I can’t help but remember that last December was the first time I’d read a Donna Kauffman story, and it was another one of her wonderful holiday novellas that first brought me to appreciate her as a romance author. It only seemed fitting to read some more of her work this holiday season, and The Sugar Cookie Sweetheart Swap anthology will satisfy the sweet tooth of readers looking for that combination of holiday spirit and romance in a contemporary setting.
Sadly for me Kauffman’s story was one I didn’t get to read as my NetGalley ARC started on page 9 of the prologue and then skipped to page 76 of Kate Angell‘s story, cutting out the beginning of that novella as well. Considering that snafu, I think it a tremendous credit to Angell and Kimberly Kincaid that their stories were so lovely that I would still heartily endorse the purchase of this book, particularly since I know what a great writer Donna Kaufmann is (which is why I’m also disappointed I didn’t get a chance to read hers).
Where There’s Smoke by Donna Kauffman
With that detail in mind, I can’t write much about this particular story, but here’s the blurb:
When flames from a recipe gone disastrously wrong send hunky fire-fighter Will Mason to pretty Clara Parker’s rescue, the sparks really begin to fly! And once Will gets a taste of Clara, he aches for more than just a little sugar from the famously single food columnist…
It’s clear from the other stories and the epilogue that despite being food editor, Clara is a disaster in the kitchen, which I expect with Kaufmann’s trademark sense of humor at play! I also loved the indication that her love interest, Will, was someone she knew back in college, clearly before he…um…came into his present physique. A naughty firefighter’s calendar is involved, so fans of Jill Shalvis and other authors who feature this profession are definitely going to want to read this story!
The Gingerbread Man by Kate Angell
I actually think that the ARC I received of this anthology had an error in it, since this story began in my copy with Lander, a handsome man injured in a car accident on a rural mountain, and Abby Denton, the young baker who rescues him, nursing their injuries and decorating her tree in a cabin without power. That said, it was easy to catch up on what happened and it didn’t stop me from getting attached to the characters.
It seems Lander had purchased a unassuming box of cookies at the Pine Mountain Cookie Exchange only to open it while driving to be startled by anatomically correct gingerbread man staring back at him. Distracted, he gets into a car accident and is dangerously cold and sluggish when lovely Abby Denton discovers him in his ravaged Mercedes. She immediately feels horribly guilty as she is the one who baked the naughty gingerbread men for her online business. Bringing him back to her cabin where she has been keenly feeling the recent loss of her grandmother, Lander helps her not only appreciate her Christmas traditions but work through some of her feelings to embrace the holiday surrounded by the things she and her grandmother loved best.
In the process of doing so Lander and Abby discover they have quite a bit in common – while she is dealing with the loss of her grandmother, he recently lost his father – and the connection between them is very strong…as is the heat of sexual awareness. Luckily for both of them, Lander travels prepared and they have a few days of strong emotional connection and sex before he needs to return to his mother and sister in Philadelphia. Lander says he wants to see her again, but Abby is skeptical about a future between them.
Despite my copy’s challenges, this was a beautiful, sweet story. I adored Tennyson, Abby’s elderly cat with his friskiness and incessant snoring and the way that Lander helps fulfill one of Abby’s dreams (while making his own come true) at the end of the novella was magical.
Sugar And Spice by Kimberly Kincaid
Lily Callahan has worked hard to be a successful baker and the local resort’s prestigious televised cookie contest – with the prize of $10,000 – is exactly the break she needs. If she could win that kind of cash, she could finally open her own storefront and add daily customers to her catering work. Meticulous preparation and outlining are all part of her system, but one thing she didn’t count on in her preparations was her competition, sexy chef Pete Mancuso.
Pete moved to the mountain for his younger sister who decided to make a fresh start here after graduating college. Their home life was horrifying growing up and she’s the one person he’s always put first. So what if the 90 minute commute each way to Philadelphia is a bear for his pastry chef job at one of the cities finest restaurants? When he hears about both the resort’s contest and the fact that the French pastry chef at the restaurant in the city is opening up, he knows that he’s going to bring his unorthodox approach and win this contest to snag that job.
What throws him through a loop is when the sexy blond Lily Callahan literally runs into his arms the day before. They both feel that the kitchen isn’t the only thing heating up when they are both in the room, and when their two very different styles are thrown together in the kitchen as collaborators in the early rounds, they not only make it work but advance to the next level. With PR focusing on the hits their chemistry is getting online, a lot of attention is coming their way and they use that to forward local charities since they both know from experience how important that can be. As their similarities become apparent and they give in behind close doors to the heat between them, both Lily and Pete both know that only one person can win the competition – but can they both come out as winners in the personal arena or will one achieving his or her dream stifle the other?
I defy you to not adore both Lily and Pete (and have a snack handy because the food is AMAZING that they are making and you’re going to get hungry). They have off the charts chemistry but they also are terrific people with ambition but who don’t believe in trampling someone they care about it order to get what they want. With wonderful illustrations of the local community, this story was exactly the right ending to segue into the excellent epilogue which fully wraps up the happiness of each of the three friends and the men in their lives.
I loved sampling Kimberly Kincaid‘s writing with this novella and will definitely be reading her other work after enjoying this taste of her! She has taken the setting of Pine Mountain and has publication dates lined up for two related books to date, Turn Up The Heat (cover above) featuring the big mechanic Shane Griffin who we saw in Kate Angell’s novella and Gimme Some Sugar, about a chef fleeing a failed marriage and seeking solace in this wonderful community. Turn Up the Heat has an early March 2014 publication date with Gimme Some Sugar following it in June, so I expect Kincaid will be tantalizing my tastebuds then as well.
Since (even not having read the full prologue or what I’m sure is an outstanding story by Donna Kauffman) I heartily recommend any holiday romance lover go out and buy The Sugar Cookie Sweetheart Swap, my only criticism of this anthology was the price point Kensington has placed it at. Even though it is slightly over 400 pages (and that’s wonderful as a reader since it makes each of the novellas a nice hefty size), over $9 for the Kindle version and over $11 for the trade paperback seems high for romance readers who are used to paying around $6 or $7 for big name authors. That said, it’s worthy splurge (and tell your friends and family to get you bookseller gift cards) so be sure to purchase this wonderful anthology to live under your tree this season.