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This book was one of my Christmas presents intended to be read over the holiday period. I didn't actually get round to reading it until well into February and though I was expecting the book to be filled with Christmas bells, carol singers and other Christmassy references, it was a surprisingly unseasonal read as the title refers to the culmination of the book.
Until recent years, Lisa Kleypas restricted her writing output exclusively to historical romances and though the historical detail in them was frequently very sketchy, the romances were always very enjoyable. Having turned her attention to contemporary fiction, she next produced a trilogy of books which fell somewhere between women's fiction and chicklit and which enjoyed considerable success. She's obviously decided to continue concentrating on love in the present day as this novel begins the first of a further contemporary trilogy featuring the Nolan brothers.
When Mark Nolan is given custody of his young niece, Holly, he returns to his family home, the Rainshadow vineyard. The vineyard is on Friday Harbour, an island off the American north western coast and Mark, along with his two brothers, hopes to be able to give Holly the stability and security she needs. When he sees a note Holly has written to Santa asking for a new mother, Mark decides it's time to say goodbye to the single life and marry. But maybe he's not looking in the right places for a wife.
This is a fairly short book, only 210 pages long, and I wasn't expecting the story to be anything more than a cheesy romance along the lines of a Mills & Boon, especially given the clichéd elements of an orphaned child, a confirmed bachelor deciding to look for a wife and, of course, a potential wife right under his nose. I should have had more faith in Lisa Kleypas's writing abilities, however, because this turned out to be a rather sweet and heart warming little story which falls more into the chicklit genre than pure romance.
The setting of Friday Harbour isn't entirely fictional as there is a place called Friday Harbor which is the principal town of the San Juan, a group of small islands which lie off the coast of Washington State. Everything else about this story is total fiction.
I frequently find that authors have great difficulty in creating believable children in fiction. They are so often precocious to the point of being truly objectionable or in an attempt to make them winsome, they end up, again, being unlikeable and unrealistic. Holly, the child in this novel, is fairly traumatised at the beginning of the story and is an elective mute. Her mother has been killed in a car accident and her father is a complete unknown, so it's left to Holly's uncles to pick up the pieces despite none of them having had particularly good parental role models themselves. Mark, along with his brothers Sam and Alex, resolve to do their best for their sister's child but it's plain it will be very much trial and error.
When Mark takes Holly into a new toy shop which has opened in Friday Harbour, he meets the owner Maggie Conroy and there is a definite spark between the two. Mark has a girlfriend, however, who lives on the mainland and has set her sights on being his wife whilst Maggie is a widow who isn't looking for a relationship. In fact, Maggie's husband had died of cancer and she's come to Friday Harbour to escape the over-protectiveness of her family. Despite neither of them looking for a relationship, they meet up on a couple of occasions whilst travelling to the mainland and strike up a friendship leaving both of them wanting more.
Mark has a successful small business producing coffee which conveniently means he can transfer his business to Friday Harbour. The author has created a rather more believable man in Mark than the usual hero in this kind of book. So often heroes of romantic fiction are written more the way women would like them to be than how they actually are. Mark, however, is typically male: practical, unromantic and rather out of his depth when it comes to dealing with a six year old little girl.
Having avoided the pitfall of a stock hero, sadly Lisa Kleypas produces a girlfriend and a heroine, both of whom are walking clichés. The girlfriend is a career woman but has her hooks into a man and isn't going to let go without a fight and, of course, she doesn't have a maternal bone in her body. Our heroine, Maggie, on the other hand is that stock character, a grieving widow who thinks she'll never love again but has so much warmth and love to give to a motherless child and wouldn't you just know it, she knows exactly how to persuade an elective mute to speak!
This isn't great literature or even a great romance and, if I'm honest, the book has all the elements required to create a truly predictable and run-of-the-mill story, yet somehow Lisa Kleypas has created a family of rather appealing brothers who were interesting enough to keep me reading. This is a sweet little story which left me feeling that I wanted to know what happened next to the Nolan family.