A Family Christmas
A Family Christmas is one of the better series romances I’ve read this year. You won’t find spies, cowboys, or babies here, though there is a child, and it’s set in a small town. It’s not glamorous or fast-paced, but it fits the bill if you’re looking for romance between two ordinary people.
Rose Robbin came home to her small town in north Michigan to care for her ailing mother, but she’s not thrilled to be back. She left at the end of high school when she gave birth to her son – and subsequently gave him up for adoption. She feels like she’s still trying to get away from her bad reputation and her unseemly, “wrong side of the tracks” family. She’s got a demanding mother and a crappy job at a convenience store, and her one joy in life is watching high school basketball practices, where she catches occasional glimpses of the son she had to give up. She brings along her sketch pad as something of a cover, and watches her son while she draws nature sketches.
Coach Evan Grant is suspicious the first time he sees Rose. He can’t figure out why she’s hanging around his practices, and though he’s new in town he’s heard something about Rose’s old reputation. Still, when Rose bonds with his daughter Lucy, he is quick to take advantage of the situation. Lucy has been withdrawn since her mother’s death, and Rose’s quick art lesson is the first activity that truly engages her. Evan arranges for Rose to teach Lucy art lessons, and though Rose is reluctant at first, she agrees. Rose is attracted to Evan, but she’s never been very good with men, and she’s hyper-conscious of her reputation. She can’t help worrying what people will say if they see her with the town’s coach. Evan couldn’t care less what people think about him. He finds Rose beautiful, if a little awkward and hard to reach. And he really likes the way she befriends Lucy.
What follows is a slow courtship. If you’re looking for a couple who hop into bed after the first glance, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Rose is very timid because of her past, and Evan really coaxes her along as the relationship progresses. He’s willing to give Rose the time that she needs to feel comfortable – and it really does take her awhile. The problems in her past go beyond a few rolls in the hay and an unwanted pregnancy. Her desire to know her child is complicated by other factors, and Evan helps her along with that as he becomes more involved in her life.
Evan is an all around nice guy who seems fairly average, but nonetheless makes a worthy hero. I couldn’t help enjoying his very ordinariness and the fact that he wasn’t the town sheriff, or firefighter, or cowboy drifter type. He actually seemed like a great guy you’d like to know – and exactly the type of man that Rose could fall in love with. I think it was his patience with Rose that won me over; it really made for a sweet story.
I liked Rose as well, but I had some problems with her character. The reason for her reticence around men (which is something of a spoiler) made a lot of sense to me, but her general attitude about her reputation was a little harder to believe. She really seems to buy into her image as the unworthy town tramp. It’s an attitude that seems more in step with the 1950s than present time. As far as most of the people in her town know, she just slept around a little – no one really knows about the birth of her son. I couldn’t quite get their disdain, or Rose’s shame. Even in small towns, people have sex in high school, and surely Rose was not the only one who had a couple of partners. She was hardly the town bicycle. But even though I had this quibble, I enjoyed watching Rose slowly blossom and come into her own with Evan’s attention and love.
The plot involving Evan’s daughter Lucy sounds a little clichéd, but it’s actually handled fairly well. Evan’s marriage to Lucy’s mom was not all that happy, and they were actually in the process of divorcing when she found out that she was terminally ill (and came back to spend her last months with her daughter). Lucy has some issues, but she doesn’t come across as the adorable-but-needy-moppet so frequently seen in romance. Her relationship with Rose is both interesting and believable; in many ways, they end up helping each other. Lucy really is more than just a plot device who shows up for comic relief and heartfelt moments. She’s even as inconvenient as a real child – when Evan and Rose first make love, it’s because Lucy has a babysitter.
Though this book is called A Family Christmas, it’s really not about Christmas per se. It’s a slow-paced romance that takes place over several months, and Christmas is just one small part of that. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the slow pace of it all; somehow it just added to the believability of the story. Not everyone who meets their soul mate hops right into bed (or heads straight to the altar). If you’re a little tired of whirlwind romances and sexy millionaires, you might just give this one a try.