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Real Christmas miracles only ever happen in the movies – don’t they?
When Jessica was fifteen, she shared the perfect kiss with a mystery boy at a Christmas party. It might have only lasted a moment, and the boy might have disappeared shortly afterwards but, to Jessica, it was just a little bit magic.
Fourteen years later, and Jessica is faced with a less than magical Christmas after uncovering her husband’s secret affair. And, whilst she wouldn’t admit it, she sometimes finds herself thinking about that perfect Christmas kiss, back when her life still seemed full of hope and possibility.
But she never would have guessed that the boy she kissed in the kitchen all those years ago might still think about her too …
Dear Ms May,
You do it every year. Manage to make me believe in a complete story in novella length. Manage to take two people having a lousy Christmas and turn things around for them. With this story, I think all the characters and threads from the whole arc are finished off but who knows, you could surprise me next year.
OMG and Fake Alan is back along with the other flatmates from Cora’s story. It’s all coming together now … and strangely it all makes sense and actually doesn’t feel contrived. I certainly got a deeper and more immediate understanding of all the backstories since I’d already read the first two novellas but I think newbies could pick up here and do alright.
The tale begins with a “15 years previously” prequel part one. When times were “better?” Well, certainly different. She was young and he was famous but incognito and the memories of the meeting bring back happier times of before now, before life has happened and disappointments have occurred and people you love have hurt you, before you have to wonder about everything instead of just accepting that it’s alright.
Usually the “kiss that I can’t forget” makes me roll my eyes enough I’m surprised I can’t see the back of my skull but even this makes sense that Lucas would remember given how his life went to shit afterwards. Kissing her was the last thing in his old life before it went to hell in a handcart. Oh yeah, he remembers. He also doesn’t believe in Fate anymore – the young Lucas would have but this one has been busted around a bit and has some scratches to show for it.
So both Jess and Lucas have shitty personal lives which are getting even worse at Christmas and for Boxing Day. Yeah, sometimes the holidays suck instead of Being of Good Cheer. I can feel the anxiety, pain, frustration and resignation they go through as family members put them through it. Jess and Lucas both think the world is their fault. They can give advice about other people and how to act and what to do but when it comes to themselves … they’re hyper ready to accept all the blame for what other people do and have done. Sometimes I do want to shake Jess a bit. I hate to admit that the words “wimp” and “pushover” darted through my mind once. Or twice. Still Lucas feels he can talk to her and tell her anything. Secrets he hasn’t told another soul, bits of his life he’s never let anyone else in on. They do trust each other and unconsciously turn towards the other to be there for them when they need a hand, or backup or just someone to listen.
Details come tumbling out on New Year’s Eve and with a little alcohol and a lot of “sorry for being sorry,” Jess decides to be bold. Things go perfectly. Just like chocolate sprinkles on whipped cream on hot chocolate. It’s almost too good to be true so of course it is.
So waiting for the shoe to drop, the penny to also drop, the light to come on, the truth to come out from where it’s been lurking since Part One of the book. When it does and the standard romance about face, usual overreacting occurs, this time I can believe and accept it better since Jess has a reason for being more than usually angry about it. She lays it out for Lucas too, right when she discovers the truth which he does tell her fairly soon after he realizes that he really, truly should have already done it. But the damage is done – or as Jess sees it – continued and when she hands him his marching orders, I’m not fuming in Plot Device frustration at it all. Jess has been hurt so badly by her snake ex-bastard – chronically and then with an extra dollop of right now – her reaction doesn’t seem so out of line.
However as the days pass and he doesn’t call and she doesn’t try to call him, time slips away until Part 3 when it’s time for the Christmas kissing guy, as her bestie’s husband calls Lucas, to enter her life a third time. Maybe. This time though, Jess is through feeling sorry for things that aren’t her fault. The latest pirouette of the sleaze bastard ex finally evokes the response she should have had for herself and I was cheering her on. Chuck ‘em, sister! It is the quiet ones to be wary of.
Both Jess and Lucas have had a year to ponder, think and finally accept that some things will never be what we want them to be while some things never were what we thought they were – and to find peace with that. They both tentatively allow small tendrils of hope to unfurl, to nerve themselves to reach out for what they’re now ready – emotionally – for. Jess’s anger at her ex was cathartic while Lucas finally confessing the burdens and secrets he’d held onto for 15 years was a like dropping a boulder he’d held up for so long.
