The Christmas Shop at Central Park by Jo Bartlett

Libby Cooper hasn’t celebrated Christmas for four years. How can she when the most important people in her life are no longer around to enjoy the festivities – because of her? 

Hiding out in her grandparents’ failing micro-pub, she wants to forget that the season of goodwill even exists; but her grandmother has other ideas. It’s time for Libby to face her fears – and Christmas – head on. And what better way to immerse herself in the celebrations, than working in her great aunt’s Christmas shop, just a few blocks from Central Park?

Making new friends is the easy bit, but leaving the past behind proves much more difficult. The only way Libby can cope is by taking long walks in Central Park and joining an art therapy group to help her express her emotions.

Harry Stanwick is a Central Park Ranger, who’s as beautiful on the inside as he is on the outside. He seems to know instinctively when Libby wants to talk and when she just needs to be left alone.

Working with Harry and the rest of her new friends to save an old off-Broadway theatre and community centre from closure, Libby finally starts to remember the magic of Christmas. But she can’t stop questioning her right to be happy when her parents are gone.

Can Harry convince Libby that she deserves her own Christmas miracle, or will she leave her heart -and her chance of happiness – in the Christmas shop at Central Park?

Every time I read one of Jo Bartlett’s books, I decide it’s my new favourite of her novels. The Christmas Shop at Central Park was no exception. When I finished this book, I felt as if I’d been well and truly hugged by someone I loved very much, and all was well with the world again.

Libby is struggling. She’s almost broken by grief, heartbreak, and a persistent gnawing guilt that just won’t leave her alone, meaning she’s unable to fully live in the present and enjoy her life. The two people Libby loved most in the world are gone, and, as far as she’s concerned, that’s all her fault. Despite the love, support and reassurances of her grandparents, Libby can’t shake off the negativity that is ruining her life.

Hiding away, working in her grandparents’ micro-brewery, Libby lives a half-life. Until, one Christmas, her grandmother decides that enough is enough, and sends Libby off to help her great aunt, who runs a Christmas shop. Not just any old Christmas shop, though. This is the Christmas shop at Central Park, and in New York, Libby just might find exactly what she needs to heal her wounds, and learn to live – and love – again.

This is a truly gorgeous story, full of hope and love and friendship, and all things Christmassy. There’s a fabulous cast of supporting characters, such as her lovely Great Aunt Dottie, with her penchant for crazy hair. Then there’s the rather gorgeous ranger Harry, who is possibly the kindest and most intuitive man in New York – if not the world! Not forgetting my own personal favourite, the fantastic Paula, who, in spite of her own challenges, is the beating heart of the community – bringing healing light to the emotionally wounded through her art therapy classes, and rallying the troops when action is needed to save a much-loved and much-needed theatre from demolition. Paula never gives up, and her fighting spirit is an inspiration to all around her, not least Libby, who begins to believe that, just maybe, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, after all.

There’s a bit of a mystery, a whole lot of inspiration, some laughs, and a touching romance to savour in this book. And, of course, there’s Central Park itself, where the little plaques on the benches, dedicated to lost loved ones, demonstrate its own history and romance – a true fact which gives added depth and flavour to The Christmas Shop at Central Park, making it  pull even tighter on the heartstrings, as every good festive tale should.

Jo Bartlett really knows how to tell a good story, and with this book, she’s surpassed herself. With Christmas just around the corner, let this lovely novel take you by the hand and show you the wonders of real friendship, extraordinary determination, true love, and the magic of this wonderful season, all set against the gloriously festive setting of New York’s Central Park. What more could you possibly want for Christmas? 5/5

You can buy The Christmas Shop at Central Park here.