Okay, so this is a quick review of Return to Christmas by one of my favorite authors, Anne Stuart.
Let me start off by saying this is a time-travel story. I don’t tend to read time-travel books–apart from the ones by my wonderful clients. If I’m in the mood for a historical setting, I pick up a historical romance. But this book twisted things a bit by setting it in 1947–it’s not a historical setting I read, but man I loved it because of the time-travel.
What it’s About
Madison Simcoe is a lonely, workaholic from 2020 who, on a cold December day, makes her way to Macy’s for some retail therapy. As she steps inside the store, she does indeed find herself in Macy’s…but it’s 1947. And, she’s trapped in the store.
Johnny Larsen is a bit of a grumpy, loner–and hot, obviously. Yet, the WWII vet with PTSD, can’t seem to stop himself helping Madison.
Things aren’t all tinsel and fairy lights for Mollie and Johnny in 1947. C’mon, it’s an Anne Stuart book, there’s always at least one arsehole gunning for our heroes. I’ll leave it at that, so I don’t give anything away.
The Good Stuff
Return to Christmas hits all the romance beats we as readers need. As you’d expect in the hands of an expert such as Anne Stuart, she hits them right on the head. I even highlighted some of the beats because she’d hit so well. So well, that I’m using them as examples for when I’m stuck on my outlining.
One of those beats is the No Way 1 beat for Johnny. The No Way beat is where the character states why they can’t/won’t/don’t want to fall in love, especially with the other lead character. (If you want to learn more about romance beats, check out Romancing the Beats by Gwen Hayes–here’s the UK link Affiliate links.)
He couldn’t offer anything but a roll in the hay, and he didn’t need the bother of some woman making demands. Whether she knew it or not, Mollie was a forever after kind of girl—marriage, babies, the whole nine yards. There was no room for any of that in his life, and he doubted there ever would be. Some men came back from the war and immersed themselves in their old lives with little problem. Others were not so lucky.Stuart, Anne. Return to Christmas . Impeccably Demure Press. 38% mark in the Kindle Edition.
The setting was done so skillfully that it seemed almost effortless. As with all of Anne’s books, she spent just enough time on the details to conjure the scene in my mind. None of the five-page description of knots in a plank of wood crap.
Having never been to New York, I had no idea how big Macy’s was–I’ve only been to one in Houston and Santa Monica. Wow, just, wow. (This really has no place in a review, but screw it, it’s all I could think about when Mollie was traversing the store.)
It was fun having a glimpse of 1940s America. Granted, the attitudes to women and people of color were startling–and I’m guessing toned down for the book–but in keeping with the period and location. I admit that references to the vacuuming-in-pearls of the 1950s threw me, but that’s down to the differences between Scotland and America during that time (I grew up hearing about how things were in 30s-70s Scotland from my Granda. Read: grim).
The ending is so, so, so satisfying. And the epilogue is the perfect amount of cheese to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Note: Cheese isn’t always bad. I actually like a small amount of cheese in books. Again, this was the perfect amount–so perfect that I’m hoping Ms. Stuart will do another time-travel with that character as the hero. Please 🥺
The Okay Stuff
I already mentioned the attitudes to women and people of color above, so I’m not going to add more to it, other than it was handled as well as it could be given the realities of the time.
Mollie cries. A lot. I did give a couple of half-eye rolls. Why only half? Because it was key to her character. In 2020, she does not cry. But, being out of her time, it somehow allows her to feel. Even a few days away from the book, I’m not annoyed by the level of crying–and I really hate it when a character cries more than a couple of times in a book.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
The reason I can’t give the book five-stars is down to the proofreading. At first, I thought I was being nit-picky because, well, I’m an editor and proofreader when I’m not doing the writing thing. But, as I continued reading, the errors kept coming–fast.
Mollie’s hair color changes from dark blonde to red-blond to reddish-brown to brown.
There are also a lot of typos, especially with punctuation marks like a period followed by a comma.
Return to Christmas is a must-read book–even with the issues pointed out above. I loved it!!!
This story is such a fantastic read. And if, like me, you don’t celebrate Christmas, don’t shy away from this book. The celebration is part of the scenery, and done is such a way that it doesn’t encroach on your enjoyment of the story. To be honest, you could read this at any time of the year and still love it.