Look kiddies, a book review from your Auntie Wendy, Super Librarian! Between my lackadaisical mood and the return from the Stomach Virus From Hell, it's amazing I finally finished a book. To make it even more depressing, it took me two weeks (yes, two!) to finish a category romance clocking in 267 pages. Seriously, I know I left my mojo lying around here somewhere.
Betting On Santa by Debra Salonen was part of Harlequin SuperRomance's evil plot to get me to buy all of their November 2007 releases. And since all of them were Christmas-themed books that featured a jaunty red bow on the cover, y'all know I blithely opened my wallet and said, "Please sir, please take all of this money. Whatever else will I need it for?" For essentially being an impulse buy this was a pretty decent read. It didn't rock my socks, and I found it uneven in parts, but I enjoyed Salonen's style and wouldn't be adverse to giving her other books a go should the plot(s) tickle my fancy.
Tessa Jamison is the girl that everybody can depend on. Raised by a drug-addicted, musician stepfather meant a very unstable childhood, so when Tessa grew up she became a workaholic with her own consulting business, made sure her mother had a retirement plan, and put her younger half-sister on the books so she'd have health insurance. Sunny left Oregon for a time, and lived in Texas, only to come home pregnant. Now that little Joey is two, Tessa goads Sunny into confronting Joey's father. The boy shouldn't grow up without a Daddy and it's obvious to Tessa that Sunny still has feelings for the mystery man.
Tragedy inevitably strikes. On her way to see the Baby Daddy, Sunny gets in a car accident and lands in a coma. Tessa and her mother head to Texas to be by her side. In the meantime, Tessa takes it upon herself to find the Baby Daddy, but all she has to go on in Sunny's flighty diary entries. Naturally the two sister's never bothered to talk about the little inconsequential things in life like, oh I don't know, the guy who knocks you up.
Tessa zeros in on Cole Lawry, former real estate big shot, now a carpenter, and temporarily playing Santa at the local church bazaar. He gave Sunny a job when she lived in Texas. Did he give her something more? ::wink, wink, nudge, nudge::
This plot does work as long as the reader doesn't think about it too hard. I thought too hard. I couldn't get past the fact that Sunny never discloses the Baby Daddy's identity to her own mother and sister. Assuming I was single, if I moved back to my hometown after living out of state, and showed up on my family's doorstep pregnant? Yeah, pregnant or not my sisters would be beating the Baby Daddy's identity right out of me. So I just couldn't quite wrap my mind around that. Also, Tessa traipses off to find the Baby Daddy without Sunny telling her jack. I mean, what if the man was abusive? What if Sunny left him, didn't tell him about the baby, because he was married? Beat the crap out of her? Was a crack dealer? I mean, Tessa doesn't know - and she doesn't once stop to think about the consequences. She's thinking Sunny could die and Joey should know his daddy. Never mind that she doesn't have an inkling about the man's character.
Now Cole I genuinely liked. This is a guy who has been burned. He married the boss' daughter, a spoiled little girl who liked $600 purses and designer labels. He tries to shoe-horn himself into her life and does become a success as a real estate agent, before it all goes sour in a bad business deal. Wife leaves. Job is toast. Cole gets divorced and heads home to lick his wounds. He's working a crappy carpenter job (the pay ain't that great and no health insurance), but is glad to be home. He's a blue collar guy, with a blue collar soul, and has gotten to the point in his life where that is just jim-dandy with him.
His attraction to Tessa is complicated. She's a successful businesswoman. She's driven. She's ambitious. Her wardrobe costs more than his house. It would never work. On the flip-side, Tessa sees Cole and at first sees a man who has given up. She equates this to no ambition, and honestly her character is pretty darn uppity at times. She ran hot and cold for me. At moments she thaws out and I like her well enough and yet at other times she equates blue collar to "no ambition" and that really grates.
There are quite a few secondary characters in this story, as this is the second book in a multi-author series about Texas poker buddies who fall in love. At times I felt the inclusion of these characters was unnecessary. They seemed more like series-filler than actual necessities to this particular story, but luckily their roles are relegated to a couple of chapters and their presence isn't a constant distraction.
The ending is over-the-top and features a grand romantic gesture. I rolled my eyes, but the moment when Cole and Tessa embrace, and declare their love, I melted like ice cream on a hot plate. Yeah, I'm a sap. So all in all? A pleasant read. I doubt I'll pick up the rest of the books in this series, but I liked Salonen's writing style. Even with me nitpicking the plot set-up to death, and Tessa's occasional bouts of snobbery, this story generally worked for me.
Final Grade = C+