Last Chance Christmas

Hope Ramsay
October 2012, Contemporary Romance
Forever, $7.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0446576077
Part of a series

Grade: C
Sensuality: Warm

If you have read any books in the series, you know that in the first book Ms. Ramsay introduced the town of Last Chance with its quirky golfing for God miniature golf course and the sorrowful angel that only Haley Rhodes can see. You'll also know that her father Stonewall Rhodes lost his wife in a car accident six years ago. With this book, we see the conclusion of these two story arcs. However, for me it was anticlimactic, especially after the three previous, books.

Lark Chaiklin has had a difficult year. As a photojournalist she has seen plenty of war atrocities. But seeing her friend and mentor Jeb Smith killed has impacted her ability to use her camera. Now her father has died and he requested that his ashes be scattered at a specific hole at some rundown miniature golf course in South Carolina. Even though there are plainly visible ‘no trespassing’ signs posted, she ignores them and makes her way to the eighteenth hole, but before she can scatter her father’s ashes she is intercepted by the town’s chief of police, Stone Rhodes. After a few minutes of conversation he informs her that some people think her father murdered Zeke Rhodes, his grandfather, and Lark passes out (more because of a viral illness than the shock).

She wakes up to find herself at Randal House, home of the town’s matchmaker. Lark doesn’t know of Miriam Randal’s reputation but she does discover that her father caused quite the controversy when he took Nita Wills, a young black woman, to breakfast at the Kountry Kitchen in 1968. While this all this happened before Lark was born, she never realized that her father, the writer of the famous Carmine Falcone mystery books, had such an enigmatic past.

Stone Rhodes hasn’t been able to get past his wife Sharon’s death. Both family and friends can’t resist giving him advice. Depending on the source, he either needs to get laid or seek out a grief counselor. Hell, even the ghost that Haley envisions is giving her opinion, telling Haley he “needs to make room in his heart for love.” Still, he loses his temper when Lark and his children pull out the Christmas decorations and then punches a hole in the wall. He doesn’t want to let go of his sorrow because without it he will lose Sharon. Lark however is the perfect listener. She understands what he is feeling and for the first time he is able to open up. But of course the relationship is not going anywhere. She has a plane to catch for her next assignment on the 25th of December.

The universe that Ms. Ramsay created was fun and different the first time and even the second and third time around, but for me it is not strong enough to sustain a long running series. Certain points, like the golfing for God and the angels, now seem stale and worn out.

I didn’t find Stone particularly likeable. Of course many people seem unable to let go of sorrow, but I believe that parents have a responsibility to their children, and when that inability to move forward affects the family, then they need to get help. Six years for a child to live with a grumpy and grouchy individual is a lifetime. Stony is so self-absorbed in his own guilt and sorrow that he fails to realize that. Plus letting go of grief is a process. And within the time frame of the story, I found it difficult to believe in Stone’s rapid transformation. Still it is a Christmas story, so I more or less just accepted that this is a standard device that authors use.

Two wounded people finding each other and becoming suddenly whole is also one of my least favorite plot devices – probably because of too many psychology classes. And maybe that did play a part in my feeling that there wasn’t true chemistry between the too.

What I liked about the story is the gentle reminder Ms. Ramsay’s deftly inserts into the story of the importance of religious and racial open-mindedness.

If you haven’t tired of golfing for God, or Last Chance, then maybe you will enjoy this book more than I did. I did want closure on the sorrowful angel, so I can’t say that I regret reading Last Chance Christmas, but I don’t plan on continuing the series. I think Ms. Ramsay has a strong talent for writing, and I would love to read more of her books, but in a different world building scenario. I hope she doesn’t get stuck in the one series mode.

-- Leigh Davis

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