On a New Year's Eve trip to Las Vegas, James Wilkens chances to meet Summer Lawton in a crowd of revelers at midnight. Summer came to Vegas to meet up with her fiancé to celebrate the holiday, only to find him in bed with another woman. After breaking off their engagement, Summer found herself wandering the busy streets feeling lost and lonely. James befriends her and having experienced a similar break-up in his own life a few years earlier, assures Summer that she will feel better within a year's time. They agree to meet in Vegas again the same time, next year to see if James's assertion is correct.
Throughout the coming year, James and Summer develop a friendship through a regular exchange of letters, and when they meet up again, it isn't long before they realize how much they've come to care for one another and don't want to be apart. Soon they find themselves making arrangements for a quick Vegas-style wedding, but even after the "I do's," circumstances still keep them apart. Summer has a contract to fulfill as a performer at Disneyland, while James is beginning a campaign to retain the Superior Court judgeship to which he was appointed in Seattle. A few months later, they're finally reunited, but James's campaign manager is less than thrilled by James's choice of a bride. He soon has Summer convinced that James is better off without her-at least until the election is over. Will James be able to convince Summer that he'll always be stronger with her standing by his side?
Same Time, Next Year is the fourth and final full-length novel in Debbie Macomber's Those Manning Men series. As with pretty much all the books in the series, it's a sweet, light romance. Although thankfully, Ms. Macomber doesn't gloss over sexual attraction, there are no explicit elements, making it suitable for most romance readers. In this book, James, Christy Manning's ex-fiancé and the man she left in the dust, finally gets his HEA. While James isn't a Manning by blood, he's been a friend of the family for years and is basically an honorary Manning. The Manning parents definitely treat him like one of their own and welcome Summer into their lives as well, but of course, they each have their own parents too, so it makes for a large, warm, family-oriented story.
James is a hard-working attorney who has just been appointed to serve out the term of a retiring Superior Court judge. At thirty-seven, he's the youngest person to be appointed to the bench in Seattle, and he has every intention of running for office in the fall in hopes of making his new job permanent. Most people seem to view James as something of a stodgy, stuffed shirt, which could kind of be seen in some of the previous books of the series. Although he does begin the book seeming rather reserved, he gets over that pretty quickly when Summer comes into his life. Once he realizes how much in love with her he is, he's transformed into a very loving and passionate man. I suppose it could be said that Summer simply brought out the best in him.
Summer is a light and breezy character most of the time, but her emotions still occasionally get in the way of her making the best choices. She's an actress and singer who performs at Disneyland. She really enjoys her job, but when she falls for James, she's more than willing to give it up to stand by his side as he pursues his career. Much like with the other heroines in this series, her parents are well-meaning, but a bit overbearing, and she kind of allows them to run rough-shod over her, though not nearly as much as Christy did in her book. I'm glad that Summer stood up to her cheating ex-fiancé, although I did question her judgment just a little when she didn't tell James about her ex continuing to call her even after they were married. I also felt like she let James's campaign manager get to her way too easily. I kind of understood that she wanted to do what was best for her husband and his campaign, but the man was obviously an idiot. Ultimately, I felt like she was a bit naive and should have had an open, honest conversation with James about it before essentially running away.
James and Summer are a cute and well-matched couple, but I have to admit the beginning of the story was a little slow for me. I just didn't really feel that building attraction like I wanted to. They met in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve right after Summer had discovered her fiancé's infidelity, and James consoled her. Having gone through a similar break-up himself, he understood her and assured her that she would feel much better within a year, which led to them making a 'date' to meet in Vegas again the next New Year's Eve. Throughout the coming year, they exchanged letters monthly, which I thought was a sweet gesture since few people actually write letters anymore. Supposedly a deep friendship built between them during that time, but we don't really get to see that happening. When they meet up again, Summer initially isn't even thinking of James in a romantic way, so the sudden attraction to one another and the quickie marriage felt like they were going from 0 to 100 within only a few days time. It might have been nice if they'd actually started experiencing romantic feelings for one another through their letter writing. Once they're married, though, the love and passion they feel for one another is very obvious. They can hardly stand being apart (honestly I don't think the long separation was all that necessary, but will grudgingly admit it added conflict and tension), and when they're together they can hardly keep their hands off each other.;-) I was so glad when James's dad finally put an end to their misery and brought Summer home to James.
With all the family ties, there are secondary characters aplenty. James's dad was my favorite. He's been wanting James to marry and give him grandkids for a long time, so he's crazy about Summer. He very much treats her like the daughter he never had, and has lots of great fatherly advice to dispense to both James and Summer. He's very involved in their lives, without being overbearing like Summer's family and the Manning parents can sometimes be. Of course all the Mannings who reside in Seattle show up at some point in the story, and it was fun to see them and their growing families.
Overall, Same Time, Next Year was a sweet story that I mostly enjoyed. Having read the entire Those Manning Men series now, plus The Manning Sisters duet, I know that Debbie Macomber sometimes uses soap-opera-style plotting that makes me want to groan, yet somehow it all works out in the end and I can't help feeling happy for the loving couple. Not to mention, her stories always express the all-important emotion I look for in a romance. There's one more wrap-up novella in this series, Silver Bells, that is supposed to reunite the entire Manning clan for Christmas while telling a new story. I have no idea who the main characters might be, but I'm looking forward to reading it this coming holiday season. Same Time, Next Year was originally published as a stand-alone novel in the Silhouette Special Edition line, and was later reprinted in the single-author anthology The Manning Grooms along with the third book of the series.
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