A Song for St Nicholas by Jo Bartlett

At the time of writing this, Jo Bartlett’s latest novel, A Song for St Nicholas, is proudly displaying a bestseller flag. I can only say, after devouring this book in a few hours this morning, that it totally deserves that status.

I’m a huge fan of this author’s work, but I really think A Song for St Nicholas is her best yet. Set in the lovely Kent coastal village of St Nicholas Bay – a place, it’s rumoured, where Charles Dickens wrote part of A Christmas Carol – the book has a festive feel from the off, and Christmas runs through its centre like words through a stick of seaside rock.

Anna has returned to the bay after several years working in a high-powered, and extremely well-paid, job in London. A chance encounter with a homeless man, combined with the realisation that her boss is a selfish moron, plus the acknowledgment that her boyfriend definitely isn’t the man for her, have sent her to her home town, where she must face the disappointment of her parents – particularly her mum, who couldn’t be more proud of high-flying Anna if she’d married Prince Harry.

Anna’s own dream man, however, wasn’t a prince. He was the son of a lord, and he broke her heart by moving away from the village, without warning, when they were teenagers. The last person she expects to find on her return to the Bay is Jamie Harrington, so it’s a shock when she hears he’s back, and even more shocking to discover that he’s now a vicar, and the Bay is his new parish.

As Anna and Jamie both settle back into their old village, their attraction to each other still burns as brightly as ever. But there is a tragic secret in St Nicholas Bay. An old mystery remains unsolved, and someone has a guilty conscience. Events that occurred a decade before could scupper any chances Jamie and Anna have of rekindling their relationship, and with people around them getting hurt, is there really any chance of a merry Christmas and a happy-ever-after for either of them?

Told with the author’s characteristic warmth and good humour, A Song for St Nicholas is everything a Christmas novel should be. It’s got the most delightful setting, a fantastic cast of supporting characters, and a leading couple, who are so obviously perfect for each other, that you can’t help praying that things will work out for them.

Anna has integrity, courage and a kind heart, and Jamie is – well, Jamie is just divine. Although, as a vicar, he’d probably be very uncomfortable with that description! He’s honourable and compassionate and – well, you can probably tell he’s my new fictional crush. The good thing about him is that he’s not too perfect. He does make mistakes, thank goodness!

With a Christmas fayre, Christmas trees, and fairy lights galore, a choir and lots of beautiful carols, this is a real festive treat – a story of forgiveness, redemption, compassion, charity, hope and, above all, love. At this time of year, what more can you ask for? 5/5

You can buy A Song for St Nicholas here.

Somebody Else’s Boy by Jo Bartlett

This book really took a hold of me from page one, and didn’t let go, even after I’d read The End and closed down my Kindle.
Some books take a little getting into, but Somebody Else’s Boy gripped me from the start. It’s a really beautiful story, well-written, and so packed full of emotional twists and turns that I couldn’t bear to put it down for long, and had finished it within a day.
The setting of St Nicholas Bay is described really well. I love the town’s Dickens connection, and can imagine this place so well in my mind. The characters are fantastically drawn, giving this book real depth and warmth and heart. It has lots of laughs – the author certainly has a sparkling sense of humour, and a sharp wit – but it also has dark moments. The description of Jack’s grief is so raw, so painful, that I had to put down my Kindle for a moment, look across to my husband, and – much to his astonishment (and mine!) – announce there and then that I loved him. It seemed important to put it into words while I could because, as Jack discovers, you never know when that chance will be taken away.
It’s not only Jack who has suffered a loss. Nancy’s grief is different but no less agonising, and I loved the depiction of her father’s situation and how it affects not only her, but her mother and brother, too.
Somebody Else’s Boy deals with love, loss, grief, betrayal and guilt. In fact, guilt is a major theme of this book. So many of the characters in here struggle on, trying to do what they believe is the “right thing”, putting their own needs aside out of guilt. It certainly made me think about how much we do this in real life. How guilt can weigh us down and ruin our own lives, and how misplaced this guilt is. Would the people who have loved us, really want us to lose our own chance of happiness, out of loyalty to their memory? Yet, even knowing that intellectually, doesn’t always help us to accept it emotionally. This novel beautifully and deftly deals with this very issue, and it really does tug at the heartstrings.
The burgeoning love between Nancy and Toby is lovely, and the developing relationships between other characters keep adding new layers to the story, taking you sometimes by surprise, but never feeling forced or unlikely.
It’s a deep and thought-provoking book, but it’s also cosy and romantic and funny, too. There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments, and moments that make you feel all warm and fuzzy and contented. Sometimes, happy endings can only come about when you learn to accept what is, and make the best of that, rather than wishing for what could have been. For some of the characters in this book, that’s exactly the lesson they have to learn, and I admire that the author was willing to write that truth. So, this is a book to make you think, a book to make you smile, a book to make you appreciate what you’ve got, and the people you have in your life. I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it, and I’m really looking forward to my next visit to St Nicholas Bay. 5/5

You can buy Somebody Else’s Boy here.

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