by Carrie Aarons
Publication Date: December 3, 2021
Source: Grey's Promotions
I received this book for free from Grey's Promotions in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
'Tis the season to … be freshly divorced at twenty-six and moving back into your parents' house?
Because that’s my reality this Christmas. As if it isn’t bad enough that my entire hometown is buzzing with the news of my failed marriage, who is the first person I bump into at the grocery store? The guy who treated me like his personal booty call in high school just happens to be looking at spices while I’m trying to pick up cinnamon for my mother.
And get this; Porter Kelly, the broody, mysterious recluse who exposed his own secrets to the world by writing a book about his family years ago, is the one who acts like I wronged him. His rude remarks on aisle nine are the final straw as my exhausted unhappiness breaks, and I’m officially calling off the most wonderful time of the year.
Too bad it’s literally impossible for the woman whose parents own a railroad that specializes in Christmas train rides to ignore the holiday season. Because I’m back under their roof, it’s mandatory to work in the middle of the red and green merriment, Santa himself, and wait for it …
Porter serenading us with the greatest festive hits of all time. That’s right, apparently my teenage heartthrob turned nemesis not only works for my parents, but can strum a guitar like he’s trying to get every soccer mom on board pregnant. As we’re forced to spend more time together than ever, his past baggage and my marital rejection make their way to the surface, bonding us in ways neither of us knew possible.
I thought I was heartbroken about my ex-husband wanting to end our marriage, but that pain is nothing compared to what Porter could inflict. He seems like a changed man, one on the precipice of a new chapter, which is exactly where I find myself. Would it be crazy to think we could turn the page together?
Returning home was the only option I had. But as I come dangerously close to counting on the first man who broke my heart, I wonder if all of my future dreams are too good to be true.
This is a cute second-chance, enemies-to-lovers, small-town romance. It’s full of lots of holiday touches, from cookie baking to a full-on Polar Express. Unfortunately, the romance didn’t work out so well for me.
Six months after her divorce, Madison’s returned home to her small Hudson Valley town for the holiday season. Being the subject of all the town gossip is bad enough, but then she runs into Porter, her old high school flame and the man who first broke her heart. While he was fine hooking up with her, he never wanted anything resembling a relationship, and was, frankly, a selfish jerk. Two minutes after meeting him, it’s clear that he hasn’t changed a bit, but unfortunately they’re stuck together working on her parents’ holiday train. Will being forced to confront their old feelings for each other lead to a new page, or just another heartbreak?
“You put your trust too blindly in people, Madison. It’s no wonder you end up hurt.”
And now I know he isn’t just talking about my divorce. “And you’re a bully, Porter. Pointing out the harshest, most painful truths in people’s lives and shoving them in their faces. We get it, you’re an insecure, emotional manipulator.”
This is the definition of the “love to hate you, have to love you” trope. While Madison’s normally all sunshine and light nice girl, something about Porter rubs her the wrong way. Madison’s already feeling raw from her recent divorce, and insults from the first man who ever broke her heart are the last thing she needs. Even though she’s the stereotypical good girl, she gives back as good as she gets. After all, it’s not like she’ll have to see him again… except he’s somehow befriended her parents. Madison’s dad earned a ton of money from a tech company, so when the town’s cafe (and the railroad next to it) were going out of business, he bought them. While the cafe’s open year round, the train is only in use during December as the Polar Express, delivering families to a mini North Pole complete with Santa. Of course, they need workers for that, so while Madison was expecting to help out as an assistant, she wasn’t expecting to see Porter playing guitar and serenading families with holiday hits.
“You were in the wrong place.”
I blurt this out in response to how she just defined me, not realizing it until the words are laid at her feet.
“Seems I always am when it comes to you.”
Porter gets his musical talents from his father, who was a famous rock star. He wanted nothing to do with Porter and his mother, however, so he paid her off, with the understanding that she’d never even hint at who the father of her child was. Porter discovered it at a young age, and frankly it messed him up for life. The first part of the book consists of Porter being a complete jerk to Madison, along with a rehash of all the super jerky teen stuff he did to her as well. To be honest, there were several times his straight-up cruelty made me want to put the book down permanently. He does eventually come to a realization as to why he keeps pushing Madison away and attempts to salvage their relationship, but for me it was too little too late. He treated her so poorly and I just wanted so much more groveling. He made so many mistakes, and while I think he did make progress towards some of them (like repairing his relationship with his mother), it never felt like enough. It happens so suddenly, too, that it almost felt like there were two different Porters. They had good chemistry, though, and I really liked how their relationship worked and how they handled the inevitable bumps after they got together, but the beginning still affected the whole book for me.
Overall, though there’s lots of small town holiday goodness, I couldn’t quite forgive the main male character.