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Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

Dear Ms. Kleypas,

There's been some discussion online about the pricing of your newest contemporary, Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor. The book is a hardcover priced at $16.99 (though I myself paid $9.99 for the e-book version at the Sony Store and have recently seen the hardcover on sale at Amazon for as little as $7.58), but it feels closer in length to a novella than to a novel. On my Sony Reader, Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor is just 120 pages long, so I can see why some readers feel that the book is overpriced.

Christmas at Lucky Harbor by Lisa KleypasMy reasons for wanting to read the book were threefold: I've wanted to try one of your contemporaries for a while; the subject of grief, with which the storyline deals, can be very moving in a romance; and for me at least, the short length of the book meant I could fit reading it in during a busy time of year.

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor begins with a prologue containing little girl's letter to Santa, in which the child asks for a mom. This may sound curmudgeonly, but I have to admit that when I read little orphan Holly's letter, I started to worry that this book might have more sap than a maple tree.

Happily, things improved in the next chapter, in which we were introduced to Mark Nolan, Holly's uncle. One night, the omniscient narrator tells us, Mark's sister Victoria is killed in a car accident, and Mark, who's been warm but not close to his niece, is thrust into the role of six-year-old Holly's guardian. That role is made even more daunting by the fact that grief has rendered Holly mute, and the child has not talked to Mark since her mother's death.

Victoria had never named Holly's father and Mark's two younger brothers had no role in the child's life. Mark, Victoria, Sam and Alex's parents used the children in their marital battles, so there is little in the way of affection or closeness in the family.

One of my favorite scenes in the book was the conversation in which Mark attempts to persuade Sam to let Mark and Holly move in with him:

"You're kidding, right? Do you know what life is like for single guys with kids? You miss out on all the hot women, because none of them wants to get conned into babysitting, and they don't want to raise someone else's kid. Even if by some miracle of God you manage to get a hot woman, you can't keep her. No spontaneous weekends in Portland or Vancouver, no wild sex, no sleeping late, ever."

"You don't do all that stuff now," Mark pointed out. "You spend all your time in the vineyard."

"The point is, that's my choice. But there's no choice when there's a kid. While your friends are knocking back a beer and watching a game, you're at the grocery store looking for stain fighting liquids and Goldfish crackers."

"It's not forever."

"No, just the rest of my youth." Sam lowered his head to the table to pound it, then settled for resting it on a forearm.

"How are you defining your youth, Sam? Because from where I'm sitting, your youth jumped the shark a couple years back."

Sam stayed motionless except for the middle finger that shot up from his right hand. "I had plans for my thirties," he said in a muffled voice. "And none of them included kids."

"Neither did mine."

"I'm not ready for this."

"Neither am I. That's why I need your help." Mark let out a taut sigh. "Sam, when have I ever asked you for anything?"

"Never. But do you have to start now?"

Mark does manage to convince Sam, and as the story picks up again six months later, Mark, Holly, and Sam are all living together in Sam's fixer-upper farmhouse, which is located in the San Juan Islands' Friday Harbor. We next see Mark and Holly through the POV of Maggie, a toy shop owner, and as she learns from her assistant that Holly is Mark's niece and that following her mother's death, the child stopped speaking, Maggie is filled with both attraction to Mark, and compassion for the little girl.

Maggie and Holly bond over a fairy house Maggie made to sell at her toy shop, and with a little encouragement from Maggie, Holly begins to talk. An astonished Mark doesn't know whether to trust Maggie, who encourages the child's imagination and belief in fairies and magic, but he is as drawn to her as she is to him.

But Mark already has a girlfriend, Shelby, and two years after her husband's death from cancer, Maggie does not want the pain another serious relationship could bring, so as they encounter each other in the toy shop and later on a ferry ride to the mainland, Mark and Maggie try to keep the attraction from blossoming into anything more than friendship. Of course, they aren't entirely successful, and then things become complicated further when Holly asks Santa to bring her a new mom.

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor has enough material for a whole novel packed into its shorter length. The book felt abbreviated and that is probably its biggest shortcoming, but since I approached it expecting more of a novella than a novel, I didn’t feel too deprived.

I loved the lovingly-described San Juan Islands setting, and despite my trepidation after reading the prologue, I thought there was only a little bit more cute kid element than I wanted. In fact, I would have loved to see Mark’s adjustment to being a father, given the family background that he had, as well as Sam’s adjustment to living with Mark and Holly. I wish that transformation hadn’t been glossed over because in many ways it could have been the most compelling part of the story.

While I liked Mark a lot – he was sexy and his love for Holly made him endearing to me — my feelings about Maggie were more complicated. First, I have encountered so many red-headed heroines named Maggie that I'm starting to ask myself why this name is associated strongly to red hair. Second, Maggie was likeable, but in some ways I thought she was a little too nice.

