Just for the Holidays (by Sue Moorcroft)

I like Sue Moorcroft’s writing, on the whole. She has a gift of characterisation and tends to write novels based around family situations, with relationship-based storylines. I very much enjoyed her first novel, so each time she brings out a new one I add it to my wishlist. I did that with ‘Just for the Holidays’ last year, and was pleased to be given it last Christmas.

Once again, Sue Moorcroft has created some likeable, interesting people. This story is primarily about Leah, a thirty-something chocolate tester, who has deliberately remained single and child-free. She lives near her sister Michelle, and loves being an aunt to the teenagers Jordan and Natasha. Michelle is recently separated from her husband Alister, but all five go on holiday to a gite in France. Leah doesn’t really want to go, but Michelle wants her there to ease the tension.

Soon after they arrive, they meet their neighbours: Ronan, a helicopter pilot who is on sick leave after an accident, and his teenage son Curtis who is going through a goth stage. There are misunderstandings at first, and it took me a little while to sort out who was whom: Ronan has an ex-wife who lives with someone else, and as is clear from early in the book, Leah’s sister Michelle also has a boyfriend. Leah has a male best friend, too, who she keeps in touch with via phone.

I loved the teenage interactions, most of which feel realistic and natural. Jordan and Natasha bicker, and Natasha quickly gets a crush on Curtis. They all struggle with their parents’ separations, and turn to Leah for comfort which mostly takes the form of food. Leah is a whizz at throwing together delicious meals, including desserts, at a moment’s notice despite her wish for independence and insistence that she doesn’t want the responsibility of children. And as one disaster after another occurs, she finds herself more and more in the role of stand-in parent…

There’s a somewhat inevitable romance which develops between Leah and Ronan. Both are determined to stay unattached and just have a holiday fling. Their desires are thwarted time after time by one or other of the teenagers, in a way that built up the tension nicely while also adding a touch of humour. I could almost feel their frustration.

But then finally they get together, and as so often happens, the author decided to put in a detailed intimate scene, which took up a couple of pages. After the first couple of sentences I skipped forward as I find that kind of thing so unnecessary and irritating. There’s another similar incident later in the book. They’re the only parts that mar what is an otherwise very enjoyable and sometimes moving story.

There’s also a bit more bad language than I’m comfortable with, including far too many mentions (in my view) of an offensive internet acronym. It jarred, because it didn’t fit with the otherwise typical conversation of the teenagers. Curtis is only thirteen, and generally a likeable boy.

Still, although these things mean I can’t recommend or lend this book as widely as I would like to, it was overall a very well-written book. The style is informal, switching viewpoints regularly, but Sue Moorcroft makes that work in a way that’s non-intrusive. The family relationships, and issues related to trust, and the breakdown of marriages, are handled sensitively. There’s quite a bit about Ronan’s helicopter career, including more detail than I wanted to know about how helicopters are flown, but that was something I was comfortable skimming over lightly.

If you like character-based women’s fiction and don’t object to step-by-step detail of bedroom scenes, then this would make an excellent light read. By the time I was halfway through it was difficult to put down. The broad direction of the ending was predictable from the start, but there were one or two surprises to make it more interesting, and the final chapter encouraging and positive.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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