Series: Briar Creek (Book 1)
Sleigh bells, snow, and second chances . . .
Briar Creek's quaint shop windows, cozy homes nestled in snow, and neighborly residents are what Christmas dreams are made of--for everyone except Grace Madison. She left her hometown years ago to pursue a writing career. But when her father's death leaves his bookstore empty, Grace must return to face why she fled Vermont in the first place: Luke Hastings, who still heats her up like a shot of smoky whiskey on a cold winter's night.
Grace is back, and Luke is worried. How much has she changed as a bestselling author in the big city? What memories will she stir up? And was the choice he made five years ago the biggest mistake of his life?
Now, with their past, present, and future rocking around the Christmas tree, it's time for Grace and Luke to face the music . . . and the mistletoe.
Good book. Grace had moved away from Briar Creek to New York City years earlier to pursue her dream of a writing career. In doing so, she left behind the man she loved. Now she's back in Briar Creek for the holidays, and to make some decisions about her future. But first she has to face her past. Luke never left their hometown. He's now the principal of the elementary school, and a widower. Having Grace back in town is stirring up unwelcome memories and emotions, and making him think about past choices.
Overall, I liked Grace. She's come back to Briar Creek for the first time in five years, except for her father's funeral a few months earlier. Her life is currently in turmoil. She has broken her engagement as she discovered that she and her fiance had different ideas for their future. She has been living with a friend, sleeping on the sofa, since then. Her writing career has stalled, as her last couple books were not well received. Now she has discovered that her father's beloved bookstore, a place with some of her best memories, has been closed since his death. All she needs to make things worse is to run into Luke, the man who broke her heart. Unfortunately, with Briar Creek being such a small town, she can't avoid him. She's been wondering if she made the right decision all those years ago, and being home just intensifies those feelings. Seeing Luke again shows her that her feelings for him never really went away, even though she tried to pretend that they did. Every time that they are together she's reminded of what she left behind. The attraction is still there, as are the good memories. I loved seeing her take her memories of the bookstore and look at reviving it, and then expanding it. It gave her a new focus for her life and a reason to stay in Briar Creek.
The reviving of the relationship between Grace and Luke was not easy. Both of them have hurt feelings from their breakup. Grace had been left feeling that Luke neither understood or supported her need to leave Briar Creek and experience the larger world. When she came back to see him a few months later, to see about reconciliation, he rejected her rather cruelly. Meanwhile, Luke had also felt that she didn't understand his need to stay in his hometown, where his life and career made him happy. He had forced himself to move on, and found a woman who wanted the same things he did. Grace's first visit back made him question his choices, which made him angry. He didn't believe that Grace would be happy back in town after giving up her dream, so his rejection of her was not very nice. He went on and married the other woman, who died a couple years later.
I was frustrated through a lot of the dealings between Grace and Luke. Grace was actually willing to see what might happen between them, after their first few encounters showed her that the feelings and attraction were still there. She didn't have any problem knowing that he had also loved his wife, feeling that there was room for both of them in his heart. But Luke would blow hot and cold. First he would be sweet and let the attraction take control, then he would suddenly pull back, feeling like he was betraying his late wife. It turns out that he is dealing with a boatload of guilt over the fact that he had still had some feelings for Grace when he married Helen. He felt that he had ruined their marriage, even though she had never known and had never given any indication that she was unhappy. Since her death he hasn't been able to let go of those feelings, to the point that he won't allow himself to move on. It all comes to a head when letting go of something from the past would make it possible for Grace to stay in Briar Creek, and Luke can't do it, in spite of his professed love for Grace. At that point I wanted to beat him with a blunt object and tell her she was better off without him. I liked that she had the strength of will to go after her dream in spite of him. Of course, he does eventually see the light, but it was almost too late.
Outside of the relationship with Luke, I loved seeing the changes that Grace went through. It was great to see her new appreciation of Briar Creek and what a big part of her life it really was. She also had to repair her relationships with her sisters, after her long absence and the death of their father. I liked seeing her reconnect with them. Her plans for the bookstore gave her a new appreciation for Anna, the chef and cafe owner. I also liked the way that she was there for her sister Jane, who was going through some issues of her own. I also liked the way that she formed a new bond with her mother, and how it helped them both through their grief. I'm looking forward to the next book.
Christmas, small-town romance, and second chances … sound like a recipe for a story I would like. Plus, the cover is so pretty. And who says I can’t start reading a Christmas story in September anyway? Right?
Unfortunately, while it is still pretty good, I thought the story moved rather too slowly for me to sympathize with Grace and Luke and their story to return back to love. My issue was mostly on the reasons of they broke up in the first place. I thought there was too much bitterness coming from both: Grace thought that Luke forgot about her too easily after she decided to leave their hometown by marrying another woman. Meanwhile, Luke was overcome with guilt because he never did love his ex-wife (who died two years previously) as much as he loved Grace. They had issues, and for me, it went on for a bit too long for me to be able to believe in their reunion.
Both Luke and Grace also lacked that sizzling chemistry which could make me root for them. Also, I wasn’t such a huge fan of Grace when she made that move towards Luke when he was already engaged and then angry at Luke for not taking the step. Although, I wasn’t a big fan of Luke either for being rather undecided with the whole thing. I guess both characters didn’t impress me much.
However, I did like the secondary characters in this, i.e. Grace’s siblings: The fiery Anna, who owned a café and seemed to have this vibe of a romance-history-never-told with Luke’s cousin, Mark. And the kind-hearted Jane, who in this book suffered from a failed marriage when she found out that her husband cheated on her. Those two seemed to have a more interesting story, and I would love to follow their journey to happily ever after.