Juliet Joyce loves Christmas. She can’t wait for the festive season and enjoys nothing more than buying gifts, decorating the house and cooking enough food to feed her ever-expanding family. Her daughter Chloe and young son Jaden are living with them – and with baby number two on the way, Juliet wishes that Chloe would get back with Mitch, the father of both Chloe’s children, and have a proper family of her own. Juliet’s son Tom treats the place like a guest house, bringing back friends and prospective partners at all hours of the day and night, and with her mother also living with them – and becoming increasingly confused – Juliet is lucky to have husband Rick at her side to cope with the daily challenges.
But with only a few weeks to go until Christmas, Juliet discovers that there is room for things to get even more complicated. Juliet’s Dad Frank lives with his partner Samuel, and – while he seems blissfully happy – life is about to prove to the Joyce family that nothing can be guaranteed. Juliet’s boss is having troubles with his marriage, and while Rick enjoys his job and has dependable colleague Merak to help him, there are some customers destined to take up more of his time than he bargained for.
The Joyce family have appeared in a previous novel of Carole Matthews’ called That Loving Feeling, but I haven’t read that and so this was my first foray into Juliet’s world. Her life is unbelievably busy, her family difficult to manage, but she is always there to help them, to sacrifice her own plans to give them what they want. She is, in fact, a bit of a saint, a woman who always puts others before herself, but who is not without her own insecurities.
With Love at Christmas is a very festive book, with beautiful – often mouth-watering - descriptions of how Juliet is getting in the Christmas spirit. The cast of characters are funny and infuriating, loving and selfish, and Juliet is forced to deal with more than her fair share of dramas in the run up to the Christmas Day. There is joy and heartbreak, secrets and suspicions, and some truly hilarious moments. I particularly liked wayward son Tom, and would have been happy for him to get a bit more page-space.
While the book is very fun and festive, I did find it a bit hard to get into at times. Sometimes it felt like a diary of Juliet’s preparations, of present-wrapping and tree-decorating. A lot does happen, but it felt like it took a while to get going. I also found Juliet’s unwavering compromise a bit difficult to deal with. Members of her family are often downright rude, taking her completely for granted, and for the most part she lets them. She is the centre of her home and wants her family to be happy, but I got frustrated at some of the things she was prepared to put up with, especially on Christmas Day itself. Maybe I’m just not as tolerant as she is!
Having said that, With Love at Christmas is festive, warm-hearted and funny, and its cosy glow stayed with me long after I had finished reading it. If you want a novel to put you in the Christmas spirit, then unwrapping Carole Matthews’ latest book should be high on your to-do list.