I’m going to honest – I got this anthology specifically for Alison Packard, whose work I adored in The Winning Season and Love in the Afternoon (so amazing!). Luckily for me, any anthology in the hands of Angela James of Carina Press is going to deliver on every page and For My Own: A Contemporary Christmas Anthology is no exception.
As with all Carina Press anthologies, you are given a tremendous amount of choice, with the anthology available at a great price of $5.38 or individual stories having a purchase price of about $2.50 if just one or two interest you. Under each book cover is a link to that specific story pictured, FYI.
Despite having three authors and no connection between the stories in terms of characters or setting, For My Own is unified by the common theme of one or more very lonely people for whom the holiday highlights all the insecurities and vulnerabilities in their life. In each case, fate decides to present them with the one person who might just give them the courage to face their demons head on in order to move forward and find happiness. Let’s take a closer look at them, shall we?
Christmas for Carrie by Alison Packard
Packard has done a great job gently tying this novella to her other two outstanding works, Love in the Afternoon (the heroine of this novella mentions how she watches the soap featured in that story) and The Winning Season, since our hero is a sports agent who alludes to the hero of that novel and his remarkable journey.
That said, there is zero problem following along with this story as its a straightforward premise should you not have read Packard’s other work (and why haven’t you?). Carrie Jones is a hard-working paralegal laboring in the small town where she was raised. Unfortunately for her, the buildup to Christmas is in full swing and it’s rough on this young woman who has no good memories of the season. Her childhood was pretty crappy with two parents constantly arguing, one a mean drunk and the other a sentimental drunk. The only highlight during her teenage years was being a math tutor for her crush Nick Johnson who just saw her as a buddy. Imagine her shock when she hears his voice greeting her in the Starbucks parking lot!
Despite the cold, Nick is thrilled to be able to relocate to be with his parents for four weeks around Christmastime. With his successful sports management agency having reached the big time, he just needs a laptop and a phone for most of his work, and one look at the curvy body and strawberry blond hair of Carrie Jones has Nick thanking a higher power that he arranged to be in town. He can’t believe how blind he was back in high school if he was busy lusting after unattainable cheerleaders with this woman by his side. He thinks Carrie’s aversion to the holidays is not just a tragedy but also a great opportunity to spend time with her while he “helps” her get over her Scrooge-like stance. But all the time in the world with Carrie doesn’t change the fact that Nick has a life back in San Francisco and she might not be interested in a long-distance relationship.
Catching Heat by Alison Packard (Carina Press, February 10, 2014)
One the characteristics of Packard’s writing that I enjoy is that there is no insta-love, with the characters’ feelings unfolding naturally over a distinct period of time (not that I don’t adore insta-love stories, I do, but it’s nice to have a well-done, realistic love story, too). Nick was a geek back in high school and there are shades of that in his personality now – he’s sweet, sensitive, and honestly a little slow-moving and cautious with Carrie although he wants to help her love Christmas as much as he wants her in bed.
I adore when friends turn to lovers and their comfort level with each other starts off at a good level. That said, this is a gently moving romance with not a ton of conflict although Carrie has some baggage to overcome. A romantic lovely epilogue and I feel confident I’ll catch a peek at Nick and Carrie in future books by Packard (and I’m looking forward to it!). The author does a lovely job of introducing Nick’s sexy partner, Adam, as well as a problem player who I look forward to seeing as future heroes. It’s a lovely addition to her series and Packard’s fans need to trot over to their bookseller of choice and pre-order Catching Heat, the next book which is going to feature backup catcher J. T. Sawyer and the one-night stand who becomes much more to him. The publication date of February 10th can’t come too soon!
Christmas Curveball by Shari Mikels
During the holiday season I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m grateful for, and this year, I’m incredibly grateful for Carina editor Angela James finding the fantastic talent that is Shari Mikels. While Christmas Curveball is the debut story of this hot new author, I feel like I’ve gotten a present that I’m going to be able to enjoy her work in the years to come. After all, anyone who says she learned to write via a Sarah Maclean workshop and lists Jill Shalvis and Lauren Dane as major influences, already has a leg up!
Rachel Tanner knows she’s in trouble when her brother informs her that Kevin Ganlin is back in town. Kevin, a successful professional baseball player has been in her life since he and her brother were best friends in grade school, and she’s had feelings for him just about as long. Truth be told, Rachel married her ex-husband because he reminded her of Kevin. She divorced him because of his philandering and, based on Kevin’s history of going through women like tissues, that’s yet another thing they have in common. Despite his attitude toward women, Rachel is worried that Kevin has secreted himself in his mountain home and isn’t telling anyone he’s back – her brother is keeping secrets and she wants to know what’s going on and if Kevin is all right.
