Wow – we’ve reached the end of TBR Challenge 2012! This month’s theme was holiday romance, so I had no trouble finding a book in my TBR pile to fit it. In the end, I decided I was in the mood for something contemporary, so I went with Harlequin Superromance’s 2010 anthology, That Christmas Feeling. I read the whole book, but it was definitely a mixed bag. Overall, I’d put it in the B-/C+ range.
The first story, A Dundee Christmas by Brenda Novak, was the most unique but also the most problematic. As it opened, I could tell this wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill Christmas story and I found myself looking forward to what might unfold. The heroine, Cierra Romero, is a young woman who came to the States from Guatemala on a visa to marry a much older man. However, her fiance has died and she is now overstaying her visa. Her family’s situation at home is quite dire, so Cierra has come to Dundee, Idaho, seeking work with a relative of her late fiance even though she feels constant fear of deportation.
In a snowstorm, the lost Cierra turns up on the doorstep of Ken Holbrook and his younger brother. The two find themselves quite affected by the proud young woman who is obviously lost and unprepared for the harsh conditions she encountered in Idaho. And that’s where it all unravels somewhat, too. The rapport between Cierra and Ken starts off well, and I could believe the mix of sympathy and attraction that Ken felt for Cierra. However, the story starts to go into territory that felt much more creepy than romantic. Even though Ken is definitely not Mr. Alpha, the power imbalance between the two and Ken’s seeming obsession with the particulars of Cierra’s relationship with the late fiance gave this tale some very off-putting moments. I could see it working in a novel where the two have time to explore their issues, but as a short story, this one fell flat, and I’d give it a C overall.
Kathleen O’Brien was the one author in this anthology that I hadn’t read before, and her story, We Need a Little Christmas was a sweet one. The hero, Nathaniel Araby, had left his grandfather’s home and tourist attraction at 18 and had little inclination to go back. For him, Joyland was not a Christmas delight; it was a reminder that his grandfather seemingly cared more for the tourists and the foster children whom he brought through the farm for Christmas than he did for the two grandchildren he’d had to raise. However, when he hears a radio appeal for help at Joyland due to his grandfather’s hospitalization, something pulls him home.
At Joyland, Nate meets Annie Browning, a woman dedicated to making sure that Joyland runs smoothly even if its owner cannot be there. Annie sees Joyland as a magical place and even Nate finds her enthusiasm and determination contagious. While this story is sometimes a little too sweet for me, Nate and Annie were both likable and I also appreciated that not every issue got wrapped up magically by the end. While not amazing, this one was a decent comfort read and I’d give it a B-.
Set in New Zealand, Kiss Me, Santa was a fun read and my favorite of the bunch. Erica Owens is a single mom and she is determined not only to do her part for the neighborhood Christmas lights committee, but to give her son a normal and happy Christmas. The reclusive American who has moved in next door is her main obstacle. Mike Ward simply wants to be left alone and definitely has no interest in hanging lights all over his house. Mike misses his late wife terribly, and really just wants to be left alone.
Obviously, that doesn’t happen. What we get instead is a very sweet romance between two neighbors who bond over Christmas, everyday life and Erica’s son. As the two get to know each other, they start to appreciate each other and the fact that Erica charms Mike out of his shell really does seem believable. Of the three, this was my favorite story of the bunch and I’d give it a B.
While not the strongest Christmas anthology I’ve ever read, That Christmas Feeling still had its moments. If I went back to it, I’d probably skip the first story, but the other two were sweet reads. Hope everyone has a happy holiday, no matter what you celebrate!
– Lynn Spencer