Very occasionally you pick up a book and from the very first page you know you are reading something quite special.
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Joe is Christmas’s number one fan. He absolutely loves it and can’t wait to spend it with his wife, Beth, doing what they love best: eating mince pies, drinking mulled wine, laughing and snuggling while It’s a Wonderful Life plays on the TV. However, Beth has a slightly different idea this year. She wants to have a terrible time, or why else would she have invited her mother to stay – the demon mother-in-law from hell, who hates Christmas and everything about it? In fact, there is only one thing that the dreaded MIL hates more than Christmas and that is Joe.
Thankfully, Joe has an ally in his war against the orange-haired, gum-chewing monster: a shopping centre Santa who isn’t all that he seems. This larger-than-life Father Christmas presents Joe with a magical gift that he promises will make the problem disappear, but this innocent-looking parcel kick-starts an adventure that Joe will never forget. If he can make it to Christmas day in one piece and save his wife and unborn child from a lifetime in Lapland, he will have learned one vitally important lesson: to be careful what you wish for you might just get it.
A wonderfully heart-warming Christmas novel that invites readers to lay seasonal cynicism aside The Gift is one of those rare imaginative reads you will want to return to time and time again. The best Christmas stories have a textural richness with revelations and inspirations tucked into every page and Hodgson certainly does a good job of covering the inevitable yuletide moments. On one level it’s a sentimental story that reflects on love and how we relate to others and she delivers it with enough humour and style for it not to seem overly saccharine, but there’s a more poignant and powerful undertone that deals with the repercussions of being misunderstood. On this level, Hodgson pitches it perfectly with personable characters in Joe, Beth and Madge but without trying to make everything slick and exploitative. There’s genuine chemistry between Joe and Madge through whom she celebrates the joy of a good story but more importantly, she reminds us that things are not always what they seem to be and the willingness to open one's mind often yields welcome surprises.
A genuine gem of a Christmas read and a fine introduction to the words and wit of Julie Hodgson, The Gift is not to be missed and is recommended without reservation.
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