By Nancy Naigle
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: October 18, 2016
Joy associates the town with her mother’s death, and she avoids it and the memories—especially Christmas memories--it evokes as much as possible. However, when it becomes clear that Aunt Ruby has a long rehabilitation period, one that requires her to so stay in a rehabilitative facility. Joy promises that she will remain in Crystal Falls and take on Ruby’s responsibilities until the septuagenarian is able to assume them again. Prepared to feed a variety of farm animals, Joy is unprepared for duties that include caring for eight-year-old Molly part time, preparing for the Crystal Christmas Cookie Crawl, an over-the-top decorating/cookie baking contest that is the town’s most cherished tradition, and accepting help from “Handy Andy.”
Ben Andrews, a hospital accountant with mad handyman skills and a love of all things Christmas, is “Handy Andy,” a nickname Ruby assigns him and that he tolerates only from her. Ben is Joy’s opposite in more ways than his enthusiasm for Christmas. He is part of a tightly knit family, linked to a large circle of friends, and deeply involved in his community. He has helped Ruby win the coveted golden trophy for seven Crystal Christmas Cookie Crawls, but he fears that this year will be the year they lose since Joy is determined to do it all without any help from him.
However, as they spend time together, Ben discovers the vulnerable woman behind Joy’s city girl façade, and Joy discovers that the ties of community, family, and romantic love she has avoided may be just what her heart truly desires.
This is a sweet, small-town Christmas story. It is predictable, but that is not a bad thing in a Christmas novel. Most readers of holiday romances are looking for comfort and sentiment, both of which Naigle provides along with humor and enough holiday trimmings to please the most Christmas-obsessed reader. Joy and Ben are likeable, and the secondary characters from Joy’s assistant to Molly and Aunt Ruby add to the appeal. The conclusion did seem abrupt and truncated to me. I suspect that other romance readers, fond as many of us are of rich HEA scenes and confirming epilogues, may also find the ending disappointing.