SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for December: The Boys of Christmas by Jane Lovering

by Sunita

It’s the last TBR Challenge post of the year and I’m actually on time. Before I get to the review, though, I want to thank Wendy for organizing the challenge and encouraging us to participate in it in whatever way works for us. This is the first year I’ve managed to fulfill every month’s post (eventually) as well as stick to the categories for the most part. A few weeks ago Wendy was up in the air about whether she would continue, since the number of romance bloggers has dwindled considerably. I didn’t get a chance to weigh in but I am so glad and grateful that she has decided to keep going. Plans for the 2020 Challenge are posted at her blog and I’m absolutely in for the year. Even though I don’t read as much romance anymore, I still enjoy being on the fringes of the community and keeping contact with romance readers and old friends, and I won’t be running out of TBR possibilities any time soon. So thank you, Wendy, for continuing to center romance blogging and reviewing. And if you’re not blogging but you’re on social media, you can join and contribute through those platforms as well.

On to the book. I have a few Lovering titles in my TBR but they’re dwindling because they are the perfect reads when you want a book set in a charming place which features characters who feel down to earth and realistic. The Boys of Christmas is no exception. Mattie has left her controlling, psychologically abusive boyfriend Simon and is figuring out her next moves when she receives an inheritance from her great-aunt Millie. It’s a big, rundown, somewhat scary house in a Dorset village rejoicing in the name Christmas Steepleton (and if you think that’s unlikely, I suggest you look at a map and check out village names in England). And it’s Christmastime! She decides to down to check out her new acquisition, accompanied by her supportive friend Toby.

The weather is as forbidding as the house, and just as cold, but Mattie and Toby make do and set about planning a last-minute Christmas celebration. Mattie is also occupied with meeting the condition of her inheritance, which is to sprinkle Millie’s ashes over “the Boys of Christmas.” Now she just has to figure out who they are. Unraveling this mystery introduces her to a variety of village residents and visitors, and spending her days with Toby deepens their friendship. Toby gently chivvies Mattie into acknowledging and returning to the person she was before Simon drained her of her self-confidence and cheerfulness.

Lovering is really good at creating atmosphere, both in terms of the setting and the characters. Christmas Steepleton is as adorable as you imagine, even covered in a heavy blanket of snow, but the reader doesn’t forget that this is the 21stC and people have to make a living. Seaside Dorset towns aren’t exactly destinations outside the tourist season, although this one has two seasons thanks to its name.

As Toby and Mattie work toward finding the Boys, Mattie sees Toby in a new light and Simon makes his inevitable appearance. The results are satisfying on all counts, and the solution to the mystery is fitting. I’m still not entirely sure about how Mattie and Toby are going to sustain themselves financially in the future, but they’re hardly alone in that and hey, it’s a Christmas story.

This is a novella-length story, but it packs in a fair amount of plot and features a range of characters. I would have been happy to spend more time in this world, but I finished with a nice sense of closure and holiday good cheer.