🎄💕 "A Secret Christmas Wish" (Wishing Well Springs #4) (2021) 💕🎄 - Book Tour & Review
The magic of Christmas
Could make her wish come true!
A small-town Christmas wedding. What could be more romantic? Unless you’re a plus-one for hire like single mom Maia MacKenzie. Too bad handsome cowboy Brent Hayes is her new coworker—and completely off-limits! Neither of them can afford to lose their job…or invest in a relationship. But when she sees Brent’s adorable connection with her young son, Maia can’t help wishing for a Christmas miracle.
About the Author
One winner will receive a coffee mug, author bling, and $20 Starbucks gift card (US only)
Ends November 17, 2021
Thank you in advance to the author, Cathy McDavid, for providing a complimentary review copy through Prism Book Tours. A positive review was not required or requested and all words are my own.
One thing I can count on when I read a Harlequin Heartwarming novel – a good, clean, sometimes fun, beautiful, and somewhat uplifting story. Generally, I get that.
I usually start off my reviews with a little bit of history about the book/series, my introduction to the author’s work, and what drew me to the book in the first place.
I wind into the “warnings or content triggers” right before diving into the main review.
I want to change that up with this one in particular, and get the warning right out there. While it isn’t anything that is outside the line’s normal “trope”, it is something that is definitely a “trigger” that needs to be addressed right off.
As I had read the previous two books in the WISHING WELL SERIES, obviously I wanted to continue reading the series for several reasons (more on those later). However, this book is a bit of “downer” or at best “SUBDUED” for a lack of a better term for a romance novel, particularly a Christmas one.
The main character, Brent, is battling depression. While it is on the milder side, the author is quite accurate with certain aspects of it, the way it manifests, and those around the person whose efforts to “help” can sometimes cause the person more harm than good.
If you (the potential reader) or anyone you know has depression, you should exercise caution when reading this book. Even reading about some of Brent’s thoughts as well as the descriptive part of his battle can or might be triggering to some – those who have it, those caring for someone with it.
While the story has the standard “happily ever after”, a good portion of the book does deal heavily with Brent’s depression which I will get into as the review goes along.
I want this to act as a STOP point for potential readers.
With that said …
Some of the events referred to in this book were discussed and referred to in the first two books (#1 – The Cowboy’s Holiday Bride & #2 – How to Marry a Cowboy).
#1 – The Cowboy’s Holiday Bride – Cash/Phoebe
#2 – How to Marry a Cowboy – Channing/Kenna
#3 – A Secret Christmas Wish – Brent/Maia
Cash returns about page 175, around 47% in, as well as Channing. Kenna and Phoebe are mentioned but not really seen. I did expect to see Phoebe given at least two of the weddings was at Wishing Well Springs where Phoebe is a wedding coordinator. I would’ve expected to see Cash’s sister, Laurel but she is a no-show; even at the wedding which I found as odd for a few reasons.
Readers are also introduced to Maia’s toddler son TJ, her sister Darla, as well as her parents.
There are also other support characters as well.
Like most people, I REALLY disliked Darla.
As of note – Cash and Phoebe FINALLY get married. I say this because, at the end of book #1 they were within 24 hours of getting married; book #2 – they were dating (no mention of getting married at all). In this one? Their wedding is set for Christmas day. Kenna’s mom Gracie, husband Beau, and his baby Skye are definitely absent from this book despite Channing’s appearance, and Kenna’s “slight” appearance towards the end.
Obviously the cover can be misleading. Don’t get me wrong, it is a cute, adorable, and SUPER romantic cover. But, given the storyline – it definitely seemed a little incompatible.
The plot, overall, is a bit heart-breaking. It is also inspiring, realistic (perhaps too much so).
McDavid did try to tell this in a way that didn’t bore or depress the reader and tried to engage them in a way that didn’t seem like they were being lecture or preached at. The story didn’t trot along, but it wasn’t a race either. The pacing was even and smooth.
For about the first 50 pages, I didn’t stop reading this. I was really invested in this one. Would’ve read more the first night – but, bedtime called.
The first line was a tad humorous:
“Staring at an attractive cowboy across the way while on a date with someone else probably wasn’t considered good manners”. How could I NOT want to read more?
Right off Maia is attracted to Brent Hayes. In addition, she catches his eye as well.
As it turns out – they both work for YOUR PERFECT PLUS ONE. It is Darla’s business. Darla is Maia’s sister. The service is a wedding and event date company. I found the idea unique, though to be honest, what happens later with Maia and Brent? Not likely a good idea.
It isn’t an escort for the evening or a matchmaking service. There are rules for clients and co-worked. Honestly? I was a bit split on my thoughts with this one. Unique, but kind of dishonest – especially for the people who see the date and client and get told a story about it.
It isn’t long until Brent and Maia realize they are co-workers. This sets up some interesting moments throughout the book. Most of this is Darla’s accidental doing, and to be honest, when the last issue occurs, it is sort of her fault.
Brent, a friend of Channing’s, is a down-on-his-luck former rodeo competitor. His father was famous which doesn’t help the old pressure deal. Brent has a deep, dark secret – he knows he has a mental issue. And, he’s fairly certain it is depression. It doesn’t help that he’s had a few jobs between leaving the circuit and ending up at not only YOUR PERFECT PLUS ONE. He’s also working with Maia’s dad, Ansel, at Bear Creek Ranch. Brent doesn’t think the problem is that bad, or bad enough to warrant medication.
