Michael Kavanaugh is a Navy fighter pilot on active duty in the Persian Gulf, who had received a "Dear John" letter from his fiancee six months earlier. Due to unresolved issues surrounding the accidental death of his father, Michael feels an irrational need to fulfill all his commitments no matter what, and even though he knew that their relationship had been doomed, he can't seem to help feeling a sense of failure over the breakup. Also, since his father's death, Michael's family has not been close, so when it looks like he will be spending the holidays alone, Michael's best friend and fellow pilot, Nicky York, steps in, inviting him to join the York family's celebration in their tiny hometown of Christmas, Michigan. When they arrive in town, Michael decides to do a little last-minute Christmas shopping, and finds himself enchanted by a beautiful shopper he encounters in two different stores. Since Christmas is such a small town, he hopes to perhaps see her again during his week-long visit, but imagine his surprise when he arrives at Nicky's house to discover that the woman is none other than Nicky's older sister, Meredith.
Meredith York broke up with her long-time, live-in boyfriend about nine months earlier, and when her father had a heart attack, she decided to move back home to run the family's Christmas tree farm. A one-night stand with her ex a few months later, led to an unexpected pregnancy, but he wants nothing to do with kids. Merry made a deal with him and is determined to raise the baby on her own, but lately has been thinking that it would be very nice for her baby to have a father. When she and Michael meet, they are immediately attracted to one another, but when Michael finds out she's pregnant, he doesn't feel right just pursuing a little casual fun. Even though Merry and her impending bundle of joy are both growing on him, Michael isn't sure that a commitment of this magnitude is something he can do after only knowing Merry for a week, but the sights and sounds of the holiday season all come together in a magical way to make them both believe that perhaps what seems impossible could actually happen.
A Town Called Christmas is a sweet, easy holiday read that celebrates not only romance, but the warmth and simplicity of hearth and home with a family Christmas in small town America. I really liked the close-knit ties of the York clan, and that even though they didn't exactly approve of Merry's out-of-wedlock pregnancy, they were nonetheless very supportive. I also enjoyed their family-owned Christmas tree farm and snack bar/gift shop that was a very important part of the little town of Christmas, Michigan (which according to the author's note at the beginning of the story, is a town that actually exists). The Christmas parade and festivities were cute and reminiscent of ones I've seen before in my days as a small-town girl. I could also appreciate the big family gathering on Christmas day which again was very much like ones that I attended in my youth and occasionally as an adult. All these elements really came together to give the story a very festive holiday feel.
The hero and heroine were both likable characters, with Mike as an active-duty Navy fighter pilot stationed in the Persian Gulf (presumably for the Iraq war, though that isn't specifically stated), and Merry as an expectant single mother who had moved back home to manage her family's business after her father's heart-attack. While I liked Mike and Merry both individually and as a couple, what didn't really work for me was the short time frame of the initiation of their relationship which was only one week. Readers are supposed to believe that this was love at first sight, and even though the author gave the story a nice infusion of emotions which is a must in making these types of stories believable to me, I still couldn't quite buy it. After much contemplation, I realized that during their short week together, Mike and Merry's conversations and interactions rarely went to a deep personal level. In fact, Merry didn't even officially tell Mike who the father of her baby was until he was nearly ready to leave town, and in all honesty, the circumstances of the pregnancy were a little weak to begin with, in my opinion. Also, Mike's over-active sense of commitment to certain people, born out of his father's accidental death years before, wasn't explored fully enough for me to completely understand him. Because Mike and Merry both initially felt that a long-term relationship would be impossible, due to a need to come to terms with their past mistakes, as well as present circumstances (the baby and his military service), it seemed that they, for the most part, held each other at arms length instead of totally giving into their feelings. Even after their correspondence during his six-month deployment following Christmas (an entire chapter is devoted to their letters and emails to one another) and subsequent reunion, I still didn't fully and completely feel their commitment to and love for one another.
In spite of Mike and Merry's relationship not being quite there for me, this was still a pleasant read. I did feel something between them, even if it wasn't quite enough to thoroughly satisfy me. There were also several secondary romances to enjoy: Merry's brother and Mike's best friend, Nicky and his wife, Shannon, who were high-school sweethearts, now married, and still hopelessly in love; Merry and Nicky's younger sister, Noelle, and her long-time boyfriend, Jeff; Merry's best friend, Jackie, and the town's geeky author of romance and mystery books, Oliver. These were all cute and likable romances in themselves, and I don't think I've ever read a novel that had so many different side romances going on at one time. These characters and many others gave A Town Called Christmas an extensive and varied supporting cast. Even though the story was very simple and I can't quite say it wowed me, it did give me a festive dose of Christmas cheer. Any reader who is looking to lift their spirits with a light, family-centric tale this holiday season would likely find A Town Called Christmas with it's warm, cozy atmosphere to be an agreeable way to spend a few reading hours. This was my first read by Carrie Alexander, but it has left me open to perhaps trying some of her other stories in the future.
Note: A Town Called Christmas is part of the multi-author series 9 Months Later, a theme series by Harlequin in which each story involves a pregnancy. A Town Called Christmas is #55 in this series, but to my knowledge is a stand-alone novel with no connection to other books in the series except the theme.
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