The only thing preventing Beth’s perfect family Christmas? Her family!
Television presenter Agatha Holly has built her career on telling viewers how to have the perfect Christmas. ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’ has been screened every December for twenty years and her entire family are involved, including her daughter Beth—the unwilling star of a thousand memes and gifs. But Beth has finally had enough of public ridicule. All she’s ever wanted is a traditional family Christmas away from the television cameras. If she can’t persuade her family to change, should she consider celebrating Christmas without them?
You Make it Feel Like Christmas is a feelgood rom com, with so much Christmas magic it’s bursting at the seams. At its heart is the story of two sets of siblings.
Aidan and Nick Hall are brothers, whose parents met their demise on a snowy Christmas Eve, some years ago. This has had a profound effect on the siblings and their relationship with each other, and with Christmas. Aidan, a high-flying, multi-millionaire businessman, would rather forget about the big day and jet off to a hot, sunny beach somewhere.
Nick, meanwhile, is a homebody, besotted with the family home, Myra Abbey. Unfortunately for him, the abbey is falling down around his ears and Nick doesn’t have the money to repair it. Aidan does, but since he wants to sell the place and forget all about it, that doesn’t really help Nick’s cause. If he can just get Aidan to remember all the good times they shared as a family there…
Beth and Lucy Holly are sisters, but they couldn’t be more different. The daughters of television legend, Agatha Holly, they’ve grown up in the spotlight, featuring each year in A Holly Jolly Christmas television show. Each one of their Christmases has been shared with viewers, and the festive celebrations seen on TV bear little resemblance to the actual Christmases spent as a family.
For Beth, it’s been one long nightmare. Clumsy by nature, gifs and memes have been created of her childhood mishaps and played out on social media. She feels she’s been a figure of fun most of her life, and that she’s had Christmas stolen from her by her mother’s career. She no longer wants anything to do with the show she hates, and longs for a traditional family Christmas, with no cameras, no crew, and no eager viewers watching them.
Unfortunately for Beth, her sister, Lucy, is now the producer of A Holly Jolly Christmas, and she’s determined that this year’s programme will be a success – despite falling ratings and a dismal lack of fresh ideas. If she can just get Beth to take part once more…
This book has it all: lies, tricks, emotional blackmail, bitter memories and long-buried guilt, revelations, confessions, compassion, reconciliations and unexpected romances. There’s also a fabulous gothic mansion, a psycho cat called Mistletoe, and snow . So much snow.
I really enjoyed meeting all the characters and getting to know them. There’s a lot more to the four main characters than meets the eye. I was particularly intrigued by Aidan, who was so different to his brother. I sensed there were hidden depths to his character, and his story plays out really well, revealing why he changed from romantic, poetic student to the hard-nosed businessman he is today. Nick initially seemed irresponsible, but I couldn’t help but warm to him very quickly. He really does have a heart of gold, even if he’s a little misguided at times.
Beth is lovely. I really felt for her, as she’s struggled all her life to deal with the fame that’s been thrust upon her. Beth has an image of the perfect Christmas in her head, and it’s got nothing to do with the extravagant ideas her mother conjures up for her television show. She’s an extremely loyal person, who usually ends up putting the needs of her family before her own needs, and it’s impossible not to root for her and want her to find her own happy ending. If anyone deserves the Christmas of her dreams, it’s Beth.
Lucy’s a little harder to like at times. Spikier than Beth, she comes across as career-obsessed, which is absolutely fine, but not at the expense of your own sister’s happiness. I was delighted by her character’s progression, and enjoyed seeing a softer side to her.
What comes across throughout, despite the arguments and disagreements, is that both sets of siblings love each other and want the best for each other. The complications arise in this novel because three of the four characters think they know what’s best for their sibling, and manipulate and scheme to bring about the outcome they assume will be the best one.
I loved the way the Holly girls’ father, Felix, spends most of his Christmases locked away in his study, pretending that nothing unusual is happening. He reminded me a bit of Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, taking to his books while his wife dragged their daughters into her own schemes and plans. Like Mr Bennet, he’s clearly made the decision to let events play out how they may, and to stay well out of the way until they do.
Agatha Holly is – despite her selfish streak – quite an appealing character. On the surface, she seems a bit fluffy and vague, with a penchant for Quality Street and a devotion to the grumpy cat, Mistletoe. She seems completely oblivious to the depths of her daughter’s despair. She pays lip service to Beth’s concerns, but seems to dismiss them, as if they’re not important, or not real. I couldn’t help wondering if she was more aware of Beth’s unhappiness than she made out, and simply chose to ignore it because it was way too inconvenient to acknowledge it and jeopardise her career. And yet, she had a charm that meant I couldn’t help but warm to her.
Funnily enough, Nick’s and Aidan’s mother plays a fairly substantial role in the book, too, even though she’s already dead by the time we start the story. A star of films such as Dracula, she bought the abbey after filming there, and set about turning it into the sort of gothic fantasy she knew her fans would expect her to live in. Lots of things in the abbey are actually fake, such as fake panelling and fake books. That so many things in the family home are not what they seem is a metaphor for something that’s revealed late on in the book, but no spoilers here! I loved the idea of the horror film Christmas decorations on the tree. The Hall family Christmas traditions were a brilliant contrast to the Holly’s cutesy ones. Two very different mothers, two very different homes, two very different Christmases – so cleverly intertwined and quite fascinating to uncover.
There are some lovely minor characters in this book, too. Aidan’s driver, Conall, with his “Irish” charm and wandering accent made me laugh. I liked Ophelia and her daughter, Chloe, too, and really warmed to Lucy’s assistant, Ji, who seems very clued up and is a calming influence all round.
My favourite scenes? Hard to say, as there were so many that filled me with delight. Highlights possibly include the trip to the book shop, the sledging incident, and the scene where Lucy and her mother (and Mistletoe) give a lift to someone in need and end up having a most unexpected night!
If you’re looking for a book to get you into the festive mood, this is it. It’s jam-packed with Christmas, and the romances are a delight, too. And the title is perfect, because if there’s one thing we learn from this story, it’s that “things” don’t make Christmas. Traditions don’t make Christmas. Perfect decorations, gourmet dinners, expensive presents and a huge tree don’t make Christmas. It’s the people we love that make it feel like Christmas, and sometimes, in the hectic build-up to the big day, we all need a little reminder of that fact.