I recently read ‘The Gift Counselor’ by Sheila Cronin for review- and I have to say I enjoyed it. Thank you so much to the author for sending me a hard copy of the book- I devoured it very quickly! This book was a brilliant, light read, and would be perfect for a Christmas read. I can just imagine myself snuggled up by the fire in a Christmas jumper reading this novel…
‘The Gift Counselor’ was a finalist in the Wishing Shelf Book contest, as well as the winner of the Beverly Hills Book Awards, and so I’m so glad to have the opportunity of reviewing it on my blog! The book is also going to be followed by a sequel, ‘Best of all Gifts’, but I read it as a standalone, so the novel works as a standalone as well as part of a series!
I must admit, when writing this review I had some trouble, because of the difference in spelling ‘counsellor’, and I kept getting mixed up with my spellings. As I am English, I spell ‘counsellor’ with two ‘l’s, but the author is American and so she spells ‘counselor’ with just the one ‘l’, so when talking about the book if I accidently use the English spelling, that’s just because that’s what I’m used to, not because the spelling in the book is wrong or anything!
‘The Gift Counselor’ is about a young woman, Jonquil Bloom, who loses her job working at a Children’s Home. Because of this, and because, after the death of her husband, she has been forced to bring up her son, Billy, alone, she decides to work at Clyde’s, a local department store, as an additional Christmas worker. Although she starts off working with Rita at the perfume counter, it soon becomes clear that she has a gift for…well…gifts! She is brilliant at advising customers on their gift-giving dilemmas, and she soon creates a name for herself at Clyde’s as a ‘gift counselor’- someone who literally counsels customers on gift-giving situations- such as what they should buy for their loved ones or how to best receive an unwanted gift. This is definitely something I need, as I am rubbish at giving gifts! Along the way, Jonquil develops a theory surrounding why people give gifts, and whether all gifts have strings attached.
As Jonquil is growing in her gift counselling abilities up to Christmas day, the book also follows the often broken relationship she has with her son, her issues surrounding her husband’s death, as well as her budding romance with Claude, a French Canadian who becomes close to Billy and his mother. Jonquil also faces problems from Leigh Usher, the snobby, ambitious second-in-line at Clyde’s, who sees Jonquil as some kind of threat, and who also attempts to sabotage the new gift counsellor.
One of the things I really liked about this book was the whole idea of a gift counsellor. I’m not sure if there’s already something like this available in American department stores, but it just sounds like such a cool idea! I really loved reading about the different gift dilemmas Jonquil was faced with, and the way she handled them was great as well- some of her gift selections were really thoughtful and clearly Cronin had thought out the idea behind the book.
I also really liked the setting of the department store and- had I been reading this at Christmas- I would have felt very nostalgic and had that warm fuzzy feeling that you get reading Christmas books. Clyde’s also seemed like such a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and, apart from Leigh Usher (who was just annoying!), all the other staff were great characters, and they all added to the welcoming sense emanated from the department store setting.
I also really liked the character of Rita! I thought her little quirks and character traits were great, and really added something to the book. As an example, Rita wears a different perfume each day depending on her feelings that day, and throughout the book she sniffs the air around people and bluntly tells them what perfume they need to wear, which I thought was great. Her character was also funny and down-to-earth, and she really encouraged the reader to smile. I really liked her character for the way she supported Jonquil and I thought the friendship that emerged between the two women was a really good element of the book. In fact, I often liked the passages regarding their friendship more than the passages on the romance in the novel!
‘”But you’re wearing Gardenia. Now, that is a mistake for a woman of your-” Rita eyed her up and down, “qualities. Drop by the store someday and I’ll fix you up with one of our premier fragrances on the house.”
I thought the aspect relating to shopping and Christmas was also so true. I liked how Cronin included little bits in the book which suggested the ridiculous lengths which some people go to at Christmas, and the consumerist element of Christmas was exaggerated to some extent through the department store setting. I think this made the end of the novel even better, as after the consumerist focus it brought the reader back to the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas in a way that was touching, if a little cheesy (in a good way!). The ending was just so adorable, and I liked how towards the end Jonquil realised certain things about gift-giving, Christmas and herself.
‘As one they replied, “It’s sixteen shopping days until Christmas.”‘
However, although I really liked this book- and I soared through it, always the sign of a good read- there were some things I wasn’t keen on. I wasn’t overly keen on the main character, Jonquil. I found her a bit annoying and, at times, self-centred. Maybe this made her more human, which I always like in characters, but the overall effect I felt was annoyance towards her. I also thought that the characters could have done with a little more depth the whole way through, and I felt like elements such as her relationship with her son, as well as her relationship with Claude, required some development.
Overall I enjoyed reading this book. I loved the idea behind the book, and the passages on this idea of gift counselling were great. I also liked certain characters, such as Rita, and I felt like the setting and overall ‘feel’ of the book was incredibly nostalgic and warm, a brilliant Christmas read! Although I thought that the characters and relationships of the book could have done with a little more development, I appreciate that this was supposed to be a light holiday read, and so I can see how too much development might have distracted from this!
If you would like to purchse this book on Amazon, visit the US or UK amazon page. You can also find out more about this book via goodreads and the book website, where there will also be information about the sequel to the book, which comes out soon!
Visit the author’s Twitter @sheilamcronin for loads of updates and information on ‘the Gift Counselor’ and all Cronin’s latest projects.
Have you read this book before? Does this sound like the perfect Christmas read to you? Let me know all your book-ish thoughts in the comments below!
Currently reading: ‘Quartet’ by Jean Rhys