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Lisa-Kleypas

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

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

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Dear Author

Thursday Midday Links: Everything on the web is free says...

Lots of news today so my summaries will be very short. First off with the sad news. Eva Ibbotson passed away last week.   Ibbotson is best know for her YA books.   Her books are favorites of Janine.

She was shortlisted for the Carnegie medal for Which Witch? the story of a wizard looking for a wife, while Dial-a-Ghost describes how Fulton Snodde-Brittle comes unstuck when he tries to hire some “frightful and dangerous ghosts” to scare his young nephew to death. The Secret of Platform 13 features a mysterious platform at King’s Cross station that leads to another, magical world. Published in 1994, three years before JK Rowling’s Harry Potter set off for Hogwart’s from King’s Cross’s platform 9 ¾, the book’s possible influence on Rowling has occasionally been raised, though never by Ibbotson herself.

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In other sad but stupid news is that Cook’s Source, a supposedly venerable magazine of cooking, lifted a blogger’s article and reprinted it in their magazine without her permission. When the blogger found out, she wrote the magazine asking for a public apology and small donation to Columbia University. An editor from Cook’s Source responded with this:

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

Read more here and the original blogger’s story here.   I don’t know if I have read a more astonishing response.   You should be grateful we took your work without your permission because it sucked before and now it’s awesome?   Cook’s Source isn’t fairing well over at it’s facebook page.

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One writer for the Guardian is speculating that giving away the digital book for free may both feed pre paper book sales buzz and foster an entitlement of free culture.   I’ve long advocated for a digital early program by publishers.   Harlequin does this with its series categories and I suspect it does this because a) the series books are often available in retail locations before the onsale date of the 1st of the month and are mailed to direct customers early and b) early digital sales might foster some word of mouth for books that have a very short shelf life.

It is also a good way to get consumers to buy direct from Harlequin versus a third party retailer.   I struggle with this quite a bit.   In fact, I pay a premium by having my HP subscription with Harlequin. I get 8 titles for under $25 and delivered one month earlier.   If I could wait one month, I could get the entire set from Amazon for $9.99.   Simon & Schuster used to have one or two titles for sale early but again, you had to buy it direct from the site.   I think that you could definitely charge readers for early access and still get that pre print sale buzz.

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People in Australia have something to be a little happier about.   Apple’s iBookstore is offering pay for local content. I don’t know if this content duplicates what Kobo and Kindle offer to Australian customers or it offers something new. Of course, everything is according to “Agency” pricing:

Among the first group of six Australian publishers making their titles available through the store  is Hachette Australia, which has not previously sold ebooks on any platform in Australia. Hachette Australia managing director Malcolm Edwards told the  Weekly Book Newsletter the company had made its titles available to Apple through "an agency model', and said around 100 Hachette titles would soon be available on the store.

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In an interview with likesbooks.com, Lisa Kleypas reveals that nothing is coming out in 2011 which sounds like her contemporary series is being pushed back to begin publication in 2012.   Given that she is publishing in hardcover for these contemporaries, I can’t foresee a back to back to back release of those books either.

What will readers see in the year ahead?

Since I decided to take a break, 2011 is going to be a quiet year for me. Nothing scheduled-’I'll just be working. And of course I'll be checking AAR to find out about the great new romances coming out every month!

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In possibly the worst press release of the year (based on readability and grammatical correctness), Barnes & Noble is pushing its in store freebies for nook readers. The freebies appear to be original essays rather than original fiction.   Will that drive you to the store? I’m guessing no, but some of the freebies that may be of interest to the readers include:

  • How Not to Look Like a Frump, Tart or Freak by Clinton Kelly Whatever your style, Clinton Kelly can help. The author and host of TLC's What Not to Wear shares fashion advice and words of wisdom, exclusively for NOOK owners.
  • Read Pink! by Eloisa James This fall, a group of romance authors have banded together with their publisher, Penguin Books, to help promote breast cancer awareness. Join New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James as she discusses the great strength and humor displayed by the heroines written by these queens of romance.
  • Being Grateful for the Little Things by Lesley M. M. Blume In this reflection on gratitude, children's author Lesley M. M. Blume finds much to admire among the fairy world, mostly unseen by humans. In this exclusive essay, Blume shares what we can learn from fairies that will make us happier creatures.

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Sarah Weinman discusses some possibilities as to why News Corp is burying the financial details of HarperCollins last quarter.   Weinman notes that whatever the reason, NewsCorp. is treating HarperCollins like an afterthought and maybe this signals Rupert Murdoch’s desire to put HarperCollins on the sale block.

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Finally, lostbooksales.com is up and running. Here you can enter information for each book you wanted to buy but couldn’t because of any reason: price, availability, regional restrictions, etc. You can also provide links to places that provide books without restrictions. Thanks to Suze for the grand idea. I knew that international issues were a big deal because I receive emails from readers about it regularly. But I don’t think I truly understood the scope until people like Sarah Tanner started entering titles of books that are not available to her. It makes me feel guilty at my own good circumstance and upset on behalf of the readers who aren’t as fortunate.