The Little Village Christmas (by Sue Moorcroft)

I have - on the whole - enjoyed all the books I’ve read by Sue Moorcroft. She has a great gift of characterisation, and while her books are mostly women’s fiction with a romance theme, she often introduces some other, interesting issues. When I saw that she had written a Christmas book, I put it straight on my wishlist and was given it as a present a couple of weeks ago.

With the title, ‘The Little Village Christmas’, I assumed that this would be a pleasant light read for the post-Christmas period. The front cover shows a Christmas tree in a village square, complete with snowmen and glittery rooftops. I feel this is a tad misleading, as it’s really not a light Christmas story; indeed, Christmas itself occupies just a few pages of the book, where the characters wind down for a couple of days, and not much happens from the plot point of view.

However, the novel has plenty going on and I found it a page-turning read, once I’d got into it. Alexia is the main protagonist. She’s an interior designer, who is giving up some of her free time to manage a village project. An old pub - The Angel - is being stripped down and refurbished to create a new community centre. The book opens - after a brief prologue - with the Middledip wrecking party. Anything worth keeping is being removed and stored, and vast amounts of rubbish have been removed.

The owner of the pub is an elderly man called Gabe, and his nephew Ben is staying nearby. He and Alexia get talking over the barbecue provided after the wrecking party, and afterwards she accepts an invitation to go and see a baby owl he has rescued. He is a bit dour, but clearly kind-hearted; the prologue hints at him having major family stresses.

So far so good, and by the generally understood rules of this kind of women’s fiction, Alexia and Ben are destined for a romantic relationship, sooner or later. Unfortunately, their ‘getting together’ begins with an incident that shocked me so much, given their very brief acquaintance, that I almost gave up on the book. The incident doesn’t just happen; too much information is given at the time, and it’s then referred to in passing several times.

I’m glad I kept reading, because the story really gets going the following morning. Disaster happens, and Alexia has to pull together something rather different from what was originally envisaged for the community centre. Much of the story revolves around new friendships in the village, gradual refurbishment of the centre with its slowly-acquired furniture, and there's even a TV show. Alexia is a strong and capable woman, one whom I’d probably find quite daunting if I met her, but she has a soft side too.

The writing is excellent, and the characters mostly three-dimensional. There's quite a large cast, but I had no problem remembering who was whom. There's just enough description to help me picture (vaguely) where people lived, but not so much as to make my eyes glaze over.

However, there’s another detailed intimate scene nearer the end of the book - I skipped it this time, after the first couple of sentences - which, combined with the earlier one, means I’m not likely to lend this to anyone. Certainly not to young teenage friends who might otherwise quite enjoy this book. I don’t see the point of putting steamy 18-rated scenes in what’s basically a PG or (at most) 12-rated book. They don’t fit the style of the rest, which is gentle, well-plotted and realistic, and they don’t add anything to the story.

Still, there are other important issues touched upon, which work well including serious illness, a prison sentence, and a marriage breakup. That makes it sound rather depressing, but overall it’s not: the owl is a delight, as are some kittens who appear in traumatic circumstances nearer the end of the book. Most importantly, the ending is as satisfyingly predictable as I could have hoped, and overall I enjoyed the book very much.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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