REVIEW: Christmas Secrets by the Sea by Jane Lovering
Christmas by the sea – that sounds romantic, right?
Tansy Merriweather is down on her luck. She’s lost her business and her relationship, and instead of a glamorous London apartment, her home is now a campervan on a Dorset beach. And as if things couldn’t get any worse, a scruffy dog called Brian with a taste for sardines has adopted her.
When Tansy’s new-found friends at the cafe in the bay help her find a job as a location scout for a new TV show, things start looking up. However, when she finds herself babysitting the show’s grouchy star, Davin O’Riordan, she’s not sure she wants to stay around. But when Brian forges a touching romance with Davin’s elegant whippet Seelie, Tansy begins to see another side to Davin.
As Christmas approaches, secrets emerge and Tansy and Davin discover a bond between them. But how will they cope with the storms headed their way – and can they save the cafe from closing?
Spoiler (Trigger Warning): Show
Dear Ms. Lovering,
As soon as I saw this year’s Christmas story on offer, I grabbed at the chance to read it. It turned out to be a bit of a bonus as it’s actually a category length story rather than a novella and double bonus that we see a bit more of the quaint, tiny village of Christmas Steepleton which figured in “The Boys of Christmas.” Are these winter storms the norm there or are your characters just lucky enough to get to “experience” them during the holiday season?
Tansy Merriweather (lol- that last name given what she and Davin go through!) appears to not only be at the end of her rope, but she’s already tied a knot, hung on and now it’s fraying too. After something awful happened in her glamorous life in London, she’s washed up (I’m just outdoing myself with puns) on the coast of Dorset in a rickety old camper van. Walking on the shore, she is followed by a rascally and truly ugly mutt to whom she gave a sardine earlier. Now the dog has decided she’s his “person” – though Tansy will deny this to anyone who’ll listen.
The mutt serves as her introduction to a handsome man walking his obviously pedigreed dog. Now why this gorgeous hunk of man would let his bitch off lead when she’s in season and then complain to Tansy when the mutt and Seelie run off is a mystery to me. Dog leads – they serve a purpose. Anyway, the “deed” is done. When Tansy snaps back at him, Gorgeous Hunk seems stunned before he stalks off. Thinking he’s a git, Tansy forgets him and takes refuge in a beach café where she meets cook Karen and her 14 year old son Rory who also seem a bit frayed at the edges. But they have a suggestion for a job possibility which brings Tansy and Rory to the set of a locally filmed TV series.
Tansy discovers that the director is an old uni friend who is at the end of his rope too dealing with his temperamental lead actors and the wild weather in Dorset. He’ll pay Tansy to scope out other shooting locations and, oh, if she’ll take moody Davin off his hands, he’ll be eternally grateful. Yes, moody Davin = Handsome Hunk/Git and Tansy is none too please but she does need the money.
Soon Tansy, Gavin and Rory are motoring along the coast while occasionally sniping at each other, saving sheep and discovering Christmas Steepleton which seems a perfect location. It also has a beat up old house for sale that Davin falls for which amuses and appalls Tansy as it has little beyond four walls, a roof and a gas cooker in the kitchen. Her job then morphs more into being Gavin’s assistant wherein she discovers more behind the man and that he has his reasons for acting the temperamental bastard in public.
As they get to know each other, their secrets slowly emerge while they begin to work out a way to help Karen and Rory whose livelihood is at stake. But will those secrets as well as a whopper of a sea storm the day before Christmas put paid to any future Tansy and Davin might be able to have?
Two things first. Wow, holy heck, the storms off the Dorset coast are nothing to fool around with. The description of the houses and shops in Christmas Steepleton are like buildings about to slide into the sea but after reading this, I’m surprised that none of them has actually done that. Yet. People who haven’t read the first novella, fear not as there are only cameo appearances by a few past characters. The main thing is the village, its location and the sea.
Next thing – and this is a personal peeve which I tried not to let affect my grade of the story because this does set things up between Davin and Tansy – spay and neuter dogs and cats! No, really, do not add to the overabundance of homeless animals. Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox about that.
I thought that the secrets Davin and Tansy have were handled well. I guessed Davin’s but enjoyed how it’s used to shape who he is and how he views and engages the world. His reasons for acting like a git bastard are understandable too. When Tansy begins to see underneath the persona he projects to the world, his true self emerges – the self he guards and only carefully lets people see.
Tansy’s past takes a bit longer for us to learn. At first I thought she might be overdoing her reaction to the loss of her business even if it was her former partner and love interest who seems to have screwed (no pun intended here) her out of it. Lots of people have endured worse and not ended up despondent in a rusty camper and living in a car park. I also wondered why she had no money. Did those papers she signed just give away the business rather then selling her interest?
The real reason for her depression and what it lead her to do is more complicated. Her response to that is understandable and her feelings about it are heartbreaking. I appreciate that she’s still grappling with the emotional fallout and probably – to an extent – always will be but I also like that she ends the book moving forward. Thank you for no twue love fixes all hurts.
The romance is more understated and gentle as Davin and Tansy initially spend their time taking pot shots at each other then spend more time getting to know each other and getting past their initial meeting rather than hopping into bed. Their non meet-cute actually gets things going as Davin is intrigued by a woman who doesn’t fall for his “star smile” and fling herself all over him. Tansy, on the other hand, isn’t sure she wants anything to do with this guy even after she starts to see underneath the outer protective shell.
So, I liked the other distinctive characters who are nicely drawn and add to the story. Brian the mutt, with his skeptical expressions, endeared himself to me and them. The holiday setting doesn’t turn the story too sugary sweet. Tansy and Davin have a hopeful future. But I’m going to try and avoid being on the Dorset coast during a storm. B+