If you told me this book was published in the 1980’s, I’d believe you. That’s not a negative sentence, it is just an indicator of how strongly Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor reminded me of an early Nora Roberts or even maybe a Billie Green. It was refreshing to read a story where the characters’ relationship was rooted in things like conversation. I’ve gotten so used to the obligatory chicka-bow-wow of most contemporary romance that I’d forgotten how to read without it. It’s like turning the literary dial from HBO After Hours to the Hallmark Channel.
It’s hard to tell I loved the book, isn’t it? Let me take a moment for the marketing. Look at that cover! It’s beautiful. It’s the perfect cover for a holiday gift book. It says ‘A Novel’ so you know it isn’t a romance. I mean, it is, but if you call it A Novel then people who aren’t into reading romance will adore it, because hey, they like novels. It’s got that “Nicholas Sparks (note, he does not write romance, he writes… did you guess it?… novels where couples fall in love!) meets Skipping Christmas” ready for gift giving appeal. Everything about the marketing for Christmas Eve At Friday Harbor gently whispers bestseller and I salute the production team. Toss a couple pensive profiles to the right of the main boat and you’ve got the Lifetime movie poster.
The book itself is a perfect comfort read. It begins with a holiday tragedy as the book opens to Mark claiming his orphaned niece, Holly. There’s the requisite ugly dog, the dinner disaster, the small town where everyone knows Mark’s name, the estranged brothers trying to make a go of it collectively for the child, the well intentioned but obviously too self involved girlfriend and the girl next door type recently arrived in town to open a toy shop and forget the losses of her own not so distant past. Mark recognizes that Maggie is the sort of girl he’d put in the friend category, Maggie notices that Mark is the complete opposite of her type but still very attractive, and it’s on. You know the shelf life of the current girlfriend is limited no matter what Mark says.
There are fantastic elements here. Mark’s strained relationship with his siblings, his sincerity as he bonds with Holly, Maggie’s baby steps out into dating again, it all feels real. You understand exactly why they make a great couple and exactly why they hesitate to become one. My problems with Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor are small. The most significant is Holly. I find it hard to believe that a child who has suffered such a great loss would ask Santa for a new mother in just a few months. The timeline doesn’t work for me. A year, two years, even eighteen months – but her very first Christmas without her mother and she’s ready to replace her? I don’t see it. But if you give the plot that suspension of disbelief then everything else flows naturally. The second quibble is that the book is short. On consideration, I’m not sure if that’s a fair complaint. If Kleypas sexed it up to current romance standards, the book would be conventional length and I would have read the same number of pages. I think it may be that less is more. Buy this one for Grandma but sneak a read for yourself first.