Sunday, 13 December 2015

Little Northern Christmas: Book Review - Bella's Christmas Bake Off by Sue Watson

"Bella Bradley is the queen of television baking – a national treasure. Her Christmas specials have been topping the ratings for years and her marriage to Peter ‘Silver Fox’ Bradley is the stuff of Hello magazine specials. 

But this year things are going to be different. 

For Amy Lane, Bella’s best friend from school, life hasn’t held quite the same sparkle. And when Amy’s husband walks out three weeks from Christmas, it seems their lives are further apart than ever. 

Amy has watched Bella’s rise to fame fondly, despite the fact Bella was always a terrible cook. But when she realises that Bella’s latest Christmas book is made up entirely of Amy’s mother’s recipes, the gloves are off… 

After winning a competition to appear on Bella’s TV show, Amy is going to make sure that for Bella and her viewers, this will definitely be a Christmas to remember… "

My festive reading is picking up quite a pace and I'm loving reading stories that are filled with Christmassy food, traditions and great characters. Bella's Christmas Bake Off more than fits into that category, it's a great Christmassy read! 

The story follows Amy as she embarks on her first Christmas alone... her husband has just left her for a younger woman, and her grown-up children are all embarking on their own Christmas adventures. Settling down for a Christmas in-front of the TV, Amy flicks on Bella's Christmas Bake-Off - a cookery programme run by the lavish and gorgeous Bella, who is actually Amy's former best friend. 

It turns out that Bella's recipes aren't hers at all, but actually Amy''s Mum's. Annoyed that Bella could so easily claim them as her own, Amy tries to make contact and ends up entering a competition to win a Christmas Day meal cooked by Bella. Deciding it would be one way to out her as a fraud, Amy goes ahead with the prize, preparing for an unusual Christmas spent cooking on TV with her former best friend, revealing to the nation how she stole her Mum's recipes. However, this doesn't go to plan when the two women meet back up and reminisce on their past friendship. 

Overall, I found this a really enjoyable and easy read. My favourite part was definitely finding out all about the TV programme, Bella's Christmas Bake Off - I loved when they were filming for Christmas Day and you got a snapshot of how busy and frantic it can be to prepare a live show, as well as getting a peek at all the different, flamboyant characters that exist in TV Land. Sue Watson explains in her 'about me' that she used to work in TV, and her experience and knowledge shines through and creates a wonderful setting for this story. 

I must say, I didn't really shine to Bella. I found her pompous and a little deluded. Even as the two women start building bridges and becoming friends again, I still didn't warm to her as much as I did Amy. When the big secret is revealed, I think it perhaps was meant to sightly explain Bella's attitude and way of life, but it didn't quite work with me. I didn't really feel sorry for her and felt the same as I had from the start. However, I actually think this is a good thing - the characters are so realistic and vivid that it means you form very clear opinions of them, so I think my dislike for Bella is an indication to Sue Watson's talent for writing brilliant stories with dominating, jump-off-the-page characters. 

I thought the plot worked really well, I liked that the story was centred around friendship rather than romance, and seeing the two women interact with each other after such a long time brought great drama. It's obvious from the off-set that something dramatic happened to stop the two being friends, Amy hints at the secret they kept and the bad thing she did, so I was eager to discover what it was. I'll admit I'd sort of guessed what the secret could be, so it didn't come as a massive shock, but I thought it added to the plot anyway and worked well. 

The pace of this story was a bit up and down for me. I found the beginning really absorbing and interesting, but towards the middle it slowed down a bit and I willed it to liven up again. Thankfully, it does and I raced through the last few chapters as I found it so funny and engaging. 

If you're looking for a fun, festive read that focuses more on friendship than romance, this is the story for you. I enjoyed that Bella's Christmas Bake Off explored the relationship between Amy and Bella, rather than being another Christmas romance novel. It made a nice change and is a breath of fresh air. It's laugh-out-loud funny at times, serious at times, but filled with drool-inducing food all the time. Perfect! 


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