I recently happened upon the opportunity to review A Heartwarming Thanksgiving – a collection of 13 short stories from Harlequin Heartwarming authors. Unfamiliar with this particular line of Harlequin books, I looked them up and found this description:
You’ve got to have heart…. Harlequin Heartwarming celebrates wholesome, heartfelt relationships imbued with the traditional values so important to you: home, family, community and love.
While my first preference is for books written to the Christian Market, I have thoroughly enjoyed many General Market novels in the past. (For more on my reviewing requirements, see My Book Reviews.) I also enjoy novella collections which are perfect for this busy time of year. So I signed up to receive a free digital copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
Note, I said honest review.
The truth is I did not have a good first impression of this book. Snow Day Baby, by Amy Vastine, has an interesting premise – friends from high school reunite on a snowy day at the airport when she goes into labor and he (now a doctor) delivers the baby right there with the world watching – however, the first few pages left me already annoyed.
In the space of three pages the hero, Dr. Scott Spencer, worries three separate times, at length, about how his coworkers and boss will feel about him changing jobs. (He’s leaving to go to an interview.) By the third time, I was thinking to myself, “We get it already. He’s feeling guilty about changing jobs. Move on.” However, I kept reading and found the next scene where the heroine (Sheridan Colfax), her mother, and sister are preparing to leave for the airport to be more engaging. I liked the dynamics between these characters and it gave me hope for the rest of the story.
Later, I enjoyed the interplay between Scott and Sheridan which drew me further into the story… until the editor somehow missed the fact that “Scott” suddenly became “Dylan” for one sentence in a scene at the food court and I was completely thrown out of the story by trying to figure out who Dylan was.
I do understand that even the best editors can miss something now and again, so once I figured out it was a mistake, I let it go and kept reading. Sadly, it was only a sign of things to come. I can’t remember a single one of the 13 short stories that didn’t have some glaring error (or several) such as this one (I couldn’t believe it when a second story had a name switched). Unfortunately, this inhibited my enjoyment of the better-written stories. And there are some good ones in there.
While I cannot honestly say that I bought into all of the love stories presented in this collection (a few left me wondering what one character saw in the other or that they didn’t understand each other at all), there were some that beautifully reflected the true and abiding love I look for in a romance. Once such story was The Firefighter’s Promise by Kate James.
The Firefighter’s Promise follows Jaqueline Warren who prefers to be called “Jax” and Ryan Hudson, one of the firefighters called to the scene when Jax is thrown from her motorcycle near the start of the story. Due to her troubled past, Jax prefers to be left alone, but Ryan is drawn to Jax and winds up visiting her in the hospital. Without giving too much away, author Kate James manages to grow the relationship between these two characters in a way that seems authentic and touches the heart. This story alone is worth buying the collection, which is currently selling on Amazon for $4.99 (not an affiliate link) and bears a 5-star rating after 10 customer reviews (most of whom would apparently disagree with my review of the collection as a whole).
Another story I found particularly moving was Autumn at Jasper Lake by Carol Ross. In this story, a soldier recently returned from war seeks solitude in a remote Alaskan lakeside neighborhood where there is plenty of space between the houses but neighbors think nothing of walking right in with no more than a perfunctory knock to announce their presence. Needless to say the soldier doesn’t entirely find the solitude he is seeking, but of course, it works out to his benefit. The romance which develops between the hero and his neighbor – with a troubled past of her own – is sweet and believable. Another win for this collection.
The Sweetheart Tree by Rula Sinara is another story which makes the purchase of this collection worthwhile. The main characters, Austin Shale and Serena Myss, were high school sweethearts ripped apart by tragedy three years prior. When an old oak is threatened with destruction, it brings environmental activist Serena back to town and policeman Austin is called in to remove her from the property. A series of plausible plot twists reveal that the true obstacle to their happily-ever-after is not a lack of love, but an abundance of guilt, grief, and fear. Perhaps it’s my personal connection to the heart of this story, but this one actually had me choking up and blinking back tears. I rooted for these two all the way to the satisfying end.
There were other enjoyable stories in the collection which I could mention here, but for the sake of brevity, I will stop with these.
NOTES FOR THE CHRISTIAN AUDIENCE:
Please be aware that these stories are not written for the Christian audience and thus do not necessarily reflect Christian morals. (Though one character does say a quick silent prayer.) That said, as a Christian author myself, I feel compelled to point out some of the issues in these stories which might make some Christian readers uncomfortable:
- In at least two stories there are hints at premarital sex having occurred prior to the start of the story with no implication that this is either wrong or unusual.
- Divorce is discussed in a way that makes it seem perfectly acceptable and normal, though still painful.
- Lying is deemed acceptable under certain circumstances, possibly even admirable.
- Some of the relationships seem entirely based on physical attraction (although nothing more than kissing – some on the neck – happens in story present-time).
Again, I’m not saying all Christians would have an issue with the above. I’m simply noting these for those who would.
I find it difficult to rate a collection of this size and variety. If I were to rate the stories individually, I would be forced to break my policy of never reviewing a story on my blog that I cannot honestly give at least 3 stars to. However, I believe some of the stories in this book, such as The Firefighter’s Promise and The Sweetheart Tree, are deserving of 4.5 stars (losing half a star for editing) and thus deserving of a review and your reading time. Therefore I am refraining from rating this book at all.
Instead, I would ask that if you read this collection yourself, please come back and let me know how YOU would rate it by commenting below.
And from my family to yours, I wish you a very