TBR Challenge Review: Holiday Reading

I have to admit that the holiday spirit has been slow to gather for me this year. No decorating, no baking, minimal shopping or planning. Honestly, the thought of digging out and reading a Christmas-themed romance was almost more than I could handle. Plus it’s finals week at my college, and I am overloaded with student work that has to be graded, with more coming in each day.

Luckily, our very own Superlibrarian, Wendy, came to my rescue on Twitter by suggesting that perhaps I had a Christmas novella tucked away that I could read and review quickly. I checked and found this gem, which I bought last year and never got around to reading.
One Wicked Christmas Amanda McCabe is usually a solid read for me, so I figured decent writing and short length would allow me to finish the book despite my lack of Christmas spirit. As it turned out, the Christmas setting was almost incidental, and I enjoyed reading it.

One Wicked Christmas is a “widow” book, and while Cassie’s not a virgin widow, she’s the next best thing, a widow who has never experienced really GOOD sex. She loved her husband and misses him, but they didn’t have much of a sex life, as he was a bookish intellectual who handled sex rather perfunctorily. I admit that this bugged me; I’m always somewhat annoyed by the stereotype of the intellectual who’s lousy in bed, because it plays very much against my personal experience. The intelligent, studious men that I know are excellent lovers, once they find the right women; they approach sex the way they approach other subjects, eager for information, interested in experiment, unwilling to settle for being mediocre when they could learn to excel. I was initially disappointed that Cassie missed Charlie’s companionship, but she yearned after his best friend Ian, a more conventionally handsome, athletic, womanizing romance hero.

Ian, of course, has loved Cassie for a long time, but he still considers her his best friend’s wife and too “good” for him. That judgment is based on his assumption that Cassie would find sexual advances from his distasteful, which is clearly not the case and takes only 43 pages to clear up.

I enjoyed this story for several reasons. First, McCabe’s writing — she writes dialogue well, and the story pacing and character development are good. Second, the length — the novella is just as long as it needs to be, no longer; I appreciate having the story neither stretched nor scrunched. Also, the characters were engaging and likable. Despite my initial misgivings, I quickly came to like Ian, because he was willing to admit when he was wrong, and he realized that he needed to woo Cassie, not just depend on sexual chemistry to bring them together. Both Ian and Cassie had a healthy appetite for life and were reasonably well-adjusted people, which was refreshing after a long reading stretch of troubled characters with serious problems. I read it in one sitting and was smiling all the way through.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christine
    Dec 19, 2012 @ 11:43:12

    One of the novellas I read from the Holiday Kisses anthology had a very similar premise involving the widow, her deceased husband’s best friend and the memory of the deceased husband standing in their way. I, too, liked how the story panned out in my book. I think it’s a good trope for novellas, largely because the couple already know each other well so the set up can be minimal and the author just needs the spark to get the two breaking down that ‘friends’ barrier and turning the couple into lovers. It works for me!

    Hope you find some Christmas spirit. Even just a little can make for a few warm, meaningful days. 🙂


  2. Lynn Spencer
    Dec 19, 2012 @ 13:37:33

    Oh, this sounds good! Normally I really enjoy McCabe’s writing, but somehow I’d missed adding this one to my towering mountain o’ books.

    And I hear you on Christmas spirit. I’ve had back to back colds, so it’s been a pretty subdued holiday season here, too. Here’s hoping you have a wonderful rest of the year!


  3. Wendy
    Dec 19, 2012 @ 14:43:49

    I read this one! And….didn’t enjoy it as much as you did. As I recall, I had issues with the set-up. BUT! I tend to like McCabe’s writing and did enjoy this story on that level. One thing I really like about her is that she doesn’t pigeon-hole herself. Her backlist is a treasure trove (Regency, Victorian, Elizabethan, the Caribbean, the 1920s…..) and she’s a writer who does well in a short format (I think). I always buy her Harlequin Historical Undone stories. Always.


  4. sonomalass
    Dec 19, 2012 @ 16:19:01

    I really liked her longer Daughters of Erin trilogy, published as Laurel McKee, too, but I agree that she does the short form well. Sometimes I’m just in the mood for a short, simple read. And I agree that the Undone line lets her explore a nice range of period settings.

    Thanks for the good wishes on the holiday spirit end of things. I had my last class today and made some inroads on the mountain o’ grading, so with luck recovery mode will begin soon.


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