Hiring Patrick Shaughnessy to landscape her new inn was strictly a business arrangement. Until April Ross got to know the war-scarred single father …and his irrepressible little girl. Patrick made it clear he wasn't looking for romance. Neither was April. But could she make him see that some risks were worth taking?
The lively, widowed blonde might be the most tempting woman Patrick had ever known, but the returning vet knew a happy ending wasn't in the cards. Still, that was before April started working her magic on his daughter …and on him.
Maybe this Christmas was a time for new beginnings — if Patrick had the courage to go with the powerful feelings April had awakened in him….
And here is Kay's review:
I always look forward to a Templeton romance novel. Dear Santa is a favourite Christmas-set category romance and I had high expectations for this one. I wasn’t disappointed. I wasn’t enthralled either, even though Templeton’s familiar themes are evident: overcoming the past, trauma or loss, coming to terms with family, and taking a risk for love. Their execution, however, is not consistently successful.
This is a solid B read, if “B” can be a composite of “C” for the first ten chapters and “A” for the last two. What does it say about a category-length novel that it takes ten chapters for it to be really good? One of the positive features of this romance novel is Templeton’s signature humour. When the novel hovers on the brink of saccharine, Templeton’s ability to create characters that laugh at themselves saves it from going over the precipice. However, the novel does not always sustain this and it slips into treacly territory.
Patrick and April meet at a garden centre and their characterization is immediately and effectively established. Templeton doesn’t give everything away, hinting at a darkness to their pasts that has the reader wanting to learn more. Templeton creates characters shaped by their past experiences, especially their families. In this case, she gives the more tormented of the two, Patrick, a big, loving, supportive family to offset the horror of what he endured during his deployment. April has an affectionate, but more problematic family. Her mother is loving, but disapproving; her dad, harmless, but shiftless; her two cousins, meddling, but supportive.
Patrick suffers from PTSD, living day-to-day caring for his daughter and giving up the possibility of a relationship because of his facial scarring, fragile psychological state, and responsibilities as a father. He denies his need and desire for love, friendship, and intimacy. April too has been left, not scarred, but arrested after her marriage and subsequent widowhood. She’s in a better place, ready to make a new life and give love a chance. One peculiar narrative bump in this novel is the nebulous circumstances of April’s married life. Her marriage sounds like it comes straight out of a 1950s Gidget world. (I’m avoiding a spoiler here, but think Rock Hudson.) One of the themes of this novel is how two people in such different places in their lives come together. For ten chapters, it’s touch and go: he wants to pull away, despite the attraction he feels and she wants to take him and his daughter on. He pulls away; she comes closer. This could be an engaging dance in a romance narrative, but it’s where Templeton loses the rhythm and doesn’t regain it until late into the novel.
Another theme in Templeton’s novel is the importance of shedding the past not to cripple the present, or hinder building a future. April arrives at this much more readily than Patrick. As April gains strength and maturity, she pushes for a greater commitment from Patrick. Altruism motivates her: she loves him and his daughter and he makes her feel good and happy, but she also wants to give him comfort and help him allow the past to ease away and be happy. I felt sorry for Patrick, who is good and honorable. He doesn’t want to hold April back by shackling her to a man with his baggage: the scarred face, the nightmares and hyper-vigilance that come with PTSD, and a little girl traumatized by her mother’s, his ex-wife’s, abandonment. Patrick sees himself as a broken man and rightly so. April’s presence in his life, even while he’s attracted to and cares about her, is difficult. He’s can’t offer her what she wants. Templeton had to find a way to make Patrick’s change of heart and mind viable. One way she does is by making April so saintly, she loses substance. As the Kindle pages faded from one to the next, April became more and more fey: she bounces, floats, and levitates her way into Patrick and Lili’s life. She is so flawless, so giving (she’s the gift of the title, I guess) that she is less of a fully realized character at the end of the novel than at the start.
Some other narrative bumps are also real plot-killers. There are long, drawn-out conversations with secondary characters, whose role is to impart their wisdom and convince the hero and heroine to be together. Patrick’s mother, father, brothers, sisters, and even brother-in-law take their turn lovingly persuading him to be with April, not lose April, etc. April’s cousins, in turn, do the same; and when she meets his family, they too urge her not to give up on Patrick. The conflict in this novel is internal: Patrick is broken and resists April’s love; April wants to love and comfort Patrick. When she sees that he’s having a difficult time meeting her and his daughter’s needs, she bows out in order not to pressure or hurt him. All of this goes on in our characters’ heads and secondary characters serve as the foils to their thoughts. This is sustained over ten chapters. It makes for a narrative that is static, which is a polite way of saying, yes, tedious.
Templeton tries to provide some animated conflict, but her narrative dilemma remains: how to bring them together when the hero runs for the hills as the heroine turns into Tinkerbell? Time for another plot-killer: coincidence, from casual encounters at the supermarket to a freak tornado running rampant through April’s property. This forces the characters together, but when the hero is in avoidance mode, how do you convey the “courtship”? What does this do to the sheer romance of the novel? Well, there isn’t much of it. They share one aborted date; Patrick has a panic attack at the sound of crashing dishes in the restaurant and they leave before the main course.
Despite all my quibbles and there are quite a few, I liked Patrick: he’s real and flawed and interesting. April, not so much. The narrative is slow in places and there are way too many pep talks by quite a number of way too nice characters. But in the final two chapters, maybe too little too late for some readers, Templeton fleshes out the romance between these two and it is sweet and moving. If you’re a Templeton reader like I am, you’ll want to read this book just to say you’ve read the entire oeuvre. If you haven’t read Templeton before, you may want to read some of her earlier work before you decide to try this one.