Ugh. There were things that I really liked about this book. And then there were things that infuriated me. Let me start by saying that there wasn’t much Christmas in a book with it in the title. I was expecting this to feel like a holiday novel and it didn’t. Yes, one of the turning points in the relationship between Gray and Abby involves her love of Christmas and his disdain for it but I wanted more holiday romance and less romance novel tropes.
When we first meet Gray, he is burying his father and isn’t too torn up about it. We find out that their relationship wasn’t the best (to put it mildly) and Gray is determined to not become the bitter, mean man his father was. Spoiler alert: he is turning into his father. He has a teenage daughter, Becca, a result of his first marriage that ended in disaster, yet we don’t hear much from or about her for a while. He has two brothers who share the land he lives on but both don’t care about keeping it and are pressuring Gray to sell. The relationship between the brothers is tumultuous and a direct result of their upbringing with their horrible father and is a reason that Gray has become more and more introverted.
Abby is a local girl who has grown up living next door to Gray and has harbored a secret crush on him from the time they were kids. She has had to watch him marry another woman, have a child, and ultimately be betrayed by his first wife. She thinks her crush will remain unrequited until Gray approaches her with a marriage proposal despite never noticing her before and barely exchanging more than a handful of words with her before this. She is rightfully skeptical but with some advice doled out by her two best friends and the grandmother who raised her, she agrees to his proposal.
The plot to this book sounded very far-fetched when I read the synopsis but I found myself believing the decisions the characters made as I began to read. Crews does a good job of providing enough back story to make the decisions and actions of Gray and Abby believable in the context of the story. However, there were several things about each character that I found ridiculous. First off, we are supposed to believe that Abby is a 30 year old virgin (an overused romance novel plot device) because she sees herself as ugly and plain and wasted her one opportunity to date back in high school. Please. I would have appreciated this characterization more if Gray hasn’t been so excited to find out she was a virgin; as though he had won some sort of prize by picking the only virgin in town to be his wife. While Crews gives us a reason for Abby’s low self-esteem (an emotionally abusive mother) I just didn’t like this. Gray on the other hand has severe trust issues brought on by his emotionally abusive father and a cheating wife that made him the talk of the small town. My issue was that his feelings about Abby, Becca, and his family seemed to happen suddenly and after everyone in his life should have rightfully given up on him. He is not a nice man and the fact that Abby decides to stay with him in spite of this was infuriating. Maybe I am expecting too much from a romance novel but I have a hard time believing that her love for him changed him overnight. There were also too many scenes/moments of Gray being horrified at the thought of turning into his father only to fail to realize that he is turning into his father.
This book felt more like a general fiction novel than a romance novel as there were very few love scenes. It read more like a family drama and I was honestly more interested in that aspect of the novel than the love story. I liked the writing enough that I would read more from this author but I just found this one to be unbelievable.