Our first RITA Reader Challenge review is from Silver James. This book is nominated in the “Best Inspirational Romance” category for the RITAs this year.
The summary: In Redemption, Oklahoma, a young boy is found huddled in a Dumpster, clutching a Christmas book. Scared and refusing to speak, he captures undercover agent Kade McKendrick's guarded heart. Kade brings the child home until he can track down his family—and his story. All Kade has is a name, Davey, and the boy's trust of sweet, pretty teacher Sophie Bartholomew. With her kindness and faith, Sophie helps both the boy and the battlescarred cop to smile again. And as they uncover the mystery of a very special child, a family is formed—just in time for Christmas.
And here is Silver's review:
Sometimes, the hot sexxoring is too much. No. Really. Romance readers get headaches, too. Just sayin’. Sometimes, I just want some sweet romance—a slow build to a boil instead of insta-lust. This Linda Goodnight book is just the recipe. I’m a hit-or-miss Inspirational reader—sort of like my days when I attended church. I’m not one for preaching—to the choir or sitting in the choir forced to listen. I think most people fear that and shy away from the Inspirational category as a result.
I hadn’t planned on picking up THE CHRISTMAS CHILD until SB Sarah offered up the READING RITA challenge. Burned out on Blazes, passé about paranormals, hazy on historicals, and not so thrilled by thrillers, I decided I needed me some sweet romantic lovin’. With cookies. And milk. LOTS of cookies.
Don’t be fooled by the Inspirational label on this book. The attractions and character arcs are just as powerful here as they are in any of the more…robust/rowdy/racy (take your pick) romances. Federal cop Kade McKendrick, the flawed alpha hero, is banished to Redemption, Oklahoma as the result of an undercover op gone all to hell back in Chicago. Stuck in a small town for the holidays, he sure didn’t expect his sleepless nights to get even more complicated by a small, mute boy found in a Dumpster and Sophie Bartholomew, the sweet grade school teacher with a heart full of faith. Their attraction is obvious, even as she questions it and he fights it. And their growing love for Davey, the thrown-away kid, knits them tighter together.
Ms. Goodnight has a wonderful way with words. A few examples from the hero’s thoughts:
The place drew him like a two-ton magnet in those dark hours when sleep, the vicious tease, evaded him.
Happy ever after was a Hallmark movie.
Cynical much? Oh, yeah. Not only is the hero a cynic, he’s convinced he doesn’t deserve any goodness for the things he saw and did while undercover. This exchange between Kade and Sophie is rather telling:
“Coffee’s always made.”
She raised a dark, tidy eyebrow. “Chain drinker?”
“Safer than chugging Red Bull.”
The answer revealed more than he’d intended. He went to the counter, more aware of her than he wanted to be and wondering, even though he didn’t want to, what it would be like to be normal again the way she was.
Ms. Goodnight’s descriptions are as delightful as a hot chocolate chip cookie. From Sophie’s POV:
Eyes, dark as her favorite chocolate and more secret than the CIA, mocked her.
These have to be two of my favorite lines ever!
Kade was wound up tighter than a double Slinky on steroids.
…cold air curling around his legs like an icy cat.
And this scene is one that sums up much of the book—the personalities involved and the the way things were, are, and will be:
They both stared for one silent, concerned beat at the boy happily playing with the affable dog. When Kade pushed a hand against his stomach—a stomach she knew bothered him when he worried—Sophie knew she would stay awhile. There were two males here that needed fixing and she was a fixer.
“There’s only one thing we can do at this point,” she said.
The cynic raised a doubtful eyebrow. “What?”
She grinned a cheeky grin. “Bake cookies.”
Ultimately, this book is about a good woman who redeems a flawed, broken man not with her magic hoo-haw but with love and lots of prayers. This book is about a man seeking redemption while believing he is undeserving and winning the love of a good woman not with the mightiness of his wang but with a humbled heart. The big payoff in this book is not a night of passionate sex between the hero and heroine, but the realization that a love worthwhile grows and survives and ultimately makes a family out of strangers. And sometimes, baking cookies is a better payoff than fitting Tab A into Slot B.
My final grade? B+ for a sweet romance with very real emotions and for funny secondary characters. My fingers are crossed that Linda Goodnight’s name will be called as the winner.