Marcie Sullivan's Marine husband, Bobby, came back from Iraq with severe brain and spinal cord injuries from which he never recovered. Marcie spent three years nursing him, until he finally passed away one year ago at Christmastime. Marcie treasured every minute she had with Bobby and had thought she had made peace and said her goodbyes long before his death, but finds that she is still having trouble moving on with her life. Bobby's best friend and commanding officer, Ian Buchanan, had disappeared from their lives not long after he returned from his tour of duty, and something about that doesn't sit well with Marcie. She feels strangely compelled to find him if for no other reason than to give him some of Bobby's things and to ask a few questions. She stubbornly sets out on her mission, refusing to give up and go home no matter what.
Ian Buchanan risked his life to carry Bobby's lifeless body to safety, but after seeing his best friend so severely incapacitated, it is a decision that still haunts him. Feeling that no one understood him and needing to find solace and rest, Ian left town. He ended up in a primitive mountain cabin, peacefully and contently surviving, but not really living until Marcie shows up at his door. He tries to scare her away, but the little spitfire isn't easily daunted. When a snowstorm blows in and Marcie nearly freezes to death and then catches the flu on top of it all, Ian can't resist taking care of her. After spending a couple of weeks in the close quarters of his little cabin, Ian has to admit that living with Marcie has made him realize how lonely he's actually been. He's also starting to have feelings for his best friend's widow, but can they ever find a way to intertwine their very different lives to truly become a couple?
It's so nice to be back in Virgin River. This is such a great little town to be in at any time of the year, but especially as Christmastime. Seeing how the townspeople come together, and the beautiful Christmas tree that they decorated to honor those who've served in the military really put me in the Christmas spirit. That wonderful tree topper that was a beacon to light the way home made my heart clench. As always, the door of Jack's bar is perpetually open, offering hospitality to the newcomers. While some things remain the same, the one thing that was different about A Virgin River Christmas compared to the other Virgin River books is that the focus stays squarely on the hero and heroine without all the side plots we normally have. There are some great moments with Jack and Mel (Virgin River), Preacher and Paige (Shelter Mountain), and Mike and Brie (Whispering Rock). Even Paul and Vanessa (Second Chance Pass) put in a quick appearance, but in every one of these scenes, Ian and/or Marcie somehow play a part too, and the focus never strayed away from their point of view which was a nice change of pace.
Marcie is a stubborn, vivacious woman who weathered her husband's prolonged invalid status and subsequent death with a great deal of grace and dignity. She was very lucky to have her family and friends to support and love both her and Bobby through that difficult time, and she never wavered in her appreciation for Ian saving Bobby's life. After Bobby finally passed, Marcie felt indebted to Ian, wanting to give him some things to say "thank you," but also needing to know why he had left the Marines and then disappeared, not answering any of her letters. I really admired Marcie's tenacity in hunting Ian down, even though it took her last dime and her sister thought she was crazy for doing it. On the surface it seemed that Ian had checked out on life and abandoned everyone, but Marcie was steadfast in her belief that Ian was a good man who must have some pretty big demons to drive him into hiding like that. Marcie was obviously a woman who cared very much about people in general and Ian in particular, and it was that devotion which helped Ian take a few steps back into the land of the living. With Marcie being such a strong woman, I was a little disappointed that she allowed her big sister to boss her into leaving Ian when there was still unfinished business between them, but at least she came to her senses quickly. I also felt somewhat let down that she was prepared to leave town when everything was settled between them, and yet had no solid plan to see Ian again even though she had fallen in love with him. Marcie is the kind of woman I would have expected to fight for that love even though there were still things to work out, but in the end, it was more circumstances that brought them back together than any active role on her part.
Ian is a man who went away to find some peace after a difficult time in his life. He had certainly found that and more in his secluded but primitive mountain-top cabin. It was really more of a case of everyone else failing him rather than him checking out on life. Ian has actually been rather content with his minimalistic lifestyle and surviving quite nicely, but not truly living. He doesn't even realize it until a little red-headed spitfire comes to his door. In spite of all the growling animal noises he's fond of producing to scare people away, Ian is definitely a man whose bark is worse than his bite. Underneath it all he's really quite sweet and kindhearted, a man who's full of surprises that I won't mention here, because it's so much more fun to find out for oneself. I loved how Ian saved Marcie from nearly freezing to death and then tenderly cared for her when she got sick with the flu as a result. The way he offered to wash her hair was really romantic. Marcie slowly wiggles her way into Ian's heart by simply making him feel loved and cared about, something he hadn't experienced in a long time. It was really nice to see how Ian grows throughout the story and come to the realization that, on some level, he misses having relationships in his life. The comradeship Ian feels with Jack and the gang when he finally comes out of hiding was very heartfelt.
I really enjoyed the interactions between Ian and Marcie, but was rather disappointed that the actual romance wasn't stronger. Living together for several days in a tiny one-room cabin, they glimpsed each other in various states of undress, and yet, in all honesty, I thought the sexual tension was pretty minimal. I really liked the way that Ian took such good care of Marcie, but ultimately, they were only acting like really good friends for over half of the book. There wasn't truly even a hint of them wanting to hug or kiss or them feeling anything for each other beyond friendship, so when things finally did heat up it seemed rather abrupt to me. Even then, they were still treating what was happening between them as a casual fling with no commitments, which to my way of thinking, created a certain distance in their relationship. In the end, Ian and Marcie finally came together on the same page and got their "I love yous" out, but ultimately, it was more of an HFN than an HEA, which didn't fully satisfy me. I do hope that we might see more of them in future books of the series, so that I can be more certain how things turn out for them.
Other than the romance being on the weak side, the only other thing that bugs me a little about the Virgin River series in general is that Robyn Carr isn't quite as good at writing introverted characters as some other authors I've read. Being an introvert myself, I think I can say with some degree of authority that the way these characters behave doesn't always quite ring true. It's more a case of her simply saying that they're shy rather than actually showing it through their actions and behavior. Even if a character is described as being more reticent in earlier books of the series, once they gets to their own book and beyond, they suddenly become very talkative which just doesn't work well for me.
Otherwise, I really enjoyed A Virgin River Christmas, and thought that it was a very heartwarming holiday story. When Ian finally allowed Marcie to tell him about Bobby it was a very touching scene, and when Marcie had her flashback to Bobby's death, it brought tears to my eyes. There were some lighthearted moments to balance out the sadness too. Not to mention, the closeness and warmth of the Virgin River community is enough to melt the heart of Scrooge himself. Each time I read one of these books, I marvel at how real this little town seems. These characters have really gotten to me in a way that makes me feel like they actually exist out there somewhere, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store for them next.
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