‘This was where her dreams drifted to if she didn’t blot her nights out with drink; this was where her thoughts settled if she didn’t fill her days with chat. She remembered this tiny, remote foreign village on a molecular level and the sight of it soaked into her like water into sand, because this was where her old life had ended and her new one had begun.
Portobello – home to the world-famous street market, Notting Hill Carnival and Clem Alderton. She’s the queen of the scene, the girl everyone wants to be or be with. But beneath the morning-after makeup, Clem is keeping a secret, and when she goes too far one reckless night she endangers everything – her home, her job and even her adored brother’s love.
Portofino – a place of wild beauty and old-school glamour, and where a neglected villa has been bought by a handsome stranger. He wants Clem to restore it for him and it seems like the answer to all her problems – except that Clem has been there once before and vowed, for her own protection, never to return . . .
You know, it's been a long time since I've liked a book so much that I wanted to savour it and not sit there and gobble it up all in one sitting. You might have guessed that Christmas at Claridge's is a book that I loved, to the point that I started to worry a little bit when I saw I only had a hundred pages left (gasp!).
Firstly, it might be worth mentioning that the title of this book is somewhat misleading. Very little of Christmas at Claridge's is festive (although the book does open on the New Year and end on Christmas), this is not your usual light hearted, fluffy, seasonal romance and the blurb on the back belies a more serious content.
Clem is a part of London's 'It' scene and is seemingly what most people would expect from a girl of this ilk; shallow and selfish, Clem spends her days shopping and her nights partying her worries away. However, like most characters, she has much more depth than people give her credit for. Clem's past, like Swan's book, has a dark undercurrent that Swan handles masterfully. With an intriguing and evasive introduction, Swan sets her mystery in motion. With hints peppered throughout the book the reader is kept guessing without having a great unsolvable mystery constantly dangled in front of their nose (ahem Da Vinci Code).
I can see how some people might find Clem an annoying and spoiled heroine but I cut my romance teeth, as it were, on the early novels of Fiona Walker and have always enjoyed delving into the, what I call, "scene to be seen" world of London's fashionable twenty-somethings. Clem's relationship with her family is explored and developed throughout the book and the highs and lows of familial life that Swan covers really add an extra dimension to her novel that highlights the strengths of her writing and character development. Clem's relationship with the handsome stranger that lures her reluctantly back to the village of Portofino adds some passion to the novel but it is the twists and turns of Clem's journey and experience at the villa (not to mention the build up to the final reveal) that makes Swan's book so engaging.
My only little niggles would be the title and the last section of the novel. As I said at the beginning, very little of the book is festive, although that does mean that it makes the perfect Christmas gift as it doesn't have to be read exclusively at Christmas time. The ending was perhaps a bit too neat and overdone, but as you'll have gathered, that's nearly always the way for me - but hey! you don't want anything else in the perfect Christmas book, do you?
I really, really loved Christmas at Claridge's (can you tell?) and would happily recommend it to anyone who wants an engrossing escape this holiday season. Now excuse me while I grab a mince pie and a copy of Christmas at Tiffany's (only £1.99 on the Kindle, bargain alert!).