Once they’re good to go with their dawning hope and head out into the London night, the resulting scene is, yes, straight out of a rom com Christmas movie.
She’d given up on romance and miracles. She stopped believing that she could have perfection, but, in the end, there was no point giving up on miracles, because the miracles didn’t care if you believed or not. They didn’t reward effort, or beauty. Miracles were miracles. Love was love and all you could do was hope, and when your miracle came to find you, you could grab on and never ever let go.
She smiled and raised her lips towards his to claim her perfect moment, with her perfectly imperfect man.
I finish reading the novella. I sigh with happiness and grin like a fool. Just as I do with the best Christmas movies. B+
“Create one perfect bite.”
Good little widow Sophia Brown always follows the rules. When the producer of a cooking competition requests an amuse-bouche, the chefs stick with proteins. Sauces. A savory concoction. She has only one shot to impress the judges on A Taste of Heaven. But in a moment of defiance, she creates an extraordinary dessert, one that combines both the bitter and the sweet, just like her own life.
That one bite changes everything.
After a year grieving for her dead husband, forty-seven-year-old Sophia is finally ready to break out of her shell. Unfortunately, there is a large, angry obstacle standing in her way. Scottish chef Elliott Adamson has a chip on his shoulder the size of Loch Ness, and he’s blocking her path to victory.
Spurred by her daughters, she embarks on a poignant adventure that takes her from the wildflower fields of Vermont to the wind-swept vista of North Berwick, Scotland. Fear, courage, and inspiration from unlikely places will mark this journey, and Sophia is determined to persevere until the very end.
Dear Ms. Watson,
After being introduced to your work last year via Laura Florand’s guest review of “Apples Should Be Red,” I’d been looking to read more. Frankly the Santa Claus sons books didn’t call my name so when I saw this book, I jumped on it.
Like “Apples,” “A Taste of Heaven” features an older couple romance. Sophia is a widow still in the stages of grief. Her emotional life might be wretched but her food is divine and her table presentation is the bomb. She’s also got two daughters determined to help her like cubs defending their mama. Their push to get her into the competition is clearly done from love and doesn’t feel like the standard “meddling” relatives so often populating Romance books. Maybe the competition is insane but since everyone thinks she’s insane (the scene with the lawn guy is hilarious), it makes a weird kind of sense.
Quiet, reserved Sophia and Elliott Adamson (or the Grumpy Scottish Bastard as his fellow competitors call him) are like oil and water, match and dynamite, war and peace. Her presentation is divine, his sauces make you moan. But one thing Sophia is sure of, she’s not going to just roll over and play good little amateur, sweet accommodating woman – nope, this is a Challenge and she means to win it, ornery Scot or no.
Sophia is not going to back down. She’s older, she knows how to get to people, and stands up to Elliott – stepping into his space and refusing to back down. She isn’t young and inexperienced, sucking up to people for approval anymore and can play the games as well as anyone. But beyond all this, she starts to get verbally assertive towards Elliott – surprising even herself, and him as well. She has also perfected the art of not letting someone off the conversational hook, of letting silences remain uninterrupted thus forcing a person to speak what’s on their mind.
As Sophia digs into Elliott’s career, she begins to see that his façade has some cracks. Something confirmed by one of the professional chefs who knows Elliott. They start to get to each other, building a relationship first of annoyance, frustration and exasperation but also digging a bit deeper to the wounds they’re living with. They start to discover they’re both more alike than they thought though hiding. He hides his despair behind walls of anger while she prefers projecting a cool, unflappable exterior. They’re tired from the struggles in their lives.
Sophia finds that as the others criticize Elliott for his temper and his stubborn adherence to Scottish food, she’s defending him. While he, finally, is willing to admit that he needs help – her help – with the contest, thus stepping outside his comfort zone. They need to get closer, to understand each other. At first just for the contest but it’s a wonderful and realistic way to get these two characters together and on the same page. Things get heated when one of the challenges is to cook for children – something that panics Elliott but Sophia… she’s ready to take in stride and triumph. As they devise a menu for picky kids, each learns from the other and the trust deepens. Can a relationship be far behind?
