Stella Matutina
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Romancing the Holiday by HelenKay Dimon, Christi Barth, and Jaci Burton 
20th-Dec-2012 07:00 am
Cover art for Romancing the Holiday, featuring two people embracing against a white background with everygreen trim at the top and the bottomTitle: ROMANCING THE HOLIDAY, which contains WE’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, ASK HER AT CHRISTMAS, and THE BEST THING
Authors: HelenKay Dimon, Christi Barth, and Jaci Burton
Series: WBHFC is part of the Holloway series; TBT is part of the Kent Brothers series
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: 5 December, 2012
Pages: 132, 96, and 124
Status: electronic (ARC)

Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

ROMANCING THE HOLIDAY is one of those wonderfully annoying collections that adds about a million books to your wishlist, since you can't help but want to read everything else the authors have published.

Sigh. At least it's a nice problem to have.

It's also an excellent argument for collections like this one. They aren't just enjoyable stories in their own right; they're also a gateway to more great reading. Yay!

cover art for We'll Be Home For Christmas, featuring a laughing white man with a laughing white woman over his shoulder above a green splash on which the title is positionedThe collection kicks off with WE’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS by HelenKay Dimon, a standalone addition to her Holloway series. Lila Payne is appalled to learn that the super-hot three-night stand she met a few months back is both a resident of her new hometown and a liar--he told her he was his brother. Spence regrets the deception and is determined to make it up to Lila by helping her restore the downtrodden resort she’s just inherited. But as their business relationship morphs into something more, both lovers wonder if they can put their past disappointments behind them.

To be perfectly honest with you, WE’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS almost lost me with its first chapter. The beginning, in which Lila discovers Spence’s deception, felt abrupt and off-key. I’ve had difficulty pointing to any concrete reason why it failed to flow for me, but I definitely felt disconnected from the narrative. I feared I was in for a disappointment.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as the characters began to interact with the rest of the town of Holloway, I was hooked. Dimon won me over with her snappy dialogue and keen eye for small town dynamics. She writes banter oh-so well and has a real feel for the way close-knit communities operate. I quickly came to care for both Spence and Lila (due, in large part, to their many chemistry-laden exchanges), but I was almost as engaged with the town as a whole as I was with their relationship. As an added bonus, the town’s keen interest in their burgeoning affair has a real impact on the way it plays out.

Irrepressible townsfolk get me every single time, and few things make me happier than the chance to view them from multiple angles in a series of interconnected standalones. I’m eager to seek out Dimon’s past books so I can spend some more time in Holloway and get the skinny on Spence’s friends and relations! Last year’s holiday offering, IT’S NOT CHRISTMAS WITHOUT YOU, is already on my e-reader, and I doubt the follow-up, LEAN ON ME, is far behind. I'll save that one until after Christmas, though, so I can cram a few more holiday romances. :)

I give WE'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS 3.5 stars (my "I really liked this" rating).

cover art for Ask Her At Christmas, featuring a white man lifting a white woman into the air above a purple splash on which the title is writtenASK HER AT CHRISTMAS by Christi Barth is a friends-to-lovers story. Caitlin is shocked when her best friend and secret love, Kyle, proposes to her. Turns out, Kyle isn't serious--he just needs help crafting the perfect proposal for his hotel-heiress girlfriend so he can cement a merger between their family businesses and impress the dying father who’s always looked down on him. Caitlin is determined to put her feelings aside and help her best friend, but as the reality of his almost-arranged marriage closes in around Kyle, he has trouble remembering why he can't date Caitlin instead.

I adored this! Friends-to-lovers stories are among my favourites because they come with built in chemistry on multiple levels. Caitlin and Kyle are attracted to one another, sure, but it’s the less physical connections that really make their relationship burst off the page. Barth builds off their years of in-jokes and shared experiences to convince the reader that these two totally belong together. Their established friendship ensures that the stakes are sky high, too. Not only do we face the terrible, horrible possibility that two people who belong together may end up with other people (ie, the THP), but we must also contend with the possibility that their friendship won’t survive. Eek!

Given the chemistry between these two, one might suppose there could be no true impediment to their future happiness; however, Barth gives them both compelling, in-character reasons for resisting their attraction. Their friendship itself serves as a barrier, as both are reluctant to do anything that might mess it up. Caitlin, too, is well aware of how badly Kyle wants his father’s approval, and her desire to see her best friend gain acceptance before his father dies takes precedence over her own happiness. Kyle must contend with both the fatherly approval issue and the very real possibility that the merger won’t go through if he backs out of the marriage, causing problems for his family and the company alike. The complications are realistic and legitimately troublesome, even when you know how any romance must naturally end.

I love the novella, in the main, but I did feel like a couple of key scenes were a tad abrupt. The groundwork is certainly there, but I wanted more of a transition into them. Still, the rest of the story was so good that I couldn’t think of giving it less than 4 stars (my "I loved this" rating). I’ll be reading more by Christi Barth; you can bet on it.

cover art for the Best Thing, featuring two white people wearing winter clothes walking away from the viewer across a winter landscape, hand in hand, above a blue splash on which the title is positionedThe collection ends with THE BEST THING, a new standalone entry in Jaci Burton’s Kent Brothers series. Things have been tense between Brody Kent and his office manager, Tori, ever since he kissed her at last year’s Christmas party. Tori has been in love with her hunky boss since high school, but his reputation as a lady’s man who doesn’t do relationships convinces her she’s in for a world of heartache if she gives into the attraction. A girl can only hold out for so long, though, especially when the object of her affections is out to convince her he’s changed--even if he won't admit it to the rest of the town just yet.

This, now, is one of those rare, wonderful, utterly maddening books where I can’t quite tell you why I loved it so much. I stayed up late to finish it, and you’d better believe I cried, but I can't explain why I found it so compelling. It was certainly engaging and immersive. I could relate to both Tori and Brody by turns, and to the pressure they felt to live up to their extended family’s expectations. THE BEST THING, like WE’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, is a small town story where everyone and their dog is invested in whether or not the couple makes it. This has a huge influence on how Brody, at least, conducts himself within the relationship, paving the way for the THP to kick in. I couldn’t tear myself away.

So, if you don’t mind, I’ll leave it that that. Suffice it to say that I gave this 4 stars (my "I loved it" rating) and quickly purchased A RARE GIFT, last year’s Kent Brothers novella. (It kept me entertained until the week hours last night--and yes, I loved it, too.) I hope I’m also able to get to ALL SHE WANTS FOR CHRISTMAS, the first in the series, before Christmas rolls around. If not, it’ll be on my wishlist for next year.

Other Reviews:

The Book Girl on WE'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, ASK HER AT CHRISTMAS, and THE BEST THING
Cheryl's Book Nook (covers ASK HER AT CHRISTMAS)
Geeky Bloggers Book Blog (covers WE'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS)
Rachel Cotterill Book Reviews

Did I miss your review? Please let me know so I can add it to my list!





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