If I’m going to bother to write a review for Christmas morning, you can be darn sure it’s going to be a really good book that I’m recommending. Knowing that I wanted a story with serious oomph, I deliberately held off on even reading Sarah Morgan’s Sleigh Bells in the Snow – I wanted it to be like a present to myself. So one night with the snow drifting outside, the ski slope lit up in the distance (you can see one from my living room windows) and a fire crackling, I sat down and read it in one sitting.
It is always so exciting to watch a terrific category romance author take the plunge into longer length, single title books. Granted, it’s nerve-wracking – can they make it? Are they able to fill all those extra pages with solid character development and tension or will the book feel like a category romance with way too many scenes?
No one who loves Sarah Morgan has anything to worry about with the recent release of her outstanding Christmas novel, Sleigh Bells in the Snow. Not only has she graduated to writing emotional longer books with compelling characters and sniffle-inducing families, but (thank god) this book starts up a series, the O’Neill Brothers, that feels a lot like Jill Shalvis’ Animal Magnetism series or Bella Andre’s Sullivan series, so if you enjoy those two contemporary authors and their family dynamic, you probably want to take a look at the sexy, skiing O’Neills.
Jackson O’Neill has made more than a name for himself in the global skiing industry with his running some of the most successful European skiing locales. But after his father’s tragic death, he dropped it all to come home to Vermont and take over Snow Crystal Resort, the ski resort founded by his great-grandfather and handed down to each eldest son. Unfortunately for the entire O’Neil family, Jackson’s father loved the skiing but not the business side of things, meaning Jackson has inherited not only a property inches away from bankruptcy, but also a large family grieving his father’s passing while also having a noisy stake in the business. Arguing with his irascible grandfather, his concerned grandmother and mother, as well as his two brothers is the norm but it doesn’t make it any less exhausting. He knows they need serious help and Jackson has a line on a fabulous PR firm in Manhattan which supposedly has some kind of wunderkind in the ranks who can turn around businesses like his. Wasting no time, he goes to New York to take a look.
Kayla Green was happy to leave London for New York for the plum position at Innovation PR and she’s well on her way to being the youngest vice-president in the company’s history. Right now her major problem is that she hates Christmas and yet is living in a city known for attracting tourists just to enjoy the holiday atmosphere…and it’s killing her. When she hears her workaholic boss is interested in her taking over the O’Neill account – and that doing the preliminary pitch and research would involve her being at a secluded mountain cabin with no holiday decorations – she’s all over it. That Jackson O’Neill is one of the handsomest men she’s seen in forever is just an added complication, but it’s something she’s sure she can ignore.
That is, until she gets to Vermont, and then nothing can be ignored – not the weather which she’s woefully unprepared for, or the fact that she didn’t even know what a moose looked like, or that she’s never skied. What really can’t be ignored is the tumultuous, lovable, frustrating O’Neill family who seem to live and breathe not just every aspect of the holiday but also highlight to Kayla everything that is missing in her life, bringing up the most painful memories and forcing her to face her demons. But facing all those dark fears while trying to be a professional and help Snow Crystal find its deserved place on the map is next to impossible, particularly while fighting her growing attraction to Jackson – it’s like Kayla is in the middle of an emotional blender.
When Jackson realizes that this vulnerable side to Kayla is even more attractive than the sexy, blonde killer with that knee-weakening British accent he saw in the Manhattan boardroom, nothing is going to stop him from getting under her skin and into her bed. O’Neills are renowned for knowing what they want and going after it with serious determination, and Jackson knows that Kayla is not only what the resort needs, she’s also precisely what’s been missing in his life as well. But getting past her icy walls is going to take some serious maneuvering and possibly the help of his whole family to win her.
Oh, wow. I defy you to not fall for each one of these frustrating, flawed, sexy, wonderful O’Neills! At just shy of 400 pages, Sleigh Bells in the Snow has ample time for character development beyond just the hero and heroine and Morgan takes advantage of the extra length, sussing out family history and conflicts and giving us a little backstory on each of the family members and secondary characters. It’s easy to see the other brothers’ future matches (and how hard it’s going to be to make those work) while being reminded that it’s often very easy to see other people’s problems while being blind to your own. Kayla’s backstory is so painful that I want her parents invited to the resort simply so the O’Neills can detonate an avalanche above them – it’s not hard to appreciate how much she has to overcome in the space of a short week to face what she could have with Jackson and his family.
Perhaps because of all this great character development, there is terrific potential for the future books in the series, and not just with the wonderful brothers. Peppy cousin Dana and the outlier sheriff Josh are ripe for their own novella(s) and I can picture a prequel or two for both the O’Neill brothers’ parents and the grandparents considering the hints dropped regarding their proposal stories which also happened at the resort. This is one romantic mountain!
The only disappointment to be had with Sleigh Bells in the Snow is that 1) these gorgeous men are sadly fictitious and 2) this mountain resort with its private cabins and hot tubs doesn’t actually exist. So, you are left with doing the next best thing and booking your time with the first of Sarah Morgan’s fabulous series. Stay tuned for the second book in the series, which focuses on the hilarious, very French chef of the resort, Elise, and Jackson’s twin brother, Boston’s top orthopedic surgeon, Sean, who are both confronted with the memory of a spectacular summer night together when he comes back for a visit. Their story, Suddenly Last Summer, will be out by the end of June 2014 and this reader has already pre-ordered it!
Many thanks to Sarah Morgan for giving me such a great book (and such a terrific family) to love this holiday season. Merry Christmas!