One thing Sophia discovers that is on the burner is an offer for a future she never envisaged for herself. Dare she take it?
One of their challenges is not ready for vegan, or even vegetarian, or just squeamish reading. It’s in chapter Fifteen. Fair warning. Do not read this. It does show Elliott at his skilled chef best and as he tells Sophia, respect for what they’re doing coupled with efficient skill and humane technique are essential.
By the time anything sexually physical occurs, they’ve started to bond, to work together, to figure each other out and build some kind of trust relationship. They’re also older (love this!) so when they decide to go for it, I have no issues with them knowing what they’re getting into and being ready and okay with where it might lead, or not. It’s sweet though that Em and Cady are worried about their mother’s heart and totally quizzing Elliottt when they meet him.
Fair warning, Elliott is ornery at times, opinionated always and stubborn to boot. Sophia is quiet but with steel inside and she’s done with the nice girl persona. I loved her relationship with her daughters, who add spice to the end, and her spark with Elliott who needs a hard conk on the head more than once. The older romance is not done for laughs but rather is the main course. The end isn’t totally from left field – or out of the blue for those not familiar with baseball terminology – but the jump does take a leap of faith that all will go well despite the momentous changes in everyone’s lives. And do be careful of chapter Fifteen. B
He’ll complicate all her plans…
Amy Morrison is supposed to be at her wedding. But when her husband-to-be jilts her at the altar, a distraught Amy runs to the only place she feels safe—her office. Besides, everyone who works on her floor is at her wedding…except him. Dax Harris. Playboy, executive, and Amy’s official office enemy.
While he and Amy don’t see eye-to-eye on the best of days, Dax can’t help but feel badly when he sees Amy mid-meltdown. Next thing he knows, he’s gotten her good and drunk, and they’re making out like two teenagers. And since neither of them want anything serious, why shouldn’t they be frenemies-with-benefits? Because there is no possible way they could ever fall for each other…
Dear Ms. Holiday,
Thank God I’m a shallow person when it comes to covers and that Jane posted this book in our Daily Deals because of the hot Asian guy. I thought he was hot too and then readers Laura and Jeannie pitched in and said the book is actually good so I took a chance on it. I’d been frantically looking for a last book to round out my Top Ten list – even though I’ve had years in the past when I haven’t had ten books and I’ve lived with it – and also really wanted a contemporary category book in that list and voila, here it is.
I have to wonder why the title isn’t “Sleeping with Her Frenemy,” as that’s what Dax and Amy are when our story begins. She’s a smart professional woman, he’s a brilliant computer coding CEO type but they certainly act like they’re in the 3rd grade. Thankfully this doesn’t last long. Obviously there is History here, though since I’ve not read the first two books in the series – which will be corrected – I’m starting from scratch. That’s okay, the action up to this point is easy to catch up with and this book isn’t overloaded with attempts to make readers want to read the first two. Immaturity aside, Dax raises himself above a cad by stepping in and trying to obviate Amy’s “I’ve been jilted” distress. A trip to a bar later, and the two are almost back to their usual adult sniping.
When Amy’s alcohol level fires her resolve to turn over a new leaf and catch up on the years she’s missed by sexually being with one man since she was 22, Dax whisks her out of the bar and away from the banker vultures eyeing her. He won’t let her be taken advantage of and when she wakes up at his delightful island home – which I want too – Amy promotes him to frenemy. Until his sister – whom I love – shows up and Dax realizes he’s got a bigger problem on his hands in downplaying things to his mother – whom I also love. Dax’s family are delightful and I love that as much as they can annoy him, he loves them unreservedly.
A week later and Amy is champing at the bit to get back to work but settles for taking Dax with her to see her beloved Blue Jays play. This is hilarious and Dax sees a new Amy before a mix up leads to further hilarity on the jumbotron. Amy now knows that she wants and deserves better than she ever got with Mason-the-Jilter and she makes her move. If Dax doesn’t do serious relationships, why not just use him for sex? The resulting Close Encounters of a Sexual Kind scene makes a few things clear in that Amy was just coasting along in her relationship with her ex-fiancé and we the readers see this is something she needs to work through to be ready for a forever relationship.
