Maybe This Christmas is Sarah Morgan’s third contemporary romance in the O’Neill series, preceded by Sleigh Bells In the Snow and Suddenly Last Summer, both of which are in Miss Bates’ Teetering TBR. Starting with the third in the series did not deter from Miss B’s enjoyment. The start was a tad wonky with characters from the previous books showing up in various states of blissful couple-hood, as well as sundry O’Neill family members who’d obviously been established as secondary characters in previous books. Maybe This Christmas, gloriously-set in small-town-Vermont winter wonderland, in fictional “Snow Crystal,” is a friends-to-lovers romance narrative high on humour, but no less on gravitas in two hurting friends admitting to love. The heroine, Brenna Daniels, has carried a smouldering love-torch for Tyler O’Neill since they were best buddies in high school. Single-dad, former Olympic skiing champion, and notorious womanizer, Tyler, has in Brenna the one relationship with a woman he’s yet to abandon.
We meet the emotionally skittish Tyler interacting with his charmingly precocious 13-year-old daughter, Jess, and adorably out-of-control Siberian huskies, Ash and Luna, possibly Miss Bates’ favourite characters. Jess and Tyler have great father-daughter banter that is no less loving, affectionate, and committed … and Jess has only been living with Tyler for a year. Her mother, Janet, kicked her out and sent her to dad when she got to be too much to “handle.” Tyler has always wanted his daughter living with him, but Janet used Jess as an emotional, vengeful weapon against him. The book’s start: enter hero, plot-moppet, and Evil-Mother-Nasty-Ex … and so much more when our heroine, Brenna, enters the picture.
It took a while for Miss Bates to warm to Maybe This Christmas. Tyler as reformed horn-dog, hurting badly and all sensitive because a horrendous knee-twisting accident ended his skiing career, is a hard sell for Miss B. But his sensitivity as a dad and marshmallow-behind-the-tough-love demeanor grew on her. (His indulging of the dogs really helped.) Brenna, on the other hand, vulnerable, low on self-confidence, and so pathetically, self-admittedly in love with Tyler was quite endearing … and funny! Her attempts at seduction were gauche and loveable: her gentle affection and loving gestures towards Tyler and the hilarious Jess, also Luna and Ash, were appealing. Nevertheless, the first quarter or so of the novel fell flat for Miss B: too many O’Neill family appearances and cutesy family banter, as well as the two heroines from the previous novels acting as interfering matchmakers. These chick-litty conventions are not to Miss B’s tastes, though other readers may quite enjoy them.
However, when the ski resort that is the O’Neill family business is “overbooked” and Brenna has to move in with Jess and Tyler, things heated up and got quite interesting. Miss Bates names this Sarah Morgan’s HP past breaking through and Miss B. loves it. With lines like, “To him, she was a friend, but to her, he was always a man,” a spinster can’t resist being charmed. Yes, the baroque qualities came through and coupled with Morgan’s lovely sense of winter wonderland atmosphere, as well as humour, the novel jumped from so-so to pretty darn good.
With a few caveats, there always be a few of those. Tyler is emotionally terrified, though attracted to Brenna, of ruining their friendship. Brenna, in turn, has a few dufus moments when she insists on reading Tyler as a horn dog gone wild. The fact is there’s no evidence for it: he’s a good dad and friend. He’s immature when it comes to helping out with the family business, though it’s their bread and butter, because he yearns for his athletic glory days. When he does buckle down and help out, Miss Bates’ respect for him grew. When Brenna dates the delicious chief of police, Josh, who’s been carrying a torch for her for years, and Tyler acts likes a chest-pounding “My Woman” He-Man, Brenna still doesn’t get it. Come on, girl, you’re so smart in every other way! (Please, Ms Morgan, Miss B. thinks the lovely, stalwart Josh needs a book … )
When Brenna decides that she’s “tired of being the girl next door,” the book is even more fun and Miss Bates was, she admits, totally immersed. She knew it wasn’t perfect and things niggled, but Morgan is an emotionally intelligent writer writing about flawed and occasionally dumb people. And she does it so so well, as well as creating the winter wonderland of snow-covered tree and mountain. When Brenna confesses her love and Tyler succumbs to his physical attraction, the love scenes are terrific. Morgan sure can write them. Tyler is emotionally but not physically restrained and Brenna naïvely thinks that this is the beginning of their glorious HEA … the ironic tension for the reader is great! The agony that awaits poor Brenna and Tyler’s emotional dithering …
Miss Bates thought the ending great in some ways and flawed in others. There’s a melodramatic re-appearance of a villainous/villainess character, but the resolution is nuanced and conciliatory. Miss Bates really liked and respected that. Tyler’s coming-around, she thought, on the other hand, was somewhat abrupt, but she did love seeing Brenna finally get everything she wanted and deserved. In Sarah Morgan’s Maybe This Christmas, Miss Bates found an “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey, romance novel. Now, she’ll go back to read the first two … 😉
Sarah Morgan’s Maybe This Christmas, published by Harlequin, has been available since October 28th in the usual formats and vendors.
Miss Bate is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.