Why I read it: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley. Gifts of Honor releases on November 21.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) I’ll be home for Christmas…
A batch of special Christmas cookies helps a wounded ex-Ranger remember the love of his life. A surprise phone call reunites a woman with the soldier who once broke her heart. There’s no place like home for the holidays, and there’s no better way to spend them than with the one you love.
Starting from Scratch
Christmas is the perfect time to start from scratch
Lieutenant Sully Jax saved his unit during an IED attack, but he couldn’t save his marriage. He can’t even remember it. Recovered from his injuries, he’s come home to the family and friends he knows—and an ex-wife who’s a stranger to him.
Lucy Crabtree was heartbroken last Christmas when Sully announced his plan to go on one last tour of duty, and devastated when he asked for a divorce after he awoke in the hospital with no memory of her. She’s finally moving on from her hurt and from losing the man she loved more than anything, and her cookie-baking business is taking off just in time for the holidays. But now Sully’s back, and she can’t deny she still loves him. But how can she trust her heart to someone who breaks it every time she sees him?
Sully might not remember Lucy, but something inside won’t let her go. With every bite of her cookies, he finds a new love for Lucy, and he soon realizes he wants to rebuild his life with her by his side.
Six months ago, being snowed in at Christmas with the amazing woman he met on R & R at Fort Riley would have been a dream come true, yet now, as a blizzard swirls outside Beth Tate’s house, Captain Chris Walker knows he shouldn’t be there. Blinded in combat and emotionally scarred, he never wanted Beth to know the man he’s become—but stranded by the storm, he had no one else to call.
Hurt and bewildered when Chris abruptly ended his faithful contact from Afghanistan, Beth tried to put him and their whirlwind romance out of her mind and prepared for a quiet holiday alone—until the phone rang. Now that he’s here, she’s more confused than ever, torn between love for the man she once knew and anger at the one who broke her heart.
A life with Beth was everything Chris wanted, but the wounds of battle are nothing compared to the agony of heartbreak. It will take more than mistletoe, but perhaps this holiday season Chris will find his way home.
What worked for me (and what didn’t):
Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail
I do like second chance at love stories and I think they often work well in a novella, as I can more easily accept a HEA when the characters know each other already. Except… – well Lucy knows Sullivan but Sullivan can’t remember Lucy. After he woke up in hospital Stateside to a woman at his bedside he didn’t recognise and didn’t remember, Sullivan asked Lucy for a divorce, thinking to release her from a marriage of strangers. When the story begins, Sullivan has been released from hospital/rehabilitation and has returned home to Bitterthorn Texas, where Lucy works in a local bakery. Lucy has always and still loves Jax but she is crushed that he cannot remember her – in fact, it seems that she is the only one he doesn’t remember. The previous Christmas relations were very strained between them, as Sullivan had re-enlisted for another year without discussing it with his wife (which is a SHITTY thing to do). This Christmas, it’s even harder for Lucy because Sullivan is back home safe, but she’s lost the love of her life nonetheless. Even though Sullivan can’t remember Lucy, he is nevertheless drawn to her and he has an inexplicable craving for cookies.
Where the story fell down a little for me was that Sullivan didn’t actually get to know Lucy all that much in this story – or if he did, I didn’t see enough of it. It wasn’t clear to me why he hadn’t been fascinated by her when he was in hospital as he is now. Perhaps that is a readerly failing on my part – it may have been there but I missed it. Nevertheless, I was prepared to accept that there was a deep connection between them, regardless of the state of his memory and that was the attractor for him. (Maybe the hometown environment rather than the hospital surroundings made a difference too?).
What I loved about the story was that by the end, Sullivan finally sees what the effect of his decisions were on Lucy and just how difficult things have been for her too. He also takes responsibility for his shitty actions in the past and gives good apology. There was a definite chemistry between the characters and I liked they way the author was able to convey this from early on with a clever phrase here and there. I haven’t read this author before but she’s one to watch.
Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley
This story also had the set up where the hero and heroine had a prior romance. When the hero, Chris Walker is blinded and burned as a result of a suicide bombing while serving in Afghanistan, he decides to break things off with Beth “for her own good”. This is the part of the story which also had me grating my teeth. There is something about that kind of action which bothers me as it indicates the hero thinks the heroine cannot or ought not to think for herself. As Beth ably demonstrates after they get together again around Christmas time as a result of a snowstorm, she took some time to think rationally about whether she wanted to be in a relationship with someone who was disabled by blindness and PTSD. It was interesting to me that the blindness wasn’t the main issue for Beth at all – for her it was a matter of making some practical changes and they didn’t really daunt her. It was the PTSD she was more concerned about – whether Chris would be violent with her as a result of a nightmare for instance, as well as various other effects of PTSD which are real and which affect a portion of the people diagnosed with it. She asked questions and took some time to think rationally. See Chris? She CAN make her own decisions!!
That said, I thought the way Beth dealt with Chris’s disability was really well done. I’m certainly no expert but she held him to account for being a jerk (by breaking things off with her by email for no apparent reason when, after not hearing from him for some time, she’d been terrified he was dead) and she didn’t let him off the hook for things. She provided practical help when he needed it but also let him do things he could do without fussing over him too much. She behaved like it was a thing they had to deal with but not a big deal in the scheme of things. That’s not to say she was dismissive or scathing of what it meant to him to be sightless, but she also didn’t think it was the end of the world – quite the contrary. And she was like that the whole way through the novella. I liked Beth very much and I was glad when Chris finally wised up and made things right.
I understand the thing I disliked about the story was the thing that made the reconciliation possible (ie they needed to split up so they could be brought back together for this novella) but given how smart and practical Beth was, I wish Chris had given her more credit from the beginning.
I enjoyed the writing style, the story flowed smoothly and the characters certainly had chemistry. I think Beth made a most excellent partner for Chris. It’s possible the jury is slightly out on whether the reverse is true. But I did believe he loved her and wouldn’t be such a doofus again. Another new-to-me author to watch.
What else? I enjoyed the military theme of the two stories and thought they fit very well together in this holiday anthology. I expect there will be more than a few readers who will need to have the tissues handy when reading and both novellas were definitely worth my time. Carina always seem to come up with good holiday anthologies and this is no exception.
Read this with one eyed open as I have this coming up soon. I’ve heard good things! 🙂
@Mandi: I’m looking forward to seeing what you think Mandi 🙂