That will take some time. Dax doesn’t “do” long term. He keeps from being an ass because he’s honest from the start about that. His reason … well, it’s more hard hitting than the usual “blame it on Mom or some past skanky woman.” He did get a hard kick to get over. It takes him a while to realize he finally is getting over it and thinking in terms of long lasting. The trouble is, he’s done such a marvelous job of convincing Amy of his former intentions and getting her to enjoy her new freedoms. Yeah, the sex is like a nuclear meltdown. Let me just take a moment to say I appreciate that all this time, Amy doesn’t consciously attempt to shift her romantic hopes to Dax. Instead she’s trying to be and have fun being a single woman who is just having sex with Dax.
Dax has been treating “them” as his usual casual hook up until it hits him that it’s not. Amy has been trying to treat “them” as her new casual hook up until she admits that it never was. Now can they get on the same page?
As the story zips towards the finish line, there is character growth. There is new knowledge. There is also – yeah, this is really needed – the determination to act on all of the former and get to a HEA. When these two say they’ve changed, I believe it. When they agonize over how to move forward and act like “hell yes, I’m going to do this because I can’t not do it because this person makes life better and I want that better” I actually believe it instead of seeing the strings being pulled and feeling manipulated because the book is almost over. The proposal scene is not what I was expecting but wonderful nonetheless and from what each gives the other, I know that they “see” and “know” – in the best sense – who the other is and want a lifetime of it. So thanks Jane for going posting the hot Asian guy cover and thank you for writing this funny, modern story that doesn’t settle for stereotypes or cheap laughs. A-
Once the captain, always the captain…Annadri’s spaceship may now be in pieces and her crew may now be a bunch of seasonal decorators, but when things get crazy, she’ll always be their captain. And things are about to get interesting.
A Vragan’s Oath is his bond… Mike made an Oath to Annadri’s husband six years ago, and it’s been a knife in his heart ever since. He loves Anna as sure as the stars shine above, but his promise and his honor stand in his way. That, and a few alien hunters.
An unexpected visitor… Kevran has traveled far across the galaxy to find his wife, Annadri, marooned on Earth. What he doesn’t expect to find is her refusal to leave. It seems their arranged marriage contract can’t stand up to the love her heart has for another. Kevran’s not sure what to make of Earth, or of this strange emotion called love.
Dear Ms. Kilgore,
Ah at last, the final book of this series in which the last two of the surviving five aliens who crashed landed on Earth get hitched. All the others have found true love with humans (USians actually as that’s where they landed) but Mike and Anna have loved each other from afar for years – even before they ended up in Oregon. Yet they haven’t been able to act on it due to Anna’s acquiescence to her people’s tradition of arranged marriages and Mike’s oath to her husband to keep her safe – which Mike takes to mean even from himself.
But after a few years on Earth, they’ve come to see things differently. Marriages for love, which don’t exist on Anna’s planet, have worked out beautifully for other crew members and now Anna is beginning to wonder if she and Mike might find their happiness together too. Mike’s hesitation goes beyond stubborn male and into “my oath is my life” territory. Yet, he might just finally get permission from the one being who can give it to him via an unexpected appearance from Anna’s husband. Well … okay then.
Since there are three other novellas in this series, there are a lot of people and situations to catch up with. I think newbies could start here as most every past relationship is explained but people might get bored with updates on people they have no emotional investment in. The stories have utilized some convenient alien tech to help our stranded band integrate into human life in modern day America and due to their attempts to stay below the radar, this hasn’t been egregious.
A thread from one of the past novellas does play a large part in this one as the overall arc gets completed. It’s actually kind of neat that Anna goes a bit low-tech to save the day. However even though this is Portland and authorities are used to people proudly flying whatever flag proclaims their affiliation, the police are amazing laid back about the actions they encounter in the story. Just saying.
A lot gets covered by the end of the story, both in terms of this romance and finalizing the other ones. The romance works for me partly due to the fact that Anna and Mike have been secretly in love with each other for years and starting a relationship is only foiled by Mike’s oath not to poach Anna from her husband. Once the oath is dealt with, it’s full steam ahead. I enjoyed the series, some books more than others, but overall it’s been a nice entry into SFR for me. B-
Spoiler (Trigger Warnings): Show
As the eighteenth century draws to a close, the Kwahadi Comanches seem to be making their peace with the settlers of the Spanish Colony of New Mexico. No one is as relieved as Marco Mondragón and his adored wife Paloma Vega, whose ranch, the Double Cross, sits on the edge of Comanchería. Their tranquility is short-lived, however, for other Comanches are terrorizing the plains, led by the ruthless renegade, Great Owl.
