Looking to save their ancestral home, the Craig family - mother Holly, father Paddy, and siblings Lainey, Joey and Pippa - have had to take drastic action and transform Huntersbrook from family pile into a country retreat and it’s all hands on deck as the first bookings come in. Not least because Huntersbrook’s inaugural event will be the thirtieth birthday party of Missy Hassett, Pippa’s colleague and the notoriously demanding daughter of Pippa’s boss. But Pippa’s about to learn just how demanding Missy can be when she becomes inveigled in a toxic friendship. For Joey, time at Huntersbrook with girlfriend Skye is jeopardised by a new promotion at work but he’s determined to get ahead. And for Lainey, a second pregnancy looks like it’s going to give her the second child she longs for, but complications hit. Whilst The Heart of Winter is fairly easy to pick up and dive straight into, it does return to the family and setting of Hannigan’s previous novel Driving Home for Christmas and I think it may be worth reading that first if only to fill in the background. Although there’s a winter feel to the novel, it’s not overly explicit and if you’re after a specifically Christmassy read, the festive period is limited to the last quarter of the book. All of the siblings have very obvious faults and whilst this makes them human, it doesn’t make any of them especially likeable. But the main problem for me was the about-turns that take place in the characters’ lives that felt too unrealistic and sudden. Indeed, Joey and Pippa spend the first half of the novel struggling with the excessive demands of work and friendship respectively, yet in the second half of the novel these simply disappear and seem to be resolved without any illustration. There are also a couple of later chapters from ancillary characters that whilst fitting with the plot did feel a bit out of keeping with the narrative and a confession from family friend Sadie in the epilogue reads as something of a mood killer. Nonetheless, the spirit of family and togetherness especially at the end is palpable and the setting of Huntersbrook really comes alive in the imagination, with a very real sense of magic and awe. As the book closes, it seems that there is lots more to come but it’s the peripheral characters (Jodi, Jules and Danny) as much as the main ones that offer the appeal going forward. (JC)
The Heart of Winter, by Emma Hannigan, revisits the Craig family from her previous novel, Driving Home for Christmas. The synopsis says: "Holly Craig's family have lived happily in Huntersbrook for generations but when times grow hard, even she must admit defeat and sell off their once-successful stables. The three Craig children, Lainey, Joey and Pippa, find themselves locked in a fight to keep their beloved Huntersbrook; dare they transform it into one of Ireland's most sought-after countryside venues? Renovation work is well underway when life rears its ugly head and everything stops in its tracks. The Craig family is forced to reassess what matters and although they no longer live at Huntersbrook, can the house work its magic even so ... and lead them into the light once more?" The Heart of Winter is out in October 2014.
The Craig family have always enjoyed family Christmases at Huntersbrook House in Co. Wicklow. The three adult children, Pippa, Joey and Lainey, look forward to spending every Christmas there with their parents. However, their idyllic family time is threatened this year by relationship problems and financial woes. Unbeknown to them their parents are also facing financial difficulties which could result in them losing their beloved family home. Driving Home for Christmas shows how difficulties can be overcome by the family working together as a team. This was a great feel-good book which I just couldn't put down! Emma Hannigan's books just get better and better. (BS)
Driving Home for Christmas, by Emma Hannigan, is about a family facing a difficult time. The synopsis says: "Christmas at Huntersbrook House is a family tradition and this year it's even more important as, with mounting debts and insufficient income from the livery yard, it looks like the Craig family might have to sell their beloved family home. Pippa, Joey and Lainey are the three grown-up Craig children who, caught up with their own lives in Dublin, are, as yet, unaware of the problems facing Huntsersbrook. Joey is starting to wonder if his controlling, fitness-mad girlfriend really is the one for him. Lainey, the family worrier, is doing her best to ignore her ex's recent engagement while also trying to look out for her sister Pippa whose frivolous lifestyle is about to catch up with her. As the Christmas season approaches, the Craig family need to do some soul-searching and what better place than around the fire at Huntersbrook House. One thing's for sure, this is a Christmas none of them will forget. But will it be their last at Huntersbrook or will they manage to save the family home?"