Holly McAdams and her Nana have avoided their family cabin since Papa passed—instead opting to rent it out to people wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of Nashville. With Christmas upon them, though, they make a spur of the moment decision to brave the snow and arrive at their cozy holiday home. However, they discover the previous renter, Joe, has been forced to stay due to the weather. Still, Holly attempts to make the most of it, spreading Christmas cheer that Nana and Joe find hard to resist. But then musician Rhett Burton walks back into her life, forcing Holly to reexamine what she really wants.
It Started With Christmas opens on a somber note. Papa is dead, to begin with, and both Holly and her Nana have struggled without his sense of wonder and magic. But soon Nana feels a pull back to their cabin, and Holly sets to packing up the tree, food, decorations, the works. She’s an explosion of energy, enveloping Christmas and distributing it with good cheer throughout the rest of the book—whether by planning a festive scavenger hunt or by simply wrapping hastily bought presents for a new friend. These are moments when this book soars, with Holly completely embracing the holiday.
However, all of this is potentially thwarted by a pair of charming foils. City-boy Joe is visiting Nashville to plan his wedding, but that doesn’t stop an obvious connection between him and Holly. Nana disapproves immensely, further complicating her struggle with the season. At the same time Rhett rolls up and, while, Holly shares a history with him, not all of it is happy. Author Jenny Hale is a master of tension, creating a complicated triangle without an obvious solution. However, she manages to also end on a satisfying note.
City versus country is a common trope in romance and Hale also deserves major credit for utilizing it in a positive way. Holly and Joe come from different backgrounds, with Rhett nestled somewhere between, but Hale understands the positives in urban/rural diversity. Not only does the guy from the city have something to learn, but so do Holly and her madcap cast of neighbors. There’s no animosity. The result is growth by all characters across the book, and it’s so much richer for it.
Holly’s favorite desert is sweet potato pie, and that’s exactly what this story brings to mind—something filling, sweet, and downright festive.
Title: It Started With Christmas
Author: Jenny Hale
Publication Date: October 29, 2018