At the annual fair in Taos, Marco and his Comanche friend Toshua arrange to buy a team of bays from horse traders who sometimes wink at the law. Marco can’t complete the purchase because he spends all his money to buy a slave from Great Owl, thus saving her life. Graciela accompanies them back to the Double Cross, along with Diego Diaz, one of those traders Marco still owes for the team.
Great Owl’s threat to tentative peace between the Kwahadi and the Spanish must be squelched. Marco and Toshua bolster their small army of two with an unexpected ally in Joaquim Gasca, a disgraced former lieutenant with the Royal Engineers. They are joined by Diego Diaz, who turns out to be a key figure from Paloma’s past. Adding two shady horse traders and the secretive Graciela, Marco leads his small but determined army north to land contested by both Utes and Comanches. Though woefully outnumbered, they must defeat Great Owl or die trying. Book 3 in the Spanish Brand series.
Dear Ms. Kelly,
As soon as this was available for purchase I quickly grabbed it to discover what was up with (by now) favorites Marco and Paloma. The description had me on pins and needles as well, given Paloma’s (horrific) past history with Comanche raiders and the hard won peace they had achieved with a current Comanche leader at the end of the last book. Would it all be for naught? And would Paloma once again have nightmares at the thought of a Comanche Moon?
From the blurb I could tell that Marco is being his usual amazing self in saving the life of another destitute woman, this time from four years as a Comanche slave. The usual treatment suffered by Comanche prisoners is made quite plain without getting into too horrific detail but survivors of abuse and rape might want to skip over some paragraphs. Nothing takes place “on page” but the memories of survivors as they recount past events is harrowing.
Not all Comanches and Indians are presented as nothing but evil, though. Toshua – saved by Paloma in the first book – and his wife Eckapeta – with whom he was reunited in the second book – think of Marco and Paloma as their little brother and sister and are devoted to their safety and that of the Mondragón children. The Cloud Utes are positively portrayed as well. However woe betide anyone who threatens the Mondragons as Toshua and Eckapeta will seek revenge as do the Utes who suffer at the hands of the renegades. More violence warnings.
Yes, Marco and Paloma’s fondest wish has been answered but given the slightly ribald nickname the Comanche women gave Marco in the last book and the zest and joy with which Marco and Paloma enjoy the marriage bed, it’s not surprising. I like that Paloma is presented as maybe not being quite as slender as she used to be due to motherhood and how Marco appreciates it. Women with curves! Paloma is still the strong and determined woman she’s been evolving into but now she has the added responsibility of motherhood. Marco, meanwhile, is once again a father but will probably always be aware of how quickly such joy can be snatched away. Given their perfect, happy marriage, most of their conflicts are now external to their relationship and I do wonder if future books will continue using only outside issues to fuel the plot.
I wasn’t expecting the major revelation of the book but was delighted when it occurred. It all makes sense given past events and I can easily see how it could transpire. Diego is an interesting character and an example of how not all your characters are unflappable in the face of past tragedies and full of serene happiness. He is as haunted by his past, and some morally questionable things he did, as is the former Comanche slave Graciela. They must move through the stages of grief, anger, guilt, weakness and rebirth. They begin to live up to the expectations Paloma has for them and attempt to regain their feeling of self worth.
Bit by bit, the plan of the renegade Great Owl is pieced together by those determined to see him vanquished and peace maintained so near the Comancheria. But even knowing what he’s up to, will our small, ragtag band be able to stop him? It’s a hard fought thing with the outcome teetering in the balance despite other allies and the best efforts of all. But in the end, two people begin to make plans for the future for the first time in years, Marco gains some valuable neighbors and new employees, the tiny military outpost, which up til now has been mostly useless, might just be turned into a spit and polished enterprise, Marco discovers it’s not for a distant King for whom he’s fighting so hard for peace in this land and just maybe Paloma will finally get her red shoes. B-