Sleigh Bells in the Snow, by Sarah Morgan

>> Thursday, February 20, 2014

TITLE: Sleigh Bells in the Snow
AUTHOR: Sarah Morgan

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 1st in the O'Neil Brother series

Once upon a time, Christmas was Kayla Green's favorite time of year. Now all the workaholic wants for Christmas is for it to be over—as fast as possible! So when duty calls her to snowy Vermont to close a deal with a new client, Kayla is grateful for an excuse to avoid the holidays for another year.

Jackson O'Neil left a thriving business behind to return home and salvage his family's resort—it's in his blood, and he can't let it fail. Now that he's got marketing whiz Kayla Green working with him to put Snow Crystal on the map, success is on the horizon. The fact they strike enough sparks off each other to power all the Christmas lights in Vermont is just an added bonus.

Kayla might be an expert at her job, but she's out of her depth with Jackson—he makes her crave the happy-ever-after she once dreamed of, and it's terrifying. As the snowflakes continue to swirl, will the woman who doesn't believe in the magic of Christmas finally fall under its spell?

Because of events in her childhood, PR professional Kayla Green really doesn't like Christmas. All the ubiquitous cheer really gets her down. So when a project comes up right before the holidays, she seizes the chance. She'll 'selflessly' volunteer to work through the Christmas period in a little isolated resort in rural Vermont.

Unfortunately for her, what she hoped would be a refuge becomes a complete nightmare. The man now running the resort, Jackson O'Neil, is struggling to apply his hard-won business experience to the task, as his family, who own the resort, don't see why they should change the way they've always done things. Because it's about to go under, that's why. But of course, because of 'reasons' (i.e. because the plot requires it) Jackson can't tell them that. And Kayla, used to doing no wrong in business and being the best PR exec ever, doesn't fare any better with them. To make things worse, everyone seems determined to welcome her into their Christmas celebrations.

Gah. I've enjoyed Sarah Morgan's books before (including, surprisingly, a couple of her Harlequin Presents titles), but I really, really did not like this one.

I had loads of issues with it, but the main one was that I just didn’t buy Kayla at all as the character we're told she is: a super successful PR executive. Yes, yet again, we have a romance heroine who's supposedly a successful career woman, but not to worry, she's not, really. Instead, she behaves like an unprofessional emotional mess. That initial meeting with the O’Neils... ah, so much wrong with it. Sure, we’re told the reason she froze and rolled over and generally made a fool of herself was because of all the inappropriate personal questions and the questions about her family, and because being confronted WITH a family being a family, rather than a group of business people, threw her.

Sorry, I don't buy that. Things were very wrong long before she set eyes on the O’Neils, and they were wrong because she prepared for her meeting in a way that I highly doubt the character she’s supposed to be would have. A big part of being a PR professional is that you are an expert in how to deliver messages to different audiences in ways that catch their attention and engage them, whether your audience is the different segments of the press, people who run social media sites, general public, whatever. She has been amply warned that the people she’ll be meeting with are Jackson’s family, and that a big part of the problem is that it’s a family business with an emphasis on the first word, and that they are not making decisions in a cool, professional way. And the idiot turns up to a home in a mountain lodge in pencil skirt and high-heels, armed with a laptop which she assumes she’ll be able to plug into a projector (in someone’s home!!), and a presentation full of jargon such as “media impressions”. Seriously! Anyone who does presentations regularly and succesfully (me included) knows that the first thing you think about is who your audience are going to be, and you tailor things accordingly. That meeting was doomed long before she was asked whether she was wearing thermal underwear, and it was doomed while she was in her comfort zone in New York, preparing for it.

And then there's the logical fallacy that she must get to know Snow Crystal really well before she can do her job. Actually, sorry, but no. She's not there to run the place. It's more important that she knows the audience and what it wants. She must know something about the resort for that, of course, but she definitely doesn't need to go skiing if she doesn't want to, FFS! But no, the author needs a reason to have her make a complete cake of herself. Ugh.

