Holiday Goodness with Heating Up the Holidays

I’m not normally a fan of holiday stories. There’s almost always some sort of message to them, and I prefer my fiction to be message free, thank you very much. But when I saw Heating Up the Holidays on NetGalley, and noticed Mary Ann Rivers’ name as one of the authors, I had to give it a shot.

But to get to her novella, I had to get through Lisa Renee Jones’ Play With Me.

Kali left Texas for Vegas to take what she hoped would be the reporting job that would turn the tide of her professional career. At some point in her drive, the job went away, and she ended up in Vegas unemployed and homeless. But she wasn’t about to go back to Texas and ask for her old job back. Oh, no, not after what had happened. She was done. She wasn’t even going to go back for Thanksgiving.

Through a stroke of luck, she ends up with a high-profile temp job as the assistant to CEO Damion Ward. The attraction between them is intense and immediate, but her new job quickly deteriorates as one disaster after another hits the company. Battling her attraction to Damion is more than she can handle.

I’ll be honest – about halfway through, I finally figured out why the stilted, awkward prose and insta-lust on steroids bugged the shit out of me. Jones wrote Escaping Reality, a New Adult contemporary that bugged the shit out of me so badly I couldn’t finish it.  While there were parts of Play that were easy to swallow, the story as a whole required too much suspension of belief. Yes, romance novels are fantasies. It’s kind of a given. But there was almost nothing about Kali and Damion’s relationship that was realistic, and as a result, I had a hard time liking Kali and believing Damion to be anything other than uber-protective (not unlike Jones’ other uber-protective hero, Liam Stone). Also? Major case of insta-love. Like, so insta it’s ridiculous.

Reading Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers was like walking into bright, warm sunshine after trudging through a damp cave. Jenny’s moved to Ohio to take a post-doc job at a well-respected university research facility. Unfortunately, her move coincides with a devastating health crisis: she’s going blind. Forced to work with Evan, an occupational therapist, she’s angry at the world and isolates herself, her only non-work contact her daily phone calls to her mother and her online flirtations with a man she only knows as “C”. But as Jenny slowly accepts what’s going to be her new life, she struggles with another realization – Evan’s hot. Like, really hot. It’s incredibly inappropriate for her to be as attracted as she is to her OT, but hey, that’s how life is sometimes. Soon she has to make a choice: safe, anonymous “C”, or flesh-and-blood Evan.

There are two things I learned after reading Snowfall: if Mary Ann Rivers ever decided she wanted to write a literary novel, I would be first in line to buy it. Her prose is that wonderful cross between stream of consciousness and turns of phrase that bring tears to your eyes. The other thing? This woman knows how to write first kisses that will make you melt and then turn the pages back so you can read them all over again.

There’s a prologue I’d recommend skipping (it does little to further the story and actually makes you think the pace is going to be slow) and the pace does drag in spots, where Jenny takes these descriptive detours. While she does eventually come around to the point, it can take a while to get there. Evan bothered me a little, too. He comes off as very sensitive and caring most of the time, and I found myself wishing he’d make some goof that made him a little less perfect. Well, besides the secret he’s keeping from Jenny. That was a big goof.

After Midnight, Serena Bell’s contribution, was a fun read. Miles has had the shittiest time of late. Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he’s attending a New Year’s Eve party with a friend in Boston when he meets Nora minutes before midnight. The kiss they share is incendiary, but when the party gets out of control around them, they split up without ever learning the other’s name.

Fast forward almost a year, and Nora’s still thinking about Miles. After The Kiss, she put out the call on social media hoping to find out her mystery man’s name without any luck. A chance tweet leads her to a phone call with Miles, which leads to another phone call, and then another, until she decides to take a chance and shows up on his doorstep in Cleveland. Their chemistry is just as explosive as they remembered, but Miles has been keeping the criminal accusation a secret – and when Nora finds out, it might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

There’s a lot to like about After Midnight. The insta-lust is believable (c’mon, everyone’s fallen victim to it) and I particularly liked that the pair were both leery of getting involved in a serious manner, given the distance between them and their respective dating pasts. I loved Miles; I loved seeing him go from woe is me to happy Nora took a chance on him to woe is me again, and then seeing him finally pull himself out of the hole he’d been living in. Nora felt a little more two dimensional – her problems with commitment were very realistic, but didn’t feel fully developed.

The bigger problem I had was with the fight that breaks them up. It was such a what the fuck moment it was like I’d taken a sharp, unexpected detour, and it kind of derailed the rest of the story for me. While I liked the resolution, and still enjoyed the story as a whole, that one moment just kind of left me scratching my head.

Have these stories changed my mind about holiday themed stories in general? Not really. But it does make me want to pick up other books from Mary Ann Rivers and Serena Bell.

Copy of Heating Up the Holidays provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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