By Sherryl Woods
Publication Date: September 27, 2011
Laila Riley has spent most of her life trying to prove herself to her father. When her brother Trace finally convinced their father that Trace was not going to follow in his footsteps, Laila was given the job at the family-owned community bank that their father had intended for Trace. She finally had the chance to show her father she was the best person for the job. But her father learned of her affair with Matthew O’Brien, a younger man with a player’s reputation, and the resulting argument left Laila jobless and estranged from her parents. A few weeks later, resenting all that Matthew had cost her, Laila broke up with him, telling herself that all they shared was good sex.
Matthew, who is still in love with Laila, is delighted when his grandmother gentle manipulation results in Laila’s approaching Matthew, giving Matthew a chance to persuade her to join the O’Brien family on their trip to Ireland for Christmas. Laila, whose connection to the O’Briens is strong because of her life-long friendship with Abby O’Brien who is married to Laila’s brother, doesn’t take much persuation. Hoping that sharing time in Ireland will lead Laila to see that they were meant to be together, Matthew imposes a moratorium on sex while they date in a way that wasn’t possible before, given the furtive quality of their relationship that—at Laila’s insistence—was hidden from family and friends.
While Matthew courts the indecisive Laila, family matriarch Nell reconnects with a former love, much to the dismay of some family members, especially O’Brien Family Manager-in Chief, Mick. With four generations of O’Briens gathered, there is an impressive amount of chaos, interference, laughter, and love.
An O’Brien Family Christmas is the 8th book in Woods’s Chesapeake Shore series, following The Inn at Eagle Point (Abby O’Brien Winters and Trace Riley), Flowers on Main (Bree O’Brien and Jake Collins), Harbor Lights (Kevin O’Brien and Shanna Carlyle), A Chesapeake Shores Christmas (Mick and Megan O’Brien), Driftwood Cottage (Connor O’Brien and Heather Donovan), Moonlight Cove (Jess O’Brien and Will Lincoln), and Beach Lane (Susie O’Brien and Mack Franklin). I love Chesapeake Shores and find the O’Briens an engaging group, but I have found the series uneven, enjoying some books and being mildly irritated by some elements of others. The first Christmas book in the series, Mick and Megan’s reconciliation story is my favorite; An O’Brien Family Christmas is the one with which I had the most problems.
I loved Matthew. He has matured nicely since readers first met him, and he’s charming, funny, and incredibly patient with Laila. He’s willing to do whatever he needs to do to prove to her that he loves her, even giving up a plum designing job to stay in Chesapeake Shores. There is a gender reversal going on that should have been interesting. Matthew is the one who wants permanence, marriage, and family; Laila is the one who thinks the sex was extraordinary but is reluctant to consider a more committed relationship.
Had the reader been given more of the internal conflict in order to understand Laila’s choices, I would have found the book intriguing and different. But there is so much family stuff going on and Laila and Matthew are so busily involved in exchanges with various family members that their relationship impressed me as a lot of steam and little substance. I grew weary of Laila’s waverings, and when she does decide she’s ready to commit to Matthew, I wandered how much of the change was due to Matthew and how much was due to persuasive friends and family trappings. The same held true for her father’s abrupt change. It provided a sweet wedding moment, but it was too quick and unexplained for me to trust that Laila's relationship with her father was going to be substantially different.
I thought Nell’s romance was sweet. She's a great character, and I like the idea that romantic love is possible at any age. I also liked that there was no glossing over the potential problems with families and distance. I’m a sentimentalist when it comes to family Christmases, so I loved the holiday gathering and seeing the HEAs of earlier pairs in process. Fans of the series probably won’t want to miss another O’Brien story, but if you haven't read any of the series and want to sample it, I suggest you try Harbor Lights, A Chesapeake Shores Christmas, or Beach Lane.
Are you a series addict? What are your favorite series? Do you like series that go on and on with no end in sight?