by JM Jeffries, contemporary (2012)
Kimani, $6.25, ISBN 978-0-373-86280-1
Firstly, I have to say that I'm impressed with Miriam Pace and Jacqueline Hamilton, whose collaboration as JM Jeffries officially debuted in 1999. It's now 2012, and these ladies are still charging on like troopers. I know three couples who divorced during this period. This book is actually impressive, considering how my last brush with JM Jeffries's works left me rather... well, let's just say that I wasn't jumping with joy.
Sure, I expect some great improvements over the years, but My Only Christmas Wish is almost a revelation. A Kimani book that isn't part of a long-running series, doesn't spend one-third of its word count introducing and shoving the life story of secondary characters down my throat in order to sell past and future books in a series, lacks annoying boring filler scenes containing detailed descriptions of everyone's dress, hairstyle, and make-up... in other words, a well-paced story that actually feels like a story instead of an interminable run of TV commercials. It's practically a cause for celebration considering how far down the pits the Kimani line has sunk into over the years.
Oh yes, the story. Darcy Bennett's great love is for the family department store, Bennett's, which is practically an institution in Atlanta. Therefore, when Eli Austin finally gets his hands on Bennett's, he realizes that Darcy is not going to be put aside easily. She owns the land on which Bennett's is built, for one, and secondly, she has been running a very tight ship, which means every member of the staff adores her. Loyal customers adore her too - and we are talking about some very prominent members of the community with political and social clout.
Eli and Darcy clash pretty much from the start when he has his own ideas of management that comes from running Dollar Bin, a successful bargain store chain. He favors quick and often ruthless efficiency and maximum profitability, while she doesn't see the harm in spending a bit more to keep the staff and customers happy. Of course, a very pleasant merger of sorts is on the horizon as they will fall in love along the way. Just in time for Christmas, naturally.
I'm sure you will be pleased to hear that Darcy is actually pretty good when it comes to running a business. She's not some vapid idiot running the business into the ground like too many heroines who play at being Corporate Barbie - many of Darcy's plans and reasoning make perfect sense. Darcy may come off as all about heart and sunshine, but she has a very practical streak hidden underneath the smiles. Every "nice" thing she does for the customers and her staff is also designed to increase productivity or profit. When the author claims that Darcy is one of the most respected corporate person in Atlanta, I can believe it. Here, Darcy often plays the optimistic and cheerful counterpart to the more cynical Eli, but she always has both feet planted firmly on the ground.
Like Darcy, Eli isn't another tired stereotype. Unlike a typical Scrooge-like character, Eli does have a heart, especially when it comes to his daughter Sophia. Many widower millionaire heroes neglect their children and are loved for that, but Eli makes sure that he is always there for his daughter. He can a bit of a Scrooge by telling his daughter that Santa doesn't exist, but that's just Eli being Eli - practical and cynical. He may be bit of a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas, but he's never deliberately cruel.
The romance between Eli and Darcy isn't exactly burning with passion, but I have a pretty nice time seeing these two sparring and interacting like sensible adults who can't help letting their attraction to each other turn them into silly kids at times. When these two jump into bed, it feels right because there is some build-up leading to that moment. Also, I can't get over how nice it is to read a romance where things are allowed to simmer and boil instead of rushed because there is plenty of space devoted to the couple, as opposed to having them share the limelight with eight sequel baits screaming that I should buy their books too.
Just be careful that this is a holiday season romance, so there are some scenes that can be sickeningly sweet. Eli's daughter, Sophia, especially, is one of those raging creepy sugar monsters that often come off like midget adults pretending badly to be seven and doing artificially cute things to bring on the "Awwww!" moments. There are moments when I have to remind myself that this story is all about the happy season of cheer and giving, a time when little match girls and one-legged brats sing forlorn songs of forgiveness before dying and becoming angels in heaven just to remind us that we need to get a bit more drunk than usual, so I shouldn't roll up my eyes too often.
At any rate, the occasional saccharine overload aside, this one is a very pleasant read, and it's also easily one of the better Kimani books I've read of late. A part of me wonders whether I am overpraising this book because of this, but what the heck, it's time to be giving and forgiving, so there you go.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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