The Christmas He Loved Her
My tolerance for treacle tends to be low, so it probably surprises no one when I say that small-town contemporaries tend to be a mixed bag for me. Happily for me, The Christmas He Loved Her ended up being both a wonderful read and something beyond the ordinary.
In terms of plotting, it’s probably best to get one thing out of the way at the outset. If the idea of a widow falling in love with her late husband’s brother doesn’t work for you, this probably isn’t your book. However, if you feel open to the idea of our heroine falling for the twin brother of her late, beloved husband, you might want to pick this one up.
Raine Edwards lost her husband, Jesse, in Afghanistan and her life has been somewhat of a shambles ever since. At one point, we find out that she has lost her job and one can readily see that even over a year later, Raine’s life consists more of existing than true living. She muddles through her days at home with her puppy, the one bright spot in her life. And then Jake Edwards comes back to town.
Jake left Crystal Lake, Michigan not long after his brother’s death and his return stirs up all kinds of conflict. It’s obvious that Jake has had trouble coming to terms with his brother’s death, and his absence hasn’t helped things. After all, he now has to face his parents and Raine, the people who needed him most when he left. Raine doesn’t exactly fall over herself to welcome Jake home, and given the circumstances, it’s certainly a believable reaction. In some ways, this story deals as much with Jake coming to terms with Jesse’s death and rebuilding connections with his family as it does with Jake and Raine finding their way to each other. Both plots involve some strongly written, emotional scenes, including a beautiful scene between Jake and his father that is nearly pitch perfect.
The tone really made this story for me. The author avoids giving us too much sweetness, light and cutesy scenes but also veers away from turning the book into a complete angstfest. There’s just enough darker emotion to give readers a view into the heartbreak Jake and Raine have suffered but there’s humor, warmth, and a sense of community present as well. In a way, that made this book one of the best kinds of small-town romance because Stone convinced me that Raine and Jake had major struggles but they also had a safe place to work them out. And can I just say that I’m so glad they didn’t have a well-meaning cast of quirky, well-meaning neighbors popping up all over the place to “help” them?
For the most part, The Christmas He Loved Her really worked for me. The obvious set-up for the sequel to this book gets mixed reviews from me since it helped fuel the conflict between the main couple in this book but also went a bit over the top. A few loose ends could have used more tying up as well, though nothing too egregious there. And as I mention above, some folks may have issues with the hero’s brother having been married to the heroine, though I think the author does a good job of making sure readers don’t see the brothers as interchangeable replacements for one another.
Small-town living can definitely have a sweet, romantic side, but novels that read like 300 page Hallmark cards don’t really do it for me. Fortunately for all of us, Juliana Stone goes far beyond that and delivers a romance with warmth and real depth to it. If you’re looking to start your Christmas romance reading, this is certainly one to pick up.