Becca Timm was heartbroken when Denny Cutler, the love of her life, broke up with her before heading off to war three years ago. He eventually returned, regretful and wanting to patch things up, but at the time, she was still too angry with him to even contemplate it. Since then, she's moved on and has another boyfriend, whom she believes is going to pop the question very soon. When that thought doesn't thrill her in the way it should, she realizes she never quite got over Denny. Things ended between them so abruptly, she never got the closure she needed on their relationship. Knowing her brother will be seeing Denny on his hunting trip over Thanksgiving, Becca weasels her way into going with him to Virgin River. She thinks that seeing Denny one more time is what she needs to put the ghosts of their past to rest and finally move on, but when she accidentally breaks her ankle and finds herself stuck in the little town longer than she bargained for, the old feelings start to resurface with a vengeance.
After Becca rejected him, Denny went to Virgin River looking for his father. He didn't exactly find the man for whom he was searching, but he did find a family in the townspeople and a good job. Although he's never really forgotten Becca, he's trying to move on, so when she unexpectedly shows up in town, it throws his emotions into a tailspin. When Becca breaks her ankle while arguing with him, Denny can't help but feel somewhat responsible. Knowing her brother needs to get back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday, Denny offers to care for Becca until she can travel again. With the two of them sharing his little efficiency apartment, it isn't long before the old desires flare between them and they pick up right where they left off. Denny knows what he wants this Christmas, and it's to be with Becca forever. Even though Becca realized her boyfriend was not the man for her after all, and broke up with him, she's still a little uncertain of Denny's intentions and she deeply misses her family back home in San Diego. Can Denny convince her that Virgin River can be as much of a home to her as it's become to him?
This past year, I've read a whole slew of Robyn Carr's books from both her Virgin River and Thunder Point series, all of which have ranged from so-so to pretty good but none of which quite topped that hurdle to become a great read for me... until now. Bring Me Home for Christmas finally became that wonderful keeper of a story that I know Ms. Carr is capable of producing but which I hadn't gotten from her in a while. I realized after reading this book why that is, and it's because in the earlier books of the series, the town of Virgin River was a character unto itself. In the more recent offerings I'd picked up this year, that wasn't the case. In Bring Me Home for Christmas, Virgin River was finally resurrected in all its quaint, heartwarming glory, and really it's not so much the town itself but the people in it who provide its spirit. Sadly, many of those characters have been missing or relegated to the back burner for several installments of the series. In this book though, many of our old favorites are front and center, as they prepare for and celebrate the holiday season as only Virgin River can.
Like so many of the town residents, Denny is an ex-Marine. He came to Virgin River looking for the man he believed was his father. That guy of course was Jack. He didn't turn out to be Denny's dad after all, but he did become a father-figure and loyal friend to the young man. He convinced Denny to stick around and give them a chance, and in doing so, Denny found a forever home with the "family" he'd never had. I really like Denny. He's a great guy, a hard worker, who like Jack, is always willing to help out wherever there's a need, and in doing so, has become a great asset to the town. He's never really gotten over Becca, his first love and his best friend's sister. During a rough time in his life, when he was psychologically vulnerable, he let her get away, and almost instantly regretted it. When he returned from his tour of duty in the sandbox, he tried to reconnect with her, but she was too angry with him to even entertain the notion. Not to mention, she'd left him with the impression she'd moved on. Denny has built a new life for himself in Virgin River, but something has still been missing. When Becca shows up in town, he's not quite sure what to make of it.
Becca is a born and bred SoCal girl, who loves to surf and live on the edge. She's also a gifted teacher who just lost her job when the school where she worked shut down. She senses that her boyfriend is about to pop the question, but deep inside her soul, she's unsettled about marrying him. She thinks a large part of that has to do with feeling like she never got closure in her relationship with Denny, so when she finds out her brother is headed to Denny's new home for a guy's hunting trip, she shows up on his doorstep and insinuates herself into his vacation. Her hope is that seeing Denny again will somehow give her the assurance she needs to move forward with her life. I have to admit that during the early chapters of the story, Becca came off as a tad snobbish and maybe even a little bit shrewish. She doesn't think much of Virgin River when she first arrives, and even though it was her idea to see Denny again, she doesn't seem particularly open to communicating with him. However, from the point right after breaking her ankle which stranded her in town for much longer than she'd been expecting to stay, Becca turned over a new leaf and became a heroine I could root for. The town grew on her quickly and it didn't take long for her to realize how much she still loved Denny too. I really like the scenes where she volunteers with the kids in town, from helping with homework to assisting with putting on a children's Christmas pageant. She also fit in quite well with the other women in town, and by the end, it's obvious she's become a full-fledged member of the community whether she knows it yet or not.
The only thing about this story that I felt was something of a weak link was the development of Denny and Becca's relationship. They already had a prior connection, which is always a favorite trope of mine. However, they weren't really shown together a great deal during the first half of the book, and when they were, there was still a fair bit of animosity between them. They definitely weren't communicating well at all. In fact, it was an argument that led to Becca breaking her ankle. Then when she sees how well Denny cares for her afterward and they're sharing tight quarters in Denny's little efficiency apartment, she realizes pretty quickly that her love for him had never died and her boyfriend definitely wasn't the right person for her after all. Almost immediately following a phone break-up with the other man, Becca and Denny fall into bed and back into a very comfortable relationship. Now, it's not that I didn't believe that they loved one another. I did feel it pretty strongly after they finally got back together. It's just everything came about without a great deal of depth. Becca had been devastated when Denny broke up with her, and he was hurt as well when she rejected him after he returned. They talked a little about why he had broken up with her and how sorry he was about that, but they never really talked much about her feelings, until the end, when she's a little afraid to stay with him for fear that he might break her heart again. Still, she gets over it pretty quickly, and everything with the ex-boyfriend was perhaps tied up a little too neatly as well. However, I'll allow that this is a nice, easy read and a feel-good Christmas story, so it didn't bother me too much. I liked Denny and Becca as a couple, and their romance was a sweet and heartfelt one that I totally bought into. At the end of any romance novel, that's all I can truly hope for.
What really made Bring Me Home for Christmas come alive and sparkle with holiday cheer though, was the town. I loved how everyone pulled together to make sure their friends and neighbors were safe and healthy when the snowstorm hit. And my heart was warmed through and through by the generosity of our beloved characters, old and new, helping out those in need during the Christmas season. It was so awesome to have Jack and Mel and Preacher and Paige factoring so prominently in the story. I think this may have been the most lines Paige has had since her own book. It wasn't just them though, as many old favorites were present in the story even if in name only. We also got to meet a few new members of the community, who I hope will return as supporting players in the remaining books of the series. One of those, Nora, a down-on-her-luck mother of two little ones whose significant other left her, has already captured my heart. She's only seen in one scene, but was a standout who I thought surely would be the heroine of the next book. I was wrong about that as she won't get her own book until the next to the last of the series, Sunrise Point, which I'll definitely be looking forward to. In the meantime, the heroes and heroines of the next two books are a total mystery to me. Overall, Bring Me Home for Christmas was a truly lovely book that I can definitely see myself reading again during future holiday seasons. Just as I'd begun to think that Robyn Carr had forgotten how to write stories that truly enthrall me, this book has proven that she still has it in her, and I'm very much looking forward to finishing the series.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook