Librarian Julia Winston is ready to ditch the quiet existence she’s been living. She’s made a list of new things to experience, but falling for Jamie Caine, her sexy military pilot neighbor, isn’t one of them. Julia’s looking to conquer life, not become the heartbreaker’s latest conquest. But when two young brothers wind up in Julia’s care for the holidays, she’ll take any help she can get—even Jamie’s.
Happy to step in, Jamie reveals a side of himself that’s much harder to resist. Not only is he fantastic with kids, he provides the strength Julia needs to tackle her list. She knows their temporary family can’t last beyond the holidays, but the closer she gets to Jamie, the more she wonders if things could be this merry and bright forever…
Read: December 2021
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
As I’ve said before, realistic fiction romance isn’t my typical domain, but after my success with Hang the Moon, I decided to dabble further with some holiday-themed fluff. Sugar Pine Trail just happened to be the first interesting-looking holiday audiobook I could get from Libby. (The Christmas Bookshop? My wait time is listed as “several months.”)
Sugar Pine Trail is the love story of Julia Winston, a librarian in a small Idaho town, and Jamie Caine, a former military man – and the brother-in-law of Julia’s best friend, Eliza – who moves into the upstairs apartment attached to Julia’s house. But it is also a story of compassion and parenthood: Julia’s house becomes even more crowded after she volunteers to foster two local kids, Clint and Davey, whose widowed mother has disappeared. So if you’re looking for something soapy, here it is.
There’s something refreshing about Thayne’s attempts to buck cliches in this story. Instead of being the asshole player or the overbearing, overprotective love interest, Jamie is a much gentler sort of casual dater. Julia isn’t a crazy cat lady spinster, but a kindhearted cat owner by circumstance. The plotline with Clint and Davey doesn’t wrap up the way you expect it to. Best of all, the romantic plot of the book doesn’t revolve around Julia “taming” Jamie or whatever. It revolves around Julia and Jamie each tackling their hangups about relationships and allowing each to challenge the other while also accommodating the other’s need for space. It’s so wholesome to witness Jamie and Julia fall for each other over the course of several weeks (no insta-love bullshit here!) as they bond over Julia’s foster children and the loss of their own parents.
This book ticks several boxes on the romance checklist. Sick fic? You’ve got it. Your ship unexpectedly having to act as parents together? On the house. Emotionally scarred love interests? Definitely. Neighbors-to-friends-to-lovers? Look no further. Holiday setting? Jingle, jingle, bitches.An actual healthy relationship? Yes, yes, yes. But although Sugar Pine Trail satisfied my craving for a holiday romance, it didn’t satisfy me overall. Perhaps it was the uncertainty surrounding Clint and Davey’s mother at the end of the story – what can I say? I like neat endings – but I think that Thayne wrote the story like that to emphasize the uncertainty that so many foster children experience. The cast isn’t diverse at all, but the book is set in small-town Idaho, and while racial and ethnic diversity are important to include in the world’s literary body, it’s not the end-all-be-all of a good story. I think my biggest issue is that the main characters’ relationships with minor characters seem shallow, or at least unexplored. For instance, Thayne writes that Eliza is Julia’s good friend, but there is a dearth of meaningful scenes between Eliza and Julia. Yes, it’s a romance, but people just don’t exist in a vacuum. This was something that Hang the Moon handled very well, and I guess my hopes were a bit too high after that.
Altogether, Sugar Pine Trail is a decent, easy read that will satiate your longing for a sweet holiday story. Even if it’s a bit skimpy on platonic friendships, it’s still an enjoyable book with a cute romance and a heartwarming story of opening your heart to those in need.