A Seaside Christmas
By Sherryl Woods
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
September 24, 2013
Songwriter Jenny Collins is coming home for Christmas for the first time in several years. She has avoided Chesapeake Shores for the most part since her mother’s marriage to Thomas O’Brien left Jenny feeling like an outsider. This feeling was exacerbated when Connie and Thomas announced Connie’s pregnancy during the O’Brien family trip to Ireland (An O’Brien Family Christmas, Book 8, 2011).
Jenny ran away from that news, and the distance between her and her family has continued to grow since then. She is little more than a stranger to her four-year-old half-brother, Sean Michael. Jenny knows her jealousy and resentment are childish, and she misses the closeness she and her mother had always enjoyed. But she can’t seem to control the complex swirl of emotions that keep her from accepting that she has a place in her mother’s new family. Even now, she is in Chesapeake Shores at the urging of Bree O’Brien Collins, wife of Jenny’s Uncle Jake (Flowers on Main, Book 2, 2009), who has persuaded Jenny to write songs for the Christmas play Bree has written to be performed at her theater in December. Jenny loves Bree and Jake, but if she’s honest with herself, she knows that her reluctance to spend another Christmas alone in Nashville reliving her breakup with country music superstar Caleb Green is also a factor in her decision to return to Chesapeake Shores.
Two years ago Caleb Green self-destructed. His alcohol abuse and the drunken revels that made tabloid headlines of his infidelity destroyed his career as front man for one of country music’s hottest bands and ended his professional and personal collaboration with Jenny Collins, one of the industry’s most successful songwriters and the only woman to win Caleb’s heart. After a stint in rehab, Caleb is sober and determined to remain so, and he’s ready and eager to reclaim his place on country charts and in Jenny’s life. When he hears a young singer perform a song that Caleb knows will be perfect to jumpstart his career as a solo artist, a heartbreak song that is unmistakably Jenny’s work, he makes plans to head for Chesapeake Shores, hoping to persuade Jenny to give him her song and a second chance.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are the themes of this tenth book and third Christmas tale in Sherryl Woods’s popular Chesapeake Shores series. They are themes that Woods has used effectively throughout this series as the vividly drawn, vital O’Briens and their various connections laugh and love and live out their often tangled, complicated lives, and they seem particularly appropriate in a Christmas story.
Jenny and Caleb are richly human, imperfect characters, and their very real flaws may loom unforgivably large for some readers. Jenny’s reaction to her mother’s marriage and to Sean Michael makes her seem selfish and self-absorbed, but there are mitigating factors. She is still quite young when Connie and Thomas marry and only a bit older when Sean Michael is born, and self-absorption is a credible characteristic in the young. Also, her father’s absence from her life has left her with insecurities, and she has grown up as the focus of her mother’s love. Once Jenny distances herself from her family, accepting the role of the prodigal requires a humility and self-knowledge that are difficult to achieve. Her choices are not always admirable, but they are consistent with her character, credible with her circumstances, and convincing means to demonstrate growth.
Caleb too may seem rather too self-interested in his eagerness to gain the rights to record Jenny’s song, but in his case too, this is a flaw consistent with who he is. Given his profession, it makes sense that he has an economy-sized ego. Given his history, it makes sense that he has deep-seated insecurities. His fall from grace was profound and public; thus, he has a great deal personally and professionally riding on a successful comeback. His success with Jenny’s songs has already been established, and his emotional investment in this particular song is significant. And once he sees Jenny again, the song is no longer his top priority.
I loved seeing Jenny and Caleb’s story play out against the backdrop of an O’Brien holiday gathering. I loved seeing Jenny’s reconciliation with all of her family; I loved the family ties, the bonds of friendship, and the new generation of O’Briens growing up. Bree is one of my favorite characters in the series, and so I was particularly pleased to see her writing dream come true. I’ve been a Sherryl Woods reader for a long time, but I’ve found some of her recent novels disappointing. But A Seaside Christmas left me with a sigh of satisfaction, a Christmassy heart, and a wish to spend another Christmas with the O’Briens. If you are a fan of Woods’s O’Briens, you don’t want to miss this one. If you have a soft spot for a Christmas romance filled with family, friends, and forgiveness as well as lovers, add this one to your list.
One of the things that keep me reading romance fiction is that redemption and reconciliation are common themes in the genre. I believe in second chances. What theme in romance resonates most with you?