[spoiler]When Mark told Maggie that he broke up with Shelby she said she was sorry to hear that. While that’s the polite thing to say, could she have actually been 100% sorry? I think we were meant to believe this was genuine, but since she was so drawn to Mark I think any real woman in her shoes would have been at least a little bit glad, as well as sorry. I would have liked to see more of that kind of nuance in the story with regard to its triangle aspect.[/spoiler]

Overall though, I loved the triangle aspect of the story because I thought that that, as well as the setting, the coffee Mark made for his coffee business, Sam’s vineyards, Alex and his failed marriage, and the distant and dysfunctional dynamics of their family, gave this story a bit more realism than is often found in the single title contemporaries I read, and that is something that I welcome. Yes, there was some sentimentality too, but the elements I’ve mentioned and the grieving theme helped keep the book from becoming treacly.

I will be interested to read the other Friday Harbor books when they come out in 2012. Alex’s story especially — I thought he was really interesting. Actually even Victoria, Holly’s mother, seemed like an interesting character and I was a bit sorry she died because I would have liked to read about her.

My main complaint is just that this story had so much potential to be an amazing full length novel — the grieving process and the change in the dynamics of Mark’s family could have been explored in more detail and I would have loved that. Despite these concerns, I can confidently say that Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor made me more interested in trying your other contemporaries than I was before. B-.

Sincerely,

Janine Ballard

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

24 Comments

  1. Elyssa Papa
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 14:22:55

    I will admit that the price point for the novella length has hold me off on purchasing this, even though I tend to love Lisa Kleypas’s voice/writing style. But I think I might cave and buy it. I was kind of hoping that the $9.99 Kindle price would drop before the holidays but it doesn’t look like it will. And I’m intrigued to see how she sets up the family dynamics and the brothers for the rest of the Friday Harbor series. But no new Kleypas in 2011? Huge sadface.

    Janine, my favorite LK contemporary is Smooth Talking Stranger. I also think that is the most contemporary romance of the Travis trilogy; the first two have a more WF vibe IMO. I think you might like STS.

    But this was a great review since now you have made me curious enough to try it out.

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  2. Laura
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 14:30:49

    I actually just read this last night. I was looking forward to it, and had requested that my library purchase a copy.

    To be honest, I was completely underwhelmed by the whole book. I thought it was pretty mediocre writing, particularly given the fact that Lisa Kleypas is usually an extremely competent writer. I know it was a short novel, so was never going to be as fully developed in plot and character as a long novel, but there are plenty of authors who can bring to life three-dimensional characters even within a 2000 word short story. I found Mark pretty forgettable (the only brother I was actually interested in was Alex) and I’m not sure why she bothered making Maggie a widow, since her grief over her husband just seemed to be mentioned once or twice to give the story more of a plot.

    SPOILER WARNING.

    I also felt sorry for Shelby, since the part where she suddenly became uncaring shrew who thought Mark should leave his sick niece alone because, hey, she’s not even his bio daughter, was both predictable and seemed totally manufactured. Book nearing conclusion, got to get rid of the nice but superfluous other woman, turn her into Unsympathetic Selfish Ex, while the heroine is at home cleaning out the sick buckets and reading bedtime stories like a proper future substiture mother figure.

    This sounds very harsh! It’s not really that I thought it was a *bad* book; I just thought it was totally forgettable. And not even very Christmassy, apart from the beautiful cover! Definite C read for me. (Although it admittedly didn’t help that I went straight into this from a complete re-read of the J.D. Robb “In Death” series, which are worlds apart in a variety of ways! It must be said, however, that I got more of the festive warm fuzzies from reading about Eve’s grudging acceptance of Roarke’s new holiday traditions than from a book that is billed as being a full-on Christmas romance!)

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  3. meoskop
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 14:31:15

    I really enjoyed it as well – but I called it a retro romance, because it was much lower on the heat scale. If you added in all the sex scenes I tend to skip over, I think the length is actually about the same. I’m looking forward to this series.

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  4. Tweets that mention Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 14:45:21

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrea deSherbinin, Janine Ballard and Janine Ballard, dearauthor. dearauthor said: NewPost: Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas http://bit.ly/hCLfwF [...]

  5. Janine
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 14:54:23

    @Elyssa Papa: Glad you enjoyed the review! I picked up Sugar Daddy when the ebook was selling for less than $3, so I might start with that. I’m kind of anal about reading series in order. But just in case I decide to take your advice, do you think Smooth Talking Stranger is okay to read ahead of the other two?

    @Laura: I liked Mark. I thought he was interesting as a guy who had had no interest in a family until his sister died and he became an instant father.

    I would have loved for his transition into fatherhood to progress more gradually and be explored in greater depth because that kind of growth arc in a character almost always intrigues me.

