Return to Christmas
Anne Stuart’s Return to Christmas is startlingly sentimental for the author while still–for better and worst–having the hallmarks of her work. I enjoyed it but didn’t love it.
It’s December in 2020 (this is a Covid free tale) and Madison Simcoe is furious. Yet another asshat at work has groped her which means she’ll probably need to quit her job. It’s almost Christmas and New York is cold, impersonal, and, for Madison who has no living family, no real friends, and a shitty married lover, a lonely place. Nothing she can think of will displace her gloomy rage, nothing, that is, but a trip to Macy’s.
She arrives at the storied store and encounters a Santa with warm and wise and knowing eyes who, after she gives him twenty bucks, tells her “Macy’s will have the answer.” She’s shaken–somehow for the first time in months, in years, she felt loved and cared for. She turns away from him, pushes her way through the heavy doors of the store, and finds herself in what she first thinks is a holiday event–Macy’s must be decorated like the 50s! Slowly, over the next hours, however, Madison realizes that somehow, impossibly, she has been thrown back in time, specifically to 1947.
Not only is she trapped in 1947, she’s trapped in Macy’s–the interior doors are locked to her. Fortunately, she’s met a tall, blonde, gorgeous, glowering man–John Larson–a WWII vet with PTSD who is responsible for much of the design of the store’s displays. John, for reasons I never really quite bought, lives in Macy’s and since Madison–whom John renames Mollie–has nowhere to go, she and John become uneasy storemates.
John, a gruff, often rude hero who of course has a heart of gold, doesn’t know what to do with the crazy woman who has moved into his store. Her story of being from the future is either a lie or a sign of severe mental illness. But, she’s hot as hell and he lives to protect women from the bad men working at Macy’s–there are two and one of them is truly awful–so he makes Madison his responsibility.
For her part, once she has settled into her new life–she works for John, sleeps in the employee lounge, makes a spunky best friend (Rosa), and tries to decide if she likes the late 40s better than the future–Madison spends most of her time thinking about John. You see Madison, like every Stuart heroine ever, hasn’t had much luck with men. Yes, she’s slept with lots–she is oddly proud of this, oddly because she didn’t really enjoy the sex–but (rolls eyes) she’s never met a man who could love, let alone have an easy orgasm with. John’s a surly jerk–or so she tells him and the reader far too many times–but she wants to kiss him even though, like every Stuart heroine ever, she’s never liked doing so before. The two have chemistry–Stuart writes attraction better than most–but it’s diffused by their often silly stubbornness.
Madison is, actually, kind of a brat. John is too good to be true. The time travel piece of the story doesn’t make much sense. And unlike From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the concept of living in a famous place after hours isn’t sensibly limned. Return to Christmas doesn’t hold a Christmas candle to Stuart’s best–Black Ice or Reckless. Still, it’s a fun read complete with a zinger of an epilogue. If you’re a Stuart fan, someone who loves old holiday films, and/or Macy’s devotee, you’ll enjoy this book. I know I did.