Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: Miracle on Regent Street

By Becky Gulc

'Dreams can come true – it could happen to you…For the past two years, Evie Taylor has lived an invisible existence in London, a city she hoped would bring sparkle to her life. But all that is about to change. For winter has brought a flurry of snow and unexpected possibilities. Hidden away in the basement of Hardy’s – once London’s most elegant department store – Evie manages the stockroom of a shop whose glory days have long since passed. When Evie overhears that Hardy’s is at risk of being sold, she secretly hatches a plan. If she can reverse the store’s fortunes by December 26th – three weeks away – and transform it into a magical destination once again, she might just be able to save it. But she’s going to need every ounce of talent and determination she has. In fact, she’s going to need a miracle'.

"Miracle on Regent Street" is Ali Harris’ debut novel. Ali is an experienced magazine journalist at glossy UK magazines such as Cosmopolitan and ELLE and once worked at Selfridges; one of the UK’s most iconic department stores, Ali’s experience in both of these fields shines through this novel.

Evie Taylor is a single woman in her twenties; she works in the stockroom of her beloved Hardy’s by day (the place where her parents met) and is nanny to her niece and nephew by night - to cover her board at her sister’s fancy Primrose Hill house. When we meet Evie she has been working tirelessly at Hardy’s for two years, taking pride in her work and not taking offence at the fact that pretty much everyone calls her Sarah, if any name at all, the name of her predecessor. Evie believes her hard work is going to pay off with a promotion to the shop floor, her dreams are crushed as her best friend, Carly, someone who is the complete opposite of Evie and doesn’t care about maintaining the tradition of Hardy’s, is given the promotion.

We follow Evie as she struggles to like herself for who she is, believing she has to change, become more glamorous, more modern, more sociable- more like Carly- to achieve anything, to maintain the delectable Josh’s interest. Evie is the kind of person who puts everyone else first and always thinks of herself last, she lacks confidence but is such a lovely warm-hearted character you will her to realise this herself.

Despite being disappointed when not getting the promotion, when she learns the store is in danger she sets about using her natural but hidden creative flair and respect for Hardy’s traditions and customers to transform the departments one by one, secretly in the early hours. When she hears a particular staff member is in danger, she sets out to help them first, drawing on the vast array of traditional but unappreciated stock and bringing it back to life, it’s not long before the customers flock to the store and the staff have a newfound air of confidence about them thanks to the secret ‘Christmas Elves’, Christmas Evie.

As the book counts down to Christmas and the impending decision about Hardy’s future you can’t help but cheer Evie along, she’s a character you want to succeed she’s just so likeable. Although the story centres on Evie’s secret efforts to save Hardy’s there’s a lot more to it. There are some fantastic characters in this book, Lily who works in the tea room, Felix who is the night guard, and Sam the delivery boy, the cleaners. All these characters are so well-rounded and likeable, even the less likeable characters such as Carly bring this book to life, we all know people like her. There is of course a love story in the midst of this and I found it a very moving one and again I was rooting for Evie’s happiness.

I’ve read mixed reviews of this novel, some comments say it’s predictable, maybe I could see what was coming but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. As for elements being unrealistic, well I’m happy for an escapist read and not going to get bogged down in the details. I loved being transported in my mind to a vintage department store where customer service is at its best.

I was a huge fan of the film Mannequin when I was younger, so the idea of transforming a struggling department store was probably always going to fit well with me, even if there weren’t any dummies coming to life! Overall I would say this is a heart-warming debut novel with a primary character who you really want to believe in herself and succeed in all aspects of her life. At almost 500 pages it was longer than many other chick-lit novels around at the moment but I never really felt that the story was dragging. A recommended read from me and not just for Christmas.

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