What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Christina Forrester is starting over. After a financial scandal sent her ex-husband to prison, she’s left raising her young son without any of the comforts of their old life. Budgets, coupons, lawn care—you name it, she’s learning to do it all on her own. Well, almost on her own—she’d be lost without Gail Broughton, the kind widow across the street. But when Gail’s son comes home, Christina’s vow to never trust a man again is put to the test.
Will Broughton left town because he was tired of being “that poor man” who lost his wife and unborn child in a tragic accident. But years have passed and, with his dad gone and his mom alone, it’s time to go home. Only his mother’s not alone. She’s taken Christina under her wing, and the beautiful and determined single mother awakens something in Will he thought was buried forever.
As Will and Christina are forced to spend more time together, feelings that are more than neighborly grow between them. And with Christmas coming and a child filling both houses with holiday cheer, it becomes nearly impossible not to embrace the joy—and the love—in their lives.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): Oh, man! I needed tissues for this book. Of course it has a HEA (it’s a romance after all) but Will has been through the wringer after losing his wife and their unborn daughter shortly before Christmas a few years before the story begins. He’s stayed away from his hometown at Christmas since then but, after also losing his dad suddenly six months before, he feels he needs to come home to stay and make sure his mother is okay. When he’s doing things like going through his dead wife’s hope chest – well, let’s just say I had convenient dust in my eyes.
While he’s coping with the reminders of the season and of being home, he also meets Christina Forrester and her son, Nathaniel, who have rented the house across the road from Will’s mother and who have become pseudo-family to her. Will is initially suspicious of Christina but this changes very quickly because it’s obvious that Christina is not trying to gull anyone and, Will is not an asshole. Mr. Forrester is in jail for fraud and embezzlement and Christina is learning to live a life without the privileges of extreme wealth. Little things, like changing the battery on a smoke detector are new issues for her to face. I say issue because it’s a thing she hasn’t done before, something she looks up online but not something she ever viewed as insurmountable or that she didn’t feel she could manage on her own. The book avoided making her a poor little rich girl type – I think this was because Christina recognised her previous privilege and she paired that recognition with a determination to learn and to be self-sufficient.
Similarly, I think the story was saved from being too saccharin by the sheer down-to-earth-ness of the characters. They felt realistic to me. Yes, there was an element of “Lifetime movie” to the novella, but I think it stuck close to the line rather than going over it. People who pick this book up, are likely to want a story which will tug the heartstrings and make them go “awwww” at the end – and that’s what they’ll get, without it being (in my opinion) too cheesy.
Even though Christina used to be rich, the story is about an ordinary lower middle class family. Will has worked lots of jobs and doesn’t have a college degree. Christina is working at the QuickStop cafe and money is something neither of them have buckets of. It felt very accessible and ordinary (in an admittedly white bread way) and I think that’s part of what made it not too soapy for me.
Nathaniel was probably the best behaved 7 year old boy I’ve come across in a while but I think this is at least partially explained by the “you and me against the world” vibe he and Christina had going on.
Essentially the conflict between Will and Christina is about whether Will is ready and/or willing to move forward with his life and let himself love again. It’s both simple and complex and it fit well within the novella length. I thought the epilogue was a nice touch to show the HEA was embedded but I suppose some will see it as too much. After all Will and Christina had been through, I was glad to see them get their share of happy so I didn’t mind it.