Until his sister was tragically killed in a car accident, Mark Nolan was a carefree bachelor with no plans to start a family anytime soon. Now he finds himself thrust into fatherhood as guardian to his sister's only child, a little girl named Holly. All Holly wants for Christmas is a mom, and Mark is at a loss as to how to provide one for her until he meets Maggie.
Maggie Conroy is the kind owner of a little toy shop in their small community of Friday Harbor, and she believes that everyone deserves a little magic in their lives. Holly hasn't spoken since the night her mother died, but after one visit to Maggie's shop, Mark is stunned to hear her speak again and it's all because of Maggie. After doing some soul searching, Mark is convinced that Maggie is the perfect woman to make their little family complete, but Maggie isn't so certain. After watching her husband taken from her slowly by the ravages of cancer, she doesn't think she has it in her to love like that again, but with Mark's gentle persuasion, Holly's charm and a little Christmas magic, anything can happen.
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor is a sweet, gentle love story that is a little different than Lisa Kleypas' other works but absolutely no less appealing. I love the small-town atmosphere of Friday Harbor. It seems like a warm, friendly, peaceful place, and Ms. Kleypas' descriptions of the setting make me want to go there for a visit. Friday Harbor, in some ways, reminds me of Virgin River from Robyn Carr's series of the same name. I think fans of Ms. Carr would like Friday Harbor and vice versa. Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor definitely has an emphasis on home and hearth as well as the importance of family and what exactly the word family means. It was such a lovely story, it even made me a little teary once or twice. Anyone who is expecting Ms. Kleypas' typical bone-melting love scenes should definitely think again. This book has only one, and it is extremely mild when compared to most of her other works. This didn't really matter to me though, because she created lots of tender romantic moments that made me believe in the slow-building love between Mark and Maggie. The two of them, Holly, and Mark's brothers also gradually meld into a family unit, which is something I think all the Nolan brothers desperately needed after their rocky upbringing and the loss of their only sister.
Mark was a really stand-up guy, who didn't hesitate to step in and raise his sister's child after her tragic death. Even though he initially knew nothing about parenting, he ended up growing into an amazing father who was fully committed to the responsibility of taking care of Holly. He lives with his brother Sam who helps out, but ultimately, Mark sees Holly as his charge. However, she becomes far more than just an obligation to him. He truly loves the little girl every bit as much as if she were his biological child, and is quite protective of her. Mark is a very practical man who's not given to flights of fancy, so when he meets the imaginative and free-spirited Maggie, he isn't quite sure what to make of her at first. It doesn't take long though before he's a goner for her, and once he realizes that Maggie is the woman for him, he won't let her hide away in her grief anymore. Mark was so patient with Maggie, giving her the space she needed and sweetly courting her until she came to terms with the idea of falling in love again.
Maggie suffered through the tragic loss of her husband to cancer, but through all her heartbreak, she has never lost her belief that a little "magic" can brighten anyone's day. In spite of that, she still doesn't quite believe that she can find true love twice in one lifetime. I adore Maggie's toy shop and the friendly manner in which she treats her customers. She is an excellent listener and has a natural affinity for intuitively knowing what each person she meets needs. I love the way that Maggie connected with Holly instantly and in an almost magical way. I think her background with a warm, loving family, which is something Mark never had, made her the perfect person to create a new family with Mark and Holly. However, the pain she went through while watching her husband slowly waste away makes her truly afraid to love again, as she views loving Mark and Holly as twice the risk. I really enjoyed the way that these two gradually snuck into Maggie's life when she least expected it and helped her learn to really live, and love, again.
For such a short novel, Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor had some memorable secondary characters. Holly is an adorable little girl who obviously just wants to be loved and have a family. Renfield is a poor ugly dog, who was nonetheless incredibly cute. He too just wants some love and a family to call his own. He added a new dimension to Mark and Maggie's characters, showing even further what big hearts they have. We also get an introduction to Mark's two brothers, Sam and Alex. Sam seems to be the cheery one who is always joking around and full of mischief, while Alex is more serious and brooding as he weathers through a marriage that's falling apart. These two become the heroes of the next two books in the series, Rainshadow Road and Dream Lake respectively. When the story opens, Mark has a girlfriend, Shelby, which is something I had mixed feelings about. Even though Mark describes their relationship as non-exclusive, Shelby seems nice at first glance and it's pretty obvious that she thinks things are headed toward commitment. I have to say that Lisa Kleypas surprised me, and ultimately, did a good with this. Even though Mark considers asking Shelby to marry him at one point, it's clear that he's only doing it for Holly's sake and isn't even certain if he's in love with her. Mark and Shelby definitely don't connect on the deep, passionate level that two people who are thinking of making a lifetime commitment should. Eventually, Ms. Kleypas also draws a strong distinction between Maggie and Shelby that makes Mark's choice crystal clear and made me fully accepting of this part of the story.
Normally, I only read Christmas stories in December, but since I won a copy of Rainshadow Road, the next book in the series, from GoodReads FirstReads, I needed to catch up quickly. It turned out to be just fine, because the story takes place over the course of nearly a year, and the holiday theme doesn't really even come into play until the last couple of chapters. This story was a nice mix of touching moments and just a little humor. When Maggie finally coaxed Holly to speak again, it brought a few tears to my eyes, while the Nolan brother's disastrous attempt at cooking Thanksgiving dinner was hilarious. Overall, Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor was a beautiful story that I would highly recommend at Christmastime or any time of the year. The Friday Harbor series is off to a great start for me, and I'm definitely looking forward to reading Sam's book soon.
You May Also Enjoy
Virgin River series by Robyn Carr
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook