Time to review the fifth book of this Christmassy romance blog tour. You can read my thoughts on With This Christmas Ring, A Season of You, Deck the Halls and Christmas at Two Love Lane here. As with the previous books, I received advanced copies from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So let’s get on with that honest review of Hope at Christmas by Nancy Naigle, shall we?
Sydney is recently divorced and ready to start her new life without her ex-husband. So she decides to move to a small town where she used to spend her summers in her grandparents’ farmhouse. She takes her daughter Ray Anne along, ready to carve out a new life for them. While Ray Anne goes to school, Sydney starts working in the local bookshop while she waits for her new job to begin in the new year. She used to love visiting that bookstore as a child and Sydney’s full of ideas to revive it. Sydney grows closer and closer to Bea, the shop’s owner, and is even thinking about not starting her new job but taking over the bookstore instead.
Kevin, the male lead of the story, is a single parent as well. He teaches history at the local high school and is also the baseball coach. His wife and son’s mother left them years ago, right before Christmas. The holiday season is a tense period in their house, which Kevin regrets deeply because he loves Christmas so much, he plays Santa every year in their town. He has a close relationship with his son, though this remains a tricky subject.
When Sydney en Kevin meet, neither of them is looking for a new relationship. Sydney is trying to get her daughter, who wasn’t very happy with the move, settled and working on carving out a new life for herself and her daughter. Kevin has a hard time with women ever since his wife left him and their son, and Christmas is a very busy period for him. I liked how both of them weren’t really in the market for a relationship, but their slowly developing feelings for each other kept pulling them back together. Without realising it or consciously choosing it, they start to form their own little family.
Kevin then realizes he wants to keep Sydney and Ray Anne in the lives of him and his son. But because Ray Anne is having a hard time, Sydney isn’t even sure how long they are staying. It all comes to a head when Sydney’s ex-husband breaks a very important promise to his daughter and reveals that he is expecting a baby with his new girlfriend. Distraught, Ray Anne runs away, jumps on a quad and drives off. Seth (Kevin’s son) races after her but is too late to stop the accident that lands Ray Anne in the hospital. This brings tension between Kevin and Sydney because she feels guilty and doesn’t know if she should find fault with Kevin or with herself. When her ex-husband then shows up at the hospital, Kevin feels left out and leaves with his son.
And that is when Sydney, her ex and her daughter really talk for the first time. Sydney explains to her ex that he can’t just make and break promises and that if he wants a relationship with his daughter, he’s going to have to work for it. He admits that he was too caught up in his own life and put his daughter in second place. He vows to do better and Ray Anne now also sees how much her mother has done for her. She is happy to stay with her mother in Hopewell. And she and Seth get along so well, that she wants their parents to be together, especially having seen how well Sydney and Kevin click as well. After all that, Sydney and Kevin talk and both of them clearly spell out their feelings for one another. They talk to the children as well and decide to give their relationship a go. All’s well that ends well, especially when Sydney manages to take over the bookstore too.
This was a typical sweet small-town romance story where the entire town chips in to get the two main characters together. If I don’t think about it too much, I liked it. It’s a gentle read about two people overcoming their own hang-ups and choosing love. I loved the magical bookstore and I can definitely see Sydney and her daughter taking an interest in it and working on making it better. All the initiatives and ideas they carry out are really good, and I could see myself going to them. But when I started writing this review, I found a whole lot of things I didn’t like as well. So, Sydney’s ex-husband cheated on her, for like two years, with the same girl that he’s now expecting a child with. And Sydney was remarkably cool and calm about that. She also allows her ex to choose his new life and leave his own daughter out in the cold. At the same time, her daughter dislikes her for taking her away from her father, who is now not even thinking about her as he’s too busy with his own life. Instead of sticking up for her daughter and making her ex live up to his promises, she just lets everything run its course. She could have been a lot more forceful towards her ex about that because even though they have split up and are moving on, they will forever be connected by their child and both should want the best for their daughter. I feel like for most of the book, Sydney is just going along with things. Yes, she is strong in certain situations, but it feels like she first needs to be pushed to her breaking point before she actually steps up and takes charge. And let’s also not dive too deeply into Kevin, who doesn’t really seem to have a personality… But still, if you are looking for a sweet and gentle romance read with a touch of Christmas, this will be perfect for you!