Hello everybody. I hope you’ve all been having a magical December. Today I have for you a non-spoilery review of Lauren Westwood’s holiday romance novel Moonlight On The Thames, followed by an interview with the author.
Official Book Summary
Christmas is a joyous time, but not everyone is merry and bright. Nicola is a rising star at the top of the corporate ladder, but her personal life is a disaster. Her office affair has lost its allure, and the last thing she wants to think about is Christmas. A night of cancelled trains and festive Christmas carols at Waterloo Station is just about the last straw…
Dmitri loves conducting his pop-up choir during the festive season, meeting people, and spreading joy and cheer around London. But he carries deep secrets from his past that robbed him of his dream to become a concert pianist.
Can their hearts and souls be unlocked by music and moonlight and will they discover the healing power of love?
My Review of Moonlight On The Thames
Well-written and endearing characters
Dmitri and Nicola were both very endearing leads and I was rooting for them from their very first scenes together. They both had well-written backstories, compelling story arcs and complex personalities, and really completed each other in the best of ways. The book also had a nice supporting cast full of equally compelling characters, with my favorite being Dmitri’s friend Kolya. He simply stole the show in every scene he appeared.
Meet cute with a twist
Without spoiling anything, let me say that I absolutely loved Nicola and Dmitri’s first scene together. I was grinning the entire time and after that, I just could not put the book down. Definitely one of my favorite meet cutes. And this scene really sets the tone for the rest of the book.
A fairy tale romance
I loved that the relationship between Nicola and Dmitri developed gradually over the course of several chapters. The slower pace made for a more believable and heartfelt romance and it was a joy to see these characters slowly learn to know each other and fall in love. The book also incorporated elements from the Firebird folktale, which added a delightful pinch of fairy tale magic to the story.
The magic of music
Whether it’s classical music or Christmas carols, music accompanies our characters throughout the book, weaving another layer of enchantment through the story. I actually made lots of notes as I was reading the book to keep track of all the songs and musical pieces mentioned, only to realize upon reaching the acknowledgement section that the author had actually put together a Spotify playlist featuring all of the music mentioned in the book XD. If you enjoy music too, do check out the playlist.
Family and relationships
Family is a very prominent element of the story. We get to explore various family dynamics between different characters, and this adds a complexity to the story that serves to make the book more diverse in its narrative and makes for a more wholesome and heartfelt story.
Abuse and trauma
Both Nicola and Dmitri have been through very harrowing experiences in the past. The book intelligently explores themes such as abuse and trauma, and shows how our characters are able to heal and grow from their experiences after finding support in each other and the people around them.
All of the Christmassy goodness
Finally, if you love all things Christmassy, this book is perfect for you! When I’m on the hunt for new Christmas romances, I always check reviews to see just how prominent Christmas really is in the story. Well, if you love Christmas as much as Dmitri does, you will not be disappointed!
I gave Moonlight On The Thames 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. I definitely recommend you check it out. To find out more about the book, click here.
Interview with author Lauren Westwood
QaS: Classical music is a strong aspect of Moonlight. At the end of the book, you talk about how you studied music before becoming a writer and that you had always wanted to write a book with music at its core. You also mentioned that you play the piano. Was music a strong influence on the development of your story? Would you for instance sometimes listen to music or play the piano while you worked on the book?
LW: I studied oboe at university for a year, before deciding that music wasn’t for me as a career. I learned some basic piano at that time, and am now at about Grade 4. My daughters all play piano, and it’s been interesting watching them progress. In writing the book, I really enjoyed ‘selecting’ pieces for the book. For example, the opening piece, The Bells of Moscow, is not really a well-known piece on piano, but it is so amazingly dark that I felt it set exactly the right tone. I also had in mind the Chopin Nocturne No. 20 in C# Minor which reminds me of light on snow. I had lots more pieces in my head than I could include in the text. Many of them are on my Spotify playlist. I also did a lot of research on real concert pianists for the book. I think my own experience studying music was most useful for understanding the sense of isolation as well as the tedium of practicing for hours on end. The end result when you master a piece or perform is often worth it, but there is a lot of pain behind the final product (kind of like writing a book). I listened to music in the car to inspire me when I was writing the book, but I need absolute quiet when I’m at my desk actually writing!
QaS: I love how you incorporated elements from different incarnations of the Firebird fairy tale into the story. What is it about this fairy tale in particular that made you want to adapt it to your story?