Of course, YOUR PERFECT PLUS ONE doesn’t allow fraternizing between coworkers. Bummer for Maia and Brent. Though really, does anyone think that would stop them?
Right off, it is clear that Brent likes Maia, he just doesn’t think he has anything to offer her.
Despite being friendly at times, Maia notices Brent withdrawing from her friendship – almost like an invisible shield goes up.
Each of them has their reasons for both jobs – Brent’s is to pay down his credit card bill as well as a personal loan. Maia is not only taking care of her son, but needs a new saddle to compete in the Diamond Cup.
Brent walked away from the rodeo because he didn’t feel like he was good enough. He considers his problem a funk and he’s still in it. Around page 98, Brent tells Maia about his career and “problem”. Maia makes a mistake of offering advice as opposed to listening. Trust me, girl, common mistake. Yet, another quirk – many times suggesting the person with depression get help causes them to shut down and not do anything. Though most of us try to help not out of misunderstanding, but a genuine concern for the person’s well-being.
The two also work together to train her horse, Snapple, for competitive riding given his history and traits.
While they should avoid each other – it is unavoidable when Darla ends up sending them on wedding after wedding, even on Christmas Eve. Can you see why I said Darla was most to blame? Sending two co-workers that you know are “chummy” to the same event and expect them NOT to interact? Not going to happen.
Given the proximity of the holidays, Brent calls his mother who suggests he reach out to his father, who obviously hasn’t heard of positive reinforcement. Thus, Brent has more of a slide.
When Cash and Channing do show up they both invite Cash to the wedding on Christmas day. And, Maia calls her ex-fiancé (TJ’s dad) to see if he wants to be a part of his son’s life – that’s a “no” right there. At that moment, she understands more of what Brent is dealing with.
There is a kiss on page 206, about 55% in, so that shows that the romance is definitely a SLOW build up and more or less a side dish rather than main entrée. Brent acknowledges he does like Maia, but wants to distance until he is better. It is around this time Channing gives him an opportunity to get back into some participation with rodeo as a judge. Even bringing up a wonderful opportunity. Still, those dark thoughts persist for Brent.
Towards the end, my interest in the book waned, more so when Darla (Maia’s sister) started appearing more often. Her demands on her sister’s time with regard to the business was COMPLETELY unacceptable. It wasn’t like she didn’t know Maia was a single mom and that TJ might like his mother home for the holidays. This was truly, if I didn’t love my books, a “throw the book” moment.
I felt what happened on the Christmas Eve wedding was somehow karma for Darla (oh, how I wanted to laugh). Though it doesn’t end well for Brent and Maia either despite her honesty (77%). A bit of a spoiler – Darla all but begged and forced her sister to work a wedding on CHRISTMAS EVE full well knowing Brent was going and that also left TJ without his momma.
Of course, it is this event that is the catalyst for the end of the book. Darla’s take on Brent’s struggles is a bit unacceptable. Her excuse is she is looking out for family. And, I had to laugh at Maia and Darla’s mom here. She was truly behind Darla and Brent.
I thoroughly enjoyed Brent’s connection with TJ. It was definitely sweet and so heartwarming. As note, Darla was quite annoying, if not just an intolerable pain even if she managed to redeem herself at the end (just barely).
While McDavid kept the depression issue realistic and covered it quite well, it seemed like the story was more about that than the two people coming together. The author was authentic and realistic with the mannerisms of it. Some of which were described by Brent as “being stricken down with no warning”. Other mannerisms were dark thoughts (not necessarily suicide), but also excessive sleepiness, brain fog, and it being a lifelong battle.
I an say some of it felt like it was experiences from my life. While I do not have depression, a close family member has it. The author was 100% spot on in certain cases which might’ve been the reason I didn’t enjoy the story as much as I could’ve.
As of note – like Maia, I sincerely want to help the person – who wouldn’t? Sometimes that does backfire and they tend to shutdown as well as run off (even figuratively). It is a complicated process. Even suggesting they see someone can be problematic.
I had to laugh at one scene in which referred to Maia’s horse as an Army tank. As well as the Christmas Day wedding fiasco. I almost wanted to laugh right there. That was the cherry on top right there.
And, the Christmas Eve wedding? There was a LOVELY character by the name of Olive who puts Brent and Maia’s situation into perspective for everyone. After all, he was her date. She was telling the bride that what the two did was pretty incredible by making people’s lives better if only for the event. She especially praises his attentiveness. And, there is a moment when great-aunt Edna (from the party) is left at a table and out of family photos, Brent dances with her.
I really want to see Olive again. She made up for Darla tenfold! I have to get more of her story!
This, at its core, is a difficult read – but, the reader should walk away feeling a sense of wanting to help, but also with understanding others’ plight and give them room. Understanding, acceptance, and patience are all key ingredients in love. And, some love is WORTH fighting for. Maia had enough fight for both of them.
Fans of the author, and especially those who read the first two books, will likely want to read this particular story.
If there is a book #4, I definitely want in. I definitely want to see if Laurel shows back up.
4 /⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Goodreads
4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Bookbub
4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Personal Rating (see rating explanation in this blog: https://readingexcursions.blogspot.com/2020/01/rating-system-2020-changes.html)