A Tale of Two Christmas Letters
A Tale of Two Christmas Letters is a conventional, traditional, competent and entertaining romance about two co-workers who fall in love thanks to a twist of fate.
Rehab nurse Bess Monroe has been working with handsome surgeon Jack McCabe for years; they’re good friends, and she is used to his teasing. But when two letters she’d written to her nursing school friends end up in his hands, he discovers a little bit more about her than he thought he wanted to know.
Bess’ first letter was a cheerful update to her fellow nursing school graduates, the second, a vent about the money pit that is her new house and broken-down truck, neither of which are hospitable to the puppy she’s always wanted to adopt. At thirty-two, single and getting older, she had planned on skipping the letter but at the encouragement of her twin wrote both. When she emptied out her draft folder, the letters were sent to her friends – who have promptly spread it everywhere.
The letter wakes Jack up to Bess’ vulnerability. He’d always seen her as a little sister figure, so this is all brand new to him. When her missive also reveals she has a desperate crush on a man who is in love with someone else and ‘will never love her back’, he becomes even more curious about her romantic status. Bess has had three previous serious relationships, and all have gone up in smoke, including an engagement to a man who left her for another woman.
But romance for Jack, too, is impossible. His wife, Gayle, passed away in childbirth three years earlier, just days after the birth of their last child, and he’s just now getting ready to pitch himself onto the singles market. Raising three daughters, aged between six and three by himself (with the help of his unflappable housekeeper) keeps him busy – and he’s about to become even busier when he picks up a Christmas puppy for his daughters. All the while, he blames himself for not getting a vasectomy after they had their second child, because his wife’s third pregnancy led to placenta previa, and her untimely death.
Bess and Jack shouldn’t be attracted to one another, shouldn’t be daring the fates by embarking on a dating relationship which could ruin both their professional and personal lives. But one kiss leads to more, and the more time Bess spends with Jack’s family the more likely their union feels. But Bess wants a big family, and Jack had a vasectomy after his wife died – and has vowed to never fall in love again. Can anything between them work out in the long term?
You know what a Christmas-set Harlequin means; a little bit of sugary sap, a lot of cutesy kid antics, tiny puppy dogs, and realistically-grounded romantic angst. A Tale of Two Christmas Letters gives the reader all of that and more, right down to more kids.
Bess and Jack are perfectly, plausibly nice people who have had some past hurts and have to learn to remove the roadblocks lying between themselves and happiness. They’re easy to enjoy and root for.
The kids are..well, saccharine, but sometimes realistically kid-like. And I truly liked Jack’s mother, who injects no-nonsense savoir-faire into the atmosphere just when it’s needed.
I have to give the author extra credit for keeping Jack’s dead wife a credible presence in the book and the fact that his trauma over her loss feels realistic. I did wish that the kids had had more questions about her, though, more reasons to push back against Jack and Bess’ relationship.
But on the opposite end of the coin A Tale of Two Christmas Letters suffers from severe info-dumping. Some things shouldn’t be delivered in dialogue; the tragic story about how the main character lost his first wife, complete with mental asides from the listening character about how the condition works, reads awkwardly. And no editor should’ve approved a child cheerfully suggesting they name their dog after their dead mother, an act that’s weird even for a kid that doesn’t remember her. And ugh! at our being fed another ‘I’m in my thirties and I want to have babies and a marriage but oh no, I’m THIRTY!’ heroine, especially in this day and age.
Otherwise, A Tale of Two Christmas Letters is a fine, easygoing romance that should serve as a solid kick-off for the reader’s holiday season.
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