Eva Jordan reviews… The Silent Christmas by M.J. Lee

Eva Jordan reviews The Silent Christmas - Post Header

Thanks to a cousin who has been researching our family tree, I recently discovered I had a Great-Great uncle who served in the trenches during WWl. He joined at the start of the war as a volunteer in 1914, and just one year later, aged twenty-one, he was dead, killed in action, his body never recovered but is commemorated on the Menin Wall in Ypres, Belgium. How apt then, I should stumble upon Martin Lee’s recently released novella, The Silent Christmas, the fifth in the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, which can also be read as a stand-alone.

Set in both the present day and the WWI trenches, the story centres on the informal football match believed to have taken place between the English and German soldiers during a brief truce on Christmas Day 1914. The first chapter takes us straight to the trenches on December 21st in Belgium, capturing the conditions and possible mindset of some soldiers, ‘He lay on his back on the hard ground and dreamt of England; picnicking on the grass in front of the bandstand, straw hat tipped over his eyes to shield them from the sun… A shadow crossed his face and he felt a tap against his foot. ‘Time to get up, Tom, we’re moving forward… The men began packing up… As they did so, a solitary shell from a German whizz-bang whistled overhead, landing one hundred yards past the farm. None of the men moved or even ducked; each one carried on preparing to move forward as if nothing had happened.’ We then move forward to the present day and discover Jayne Sinclair, a genealogical investigator, asked, just days before Christmas, if she can help shed light on the mystery of several items, namely a label, a silver button and a lump of leather, found in a chest in the attic of her client. Ms Sinclair, who says, ‘Our role as genealogists is to use our research to bring these lost people, the vanished people of our family, back to life,’ agrees, and the mystery begins to unravel.

Written in the third person throughout, The Silent Christmas is a fictional tale exploring the actual events that took place during December 1914, later called the ‘Christmas Truce.’ A real “feel good” story handled with great care and respect, full of hope and love, that is both well written and researched. And, as 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of Armistice it is also particularly poignant.

You can find The Silent Christmas on Amazon 

Writer Martin Lee

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Eva Jordan reviews… Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair by Heidi Swain

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Published by Simon & Schuster UK

I met author Heidi Swain earlier this year, albeit very briefly, at an author/blogger meet up. Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair is the first of Heidi’s novels I’ve read and like the lady herself, it is absolutely charming. Whether you’re looking for something jovially celebratory to read in the run-up to Christmas, or something to curl up to with a mince pie and glass of your favourite tipple over the holidays, I can thoroughly recommend this festive, feel-good tale. 

Set in the fictional Fenland town of Wynbridge (with its very own Market Place not unlike my own home town) this is the story of Anna, who, for reasons not at first obvious, isn’t particularly fond of Christmas. A bit of a nomad, she pulls out all the stops to make sure she works every Christmas, preferably in a position that will keep her both busy, and as far away from the holiday festivities as possible. Anna spots and applies for what appears to be the perfect occupation, as companion to Catherine Connolly, convalescing after an operation. Catherine, along with her husband Angus, is the owner of the somewhat isolated Wynthorpe Hall, situated on the outskirts of Wynbridge, a remote town in the Fens, which sounds ideal to Anna. “Hunkering down in the barren and frosty Fenland landscape, without so much as a carol singer in sight, would be a much appreciated soothing balm to my troubled soul and I mulled it over with relish”. Only, as is often the case with most things in life, things are not quite as they seem.

When the Connolly’s youngest son, Jamie, arrives home just before Christmas, after spending time abroad, he finds himself faced with some difficult decisions. Ones that will no doubt affect his future and that of Wynthorpe Hall. Disillusioned with the family home, can Anna help Jamie fall in love with it again, and, more importantly, can Jamie help Anna, after years of refusing to celebrate it, help her fall in love with Christmas again?

Easy to read, the story is well paced, and, as one who lives in the Fens, the setting feels heart-warmingly familiar. The characters are well rounded and believable, although it is the rather eccentric, not to mention slightly mischievous, Angus, who really captured my heart. Full of festive cheer, love, laughter and hope, Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair is a pure joy to read, providing some light relief and escapism from, what at times, feels like a very troubled world at the moment. Definitely one I’d recommend.

A brief history of our favourite Christmas traditions

christmas-baubles

Well, here we are, December is already upon us, and for those who celebrate it but have failed to notice, Christmas is well and truly on its way. Traditionally popular for gift buying, December is the month Christmas shopping begins in earnest. It is also a time for other traditions; the trimming of trees, the hanging of lights, the writing of Christmas cards, letters to Santa, turkey and mince pies, absurdly silly knitwear and mistletoe and woe in soapland.

Therefore, as a writer and lover of history, I thought it would be interesting to explore some of our Christmas traditions and where they originate.

Medieval times brought us the Holly and the Ivy. The tradition of decorating the home with evergreens is an ancient one stretching back to pagan times. Evergreens were valued for their ability to retain life in the middle of winter and holly, traditionally thought to be masculine and ivy, feminine, were believed to bring stability to the home.

holly-and-ivy

Elizabethan times brought us sugar and spice and all things nice. ‘Eat, drink and be merry’ epitomised Christmas in Elizabethan England. Spectacle was of great importance and those households that could afford it, would indulge in a Christmas feast concluding in a banqueting course of sweet and colourful delicacies. Beautifully decorated sweetmeats were accompanied by hot drinks including ‘lambswool’ – made from hot ale, cider or sherry, apples and spices, which, when hot, would explode to create a ‘wooly’ top.

xmas-punch

Victorian times brought us the Christmas tree and the Christmas cracker. The image of a glittering tree, it’s branches illuminated by twinkling lights and decorations, is one of the most powerful and recognisable images of a ‘traditional’ Christmas. The introduction of such is said to be credited to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband – both great advocates of Christmas – however, he simply popularised an already existing custom originally introduced to England much earlier.

christmas-background

The story of the Christmas cracker is down to one man’s ingenuity; Tom Smith, a confectioner’s apprentice working in London in the early 19th century. After a trip to Paris in 1840, he admired the French sugared almond bon-bons wrapped in coloured tissue paper, and introduced them to London. Some years later, after watching logs crackle on a fire, he imagined a bon-bon with a bang. Adding a strip of paper – infused with chemicals which, when rubbed, created enough friction to produce a noise – inside a coloured paper wrapper containing mottoes and poems, the Christmas cracker was invented.

christmas-cracker