Review: A Season to Celebrate anthology

Review: A Season to Celebrate anthologyA Season to Celebrate
by Donna Kauffman, Fern Michaels, Kate Pearce, Priscilla Oliveras
Publisher: Zebra
Publication Date: October 30, 2018
Genres: Romance
Pages: 304
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Make it a merry Christmas with four stories of the special way the holidays warm our hearts...

CHRISTMAS HOMECOMING * Fern Michaels Former Air Force Pararescueman Kevin Matthews is back home in Texas, working at his family's Christmas tree farm while deciding his next move. Or maybe he won't move at all, if sparks keep flying with the town's new surgeon, Kate Stafford . . .

AN UNEXPECTED GIFT * Kate Pearce Widower Billy Morgan wishes his grown children still needed him. Good thing his longtime friend, Bella, does. She's planning her son's Christmas wedding and Billy is happy to help. Along the way they just might discover their own occasion to celebrate . . .

CHRISTMAS IN BLUE HOLLOW FALLS * Donna Kauffman Attorney Moira Brogan expects her brother's Christmas wedding to be a peaceful affair. She doesn't expect to be cornered by an unwanted lothario, rescued by a gorgeous Aussie chef--or be swept off her feet by said chef. Nursing a broken heart, the last thing she wants is a new romance. But Hudson Walker has other ideas . . .

HOLIDAY HOMERUN * Priscilla Oliveras Event planner Julia Louisa Fernandez dreams of a life in Chicago. But her family in Puerto Rico expects her to take over the catering business. Former pro baseball player Ben Thomas knows what that's like--and when they meet, he might be the one to inspire a winning strategy, just in time for the holidays . . .

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Look, I’m going to be 100% honest with you.  I completely picked this up for Priscilla Oliveras’ story, because all the other authors are completely new to me.  Also, while the cover is cute, it’s usually indicative of the kind of romance I don’t particularly enjoy, so I had pretty low expectations going in.  Luckily, most of the stories were quite good and I got to add a few new authors to my TBR!

“Before I left, I was just going through the motions, living from one day to the next, not fully realizing what I had and what I could do with my life. Now I understand how important it is to be grounded. Be a part of something. The loyalty. The love. The unwavering attention you give to each other. Everyone needs to learn to love just a little more and learn to accept it.”

“A Christmas Homecoming” – Fern Michaels – ★★

This was a not great start to the anthology.  On the surface, it sounds good.  Kevin is returning home to his family and their Christmas tree farm after six years in the military, and Kate and her young daughter have just moved to town after she accepted a position at the local hospital.  From their initial meeting at church to a tree delivery, there’s definite interest between the two of them and this honestly should’ve been a slam dunk.  Unfortunately, the entire story revolved around judgey misconceptions – View Spoiler » There was actually a large chunk of the story from Kevin’s mom’s POV, which felt like an odd choice in such a short story.  There were a couple of other turns of phrases that struck me wrong (some nasty fatphobia right in the beginning that nearly had me throw out the whole anthology, plus a weird remark about PC police not letting kids cut out paper stars?), plus Kate’s kid was an absolute plot moppet.  This was the first thing I’ve read by this author, and I think it’ll also be the last!

“Everything he’d had and lost, everything he’d ever wanted to achieve with the blessing of this second chance now made sense. Bella made sense of it. Coming home to his old friend completed a circle he hadn’t even been aware he was traveling.”

“An Unexpected Gift” – Kate Pearce – ★★★★

This story itself is, like the title says, an unexpected gift!  It’s the usual story of two people from a small town who’ve known each other since kindergarten – the only difference is, kindergarten was fifty years ago!  Both Billy and Bella have been married before, and both have grown children who have apparently gotten their HEAs.  This is set in an existing series (the Morgan Ranch series), and while I definitely felt like I was missing out on some things (there are a LOT of characters), I don’t think it affected the main romance.  At heart, this is a sort of second chance romance, in the sense that this is the second “big love” in both their lives.  I appreciated the older hero and heroine and the gentle humor.  Overall, heartwarming, and I’ve added the first in the series to my TBR!  (A sidenote: though the rest of the stories in this anthology don’t involve sexual content beyond kisses, this one has several sex scenes)

“I’m a pretty goal-oriented person. I like to make plans, and stick to those plans. But, I guess I came to a turning point, and for the first time ever, I finally made a few bold, completely unplanned choices. The end result of which was a complete train wreck.” Her smile widened. “You, on the other hand, wander the globe on a whim, and end up making the wrecked train into an amazing home.”

“Christmas in Blue Hollow Falls” – Donna Kauffman – ★★★★

In Blue Hollow Falls for the Christmas wedding of her brother to a famous Irish folk singer, Moira’s hiding out a hotel bar drowning her sorrows in soda when she’s propositioned – and then assaulted – by a slimy guy.  Luckily Hudson – the wedding caterer and her brother’s good friend – is there and steps in to help rescue her, and then brings her back to his place (a renovated train carriage, no less).  Moira is recovering from a relationship gone wrong and failing the California bar exam.  Normally Moira’s quite staid – she has plans upon plans – but recently she’s tried to do some things spontaneously and it backfired spectacularly.  So she’s enchanted by Hudson, who’s spent his time wandering around the globe and having adventure after adventure, and has currently been the chef of her brother’s restaurant for a year.  It’s got laugh-out-loud touches of humor and also a philosophical discussion of how to approach life – Moira’s goal-oriented control freak versus Hudson’s go-with-the-flow.  I also loved the descriptions of Moira’s crazy Irish family, and deeply identified with her conflict over loving them and wanting to be near them, but not quite too near.  This is part of the aptly named “Blue Hollow Falls” series, and I will definitely be picking up the first book!

“Sometimes, a move away from the place where we’re the most comfortable allows for the best kind of growth.”

“Holiday Home Run” – Priscilla Oliveras – ★★★★

Saving the best for last!  Julia is an event planner and the cousin of the sisters from the Matched to Perfection series.  She grew up in Puerto Rico helping her mom run her catering company and dealing with her baseball-obsessed brothers.  While she loves her family, she, too, feels suffocated by their expectations that she take over the family business, so she’s looking at making the move to Chicago.  The linchpin of her plan is pulling off the best holiday soiree fundraiser for the Chicago Youth Association that the town has ever seen in the hopes of landing a permanent job there.  If only the fundraiser didn’t come with a certain handsome retired baseball player involved…

At first, Ben is seemingly only interested in Julia because she doesn’t seem as starstruck around him.  Gradually, though, as they work together on the fundraiser, the spark turns into something more.  Julia, however, has zero interest in dating an athlete after spending her whole life submerged in baseball, even if Ben is kind, compassionate, a good listener, and did I mention handsome?  The big problem, though, is that Ben doesn’t understand why she wants to move away from her family, when he’s so desperately missing the family he found in his baseball team.  Watching the two of them work it out was so sweet and at times heart wrenching.  I also loved the touches of Puerto Rican holiday traditions, though I did finish the story hungry for pernil and arroz con gandules!

Another great story from Ms. Oliveras, and I’m so looking forward to Lilí’s book next month!

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