Last year I treated my Kindle to several festive reads to help get me in the Christmas spirit and one of those reads was Humbugs and Heartstrings by Catherine Ferguson. I really enjoyed reading it and so was delighted to hear that this year there was another festive book out by her too; Mistletoe and Mayhem. Sometimes, when you enjoy one book by a particular author then move on to the next it can be a let down but after having devoured this book in just two days I can firmly say that this was no disappointment.
The story tells of Lola who’s boyfriend Nathan is a fitness fanatic. He’s trying to encourage her to be the same by indulging her with smoothies with bizarre ingredients, dragging her on various challenges and pushing her exercise regime further but then during a rather amusing exchange Nathan breaks up with her, declaring she was just his project for him to work on and was now moving on to someone else. Lola was upset enough as she had just lost her job but even more upsetting, the whole exchange was heard over the tanoy of the supermarket where Nathan worked meaning that everyone heard… including a man nearby her who seems very amused by the whole spectacle…
As Lola is feeling truly miserable she finds herself talking to her Dad who unburdens himself on her, her mother is worrying about Christmas, her brother and sister in law are too overpowering for her and they just don’t know what to do about Christmas this year and before Lola realises it she has invited them all to spend Christmas with her but there’s a slight problem; she lives in a tiny flat, has no money and has no idea how she can make Christmas live up to the expectations of Justine- her sister in law.
Throughout this story there are lots of themes running through it. It’s easy to just think it’s an amusing light-hearted Christmas book but there is more to it than that with various issues being raised but it does all finish with a nice heart-warming ending which is just what you want from a festive read!
One of the difficult subjects in the book is that of the loss of a child and how that affects every family member in different ways. Although this is a light hearted read it doesn’t make this subject be downplayed and brushed over, instead it is really carefully crafted seeing that people react differently to loss and how much harder it is to deal with the grief if everyone tries to ignore it and refuse to talk about it. It also shows that at times of year like Christmas, these losses are so much more prominent which is something that I myself can relate to; it can seem like you have to have the most perfect Christmas just like everyone else but that there’s this sadness behind it all but you try to muddle through despite it. This area of the book did cause a few tears on my part- a sign of a well written book I believe.
As well as tears I also had great frustration! Lola’s mother was very frustrating with her lack of taking any responsibility for herself. After having a breakdown when Lola was 10, her mother never left the house without her husband and spent most of her time in bed. She was always making up excuses and gave in to her panic attacks. She refused help, claimed she didn’t need to see a psychotherapist or a counsellor and was resigned to a very limited life relying soley on her husband to be effectively her carer. Throughout the book I got frustrated with her, wanting her to just take action and realise her life could improve if she just faced that she needed help and as the book went on this frustration grew- which is a good thing, it made the feelings of those around her easier to relate to. Her husband feeling completely at the end of his tether with the situation, her daughter trying to be sympathetic but very carefully trying to encourage her to get help and the daughter in law who had absolutely no patience for her at all.
There were lots of amusing moments in this book, Lola did engage in some rather bizarre activities trying to keep Christmas on the cheap- scouring around in a skip to try to source Christmas decorations, stock piling items from the marked down section at the super market, making handmade decorations with her flat mate Barb whilst under the influence of alcohol… Then there were the boys upstairs in the flat above them Jas and Seb. Jas was very forgetful and kept leaving things around and tried to encourage the girls to join his choir for the Christmas season and before she knew it Lola found herself attending choir practice just with one big flaw- she couldn’t actually sing and Seb, Jas’s flat mate, knew this after overhearing her one day which resulted in her breaking a vase. There’s lots of humour and feel good within this book especially with the friendships between Lola, Barb, Jas and Seb and that was really heart-warming and made me miss the days of living with friends!
I think to be able to craft characters that make you feel emotions towards them is the sign of a very clever author. I felt frustration, sadness, embarrassment, happiness… which is way more than some people expect when they think a book is just going to be all about Christmas. It’s more than that in this case.
What I liked about this book is that it did have a lovely happily ever after ending which is just what I like from a festive read but it also left me thinking about some things. Like the effort some of us go to to have the most perfect Christmas thinking it has to be ‘done’ in a certain way when really that isn’t that important- who cares if you order a pizza instead of creating a banquet on the days leading up to the big day? And it makes you think about all the things going on in peoples’ lives, you may think they’re miserable and aloof or stroppy and be quick to judge them when there could be a perfectly good reason behind their behaviour. Talking about the difficulties and problems in your life is very important!
When I finished this book I felt all festive and my heart was warmed because, despite all the ups and downs within a family and friendships, people work through it all and come together to help and support each other.
I really enjoyed reading this, it was very funny with some brilliantly crafted characters but also emotional too. I am so glad that this second festive read by this author was just as brilliant as the first one. Five stars from me!