Sugar Pine Trail
By RaeAnne Thayne
Publisher: Harlequin / HQN
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Reviewed by Janga
Reviewed by Janga
Julia Winston has always lived a quiet life. Adopted by an older couple, she grew up in an antique-filled historic home without even a dog to add a bit of disorder to her structured life. Except for her years away at college, Julia has lived in the huge Victorian house almost since birth. Immediately upon completing her training, she accepted her current job as a Haven Point librarian. With her mother’s death four months ago, Julia is alone except for her mother’s cats, Empress, Tabitha, and Audrey Hepburn, and she is finding the house big and lonely. When her parents were still alive, she turned the upstairs into a separate, large apartment to allow her a degree of independence. Her plan is to rent the apartment to help provide funds for the upkeep of her home. She did not expect her first tenant to be Jamie Caine, a good-looking charmer who has set all the female hearts in Haven Point aflutter, including Julia’s.
After leaving the Air Force, Jamie Caine accepted a job with the company his brother Aiden founded. Jamie is lead pilot for Caine Tech’s jet fleet. Caught between an expired apartment lease and a newly purchased condo that is unready for occupancy and reluctant to intrude on Aiden and his family, he needs a temporary home. His sister-in-law Eliza persuades her friend Julia to rent him the first floor of Winston House. Jamie, one of the younger members of the large, boisterous Caine clan, has led a life vastly different from Julia’s. Caine family gatherings are noisy, chaotic, and ever increasing in number as spouses and progeny are added. Jamie’s military career has led him around the world, and his current job, although based in Haven Point, keeps Jaimie traveling. Outgoing and lighthearted, at least superficially, Jamie is at first taken aback by his reserved landlady. She is not at all his type.
When Julia discovers two young brothers, eight-year-old Clinton and six-year-old Davy living alone, she begs social worker Wyn Bailey Emmett (Riverbend Road) to let her foster the boys until their mother or another relative is located. Since Julia’s offer keeps the boys together and in Haven Point with their friends and school, the overburdened Wyn pulls strings to make the placement possible. As Julia makes a home for the boys, Jamie, child-savvy from his brood of nieces and nephews, is drawn into the mix. The four quickly form a kind of family, enjoying meals and activities together and creating a strong bond of affection. Julia and Jamie develop an easy friendship complicated by a growing attraction. But Jamie’s reputation as a playboy and Julia’s conviction that she is not the kind of woman to hold his interest leave their relationship vulnerable when the family proves temporary. Can Julia believe in herself and in the happily-ever-after Jamie promises, or will Christmas in Winston House be a blue one for a solitary Julia?
RaeAnne Thayne introduced her Haven Point series with a book that linked her beloved Hope’s Crossing series with the new one and gave readers a Caine family Christmas with the geeky Aiden as hero. Almost three years later, her seventh Haven Point novel repeats that winning combination with the last Caine bachelor as the hero. I’m a huge Thayne fan generally, I particularly love her Christmas books, and I number the Caines among my favorite fictional families. It should then come as no surprise that I loved this book.
Julia’s reserve covers a great capacity for tenderness, and Jamie’s charm disguises a heavy burden of guilt. They are both sympathetic characters with layers that render them more complex than even family and friends realize. Clinton and Davy are endearing but believable kids whose story ends with a bittersweet twist that I was not expecting. Add Haven Point’s heartwarming appeal, appearances by familiar characters from the earlier books in the series, and the Caine family gathered en masse for another Christmas with Aiden and Eliza, and you have one of my top three Christmas books of 2017.