We live in a great age for books. Back in the olden days before Amazon, you would have had to rely on friends or paperback exchange stores to find a holiday collection published from a few years ago. Even today, when we are fortunate to find them used, or better yet, download them instantly on an ereader, the paper versions of these books appear on supermarket and bookstore shelves in October/November and then are gone, never to be seen again in a retail store, by New Year’s Day.
Social networks geared toward reading, like Goodreads and LibraryThing, are godsends in that they offer terrific reviews and reader-generated lists of favorites. We can see what books people have loved based around themes, historical periods, or particular kinds of characters (military men, heroines with paranormal abilities, etc.). When I spotted the To All a Good Night anthology on a Goodreads list of great Christmas reads, I was elated. I mean, Donna Kauffman, Jill Shalvis and my recent happy find, HelenKay Dimon? Color me there.
These women do not disappoint. We have three hot, sweet stories with satisfying romantic endings, plenty of emotion, and a heated level of sensuality.
“Unleashed” by Donna Kauffman
Based on the books of Donna Kauffman’s that I’ve read (and I’ve enjoyed all of them), her heroines are determined, honorable and unconventionally pretty, a combination I really like. Emma Lafferty fits this mold as a new business owner trying to get her petsitting business off the ground. She agrees to take an unusual two week job at the weekend home of an extremely wealthy older man over the holidays since she hopes it will help build up a more high-end clientele. Driving through a horrible ice storm, she barely makes it to the completely empty mansion before the roads become dangerous. Once there, she easily makes friends with the dogs and parrot in her care, but jumps out of her skin when a sexy male voice asks what she’s doing there.
Trevor Hamilton was hoping to get what he needed and be gone by the time the petsitter arrived but mother nature clearly has other plans. While he needs to get away from her and search his great-uncle’s house, he can’t help but be fascinated by Emma. This petsitter looks at him hungrily – not like the women who want his trust fund, but as if she wants him, the man. He’s trying to keep it playful and not pressure her but he makes his interest clear enough and she’s responding like a dream. One taste of her and Trevor can feel his priorities changing. What suddenly seemed important might not be in the face of finding someone who will love him for himself.
I love stories where people get trapped together due to weather, and this one (with those great dogs and the funny bird) was delightful. Seeing Trevor and Emma just click together, like pieces of puzzle they weren’t aware would fit, was downright heartwarming and I fell for them as hard as they fell for each other. The only part that confused me was the epilogue. I don’t see anything linking this story to another book or series, but the final pages of the novella clearly indicate the connection to another character. I’d love to read a connected story (particularly if I can catch a glimpse of Trevor and Emma again), so if someone knows the answer, please tell me!
“Finding Mr. Right” by Jill Shalvis
I think that you’re not a true fan of contemporary romance if you don’t love Jill Shalvis. I devour her books and appreciate that she writes novellas as well as she does full-length books. Whether it’s her Lucky Harbor series or her fantastic Animal Magnetism books, Shalvis is as rock solid dependable as her strong heroes.
Her heroines are also full of quirks and that aspect always makes me like them that much more. Maggie Bell has multiple degrees under the white lab coat she wears every day and she loves puzzling out her work, which could help melanoma cancer patients and save lives. She’s aware that her research could also make the company she works for a ton of money, but it’s secondary in her mind which usually is honed like a laser on her work. Since the building is undergoing renovations, however, she finds her mind more than fixated on an extremely fine, blue jeans clad butt belonging to one Jake Wahler, her former high school crush and supervisor of the crew. When her sister tells her to stop trying for the brainiac guys who are just like her and go for someone the exact opposite, her mind naturally turns to Jake.
Jake is pushing his crew to finish this job before the holiday so they can all get their bonus and he can fly to New Orleans to meet his brother and do some serious partying. He can’t help but notice the gorgeous scientist who almost always trips on their equipment as she walks distracted through the hallways, but he’s astonished to find out that she was the 8th grade prodigy who tutored him in high school. Maggie Bell definitely did not look like this, with her killer curves, flawless skin and hair his hands beg to be buried in. She’s acting like the hot sex they had on her lab table was a one-time thing, but when it’s clear she’s getting threatened by someone who wants to hurt her, there’s no way he’s leaving her alone.
Jake was such a guy, and I loved seeing him react to Maggie’s nervous fact spouting (which is the trait of the schoolteacher friend, soon to the be the next heroine, in the Animal Magnetism series, so I’m thinking Jill Shalvis loves her trivia!). The scene with her crashing into the dishwasher was priceless, and I loved the testosterone showdown between Jake and Maggie’s boss, who briefly dated her. Macho guys falling, and admitting they are falling, are some of the sexiest heroes out there and Shalvis never, ever disappoints. I heart her.
“Can You Hand Me the Tape?” by HelenKay Dimon
It was just this holiday “Countdown to Christmas” series that exposed me to HelenKay Dimon with her novella in Romancing the Holiday, and I was impressed enough to get excited upon seeing her name again in this anthology.
As in that novella, this heroine is also someone recovering her self-respect after a crappy relationship. Natalie Pritchard is a tough parole officer whose always been frustrated dealing with her boyfriend’s law partner, Spencer Donovan. She doesn’t think he cares enough about the clients he represents and they’ve had a few run-ins. His partner, Charlie, may be tall and handsome but he’s been a self-absorbed manipulator, too, and she had enough a couple weeks ago when she broke up with him.
But there’s a complication. She had made a “tape” for Charlie for Christmas (uh-huh, that kind) just of herself, but she doesn’t want him or anyone seeing it now. In the hullabaloo of the breakup, he accidentally took it (without knowing what it was) and she desperately wants it back. While it kills her to do it, Spencer is the person most likely to help her. She’s disturbed to find out that Spencer is dissolving his law partnership with Charlie, but she manages to convince him to help her, even with the whole courthouse whispering about the time they are spending together.
Spencer has always hated the way Charlie spoke to his girlfriend, Nat, so much so that it was one of the reasons he’s jettisoning him as a partner. But until Nat swallowed her pride to ask for his help, he never noticed before how beautiful she is and the thought of her making this “tape” has his head spinning with images he can’t ignore. Can she get over the emotional damage Charlie has inflected on her to see what they have is special?
Dimon does a great job showing that, even if you’ve lost a lot of weight, that heavier person still lives inside your head, coloring how you think of yourself. Nat wrestles with her sense of inadequacy but watching her regain her self-respect and throw off Charlie’s past control (the elevator scene was downright triumphant) is fantastic and actually very realistically accomplished. HelenKay Dimon continues to impress me – she’s definitely getting placed on my “must-read” list.
To All a Good Night is another enjoyable anthology by three outstanding writers. One of the benefits of novellas in this format is, if you have only a limited time before bed, or the minutes are ticking by until your kids need you, you can get in a whole story from start to emotional finish and feel like you accomplished something! It’s like three novels in one, and considering the under $5.00 price tag in ebook form or even less money if you find it as a used paperback, you’re clearly getting serious value for your money.
So make that cup of hot chocolate and sit down to something else smooth and sweet with this anthology. You won’t be sorry. 🙂