Cara McKenna's Unbound
Meg Maguire's Driving Her Wild

Heating up the Holidays

I requested the galley of this holiday themed collection because of how much I loved Mary Ann Rivers previous novella, Story Guy. I have not previously read fiction by Lisa Renee Jones or Serena Bell. Each novella in Heating up the Holidays takes on one of our fall/winter holidays.

Lisa Renee Jones novella Play with Me, takes place in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Kali Miller newly arrived in Las Vegas hustles for a job after the job she relocated for disappears. She leaps at the opportunity to become the new administrative assistant to Damion Ward the secretive and driven CEO of the Vantage Hotel and Casino (who happens to look just like Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark).

I nearly didn't finish this story, even though it started out very strong. I loved how Kali jumped right into the deep-end, trying to figure a high-stakes job and complicated boss. Sadly the story features insta-lust, and work-place romantic hijinks, a trope I rarely enjoy, and Kali and Damion made too many ridiculous decisions for me to buy into their story. I stuck it out, only to be disappointed with a rushed resolution that told more than it showed.

Mary Ann Rivers had me crying once again. Snowfall, is the story of Jenny Wright a mircobiologist facing a scary and life-changing medical diagnosis. Last spring my father was given a diagnosis similar to the one Jenny struggled to come to terms with. As Jenny wrestled to adjust, I couldn't help but think back to days I spent combing Medline for information for my father and speculating just how much this could change his life.

I loved that Rivers carefully structured this story to have the reader experience the same kind of uncertainty Jenny is facing. Most romances identify the romantic leads within a few chapters. In Snowfall who exactly she is falling for is as obscure to the reader as it is to Jenny which provided a delicious tension. I also loved that this is first and foremost Jenny's story of reclaiming her life and moving on after setback as much as it is a romance.

After Midnight, by Serena Bell opens on New Year's Eve a few minutes to midnight. Miles Shepard is having a horrible winter, under suspicion for embezzlement, he is in leave from his non-profit, has lost his fiancée, and most importantly his sense of self. He is at this party under protest, dragged there by one of his oldest friends, Owen, hundreds of miles from his home and problems. At this party he meets a sparkling Nora Hart whose joie de vivre captivates and frightens him. They share a New Year's kiss but fails to learn each other's names when they are too rapidly separated.

I thought Serena Bell did the best job of taking advantage of the conceits of its central holiday. While Snowfall starts with a mediation on Christmas and Play With Me, takes place around Thanksgiving, After Midnight is all about the promises of new beginnings and acquaintances not quite forgotten. I loved the rhythm of the dialogue and pacing of this story. Miles and Nora's reactions and decisions felt real and believable. I will be looking for Ms. Bell's work in the future.

Publication date October 28, 2013 Digital ARC provided for free by publisher via NetGalley.


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