Book Review: A California Christmas by Brenda Novak
Free solo climber Dallas Turner has a messy past. He climbs to escape, to free his mind. Going home to New Horizons ranch for his adoptive mom’s wedding (and Christmas) the last person he expects to see is Emery Bliss, his high school crush. Emery was Little Miss Perfect back then and she’s gone on to a successful career as a TV anchor… until her spurned co-host posted a sex tape and Emery was the one who got fired for it. She’s hiding out at New Horizons, trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces.
There were some really odd things about this book that just made it fall a bit flat for me. Emery not getting to be there at the final confrontation to catch her tormentor, with Dallas teaming up with her ex instead? Some dude called Brian who Dallas talked to only on the phone being the one to give him the Words of Wisdom he needed, rather than his loving mom Aiyana? Then there was a weird Chekov’s Gun which never went off, when Dallas called another free climber he’d been coaching to check on him and the guy didn’t answer his phone and never called back… I really thought that one was going to be either, they guy had suffered a serious fall and Dallas would feel guilt, or the guy would call back and rave about Dallas’s coaching abilities, making him think more seriously about his possible purchase of a gym. Instead, it was raised, dropped and never mentioned again, meaning it breaks one of the cardinal rules of writing… if a scene doesn’t advance the plot, it doesn’t belong in the book.
Dallas as a character reads a bit like the author watched Free Solo and developed a massive crush on Alex Honnold (namechecked several times in this book) and decided to write a hero heavily based on him, but with added Tragic Backstory. I was honestly horrified when Aiyana made the decision not to tell Dallas that his real father, the man who murdered his mother and sister, was out of jail and looking for him because she didn’t want it to ruin HER wedding… and surely, parole boards talk to victims before deciding whether to let violent criminals like that go? Or advise them that they ARE going to be released? It just felt like there was too much going on. Like the revenge porn plot against Emery wasn’t enough for the story, so Dallas just HAD to have major stuff going on too? Oh and Emery’s parents are undergoing a messy divorce and her grandmother has dementia… it got to feel like misery p*rn at one point and it really detracted from the romance, because it’s hard to believe in a happily ever after when all that stuff is going on and not all of it gets resolved at the end.
I’ve enjoyed some of Brenda Novak’s books before but this had too much suspense plot and other stuff going on at the expense of actually developing a romance between the two leads. It’s not terrible, but it really missed the mark as far as I was concerned. Three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.