Quoting from Vulpes Libris

You are very welcome to quote up to 100 words from any article posted on Vulpes Libris - as long as you quote accurately, give us due credit and link back to the original post. If you would like to quote MORE than 100 words, please ask us first via the email address in the Contact details.

Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
  • Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 947 other followers

    %d bloggers like this: