James Cameron, a minister who runs a mission in Central America, has decided to spend the holidays in Cape Light. But when his car collides with another car, a hint of trouble befalls this close-knit community. No one is hurt, but out-of-towner Leigh Baxter is forced to stay in town until her car is fixed. What she doesn’t expect, however, is that the charm of this beautiful seaside hamlet and its citizens will soon win her over—and that she will fall in love with James, who has so generously welcomed her into his life. But will James accept Leigh in his heart once her dark secrets come to light? In the meantime, Jessica and Sam Morgan’s relationship is put to the test. More than anything else this Christmas, they want a baby to call their own. But soon they’ll discover that life’s most precious gifts often come in unexpected packages...
Yes, this is #5 in the Cape Light series, but it is the first of the Christmas stories. It's also the first of the Cape Light books that I've read. While there are some little things here and there that seem to reference earlier books, I had no trouble enjoying this one as a standalone story, and assume the rest of the books in the series will read the same way.
This one's a pretty simple Christmas romance. Two out-of-towners are heading to Cape Light (in separate cars) for different reasons, lost in their own thoughts, when they collided on a snowy road. One car holds a former Cape Light resident, Pastor James Cameron, returning to town after a long stint establishing a mission in a Central American village. Due to serious health concerns, he's taking a leave from heading the mission, coming back to Cape Light not only to try to heal himself but also serve as an associate pastor in the old hometown church. On his way into town he strikes the car of Leigh Baxter, a pregnant woman attempting to escape from an increasingly unsafe domestic situation.
Living in this town, miracles don't seem as impossible as they once did.
There's also a parallel story around Jessica & Sam, a couple (judging by details in their story) I'm guessing is featured in at least one of the earlier novels. But as I said, you can easily start with the Christmas novels and not be lost. Here, we learn that Jessica and Sam are really wanting a child but are struggling with getting a successful conception (this fertility issue is one of the things that I'm guessing is an ongoing topic from previous novels). Jessica is the sister of the town's mayor. I struggled with liking Jessica in the beginning because her jealousy does get a little much when Sam starts showing a fair amount of attention to one of the at-risk kids at the youth center, developing a sort of big brother relationship with him. Jessica thinks it's cute at first but over time starts sliding into "guess you're not that interested in one of our own" themed rants. Then she'll fall into these pity party moments, saying things like "Why do I always feel selfish and mean-spirited?" Because you're being selfish and mean-spirited! Poor Sam. He seems to have a good heart though and luckily just shrugs off her moodiness until she comes around and sees she's been laying the guilt on a little thick.
But really it was Leigh who really drove me batty. Her swoony-ness over James got a little sickly sweet after awhile. Even after only knowing James a few days, it seemed like she would get those cartoon heart eyes over anything remotely nice he did for anyone. I let out a little "ugh" after reading her comment about how she was always impressed with him -- that alone, she's known him a hot minute but she's always been impressed -- but then goes on to say oh, but now that he's daring to work with the impoverished. Well, I would hope if he had any respect for himself as a pastor he could humble himself to work with the poor. But that's the kind of stuff I'm talking about, wanting to give the guy a blue ribbon just for being a decent human being. I kept wanting to say calm down woman, yeah it's nice but how high are we going to build this pedestal?! I would think even a guy in that situation would tire of that much flattery pretty quickly. But this is a Christmas romance so of course James drinks it up like a thirsty camel.
My irritation with the Leigh / James relationship is just one aspect of what I struggled with with this novel. Though Kinkade is no longer living, it's my guess that Katherine Spencer who was the primary writer of these books and certain elements of her writing style didn't sit perfectly with me. While the writing is solid and has an easy flow to it, it wasn't overly poetic and at times seemed to lack a little subtlety. The biggest thing that irked me was how so often a character would do or say something and then it it would be immediately followed by some sort of Captain Obvious statement explaining what just happened or what the character meant by what they said. Kind of like if you were trying to watch a movie and you had a friend right next to you unnecessarily explaining every scene.
That being said, I'm not trying to say I didn't get anything out of this story. I think it's still a comfy cozy Christmas read with lots of charm to the Cape Light community. I especially liked the character Vera and the descriptions of her cozy Victorian home where James and Leigh rent rooms immediately after their accident. Vera just seemed like the warm grandma type you'd want to vent to over a plate of homemade cookies :-)
Note: I've already finished the next book in this Christmas series and can say that the writing does get better, the issues I describe here do diminish quite a bit and I am still very much enjoying the series. The write up to that one coming very soon!