I loved Liz Talley’s Superromances and I’m sad and sorry that category line is no more. I was glad to see Talley on my Netgalley shelf, however, and with one of my favourite settings, Christmas! I figure if Costco can set up its Christmas tree display next to the lurid Hallowe’en costumes, I can certainly read a Christmas romance in September …
A Down Home Christmas is a most christmasy of holiday romances, with Christmas cookie baking, the crooning of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, massive-tree buying and decorating, and a pageant. It’s also the story of rediscovering roots and finding one’s way when all feels lost. Though less quirky and sexy than Talley’s categories, A Down Home Christmas still had her signature humour and heart. Unlike her categories, however, Down Home is hero-centric and the rediscovering and finding one’s way belong squarely to the hero. The heroine is settled and sure and knows exactly what she wants. It’s Kris Trabeau’s journey we follow, as the country music star returns to his hometown of Charming, Mississippi, for the holiday season, ostensibly to visit his Aunt Tansy, the woman who took him in and brought him up when his parents were killed in an airplane crash. The opening scene is a hoot: as he arrives at his Aunt’s and his ancestral farm, he’s greeted by a great floppy dog, scampering chickens, and a barefoot beauty in pursuit.
It’s a delight of a meet-cute, but Talley’s romance is a light touch. The novel’s focus is Kris Trabeau’s journey to home and hearth after many years and successes away. Kris arrives with plans to convince his sole living relative, his aunt, to move to a seniors home in Nashville, where he lives. He wants to take care of her, to show her the same love she showed him. But Aunt Tansy is as feisty a bird as her chickens and she sets out, with the help of the barefoot beauty, high school science teacher, Tory Odom, and Charming’s denizens, to show Kris what matters in life: home, belonging, community, family, and love.
I liked Kris. He wasn’t hopped up on success, wasn’t greedy, or vain. He was a genuinely decent, caring person whose memories of Charming were warm but also fraught. He and his aunt quarreled over his leaving the family farm for a life of road trips and rootlessness. Kris’s career eventually took off, but he now arrives in Charming suffering from songster’s block. The words and music won’t come and Kris feels off-kilter. He doesn’t realize how much coming home, re-establishing connections, reconciling with his aunt, and getting to know a science-dork beauty will renew his faith in music and help the words and notes flow. Tory involves Kris in her after-school project, working with disadvantaged kids. She asks him to help a shy, talented girl find her voice to perform in the project’s Christmas variety show and auction fundraiser. Friends make their way to see Kris at Tansy’s farm, Kris rehearses with the children, bakes cookies with them and Tory, works around the farm, decorates a Christmas tree and renews himself in the balm of human connection, physical labour, and putting others before self.
A Down Home Christmas is romance-lite. While I believed in Kris’s journey, we didn’t see enough of Kris and Tory together. They talked, flirted, and walked beneath the stars, but Talley’s novel is mainly about Kris’s growth. Tory has a broken heart to recover from and she starts the novel as a Scrooge, but her story isn’t as developped and rich as Kris’s. Talley can still write a marvelous scene, however. The confrontation between Kris and Aunt Tansy was terrific. The character of the precociously musically talented Bria, who rehearses with Kris throughout, was beautifully drawn. Tory’s righteous anger at Kris’s dismissal of his ancestral farm as a place to be sold off was fiery and fun. I did yearn for the old romance Talley, but the romance world moves on and we have to accept an author’s new voice. I like the new Talley, but I’ll always miss the Super-romance one. With Miss Austen, we find “real comfort,” Emma, in A Down Home Christmas.
Liz Talley’s A Down Home Christmas is published by Hallmark Publishing. It was released on July 2nd and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Hallmark Publishing via Netgalley.