Actor Jeremy Hunter has a bad reputation as the biggest playboy in Hollywood. Fed up with his wild partying ways, the movie studio has threatened to recast the wholesome role of a traveling preacher unless Jeremy can prove his commitment by actually becoming the character he's been slated to play. Reluctantly Jeremy agrees and hits the road on his Harley. Everything is going great until he rides into the tiny town of Two Creeks, Texas, where he meets stunning fourth-grade teacher, Bailey Tanner. Jeremy only intended to stop for lunch, but a slight mishap leads to a sprained ankle, meaning he's stuck in the little town for the next week until he heals enough to ride his bike. Sweet, neighborly Bailey offers to let him stay in her guest house, and suddenly Jeremy's not feeling so saintly anymore. All he can think about is bedding the pretty blonde. When the townspeople invite him to be a part of their Christmas play and celebration, he isn't sure if he can keep up the ruse, and he isn't sure if he even wants to anymore. Guilt-ridden after finally spending a night of passion with Bailey, Jeremy leaves town without looking back, but finds he misses her and the townspeople more than he would have thought. With a little help from Bailey's friends, maybe Jeremy will get a second chance to prove his sincerity.
It's a Wonderful Life is the final, wrap-up novella for Karen Kelley's Southern series. It's a quick read featuring Wade's sister, Bailey, who was first introduced in his book, Southern Comfort, and hot, sexy, playboy movie star, Jeremy Hunter. Bailey is a sweet, upbeat school teacher with three overprotective older brothers, although Wade is the only one we see much of in the story. She's immediately taken with Jeremy (aka Trey) when he comes to town but keeps trying to put the kibosh on her sexual desires for him, because she believes he's a preacher. It was nice to see Karen Kelley trying out a different type of female character, who's not the alpha female loner, but unfortunately Bailey's characterization doesn't go much deeper than what I described.
For once, the hero, Jeremy, is the one who's a bit better developed. We learn a little about his past that brings some sympathy to his character and some realism to his cynicism surrounding Christmas and people in general. I liked Jeremy all right, but I have to admit that the way we see him in the opening chapter, waking up after a wild night of partying with two naked women in his house, is not particularly endearing. In those moments, he comes off as a bit spoiled, but he at least has enough of a drive for the upcoming movie role to be willing to do anything to keep it when the movie studio threatens to recast because of his bad reputation. That said, though, I'm not usually a big fan of hidden identities in romance unless there's a hugely compelling reason for it, because it seems dishonest to me. Jeremy only goes on the road, pretending to be a traveling preacher to satisfy the movie studio's demands for him to keep that same role in his upcoming movie. At first, he comes off as little more than a con-man, who thinks that if he can fool Bailey and the townspeople of Two Creeks, Texas, he can fool a movie audience into believing he's a preacher too. Admittedly, Jeremy does start to feel guilty for his actions after a while, which made him more human, but ultimately his major attitude change that alters his whole outlook on life and that takes place in less than a week's time, was a little too quick to be entirely believable. But Christmas is the season for miracles, so I suppose I can cut a little slack.:-)
Overall, the entire story needed a little more space to build it into something truly believable and heartwarming. As is, everything happens a little too fast, including the townspeople forgiving Jeremy for his deception and the love scene, which is barely there. But as with Karen Kelley's other books I've read to date, it had a certain entertainment value to it and wasn't a chore to finish. In addition to Wade, his heroine, Fallon, also appears as a secondary character in this novella, and we get a quick visit from Cody and Josh (Hell on Wheels) as well. It's a Wonderful Life was originally published in the anthology, I'm Your Santa, but was recently republished as a stand-alone eBook, retitled Southern Star. Although her books can be somewhat entertaining, thus far, Karen Kelley hasn't really wowed me yet. I have a feeling she's going to be one of those middle of the road authors for me, but since at least one of the books in this series received four stars from me, I might still try another of her books that I have on my TBR list before deciding whether I'll keep reading her books.
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