It makes me cranky when I overhear people disparaging Harlequin romances (or any category romance, for that matter). Yes, I’ve read the occasional shallow romance or a story that felt like it would have been stronger if the author had more pages to flesh out the plot or characters, but overwhelmingly my experience with category romance is a positive one. Practically all my favorite authors (Nalini Singh, Jill Shalvis) have published books at one time or another for Harlequin and authors like Sarah Mayberry, Rhonda Nelson, and Samantha Hunter have me wrapped around their finger. I’ll buy anything they publish!
One of my favorite authors with Harlequin is Leslie Kelly, who blends funny and sexy in every story she writes. When I saw on NetGalley that she had a story in a Christmas-themed collection, Let It Snow…, my finger automatically clicked the “Request” button. I was not disappointed! While the second story was not entirely to my liking, Harlequin Blaze has put together two stories that will make you feel nice and toasty when it gets cold outside.
“The Prince Who Stole Christmas” by Leslie Kelly
Kelly has written stories before set in the mysterious dimension of Elaytria, a kingdom harboring people and creatures upon which our own fairy tales are based, and I have loved them (sadly there is no Goodreads series numbering for this, so you have to go to Leslie Kelly’s website for the reading order). In this one, Prince Philip is feeling the pressure from his parents, the king and queen, to marry and he’s searched all Elaytria for his one true love with no luck. Taking his cousin and a servant, he decides that he’s going to search Earth for his future wife and his parents give him a month to try before he has to go home. The kingdom of New York seems to have a high concentration of women, so they decide to make that city their base while Philip searches, living as poor commoners to weed out any golddiggers.
When chocolatier Claire Hoffman discovers her n’er-do-well brother Freddy has rented the derelict apartments on the top floor of her building to pay his gambling debt, she’s incensed – both with the fact that he’s gambling and expecting her to help and that he’s subjected non-criminals to those living conditions. When she catches sight of one of her tenants, her heart stutters and not in indignation. He’s gorgeous and has old-world manners that can be endearing (when they aren’t a little annoying). She’s falling fast, but when he starts to drop hints that he’d like to take her away from all this, Claire has to face the idea of leaving her business, her family, and her friends for her one true love.
This Elaytria series really is fantastic – the fairy tales we know are all a little off from the reality and the character’s behavior and speech patterns in our world make for an amusing contrast right from the start. Philip’s fascination with Claire, who is nothing like the wilting, ultra-feminine women he’s been subjected to at home, is as strong as his fascination with chocolate (and he finds several creative ways of combining the two that will melt any candy bar). It doesn’t take long for him to realize she’s the one. I loved Claire, who has been the responsible one in her family for so long finally having someone helping her, and this ending was fantastic. Love you, Leslie Kelly! Keep writing!!
“My True Love Gave to Me” by Jennifer Labrecque
Trudie and Knox have been best friends since childhood, but now that the grandmother who raised him died Knox has withdrawn from everyone, everyone except Elsa, the cool blonde he’s dating. Elsa is no fan of Trudie and the friendship she offers Knox, but when Knox says he needs a break from Trudie, she’s stunned. The fact that she just underwent the realization that she’s in love with him doesn’t help the timing at all.
Flash forward a year and half later. It’s the “Chrismoose” celebration in the small Alaskan town where both Trudie and Knox have grown up and he’s finally come back, ready to face all his demons. Elsa is the reigning pageant supervisor of the celebration, but he broke up with her a week ago and is just escorting her as a courtesy. What he wants is to reconnect with Trudie; he’s hurt that she’s never called or kept in touch all these months. When she walks in, he’s shocked – has she always been this beautiful? Has his body always reacted on sight? Why is he seeing her as a woman suddenly when she’s been a friend all these years?
Trudie knew that she’d end up seeing Knox and he still has the ability to steal her breath away. But even with Knox acting like he suddenly wants her, Trudie is not going to let herself be emotionally shattered again. She’s barely gotten the pieces together as it is from his walking out without a backward glance 18 months ago. But Knox is determined; he’s finally figured out what makes him feel alive again and he’s not about to let it, or in this case her, go.
This felt like a story with a lot of missed opportunities to me. I loved the beginning, as painful as it was, but Elsa seemed to exist just be a bitch to Trudie and some looming presence in the background. I didn’t fall for Knox, not in the slightest. I understand his desolate grief over his grandmother’s death made him want to push away everything and everyone associated with her, but he didn’t seem apologetic in the slightest to me. Knox didn’t just ignore Trudie for 18 months, he also didn’t talk to anyone in the town, his grandmother’s friends, and Trudie’s parents, who were like a second family to him. No wonder Trudie never confessed that she was in love with him for years, and her sudden passive turn around in the end of the story was anti-climactic and seemed illogical. The story just fizzled out.
Jennifer LaBrecque’s internet presence is also less than blazing. Her site looks like it hasn’t been updated in a few years and it’s static (no blog link or regular content updates). Without a Facebook or Twitter presence, I worry that LaBrecque is hiding her writing from the larger world; we no longer live in an age where the publisher can be relied upon to promote the author and every conference clearly states that social networking and blogging is now the responsibility of authors for building their audience. I hate to think of someone as talented as LaBrecque not having the readership she deserves. Trusting Harlequin like I do, I plan to give some of LaBrecque’s other writing a try (maybe another holiday story this month) hoping this story was an aberration.
This anthology is still worth it’s under $4 cover price for the Elaytria novella by Leslie Kelly and it’s definitely put me in the holiday spirit. Thanks, Harlequin Blaze, for helping me keep a little warmer this season!