Length: 355 pages
Publisher: Carina Press (October 29, 2013)
It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...Love!
A man gives the gift of trust and receives a second chance at love in return. A woman helps to heal the wounded heart of a soldier. A couple finds that true love knows no distance. And a young widow learns that there can be two great loves in a lifetime. Love, romance and passion come together in this collection of four seasonal shorts.
This Time Next Year by Alison Kent
A Rare Gift by Jaci Burton
It's Not Christmas Without You by HelenKay Dimon
Mistletoe and Margaritas by Shannon Stacey
Stories also available for purchase separately.
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Book Extras: Read an Excerpt
Holiday Kisses is an anthology released by Carina Press, one of my favorite publishers for romance—I've yet to read a book of theirs that I didn't like. And this book was an excellent addition to their collection (admittedly I was eager to read Shannon Stacey's contribution to this anthology, but since it was the last one I made myself read the rest first. I'm just that strong).
This is a story of healing, of letting go of the past and embracing the future. It's also a story about truly difficult life choices. Breena is a woman who is torn between fulfilling a life-long ambition and dream by following in the footsteps her parents and grandparents laid out before her…and turning her back on that dream to stay close to her grandmother. She wrestles with herself, unsure what would make her the happiest, and which will leave her with the most regrets.
And then she meets Dillon, and things become even more murky for her.
For his part, Dillon was a wonderfully complicated and real character, and the balance he finds with Breena is truly beautiful to see. His struggles are given as much focus as Breena's, and while they didn't have matching problems, they were complementary enough that it seemed natural for them to find solace with one another, as well as the strength to move in positive directions.
That said, I was a little worried about how this one would end, but I needn't have been. The author doesn't sacrifice either of the characters for the happily ever after, and that's what made it enjoyable for me.
Wyatt is coming off of a bad divorce, the culmination of a bad marriage, and he's in the foulest of moods. And what's best for such a Grinch? His own personal Cindy-Lou Who, in the form of Calliope. Forced to build an addition to her daycare, Wyatt is thrust into the orbit of her perpetual sunshine, which is only made worse by the fact that Calliope is his ex-wife's sister.
So forget that Grinch thing I said earlier, because that could make the eventual hook-up kind of awkward to read about.
Ultimately I couldn't really enjoy this story. While I have no problem with the grumpy hero who works on getting his head pulled out of his ass, Wyatt was not a character that I could really connect with. This story seemed to hint at background and past characters that were developed somewhere else, which isn't unusual for these anthologies, but this is one of those times where I felt a little lost without having that information. I feel like, if this is the case, and this is a short story contained within an interconnected series, that perhaps Wyatt would be more likeable with that additional history. Still, if you can't sell me the guy in the short without knowing all the stuff that came before, maybe he needs his own book all together.
Calliope probably would have been a lot more enjoyable given more time and space. As it stands now, she seemed entirely too willing to take and overlook Wyatt's tendency to be an asshole, and rather than being endearing, her interactions generally left a "what-do-you-see-in-him" taste in my mouth.
I don't have a problem with hooking-up-with-your-exes-sibling trope, but for me this just wasn't executed that well. By the end of the story I was rolling my eyes, not smiling.
This is one of those stories that caught me by surprise and forced me to read faster to get to the end, holding my breath that things would end happily. I wish I could precisely pinpoint and detail exactly how this author managed to hook me so thoroughly, but it was so subtle that I can't nail it down. All I know is that one minute I was meeting these characters, and the next thing I know, I'm rushing through the pages, terrified that there could be no resolution that didn't kick me in the gut.
Thankfully there was, so I wasn't completely traumatized. (And this is why I read romance. Can you imagine my panic in any other genre, where a happily ever after isn't a near-guarantee?)
This story hit on one of my favorite tropes, the high-school-sweethearts. Austin and Carrie have been together for most of their lives--not always on, but always coming back together, with the inevitability of two magnets with opposite poles. Until one day Carrie tells Austin that she wants to pursue her dream job in D.C., and asks him to come with her…and instead he tells her to go by herself.
The story picks up months later, and Carrie is still broken-hearted and missing Austin, even if she does love her job. She won't go home for Christmas because she can't face seeing him.
So he does the logical thing by coming to her, under the pretense of selling Christmas trees harvested from his family's land.
This story really conveyed how deeply these two had woven themselves together, how strongly they were connected, and in turn how deeply they could be hurt by the other. There were a couple of places where I winced in sympathy of the pain they were going through, and toward the end I felt a kind of crushing despair when it seemed like things weren't going to work out.
The author pulls it all together though, and manages to come to a conclusion that leaves both character's intact, their dreams fulfilled, and with a promising future in front of them.
What to do when you're in love with your best friend's widow? Justin has no idea--he keeps telling himself that he should stop spending so much time with Claire, because it certainly doesn't do his heart any favors. But every time he tells himself he'll put distance between them, he sees her and remembers that he just can't do it.
Claire has no idea how Justin feels about her; for her, he's the rock that's helped her in the difficult time since her husband died. But now she's starting to think maybe it's time to move on and be happy. It's what her husband would have wanted.
This is one of those stories where both parties resist the attraction that they feel. Justin can't bring himself to tell Claire that he loves her, because in his mind it's a betrayal to his best friend, dead or not. Claire is scared of losing her best friend to a case of lust, and so she fights the attraction.
Justin is one of those characters that you ache for. Knowing how much he loved Claire, how he spent so much time wanting her and knowing he could never have her, only to be given the chance and fear taking it, was so emotional. You couldn't blame the guy for honoring his best friend's memory, and his struggle with his guilt really drove the story for me. Claire's journey away from her grief and into a semblance of herself, of normalcy, was really well-done. It's a good illustration of how grief isn't like a room you exit and never return to; it's more like a scent in the air that you'll catch a whiff of even after leaving the main concentration.
The heartbreak and the sweetness in this story was a great way to end the anthology. If I had to pick, I would say that Stacey's contribution was my favorite, but it would be a close race. This is a holiday anthology that is well worth the read.
"I have a snow globe with a picture of my sled in it because you gave it to me last Christmas. And I don't kiss a girl every time I shake it and make the snow fly. You're supposed to kiss somebody under the mistletoe."