Wednesday, December 18, 2019

#TBRChallenge 2019: Holiday Kisses Anthology
The Book: Holiday Kisses by Jaci Burton, Shannon Stacey, HelenKay Dimon and Alison Kent

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Carina Press, 2011, three out of four stories part of series (exception: Alison Kent), stories available in anthology edition and sold separately.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I had a print copy of this, which means I must have picked it up at an RWA conference...but it's not autographed. Maybe I picked it up as part of a Carina/Harlequin spotlight? My personal cataloging notes are sketchy (to put it mildly).

The Review: I've always liked anthologies as a way to "sample" authors without having to expend a lot of time and energy.  I don't read nearly as many of them these days because thanks to digital many shorts are now available separately. I've obviously had this anthology languishing for a while, short works well for me this time of year (even more so than usual) so I landed on it pretty quickly for this month's challenge.
A Rare Gift by Jaci Burton kicked things off and suffered a bit because I personally have issues with the sibling's ex trope.  As someone who has sisters, the idea of boffing one of their exes (not to mention an ex-husband!!!) is an immediate no-go for me.  Calliope Andrews moved back home and started up a daycare center.  She's outgrowing her space though and wants to add an addition.  For that she calls Wyatt Kent, whose family runs a small construction outfit.  Wyatt was married to her sister, Cassandra, and they divorced two years ago.  It was not a happy fun-time divorce (are they ever?), he's still surly over it, and Calliope has had the hots for Wyatt since she was 15 (because, of course).

Cassandra isn't a dead ex (it works better for me when they're dead) and Wyatt, while not pining over his ex, still obviously has not "let it go."  So while I appreciated that Calliope was a heroine who knew what she wanted and went after it - the neatly tied up ending, the rushed "lets get married and start making babies yesterday" in the last chapter - it just didn't work for me.  Gurl, HE HAD A DISASTER MARRIAGE WITH YOUR SISTER!  Holidays are gonna be awkward.  But I'm a big enough person to admit that this is very much a personal preference thing and YMMV.

Final Grade = C
Mistletoe and Margaritas by Shannon Stacey was a novella that damn near ripped my guts out and was my favorite in the anthology.  Justin McCormick has loved Claire Rutledge since he first laid eyes on her.  The problem being that his BFF got there first. Brendan and Claire dated, got married, and had five years together before he died in an accident. Claire has been grieving for 2 years and during that time her and Justin have become inseparable BFFs.  It's getting harder for Justin to hide his feelings and Claire's starting to have very not-just-friend thoughts about Justin.  One holiday party, a couple of cocktails and some mistletoe kicks open the door.  This one features another fast marriage proposal, but works a bit better given the long friendship.  My only quibble in what is an engaging and emotional romance.

Final Grade = B+
The only reasons I didn't DNF It's Not Christmas Without You by HelenKay Dimon is because it's a novella and Dimon is an engaging writer.  Carrie Anders left her small West Virginia hometown for a dream job at a museum in Washington D.C. two hours away.  She broke it off with her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Austin Thomas, who runs a Christmas tree farm with his father and brother.  Austin thought that Carrie would get this crackpot idea of moving to The Big City out of her system and come home...but it's been six months.  So he drops serious cash, persuades his brother, and they rent a lot outside the heroine's apartment building to sell Christmas trees.  He's going to convince her to quit her job, come home, and marry him.

The hero in this story is a thundering jackass, borderline Neanderthal who completely disregards that the heroine has dreams and ambitions of her own separate from his precious man fee-fees.  To make matters worse, the heroine doesn't knee him in the giblets and send him packing. She puts up with his BS and keeps coming around the lot because she can't stay away.  I stuck with this story because I like Dimon's writing and it's short and it's kind of worth it in the end when the light finally dawns for Austin and he realizes he's an ass.  The problem being that I'm not sure I believe that he's reformed.  I mean, what are we talking here: a long distance relationship that consists of a 2 hour commute. This is not insurmountable IMHO and yet he's bound and determined to haul her home by her hair.  He sees the light but he's such a jackass for the majority of the story I'm not convinced they survive the first rough patch that happens after the happy ending.  And knowing Austin?  That rough patch probably happened within the first week.

Final Grade = C-
This Time Next Year by Alison Kent is a well done snowed-in-cabin-romance.  Brenna Keating is driving through the North Carolina mountains on the way to her grandmother's for Christmas when the predicted snow forecast shows up early. She's almost there when she swerves to avoid a deer and lands in a ditch. She's trapped, the snow is falling fast, and she probably would have frozen to death in her car if local doctor, Dillon Craig didn't happen upon her.  He's friends with her grandmother, and knows she's expecting Brenna. He frees her from her car and, the weather still terrible, takes her back to his cabin.  What you think happens next...happens next.

Brenna, a nurse, is spending one last Christmas with her grandmother before heading to Malawi for volunteer work. Her grandmother and her parents have all done similar work - kind of like a family calling.  Yet Brenna knows that her grandmother isn't getting any younger and this could very well be their last Christmas together.  Dillon served in Afghanistan as a medic, haunted by his war experiences and the fact that he was thousands of miles away from home when his father (who left him the cabin) died of a heart attack.

This is a nice, emotional, engaging romance featuring two grown-up characters who talk to each other.  I liked these two kids together and they form a partnership that naturally makes sense in my mind.  I've read several stories by Kent over the years and this is probably my favorite to date.  It's a nice contemporary romance.

Final Grade = B

Whew! Another year and another TBR Challenge complete.  I hope you all had fun participating and/or following along.  We're doing this again in 2020!  Be sure to check out this blog post for more information.


Jill said...

I'm a day late, but I'm here! I read Christmas at Watarah Bay by Marion Lennox. I assume it was originally a Harlequin and it's been repackaged, but I found it just by searching for "Christmas" and "holiday" on my Kindle.

This was really charming. There's a grumpy farmer hero, an unbeat heroine who is well-rounded enough to not be too annoying and a sweet old man who just wants one last Christmas at home. And lots of animals because it's Marion Lennox. Yes, it's a bit Hallmark movie Australia style, but it is written in a brisk well-paced style that just flows. I really enjoyed reading about an Australian Christmas. I feel like Marion Lennox categories remind me a bit of Nora Roberts in her prime category years. Nothing earth shattering, but a smooth entertaing read that comes to a smooth landing. The heroine's secret was s bit annoying, but I forgave it because it was a short read.

Wendy said...

Jill: I only recently discovered Marion Lennox and I find her writing so comforting. She has that "something" that I can't quite put my finger on and have no intelligent way to describe. Jessica Hart works for me on the same level.

I looked up this book wondering if I had it - and it turns out it was published by Tule! I'm not surprised you thought it was a repackaged Harlequin. A lot of Harlequin writers have also worked with Tule (Tule was started by Jane Porter so...yeah).

Dorine said...

I did have fun and am happy you're continuing next year. The funny thing is that even though I'm depleting one more book from the TBR, someone from the challenge convinces me to buy another book with their review. LOL

Wendy said...

Dorine: That always seems to be the unintended side-effect of the challenge LOL. Glad you've signed on again for next year!