To All a Good Night

Donna Kauffman, Jill Shalvis and HelenKay Dimon
2008, Contemporary Romance
Brava, $14.00, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 075822849X

Grade: B
Sensuality: Varies

I may reach a point in my life when I read nothing but holiday anthologies for the entire month of December. There's just something about a quick, festive read that's very appealing at this time of year. To All a Good Night was, for the most part, just the sort of holiday read I was looking for. The first two stories were definitely worth my time, and though the third was merely okay, it seemed a small price to pay.

Contemporary Romance
Sensuality: Warm

Unleashed by Donna Kauffman is what we often call a cabin romance - a story about two people who are trapped in a secluded spot for the duration of the story. Emma Lafferty owns a pet-sitting business, and she lands the perfect job right before the holidays. The owner of Hamilton Enterprises, the largest employer in her Virginia town, is leaving for the holidays, and has given his staff a couple of weeks off. Emma will be both house and pet sitter in his mountain vacation home, which is bigger than most primary residences. Armed with a list of detailed instructions that fills an entire notebook, Emma heads off. She's sorry to miss out on the holidays with her family, but thrilled about landing a prominent client who can throw more business her way. After arriving at the home and settling in with the pets, she is shocked to discover she's not alone. Lionel's very hot nephew is there as well. Trevor Hamilton would like to take advantage of his uncle's absence to unearth a family secret, the evidence of which is concealed somewhere in the mountain home. He assures Emma that he's a family member with a right to be there, and even though she's skeptical, she agrees not to call Lionel immediately. Any plans he might have to head out the next morning disappear when a blizzard engulfs the area, cutting off power and effectively stranding the couple. Will they take advantage of their attraction to make their own happy holiday?

Of course they will. This is a really fun romance, especially on a fantasy level. Who wouldn't want to be stranded in a mansion with some hot guy? Even though the story is short, both Trevor and Emma are well-developed, interesting characters, and I liked them both. I even liked the animals (bonus: There's a talking parrot!). The only drawback for me was the lack of closure. Trevor ends up deciding not to look at the information he was originally seeking. I was fine with him not wanting to know, but after reading the whole story, I wanted to know. Still, the story was fun.

Grade: B

Contemporary Romance
Sensuality: Hot

Finding Mr. Right by Jill Shavis was my favorite story of the book. Maggie Bell is a nerdy chemist whose sister makes her promise that, as a holiday gift to herself, she'll go have a fun affair with "Mr. Wrong." So far, her steadfast pursuit of guys who are her type has been a real bust. Maggie has someone in mind for the job - if she can get up the nerve to even speak to him. Jacob Wahler is the sexy contractor who has been working on a remodel of Maggie's building. Though he doesn't recognize her, she actually knows him from high school; he was the handsome jock, and she was the shy whiz-kid who helped him with his homework. When she scrapes both her knees in a clumsy fall, Jacob comes with her to her lab and helps her clean up - and fulfill her hot sex fantasies. Soon she is wondering whether Mr. Wrong is really, well, wrong. However, Maggie becomes caught up in an intrigue involving her workplace and inventions. Jacob just may have the chance to prove that he can be in her life permanently.

I liked nearly everything about this story. Maggie was truly hilarious; she's booksmart but a little underdeveloped in the social skills department, and likes to blurt out useless facts when she's nervous (which is often). Jacob finds her irresistible, which is a huge point is his favor. Some of the office intrigue stuff is on the silly side, but silly stuff is pretty easy to tolerate in a short story, especially one as cute as this.

Grade: B+

Contemporary Romance
Sensuality: Hot

Can You Hand Me the Tape? by HelenKay Dimon isn't really a bad story, but it is the weak link in this anthology. Natalie Pritchard has a problem. She made a risque tape for her ex, and accidentally left it in his possession when she dumped him. He actually doesn't know the tape exists, and Natalie wants to find a way to retrieve it before he notices what he has. Her solution is Spence Donovan - her ex's (almost) former partner. Spence and Charlie-the-ex are in the process of dissolving their law partnership, and things are not going amicably. Spence agrees to help Natalie, and in the process he realizes that he's half in love with her already. But in addition to finding the tape, they'll also need to tackle Natalie's self-esteem issues. She's recently lost weight, and is still insecure about herself because of Charlie's poor treatment.

I didn't really have any problems with Spence and Natalie, both of whom are likable. The plot too is fine. The problem with this story is precisely the same problem I noticed when I reviewed a book by Dimon earlier this year; it comes down to writing style, and hers drives me completely crazy. All of her paragraphs are very short. If it's not rapid-fire, tagless dialogue, then it's her three-sentence rhythm. I repeatedly became distracted as I tried to pay attention to what was going on, but was really counting "Sentence one, sentence two, sentence three" in the back of my head. Not everyone has to write like Henry James, but an entire story composed solely of short paragraphs makes the reader feel like a rodent on a caffeine bender.

Grade: C+

That said, when the weakest story earns a C+, you're still looking at a pretty good anthology. Both the Shalvis and Kauffman stories are definitely worth a look. On the whole, To All a Good Night is a worthwhile holiday offering. Consider cuddling up by the tree with your drink of choice (caffeinated or not), putting your feet up, and digging in.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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