‘Strictly Christmas Spirit’ – Helen Buckley
From disco balls to Christmas baubles …
Ex-dancer Emily Williams turned her back on the sparkle of popular dancing show Strictly Dancing with Celebs to help those in need. Now the only dancing she does is teaching lonely pensioners to waltz, and the closest she gets to disco balls is making baubles with the homeless people in her Christmas crafts class.
She’s certainly not star-struck when Hollywood heart-throb Blake Harris is sent to her at short notice for community service, and has no desire to babysit the arrogant actor with his bad boy antics and selfish ways. Christmas might be a time for miracles, but Blake seems to be a lost cause.
But Emily’s reasons for abandoning her dancing passion means she understands the Hollywood wild child more than she’d like to admit. Could their time together, coupled with a dash of Christmas spirit, lead to a miracle change of heart for them both?
Despite missing the second book of this ‘Spotlight’ series, these books are stand-alones with different characters. I was looking forward to reading this book because it has two favourite things: Strictly and Christmas! It’s the expected combination and this read is perfect for snuggling down during the festive season.
Whilst the first book of the series combined an ice-skating show with romance, this time I found the dancing element to take more of a back-seat to this narrative. The Prologue introduces Emily at a pivotal moment in the televised dancing contest. Yet, the remainder of the novel is several years later when she is working at a London community centre. Straight away readers can see how down-trodden Emily is with the responsibility of running the centre: meeting administration needs, managing the budget and, most importantly, being there for the local community and the service users. It’s a difficult role to juggle and I very quickly sympathised with Emily over the hurdles she has to avoid on a daily basis.
With the arrival of Blake on community service, it is evident that Emily feels an element of babysitting is required. Blake does not present himself at all well: smug, selfish and lacking contrition. After all, the only reason he is at the centre is due to his community service sentence; he does not care about those who frequent the place and is simply serving his time.
As you would expect, this attitude evolves over the novel. Emily’s example of her selfless behaviour is gradually absorbed by Blake and I liked watching his character transform. In just a short period of time, Blake comes to realise the importance of the centre and how the community rely on the services provided. It’s eye-opening for Blake and actually, quite opening for myself as well.
This is what made this book extra special. Yes, there is plenty of tinsel, decorations and Christmas songs, but Buckley also reminds readers of those who are less fortunate, struggling at all times of the year. The insight that Buckley provides in this narrative goes to show how important these services are; budget cuts makes staffing and resources even more strained and the role of Emily and her team is paramount to avoid tragedies. The different characters that Blake encounters all have strained backgrounds and I think Buckley’s personal experiences in this area really makes the service centre more vivid. The importance of goodwill at this time of year is always promoted, but I think Buckley wants her readers to remember that this should not just happen at Christmas.
Romance does not dominate this narrative; it is more of a feel-good story with a happy ending. The community centre has plenty of happy endings for the people that use it and I liked how the story finished with lots of smiles – just what you need for a Christmas read! Whilst I was keen to see Emily and Blake’s relationship develop further, I also enjoyed watching the characters support each other and show that Christmas is not just about presents and turkey.
This was a well-written story that made me remember how lucky I am. It was a sweet, warming story with likeable characters and a satisfying ending. It is perfect for a Christmas read and I particularly enjoyed reading about Rocky, the entertaining parrot!
Ever since I was little I wanted to be a writer, to turn daydreams into books. I’m fascinated by fame, in love with Happy Ever Afters, and enthralled by slow-burn romances. I squeeze in time to write around looking after my two sons.
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Author website: www.buckleybooks.org
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Purchase Link – mybook.to/StrictlyChristmas
With thanks to Choc Lit and Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.