The Christmas Date

Michele Dunaway
December 2007, Series Romance
Harl Amer Romance #1191, $4.99, 213 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373751958

Grade: B
Sensuality: Subtle

On a whim this year, I ordered several Christmas romances online. By coincidence the one contemporary romance I picked was The Christmas Date by Michele Dunaway, whose name I had never heard before. Imagine my delight when this proved a novel to enjoy.

Kate Merrill and her new neighbor, Tyler Nichols, couldn’t be more different in their lifestyle and outlooks if they tried. Kate works as a paralegal in a large law firm while attending classes at night school. She aims to become a lawyer, and her boss has already hinted she might be offered a position with his firm after her exams in the spring. In contrast, Kate’s private life is in the dumps. First, she had a very unhappy childhood living with her promiscuous mother until a great-aunt rescued and adopted her. The great-aunt died some years ago, but her friends, who live in the same suburban street in Orlando, continue to look after Kate. Still, she feels lonely. Second, the last man she dated turned out to be a real jerk, culminating in calling her “frigid” in front of a number of people at the office. Her self-confidence shattered, she wants to concentrate on her career and and definitely has no interest in dating.

Tyler Nichols, in contrast, comes from a large and loving family. A photojournalist, he is used to traveling around the world, entering danger zones and risking his life on an almost daily basis. He recently bought a house in Orlando, but only because his lawyer sister and his tax accountant have told him he needs to. When he moves in, he is delighted that his neighbor is the fascinating woman he met once before.

Kate and Tyler first get to know each other as neighbors, being helpful, but while he almost immediately wants to get to know her better with the goal of starting an affair, she can’t imagine what such a jet-setting man might possibly see in her. The hero’s and heroine’s points-of-view are presented very cleverly here. In spite of his good looks and international lifestyle, Tyler is not a playboy. Although he has had love affairs before, he is mostly married to his very demanding job. Yet he truly thinks Kate utterly charming and beautiful. Kate, on the other hand, is no ugly duckling, but instead an averagely attractive woman who just happens to have low self-confidence. (Know someone like her?) So this novel is not about a makeover or the taming of the rake, but rather about developing one’s view about oneself and about what’s important in one’s life.

There are several humorous scenes with the elderly neighbors, with Tyler’s family, and with Kate’s best friend at work. I liked the secondary characters, not least because they are mostly kept in the background and do not overshadow the romance. The neighbors are especially well done. Michele Dunaway manages to present them both as heartwarmingly concerned surrogate grandmothers and presumptuous, interfering busybodies – sometimes at the same time. I also enjoyed the feeling of time and space. The novel is meant to be set in 2007, and some clever allusions to current affairs and popular culture anchor the novel in the present.

I was truly curious how Michele Dunaway would manage to give the protagonists their happy ending. Whose outlook would have to be sacrificed, or was there a chance of a compromise? On this point, I did not quite feel satisfied. While the ending is romantic and sweet, and I certainly wished it for Kate and Tyler, I found it just a touch too easy. Of course, your own view on this may differ.

In spite of this minor niggle, I can whole-heartedly recommend The Christmas Date. It is a charming romance set in the here-and-now, among real people, and it manages both to have a Christmas setting and to be heart-warming without overwhelming the reader with holly, mistletoe and Silent Night.

-- Rike Horstmann

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