One More Christmas at the Castle by Trisha Ashley
A Christmas novel has to be something special to be memorable, and this latest Christmas book from Trisha Ashley has a lot going for it. Set in a part large home, part mini castle set near Hadrian’s Wall in beautiful Northumberland, it has friendship, romance and difficult relationships, as well as some excellent cooking organisation tips. This book is mainly set in the lead up to Christmas, and I think could be enjoyed at other times of the year when the weather suits a cosy read. The characters are so well drawn that they stick in the mind, as well as being enjoyable in the context of the book. Not all behave well, some have complex agendas, and there is much to work out. This book is full of Ashley’s trademark humour, which works well between such excellent characters. Sabine has many memories connected with the building from early childhood, but there are tensions which she suggests in her own chapters that she narrates. The main storyteller is Dido, a young woman whose background is mixed, but who has learned to be self-reliant and make the most of her considerable skills. The other characters in the book may not directly comment, but their parts are crucial to the story as a community comes together in the rather special celebrations of Christmas. This book is a real treat in so many ways.
The book opens with a character list, which given the arrivals at the castle is useful when the community is assembled and to a certain extent confined to the castle and its grounds. The Prologue describes the castle, stuck in the winter, beyond its beautiful Winter Garden which becomes a feature for more than one character. Mrs Sabine Powys is a wealthy woman, generous to those who work for her, but beset by a relative called Lucy who is ineffective at best. Change is on the way, as housekeeper Maria is not going to be able to continue to run the house. Sabine decides to take action as she knows her time is limited, and with her wealth she is able to work out how to hire a very special service to make Christmas as much as possible as it was when she was a small child, before her family was irreparably changed. Dido and her friend Henry are experienced at running their own business “Heavenly Houseparties” which provides a temporary live in service to run house parties in every detail, especially at Christmas. It soon becomes obvious that their complementary personalities and amazing organisation means that they can turn up at a venue and take over every element of cooking, cleaning and preparation. Not that it is without its challenges, as Sabine has her own ideas, particularly about Dido. Happily a retired Vicar, Nancy, has known Sabine for many years, and has a real gift for making friends. Just to confuse the issue Xan is a young man who has come to write a biography of Sabine’s late beloved husband Asa, and his presence stirs up memories not only for Sabine, but also for Dido. As Sabine is conflicted by difficult situations revived for the Christmas season, Dido realises that she has taken on more than running Christmas as it once was, and must deal with future possibilities.
The book manages to evoke so many themes, of difficult memories amidst the traditions of a spectacular recreation of a childhood Christmas. There is a community of people who temporarily come together at Christmas with their own agenda, and it brings many issues to a climax.This book is written with real feeling for the characters, the setting and the time of year, and I recommend it as a special read for anyone who enjoys contemporary lively stories.