Kevin is decidedly not all right. Not only has his shoulder injury caused the team to let him go, but he has no idea what he wants to do with his life. Having Rachel appear on his doorstep is both a dream and a nightmare – he realized right before her breakup with her ex that his confusion around her stemmed from the fact that she was the woman for him. Yet her brother has made it quite clear that someone like Kevin shouldn’t be caught dead sniffing around her. Kevin stopped seeing any women the moment he made his life-altering realization because he wanted to be a man worthy of her and stand a chance. Figuring out how to pull off this delicate maneuver and determine if she’d be interested in him has been something he’s dwelled on as much as his aching shoulder.
How I picture the view from Kevin’s mountain cabin (view of North Carolina mountains – public domain image via Pixabay)
When the cruel gods not only put her in his home but then cause her to slip and fall on the way out (necessitating his taking care of her overnight), it’s more apparent to him that he’s got to make a move. But that move doesn’t go exactly as planned and it rapidly becomes clear to both of them that Rachel might not be able to get over her trust issues when it comes to men with a past, particularly when that past shows up ready to sabotage a new and fragile relationship.
Christmas Curveball has the mark of a great novella in that you do feel like you’ve read a regular length novel by the end of it. Rachel is hilarious and adorable in turn and it’s not shocking that Kevin has been in love with her for a long time. I loved the way Mikels wrote Kevin’s slow transformation from “Mr. Grumpypants” (as Rachel calls him) to a man who begins to realize that there is a place for him back home, even though it’s different from the one he pictured long ago. The conflict was excellent and the resolution extremely sweet (I adored the scene of Rachel’s final epiphany about Kevin), so I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll be seeing these characters again.
With that desire in mind, I’m elated to see that Mikels lists on her website a possible tie-in novel to Christmas Curveball featuring Rachel’s brother and Kevin’s best friend who has an old college flame return to town during the lead up to his sister’s wedding – that has a lot of potential. I’ll also be ordering her current works in progress when they come out, entitled the Douglas Lake series, about a family with a construction company and some of the tensions that result.
Kissing Her Scrooge by Kinley Cade
Kinley Cade is another brand, spankin’ new contemporary romance author for Carina and anyone with sisters is going to appreciate the zany sense of humor Cade brings to sibling interaction in this novella. Hannah Jones works her butt off to give her town a terrific Christmas pageant and in fact, she does as much for the town as humanly possible. The oldest of three triplets, this nice girl has made a profession out of doing for people, wanting to fill the shoes of her parents who believed strongly in giving back. Her polar opposite seems to be the town’s resident curmudgeon, Christmas tree farmer and environmentalist Griff Green. Despite his profession being tied to the holiday, Griff has zero interest in the holiday, but he does seem to turn up regularly where Hannah is, which has her thinking about him way too much.
There’s a reason Griff turns up wherever Hannah happens to be working – it’s because he’s more than a little obsessed with her. Whether it’s her elf costume or her sexy tight skirts, this woman makes him crazy and he has no idea what he’s going to do about it. Griff may be a tree farmer but he’s also a massive cynic having come from a wealthy family and a mother who only married his dad for his money. Used to women with mercenary designs on him due to his bank account, Griff thinks that Hannah is too good to be true and keeps waiting for her flaws to emerge. She’s got them, but they have nothing to do about money and everything to do about feeling in control of her situation. Unfortunately, Hannah’s quirks combined with Griff’s mistrust might just end up making their holiday anything but celebratory.
I’ve got to hand it to Cade, I’m not 100% sure that I necessarily liked either of these characters but I actually loved reading about them and their struggle! I know that sounds strange, but it was fascinating to see how the hero and heroine were absolutely meant for each other if they could just understand one another a little better. The only thing keeping them from perfect understanding was that they weren’t yet at a place where they shared very specific background information and feelings, and there is nothing more deadly to a relationship than two people with no clue about how to discuss what is going on in their head and heart.
I adored Hannah’s pragmatic and hilarious sisters as well as Griff’s friend, Steve (and would love to read a story where he ends up with one of the Jones’ women). Cade has the small-town feel down pat in her writing, so much so that I’m very interested to read her next story, whenever it comes out. She writes paranormal romance under the name Kinley Baker, so I may try one of those stories to see the similarities and differences.
Angela James and the staff at Carina Press have managed to put together three surprisingly different contemporary romance novellas in the For My Own anthology and in doing so have made my holiday a little brighter. Thanks, Carina!