    But even without this he was pretty interesting to me. I liked the way he seemed dangerous to Maggie even though he was such a nice guy — the contrast was interesting.

    SPOILERS
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    I was also absorbed by the way he hung on to Shelby, which I think had to do with the dynamics of the family he grew up in.

    Re. Shelby, I can see why you’d feel as you do, but I never saw her as unsympathetic or selfish. Rather, I saw her as a bit young for Mark, who’d been matured by the experience of having Holly. Shelby reminded me of some girls I knew when I was her age (twenties), who relied on magazine articles to tell them where their relationship was at, and hadn’t yet figured out who they are and what they want out of life. I saw Shelby in that light — she was almost null to me. And that nullity interested me because I haven’t seen very many characters like her — women who haven’t been defined by life yet.

    Her conflict with Mark was understandable to me from her POV as someone who hadn’t yet had experience with children and who was expected by her family to present her boyfriend at a cousin’s engagement party (which isn’t just any event after all).

    The “she’s not your real child” comment showed thoughtlessness and insensitivity on Shelby’s part, and Maggie was clearly a better choice for Mark, because they connected more and because caring for her dying husband had matured her more, but I didn’t see Shelby as the prototypical selfish other woman.

    @meoskop: Glad you enjoyed the book too. I get your point about sex scenes but I do wish it had been longer!

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  6. colleen
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 18:54:15

    do you think Smooth Talking Stranger is okay to read ahead of the other two?

    I actually read Smooth Talking Stranger first. I had no idea LK wrote contemporaries at the time until I stumbled across the book on a table at Borders. STS was my favorite of the series, because the hero was just so likeable to me.

    I agree with you about this book. I thought it felt short. I could have had a few more scenes before the HEA. I would have loved another like the Thanksgiving one. The brothers cracked me up. And I found myself more intrigued by Alex.

    Re: Shelby. I agree. I didn’t see her as a monster. I thought it was just that she was young and she wasn’t ready to share her boyfriend with anyone.

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  7. Kaye
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 19:15:45

    I was glad that I had gotten it from the library and not paid for it. While I liked it and her books, it was too short – seemed to use a lot of essentually a short story to set up futher story lines and not enough meat on the current story.

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  8. Heller
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 19:17:25

    I bought through Sony as well. One of the things that seemed off to me was Holly requesting a mother only months after her own mother passed away. I had a hard time getting past that.

    I wish this had be a full length story, it was okay but not great. I loved Mark and his brothers. I’m looking forward to the other stories but I wanted more of Mark’s.

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  9. Char
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 20:31:38

    I am fascinated by the belief that many readers seem to hold that the author has anything to do with the pricing of his/her books.

    The only authors with that sort of power are those who self-publish. If I’m wrong I’d really like to know which publishers pay any attention to author imput on price.

    Truly curious.

    And if you don’t believe the author has any control over the price, slanging them for it seems a bit rude.

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  10. Char
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 20:46:46

    I made six attempts to edit and change slanging them to complaining to the author with no luck.

    I clicked on the edit button within the allotted time frame and got the screen covered in dark gray. I could see the place to edit my comment, but every time I tried to do so, I was flipped back to the main comment screen. (I tried to edit by clicking on the word I wanted to change.)

    Is the system off tonight or did I miss some instructions? Why is the screen covered in dark gray?

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  11. Elyssa Papa
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 21:20:44

    @Janine, I think it’s okay to start with STS. You get who the people are paired up with but I don’t think there are any other spoilers.

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  12. Kaetrin
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 22:04:59

    I’ve read Sugar Daddy, Blue-Eyed Devil and Smooth Talking Stranger and I thought the latter 2 were excellent. The first one was much more women’s fiction than romance for my money and it took waaay too long to get to the romance and when it did, there wasn’t enough of it. STS was more romance than BED but I have a thing for Hardy Cates! I read BED first, then SD and then STS – if I had read SD first, I don’t think I would have picked up the others.
    FWIW, I agree with Elyssa that the books can be read in pretty much any order.

    I don’t think I will pick up this book but I have the audiobook in my wishlist so I will probably pick it up when it’s on special.

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  13. Ridley
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 22:31:46

    I’m another who hasn’t read this one due to its price. I actually removed it from my Goodreads to-buy list entirely once I saw my friends’ reviews of it. $10 for a novella was bad enough, but hearing it was paced poorly and sticky sweet seemed too much.

    But, I ended up winning a copy through Goodreads, so I plan to read it after all.

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  14. jennifer
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 10:21:57

    I was more interested in the brothers’ interaction than I was the two leads; I suppose I lacked sympathy for Maggie’s “I just can’t risk love again” stance, since I wasn’t given that much background (to contrast, Lolly Winston’s Good Grief was such a great story about a widow falling in love again and describing the pain of with the past). Maggie seemed a bit “blah” in a Mary-Poppins-ish kind of way.

