Another winner from Emily Harvale
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 5 November 2019
If you want a cosy, romantic escape this Christmas, Wynter House could be just the place for you. Emily Harvale has written another winner here. I loved the gorgeous, Christmassy cover, and was drawn to the book immediately because of it, but the story itself certainly didn't disappoint.
The blurb really does a sterling job of explaining the story, so I won't go into too much detail. Basically, Neva and her family arrive to stay at a holiday cottage in Wyntersleap for the Christmas holidays, but the weather is appalling and, following power cuts and flooding, the villagers (including the holiday makers) are evacuated to Wynter House, where they are invited to stay by the Wynter family.
Actually, it's Adam Wynter, the younger brother, who invites them. Elder brother Rafe seems less than keen, as does their grandmother, Olivia, and butler Carruthers. But the villagers enjoy themselves at Wynter House, and they would rather like to stay, especially Sasha, Neva's eight-year-old niece, who thinks staying in a stately home, complete with a secret passage, is the best Christmas present she could have had.
Neva has already rather fallen for Adam, even before she moves to his home, so the scene is set for a Christmas romance, even if she clearly hasn't won over Olivia, and despite the fact that Rafe and she clash every time they meet.
There are so many wonderful characters to enjoy here, not least Neva's family. Her parents are generosity personified, and she has a good relationship with her sister and brother-in-law, who seem permanently exhausted and bewildered by their daughter Sasha's general weirdness and her habit of wandering off and getting up to no good. Sasha really is a great character, though, and I grew really fond of her. Strange she may be, for an eight year old, with her obsession with zombies and ghosts, but she's delightfully appealing and I love her habit of eavesdropping and then repeating things back just when she shouldn't. She's a mini walking goth, and she did make me chuckle several times. She's well suited to her puppy, Tempest, who is very mischievous and causes quite a lot of trouble himself.
Neva's friend, Jo, is also an interesting character. At the start of the book her life seems completely sorted, her future mapped out. She's newly engaged and is spending Christmas with her fiance's family. She and Neva will no longer be sharing a home, and it seems their lives are about to go in different directions entirely. I love how her story plays out in the form of amusing phone calls between her and Neva, so we get to see what's happening with Jo's Christmas, too, and it's quite funny to read. (Sorry, Jo!)
There are a couple of rather mean village gossips who spread rumours about Rafe, and they weren't so easy to warm to, but every village has them, doesn't it? And, to be fair, their gossip does pose a question about Rafe that's rather intriguing. There are various other villagers and staff at the house who all seem surprisingly fond of Rafe, despite the rumours. My favourite of these characters was Carruthers the butler, who lets his eyebrows do the talking for him (and they do it so well).
It took me a little bit longer to warm to Neva. I really liked her at first, but then she was terribly unfair to Rafe and was quite rude at times. Of course, this could be due to the fact that I really, really liked Rafe. Adam may be the friendly, outgoing, cute brother, but Rafe has a real brooding hero thing going on, and I found myself rooting for him almost from the beginning. Luckily, Neva's attitude soon softened and I forgave her. After all, someone who has such a good relationship with her lovely family can't be bad, and she's a good friend to Jo, too.
I really wasn't impressed with Olivia's behaviour, and hope we get to find out more about her in future books, and maybe see another side to her.
I really enjoyed this book, which was packed with festive feeling. It takes place mostly in a stately home, which I'm a sucker for anyway, and there's plenty of humour and good characterisation.
I loved that there was a secret passage in the house, and I enjoyed the mystery of the locked barn, too. That added another strand to the story and I did my best to figure out what was going on there, making some pretty wild guesses. (I didn't come anywhere near the truth!)
Christmas at Wynter House is the first in a new series, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of these stories. It also connects with the author's new Merriment Bay series, and some of the characters actually visit Merriment Bay in this book, so we also get a glimpse of that location. I'll be downloading that series, too!
So yes, this is a five star read as far as I'm concerned, with all the action taking place over Christmas, a fabulous bunch of characters, a really sexy hero, a mischievous dog, a cute kid and a stately home. What's not to love?
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