Today is the first day of Twelve Days of Christmas in September, celebrating some great holiday-themed books that will be released over the next several weeks. I started reading 2013 Christmas books in July, so I’ve been ready to start wrapping gifts and listening to favorite carols for three months now. I hope you’ll join me for the next twelve days to get a head start on the season and on the new winter holiday romance fiction that you’ll want to include among your September through December reading this year. At the end of the twelve days, the Randomizer will select one commenter to receive a gift certificate.
Christmas on 4th Street
By Susan Mallery
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Noelle Perkins may be a newcomer to Fool’s Gold, but she’s already in love with her life in the California town. She has loyal friends, a successful business, and a deep appreciation of all the little things that give her reason to rejoice every day. Her past has taught her never to take life’s bounty for granted, and it is a lesson she never allows herself to forget. In fact, the only things that are keeping her life from being pretty close to perfect are her lack of skill in dealing with frozen precipitation (for which her childhood in Florida and her years working in L. A. failed to prepare her), her college student employees who take off for the ski slopes without warning, and the absence of a man in her life who will give her the look of a woman well loved that is unmistakable in the expressions of her three best friends, Patience McGraw (Just One Kiss), Felicia Swift (Two of a Kind) and Isabel Carlisle (Three Little Words).
A hand injury that left Gabriel Boylan unable to continue his usual practice of volunteering to work through the holidays has sent the trauma surgeon to Fool’s Gold to spend Christmas with his fraternal twin, Gideon, Gideon’s fiancé and recently discovered son, and the Boylan parents. It’s the first Christmas Gabe has spent with all of his family in more than fifteen years, and he’s not looking forward to it. His bond with his brother is deep if rarely expressed, but lifelong tensions with his drill sergeant father who never understood Gabe’s preference for books over ballgames or his refusal to follow the family tradition of becoming a soldier have not been resolved by time and distance.
Noelle and Gabe meet when she shows up at Gideon and Felicia’s home to take care of their puppy Webster. “Heavily armed” with an umbrella, she is ready to defend her friends’ home from an invader when she realizes the hunk wearing nothing but jeans looks vaguely familiar. Then she sees the nasty-looking wound to his left hand, and the only thing she’s battling is her inclination to faint at the sight of blood. As for Gideon, he thinks his brother has connected with a kook. He’s not about to admit he’s pleased to find out that the tall blonde with the perpetual-motion mouth is not Felicia after all.
The initial attraction between Noelle and Gabe intensifies as they spend more and more time together. Gabe, who is not the sort to enjoy inactivity, even ends up working in Noelle’s shop, The Christmas Attic, the last place one would expect to find this hero who is more a bah-humbug sort than he is a holiday joy spreader. But regardless of their deepening feelings, Gabe has no intention of staying in Fool’s Gold and no plans to make a lifetime commitment, and Noelle knows she deserves someone who is brave enough to risk celebrating what they have rather than fearing what they could lose.
Ever Mallery book I read just strengthens my conviction that this writer is one of the most gifted creators of characters in contemporary romance fiction. Noelle is a joy. I adored her only a few degrees less than I adores Felicia. Her courage, her optimism, and her contagious joy make her the perfect heroine for a Christmas romance. The sensitive, intellectual Gabe is something of an anomaly among the recent batch of Fool’s Gold heroes. I loved the difference, and I loved that Mallery showed the cost war exacts on those whose battle role is different from that of the typical warrior. Given Gabe’s relationship with his father over long years and all the rest that he has endured, I could even be patient with his slowness to recognize what he and Noelle had.
One of my favorite moments in the novel came when Noelle, thinking Gabriel is gone, recognizes that his leaving does not negate all that he has given her, and that she will prevail even if she has to continue without him. For me, that moment made the HEA all the sweeter.
I loved seeing the other Fool’s Gold characters. I especially loved that Felicia, Gideon, and Carter were such integral parts of the story. One of the things that make me a series addict is seeing the HEA of characters from earlier books in progress, and it’s especially rewarding when the characters are a favorite couple, as was the case with Felicia and Gideon.
Finally, I loved that this really is a Christmas book, not just a book set in December that could as easily have been set in March or August. The seasonal rituals of the town, the genuine sentiment that the holidays evoke among families and friends, and the joy and love that are the very definition of the season are all part of what makes this book special. Some readers may find it kitschy, but I even liked the Christmas associations of the protagonists’ names. In fact, except for the ’nother-verse, same-as-the-first feel of Gabe’s flight, I liked everything about this book. “Heartwarming” is a word I find overused and too readily applied to every book with sentimental appeal, but I think Christmas on 4th Street truly deserves to be termed “heartwarming” because it is indeed emotionally uplifting, sustaining, heartening, and encouraging. It’s also sexy, and it offers the gift of a wonderfully satisfying, sigh-evoking ending. If you like Christmas romances, you definitely should include this one on your list of must-reads for 2013.
This is Book 13 in Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series. I’ve read every one of them. How many have you read? Do you have a favorite?