by Kate Hewitt
Series: Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite #1
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Publication Date: October 12, 2017
I received an advance review copy of this book from LibraryThing. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Welcome to Thornwaite, a quaint village tucked up in England’s beautiful but rainy Lake District… where homecomings happen and surprises are in store for the four Holley sisters…
Anna Holley, the third of four sisters, has always felt a little bit forgotten. A family tragedy when she was a child had her retreating deep into shyness, and social anxiety kept her on the fringes of the cozy chaos of the busy vicarage.
After several years away from home, Anna returns for Christmas... and an important announcement from her father. As much as she once loved the village, coming back is hard and puts Anna's social capabilities to the test.
Avoiding her sisters’ bossy questions, she heads out to the local pub one night, and meets a handsome stranger nursing a pint. Somehow, unburdened by expectations, Simon seems like the perfect person to spill all her secrets to—including a hopeless, long-held crush on her sister’s boyfriend. Confident she’ll never see him again, Anna returns home… only to discover the next day that Simon is actually her father’s new curate!
Anna is beyond mortified, but Simon won’t let her retreat into her usual shyness—and for once Anna is forced to confront the past, and all the fears and feelings she’d tried so long to hide. But with his own heartache that needs to heal, can Simon help Anna to make this the most magical Christmas either of them have known?
What a sweet and cozy Christmas romance! And, seriously, what a gorgeous cover!
Anna has social anxiety. Talking to people she knows is especially difficult – she finds it hard to talk, and if she does manage to say something, she stutters. As the third in a vicar’s family of four daughters, all of whom are much more extroverted than her, she’s managed to hide it from her family, but returning to the family home for ten days over Christmas is something she’s both anticipating and dreading.
“How she’d managed to disguise her social anxiety as mere shyness for twenty-two years was testament to how chaotic her family life was. It was easy to get lost in the noisy mix, and so often no one noticed she wasn’t speaking at all.”
It’s while trying to escape her family that she meets Simon at one of the village pubs, and, under the effects of a couple glasses of cider and the stress of being home, she pours out her heart to him about the gaping hole left in her family by her brother Jamie’s death and her family’s inability to deal with it. Simon is sweet and adorable, though he is no stranger to grief, either. Anna describes him as “the human equivalent of a Golden Retriever,” which both made me laugh and also gave me an immediate idea of what he was like. It’s not until the next day that Anna realizes that the supposed stranger she unloaded on is actually her father’s new curate. (Side note: A curate, for those unused to the Anglican system, is a sort of training position under a vicar. So he’d be someone who’d be working closely with the vicar and receiving guidance from him.)
“From the first moment he’d seen her, Simon had wanted to take away that sadness and that was unwise. He couldn’t take away someone’s sadness. He was no one’s rescuer; that much he’d learned, and in the hardest way possible.”
Anna is, understandably, even more mortified, though Simon, to his credit, tries to reassure her that her secrets are safe with him. And though Simon wants to fix Anna, he realizes immediately that he can’t. Instead, he tries to help her understand that her feelings around her unresolved grief are normal and human, and encourages her to talk to her family about it. Though their relationship gets off to a rocky start, both realize there’s a spark there, and Anna eventually overcomes her initial hesitance to spend more time with him. Since this is a very short novella, their relationship doesn’t progress very far, and the only sexual content is a few kisses.
“It’s never too late, Anna. That’s one of the wonderful tenets of our faith. There’s always time for a fresh start.”
As a book centered around the daughters of a vicar during the Christmas season, it’s unsurprising that there’s Christian themes running throughout the story. Unlike some inspirational romances I’ve read before, though, it fits nicely into the story instead of bashing you over the head with Christian-ness, and it only gets mildly preachy, so I don’t think a secular reader would be turned off by it. The theme of brokenness, of being broken beyond repair, is one that I think would resonate with most readers, as well as the theme of confession and its effect of shining a light on the dark places of your soul.
“We’re all broken, Anna. That’s the nature of being human. I’m as broken as you are, if not more.”
Though Anna believes she is the broken one, the disappointment, in the family, it’s clear that the rest of the Holley family has unresolved issues as well, which leads me into the cons for this novella. Since it’s obviously the first in a series, the setup of the family dynamic and how each of the sisters fit in it took up quite a few pages, leaving less time for Anna and Simon’s developing relationship. Because of this, the ending felt abrupt. None of the issues that came between Anna and Simon were truly resolved, and it felt more like a happily-ever-after-for-now rather than a true happily-ever-after.
Overall, though, I gobbled this up in an afternoon. It’s just so sweet and cozy, and it made me long for a walk in the fells with a dog by my side, and then coming home to a pot of hot chocolate and a roaring fire. This is a lovely and light-filled read for the season.