I am thankful to St Martin’s Press for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review and for the opportunity to participate in the blog tour of its launch.
Although I am not a big fan of Christmas, I do enjoy some Christmas stories, movies, and songs (especially out of season, when one isn’t surrounded by it). The offer to read and review this novel reached me in the middle of a pretty hot summer and it felt like the perfect way to combat the heat. It worked, for sure, and although I had never read any of the other novels in the Eternity Springs series, I quickly became enamoured of the place and its inhabitants. I can reassure you, though, that the story goes beyond the Christmas theme, and there are wonderful scenes that take place in other seasons (the Fall, the Fourth of July…) and other locations apart from Colorado (Nashville, Florida, Australia, and the Caribbean). But I have to agree that the overall theme of the novel, and the spirit that suffuses it, is that of Christmas.
The novel, written in the third person, shares the alternating points of view (and locations) of a part-time resident of Eternity Springs, Devon Murphy (the son of Cam and Sarah Murphy, and brother to Michael, long-term residents of the town), and Jenna Stockton, a doctor specialising in Obstetrics and Gynaecology whom we meet in Nashville. While Devon seems to be a free-spirited man who loves the sea, boats, fishing, and women, but avoids commitment like the plague, Jenna is a model of responsibility. She is a single mom to Reilly, whom he adopted after looking after his mother, a young woman down on her luck who died when the boy was a toddler. She works hard and would do anything to ensure the safety and happiness of her son. But he has a Christmas wish that is out of her hands. Somehow, luck, magic, or the power of believing puts Reilly and Devon in contact, and in a roundabout way, the destinies of the three of them intersect in the wonderful town of Eternity Springs. Both main characters have secrets (as readers of the genre will probably expect): Devon has a traumatic past in the relationships department and has a lot in common with Reilly, and Jenna’s life is haunted by a stalker who seems intent on upping-the-ante and putting her and her son’s lives at risk.
I liked the characters and their relationship, that follows the well-known formula of will-they/won’t-they so successful in the romance genre (they both have very valid reasons for their hesitation, although if you get easily impatient, I must warn you that the book is quite long and the story develops over close to two years), and I liked many of the secondary characters as well (despite not having read other novels in the series, I got a fairly good sense of who they were, and I did not feel I could not fully enjoy the story because of lack of background information. And I wouldn’t mind getting to know more about many of them), particularly Celeste, her resort, and the wonderful idea of the Wishing Christmas Tree that gives the book its title. She has a touch of the magical and is the fairy godmother of the town and all the characters (and I’d love to meet her).
What I most enjoyed of the book was the town of Eternity Springs. I have read a number of novels that take place in charming towns (islands or other locations) where outsiders come and are quickly adopted by the community, becoming, in many cases for the first time, part of a big family. I always enjoy the fact that the town becomes a protagonist in its own right and when the novels works well, you feel as if you had spent time in a real place and look forward to future visits to the magical location. Eternity Springs is one of those towns, and to add to its attraction, it is located within a marvellous natural setting, and the writer does a good job of introducing us to parks, lakes, mountains, taking us on sledge rides, fishing, camping, and exploring the wonderful facilities and the traditions of the place. Although it has more than a touch of the fairy tale (everybody seems to be well-off, everybody is fairly happy, apart from the main protagonists, temporarily, and even the bad things that happen are pretty mild) and it can be a bit sugary at times, I think it would take a very cold heart to read the novel without falling for the magic of the town and its inhabitant. (And perhaps shed a tear or two. Good tears, though).
If I had to point out some things that readers might have issue with, one would be the mystery element. Jenna’s background story and her circumstances bear heavily upon her actions and how cautious she is when it comes to meeting new people and possible romances. Although the mystery element ramps up the tension and adds to the interest of the story, on occasions it seemed to be more of an afterthought and an opportunity to show Devon and his friends (all male) as a team capable of investigating and keeping everybody safe (and yes, some elements of the rescue fantasy and the knight in shining armour were clearly at work there). Although Jenna herself complains at times about being treated like a weak woman in need of protection —despite being a competent professional who had managed well by herself until that moment— this novel keeps to conventional and traditional gender roles rather than challenging them. I know that such plots and story-lines are typical of many romantic (wish-fulfilment) novels but might not suit all readers, especially those who prefer women in charge of their own destinies. As a reader of thrillers and mystery novels, I did not feel the mystery would have satisfied fans of the genre, as we are not given enough information to solve it (we get some details of the case but others are brushed over quickly and the resolution, when it arrives, is somewhat anticlimactic), and it takes a backseat to the romantic part of the story. Having read other books that mix both genres, and this being a romance with some mystery thrown in, rather than the other way round, I did not think its intended readers would be too disappointed.
There are many other subplots I have not mentioned, including dogs, pregnancies, health scares, fishing, older motherhood, baking, National Parks, love of nature, adoption, social media, stalking, counselling, vocation, tropical storms, family, traditions, Santa Claus, magic, traumatic relationships… There are wonderfully vivid and memorable scenes, the style of writing is easy and fluid, and the descriptions bring to life both the locations and the characters (without going overboard with the physical descriptions of the protagonists and love interests, although yes, don’t worry, they are attractive), and there are some sad moments, some funny ones, and many emotional and heart-warming scenes as well. There is plenty of sexual attraction and tension between Devon and Jenna, but there is no graphic sex and although there are some thrilling scenes, the doors stay firmly closed behind the protagonists when it comes to that side of things.
I know readers of romantic novels expect a happy ending. Well, you won’t be disappointed here. What’s more, I know some readers can get really upset if they feel there are elements in the story that are not fully solved and hate it when they feel that writers are using hooks and unresolved issues to keep them buying books in a series (not everybody feels the same, though). As I have said before, this novel can be read independently from the rest of the series, and all the plots and subplots of the story, even the secondary ones, are solved satisfactorily. So don’t hesitate to pick up this novel just because it’s part of a series. You will feel sad it has ended but it won’t keep you awake at night trying to guess what happened next. I kept imagining this novel as either a movie, or better even, a TV series, and would be surprised if some production company didn’t snatch it up. Done well it would be irresistible.
In sum, this is a novel that takes place in a magical location, in gorgeous settings, with a Christmas theme and a hopeful message, a romance that includes elements of mystery/thriller, with likeable characters that will make you feel home. I, for one, won’t hesitate to visit Eternity Springs again in the future.