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  15. Janine
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 11:05:54

    @colleen: Thanks for the advice re. Smooth Talking Stranger. Alex was the most intriguing character in the novella to me. I can’t wait for his book. I would also love to read a book about him and his ex-wife reconciling and solving the problems in their marriage, or another book in which the ex-wife is the heroine, because even though we didn’t see her “on stage” so to speak, she also interested me.

    @Kaye: Well, a short story is typically under 40 pages so I wouldn’t call this one, but I do think it’s more of a novella, and I understand your reluctance vis-a-vis the price. I enjoyed it and do not regret the money I spent, but I was looking for a quick read because I’m pressed for time right now and wanted to review something for DA.

    @Heller: I loved Mark and the brothers too, and I agree that this could have been an awesome full-length book if it had been longer. I also agree that it seems unlikely that Holly would ask for a mother so soon (that was something that struck me too, but I forgot to mention it in my review).

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  16. Janine
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 11:29:09

    @Char: Sorry about the edit function. Other people have reported problems with it lately and I will bring it to Jane’s attention.

    I don’t know if your earlier post was addressed to me or to the other commenters in the thread, but going on the assumption that it’s addressed to me — the reviews here at DA, though written in the format of a letter to the author, aren’t meant for the author but rather for readers.

    Therefore, my intention was not to complain to Ms. Kleypas about the price (I do realize she probably has no control over it and can do nothing about it), but rather to let readers know that the book is a novella despite being priced like a novel. I thought it was an important piece of information for readers to have, given that in every discussion I have seen of this book, readers have mentioned the price as well.

    @Elyssa Papa: Thanks!

    @Kaetrin: Thanks so much for the info on Kleypas’ other contemporaries.

    @Ridley: I hope you enjoy the book!

    @jennifer: I do wish that the grieving theme had been explored more deeply. I would have loved to know whether Mark missed Victoria, too, even though they hadn’t been close. This is the kind of thing I mean when I say there was enough material here for a full length novel.

    I have Lolly Winston’s Good Grief TBR, but haven’t gotten to it yet.

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  17. Kim
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 12:06:20

    I enjoyed this book, too. Since I knew it was a novella, the short length didn’t bother me. I thought LK packed a lot of plot into so few pages. I agree with your review that Alex’s story sounds like it will be an interesting read. Perhaps the family dynamics will play a bigger role in the next two books.

    As for LK’s contemporaries, Smooth Talking Stranger was my least favorite of the three. I thought Sugar Daddy and BED were much better. I had trouble with the heroine in SMS. Her relationship with her prior boyfriend just didn’t ring true. It’s always interesting how readers opinions will differ on the same book.

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  18. Janine
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 12:09:17

    @Kim: I agree that Kleypas packed a lot into the pages of this book.

    Thanks for the advice. Maybe I’ll start with Sugar Daddy after all since I already have it.

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  19. Julie James
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 15:11:07

    Just chiming in to say that Sugar Daddy is my favorite of the three and a great place to start–although I agree that it has more of a women’s fiction feel than the other two books in the series.

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  20. Bonnie
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 20:27:20

    $9.99 for this book on Kindle. Not gonna do it. That price is insulting.

    But thanks for the review.

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  21. Char
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 20:47:30

    Thanks, Janine, I was talking about the first part of the review and I appreciate your explaination.

    Perhaps, readers might consider writing publishers and ask that novellas be sold two to a book, the way HQ did back in the long ago of Duets.

    And I’m okay with the edit function difficulties, things happen. So until it’s fixed I’m content to put my would-be edits in a seperate post.

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  22. Janine
    Dec 17, 2010 @ 09:26:30

    @Julie James: Thanks for the rec!

    @Bonnie: I understand, and you’re welcome.

    @Char: You’re welcome, too.

    A lot of novellas still get published two or three or four to a book, but publishing just one in hardcover seems to be a new trend. As some of the people I follow on Twitter were saying, this was done with Linda Howard’s Ice and Mary Balogh’s A Matter of Class as well. A lot of readers I know don’t like this pricing strategy but I think publishers will most likely base their future pricing decisions on how these books sell.

    Re. the edit function — we are working on it but it may take a while to fix. Thank you so much for your patience.

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  23. SonomaLass
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 02:24:45

    Sugar Daddy was a terrific book for me, right up until the end. I liked the WF vibe and the interesting heroine. The whole trilogy was enjoyable, but the first 3/4 or so of Sugar Daddy really stood out for me.

    I really like the sound of this book, but I think I’m likely to want more in-depth development of these complex ideas. May be a library read for me, or an ebook down the road if the price drops when it comes out in paper.

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  24. Janine
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 13:28:18

    @SonomaLass: Thanks for your thoughts on Sugar Daddy. I hope you enjoy Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor if you read it.

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