LW: I have a book of Russian fairy tales that I bought after a trip to Russia in 1998, that has beautiful pictures of the Firebird. I also have fond memories of playing the Berceuse and Finale (which has a nice oboe solo) from Stravinsky’s the Firebird in high school orchestra. Like all fairy tales, the Firebird has lots of variations, so I decided to write my own adaption to parallel certain aspects of the story.
QaS: Do you have plans to feature more fairy tales and folktales in future novels?
LW: Yes! My latest book, My Mother’s Silence, which was just published by Bookouture, features Scottish folk tales mostly related to the Selkie, a half-woman, half-seal creature. The lead character, Skye Turner, is a folk singer, and I made up a lot of lyrics and music to ‘her’ songs. Not all of them made the final book, but I am planning to put them on my website. And if I can ever figure out Garage Band, I might actually record the music too. There is a link to a playlist to the music that inspired the book on my website.
QaS: Family is another strong element of this story. Throughout the book, we get to see various family dynamics, such as Nicola’s relationship with her stepfather, Dmitri’s strong bond with his late mother, the relationship between Nicola and her sister and Dmitri’s relationship with his own sister, among several others. In the context of the holiday season, do you agree that family is a cornerstone of Christmas?
LW: Definitely. It is wonderful when family can get together, and I am thankful each year when my mother is able to come over from America. I do, however, find that there is a heavy expectation related to Christmas and making it a magical, memorable occasion. I wish I was better at appreciating family during the rest of the year!
QaS: While Moonlight is very much an enchanting Christmas fairy tale romance, it also does not shy away from more harrowing topics such as abuse and trauma. The book puts emphasis on the need to speak up about these things and the importance of finding a support system among friends and family. What advice would you give to someone going through a similar situation?
LW: I think one of the themes of the book is that of light in the darkness, and that it is the secrets that eat away at us. When we somehow find the courage to speak out, this is when we can start to heal. That is obviously much too simplistic for many real life situations, but I think that what I would like people to take away is that it is important to try to seek help and not go through life bearing things alone. Other people have the power to hurt, but also the power to help.
QaS: I love that the book also portrayed diverse relationships, such as the inclusion of a very realistically written same-sex relationship. Do you have some book recommendations for readers who would like to read more romance novels that feature LGBTQ+ relationships?
LW: I am very much a supporter of inclusion in literature. I live a pretty insular middle class life, but I first began to notice issues of diversity (or lack of) in literature when I started doing school visits for my middle grade children’s books (published under name Laurel Remington). I went to a lot of schools where some of my biggest fans were kids of different races and creeds, and in fact, I felt a little embarrassed that my books weren’t very diverse. In my third kid’s book, The Polka Dot Shop, I changed this to add some more diverse characters. For romance novels, I think that the Romantic Novelist’s Association and other industry bodies are finally waking up to the issue of diversity, and are making a big push to promote it. That said, there still seems to be a big divide between novels with hunky men on the cover, and everything else. As far as recommendations go, I asked some author friends for recommendations and the following are some authors mentioned. YA: Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, L C Rosen, Simon James Green, Sophie Cameron. Adult: Liam Livings, Keira Andrews, Joe Heap, Fran Doricott, Claire Lydon, Louise Beech. Hope this is helpful.
QaS: Over the course of the story, Nicola, who is a little bit of a Grinch at the beginning of the book, eventually grows to fall in love again with Christmas. This is largely thanks to Dmitri, who loves Christmas and does his best throughout the book to share the magic of the holiday season with her. What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? What Christmas activities do you enjoy doing with your family?
LW: The story was loosely based originally on A Christmas Carol, with Nicola as Scrooge, and Dmitri as a ‘ghost’. Some readers don’t like Nicola because of her strong character, which I can understand, however, I must point out that there are so many books out there with ‘bad-boy millionaires’ etc – you know the type, I’m sure – where the rude, moody male character is considered alpha and hunky. I don’t like the idea that strong women are often vilified.
As for my family traditions, the eldest of my three kids is ten, so we are still doing the Santa Claus thing. One tradition I like is making a gingerbread house – we’ve made some elaborate ones like Frozen Ice Palaces, haunted houses, etc. over the years. My favourite thing is listening to Handel’s Messiah – the first time I listen to the opening few bars each year, I always have tears in my eyes.
QaS: And finally, what message would you like to give to the readers of Quills and Stardust this holiday season?
LW: I wish all the readers of Quills and Stardust a safe and happy holiday season full of love and music and laughter, and best wishes for whatever your dreams are in the new year.