Holly Gordon loves participating in her town's Secret Santa program. Bringing the light of the holiday season to those who might not otherwise receive a gift is the highlight of her year. This year though, she is faced with the challenge of delivering twelve gifts to a man whose handsome face and gorgeous physique stir her desires, but whose Scrooge-like demeanor makes her want to drop him from her list and never come back. Little does Holly know that Marcus Jenner suffered a terrible loss which has soured him on Christmas cheer. Even though he tries to drive her away, Holly is no quitter. She persistently keeps delivering gifts to Marcus until her serious, chronic illness makes it impossible for her to continue. By then, Marcus has started to fall in love with Holly, and no longer seeing her pretty face every day troubles him. When he finally discovers what became of Holly, will Marcus be able to pull off the Christmas miracle Holly needs to survive?
I met author, Kristine Cheney at an event earlier this year, and based on her description of her books alone, I ended up buying two of them. Secret Santa is the first one I've read, and I'm sorry to say that I wasn't overly impressed. The story is a very sweet one, and the premise is something I would typically enjoy. It also contained several of my favorite romance themes. Ms. Cheney, herself, seemed like a very nice lady too, so I really wanted to like her book and thought I would. Unfortunately, none of these things could fully rescue this story from the author's extensive over-writing that was badly in need of an editor. Her overuse of adjectives and adverbs, her tendency to spend paragraphs describing each and every setting and each and every character, even the bit players, as well as her use of some truly eye-roll inducing purple prose bogged down what could have been a fabulous read.
The main saving grace of the novella is that the hero and heroine are both likable and relatable characters. Holly is a sweet, young woman who loves participating in the town's Secret Santa program every year. It brings her great joy to give gifts to those in need. Being estranged from her own family, she really has no one on whom to depend except her best friend, Jilly. Only a few close acquaintances even know that Holly is very ill and desperately in need of a Christmas miracle herself, but that doesn't stop her from her holiday mission of delivering twelve gifts to a handsome stranger whose disposition resembles Ebeneezer Scrooge. During the previous year, Marcus suffered a devastating loss which caused him to withdraw from everyone. He also has no family, which is part of why he's on the Secret Santa list, but he's none too happy when Holly begins stalking him with gifts. Still, he's attracted to her and deep down is obviously a caring man. Once he finds out about Holly's plight, he's prepared to do anything to help. Marcus and Holly made a cute couple and the way things played out was undeniably heartwarming, but I still couldn't help feeling like their love for one another was a bit forced, like it was only there for the sake of the plot rather than developing as an organic part of the story. For a sweet romance, the sexual tension was pretty high, with a couple of almost love scenes, but in spite of that, I just didn't feel the romance on the deep level I would have preferred.
Overall, the premise of Secret Santa was extremely appealing and had a lot of promise, but lacked in the execution. I appear to be in the minority on this one though. Based on the high ratings at Amazon, GoodReads and elsewhere, apparently, most readers were able to overlook the excessively wordy writing style which was, in my opinion, better suited to poetry than prose. Between the short length and the mediocre writing, it wasn't really worth the full paperback price of $6.99 which I paid, so for anyone who wants to give this novella a try, I would definitely recommend the $0.99 e-book option. Secret Santa had it's good points and wasn't really a bad story per se, but the weak romance and having to wade through a flood of words to find the plot, made for a somewhat frustrating experience for me and a so-so wrap up to my holiday reading this year.
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