Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TBR Challenge 2010: Welcome To Pleasantville

The Book: A Town Called Christmas by Carrie Alexander

The Particulars: Harlequin SuperRomance #1455, 2007, Out of Print. However, it is available to purchase digitally.

Why Was It In The Bat Cave TBR?: Carrie Alexander is an autobuy for me in the HSR line. Also, it's a Christmas story. I'm a sucker for a Christmas story - which I'm beginning to think the diabolical minds at Harlequin headquarters are all too aware of.

The Review: Michael Kavanaugh is a Navy pilot who has just received a Dear John letter from his fiancee. His BFF hates to think of his freshly-jilted buddy alone, over the holidays no less, and talks Michael into coming home with him to Christmas, Michigan (yes, this town does exist). Once there he meets Nicky's sister Meredith "Merry" York. Michael falls hook, line and sinker. He's so dazzled that he fails to notice, at first, that she's 5 months pregnant.

Merry had a great job, great condo and who she thought was a great boyfriend in Chicago. Then she ends up preggo and it all goes to Hell. When her father takes sick, Merry comes home to tiny, claustrophobic Christmas to take over the family tree farm. She has resigned herself to being alone. To raising her baby alone. And then Michael shows up, making her heart go pitter-patter. But he's only on leave for a week, and, oh yeah, she's pregnant. Michael doesn't strike her as the kind of guy to sign up for that kind of commitment after one week.

One thing I like about many of Alexander's Supers is that she uses Michigan's Upper Penisula as a setting. You've got beautiful scenery, good local color, plenty of characters, and she's from the area - so she writes it with authenticity. However in this case, I felt like I was reading a love letter to the U.P moreso than a romance between hero and heroine. Plenty of time is spent on the town of Christmas and the "local color" that is the holiday celebrations. Likewise, this is a big, involved family-type story. The HSR line is great because the stories are longer, so authors can toss in some secondary characters and subplots. But here it felt like too much. You've got brother Nicky, his wife, and their kids. You have 20-year-old sister Noelle and her boyfriend. You have Mom and Dad. You have a cantankerous aunt. There's also a secondary romance between the local fix-it repair woman and a shy, bashful writer. Between all those people and the Christmas goo-ga, Merry and Michael felt a little lost in the shuffle.

This is also one of those Small Town = Goody Goodness type stories. Which is fine. Really. But one thing I learned? These types of stories tend to work a lot better for me if there's a wee bit of angst in the proceedings, and this whole romance felt a little too easy to me. Yes, even with Merry being knocked up by another man. Yes, even with Michael being on the rebound. It should have been more angst-y, but wasn't. Even when Michael is debating about spending time with Merry, he does anyway. He pays lip-service to not getting too close, but then these two keep hanging out together. And they fall into their relationship like slipping on that ratty old pair of slippers you keep around because dang, they're so darn comfortable.

None of this makes this a bad book - just sort of ho-hum. It's certainly pleasant, and these are nice enough folks. Sure I was flummoxed why Merry wanted to keep the identity of the Baby Daddy under wraps from her family (even though it's obvious!) and sure it irritated that her mother was supposedly "scandalized" by her unmarried daughter's pregnancy even though Merry is thirty-frickin-six years old. But whatever. When you're born, raised and die in a small town - never leaving said town - scandals can be stuck in the 1950s.

Where does that leave me? Well, this story is just sort of there. If you're a reader looking for a simple, uncomplicated romance with that cozy small town vibe? This one just might do it for you. Sometimes you just need a read like that. No vampire lurking behind dark corners. No serial killers waiting in the bushes. That said, this one didn't really light a fire under me either way (no, OMG LURVE! and no, OMG BLEEDING EYES!). So yeah. Sorta there.

Final Grade = C


Hannah said...

Thanks for the review! I think I can skip this one, especially because I bought so many of the holiday-themed Harlequins in the Superromance, Harlequin Romance, and Special Edition lines this year. I'm especially looking forward to reading the new Sarah Mayberry, The Best Laid Plans (I think that one is not set at the holidays though)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I could take the cute factor of the nickname Merry. Then again, the question I've been asked most in my life is, "Why didn't your mother name you Merry?" So I'm jaded. :)

Oh, and I suppose I should last name is Christmas.

Wendy said...

Hannah: There have been some years where I've bought ALL the holiday offerings in certain lines. Sigh.

Elissa: LOL! I normally really enjoy how Alexander writes small towns/communities - but this one definitely veered into cutesy territory a few times for me.