I also disliked the strong message that if you don’t like Christmas there must be something wrong with you, you must have been screwed up in some way. It’s wrong not to like Christmas, and Kayla must be made to see the errors of her ways! And Kayla does not just not like Christmas, she hyperventilates at the very idea of trimming a Christmas tree. Again, seriously!

I read about 60% of it, hoping against hope it would get better. I stopped when I realised that not only was the plot driving me crazy, I didn't care about the romance. All there is to that is basically lots of heavy mental lusting right from the start, and on, and on, and on. Boring. I think it would have had a chance at working if that aspect had been developed much more gradually.

Eh, well.

MY GRADE: It was a DNF.


Anonymous,  21 February 2014 at 15:06  

Hi Rosario, I don't think I've commented on your blog before, although I've been reading it regularly for a while, and have really enjoyed your reviews, especially since we seem to share many of the same tastes in books and audiobooks. I've really appreciated your audiobook recommendations.

Like you, after reading quite a few positive comments about Sleigh Bells in the Snow I downloaded it , and just couldn't finish it, for all the reasons you pointed out. And I am so, so tired of heroines who are presented as being skilled or competent in their fields but who fumble and bumble and look like idiots. The message appears to be that only when a woman is humbled can she find True Love. Erk.

Also, a quick comment on your DNF review of "Stray": I have just finished a huge Andrea K. Host glom, and really enjoyed the Touchstone Trilogy. If you could ever bring yourself to pick "Stray" up again and finish it, the trilogy as a whole is very rewarding. "Stray" suffers from being the book where the foundations of a very complicated universe are laid, and as such is the weakest in the trilogy. The first Andrea K. Host book I read was "And All the Stars" and if I hadn't started there, and been completely engaged by Host's writing style, I'm not sure I would have stuck with "Stray," but am very glad I did. If you ever feel like giving her a try again, "And All the Stars" might be a place to start.


Rosario 22 February 2014 at 07:13  

Hi Aoife, lovely to see you here! I certainly recognise your name from some of my usual haunts :)

I think I used to be a bit more tolerant of authors humbling their supposedly competent heroines, back when that was all their is. Now it feels old-fashioned and unnecessary, because there are plenty of authors who don't feel strong heroines should be humbled. Whenever I feel irritated by a current trend, I think of that and feel better!

You know what? I think I might actually give Stray another shot soon, before I forget what went on in the first half. Because I'm now about 80% into And All The Stars and loving it! I practically inhaled it, too. Have you read any of her fantasy books?

Li 22 February 2014 at 18:31  

OT but I'm glad you decided to give the AKH books another shot! I went on a major glom when I first discovered her books.

Re the Sarah Morgan, I think I mentioned this when you posted about this before, but this was almost a DNF for me too. I just couldn't buy the fact Kayla's feelings about Christmas were so extreme that they practically incapacitated her.

There was a bit of sequel-bait in the book, IIRC - I did like the setting so may pick them up.

Rosario 23 February 2014 at 09:11  

Li: Oh, yes, that was something else. So completely over the top. I can't be sure, since I didn't finish the book, that there wasn't something properly traumatic behind those feelings, but from all I saw in the first few sections, that seems unlikely. It sounds like she just had an unpleasant time during Christmases as a child, that's all.

Anonymous,  23 February 2014 at 12:49  

I'm so glad you're enjoying And All the Stars! I've read all of AKH's books at this point, and definitely have my favorites. "Stained Glass Monsters" was an interesting take on the One Chosen to Save the World trope, with a heroine who is in her mid twenties as well as a younger point-of-view character. The love interest in that one is an unusual choice, but worked very well for me. I'm looking forward to the next book in that series.

The thing I appreciate about AKH's writing is that so far, she has not done the same thing twice. While she has a few turns of phrase or writing tics that are recognizable--as I think most writers do--you can trust her to not do the expected thing, and the older I get, the more I appreciate being pleasantly surprised by a book.

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts when you do finish "And All the Stars."


Rosario 24 February 2014 at 06:45  

Aoife: I love authors like that; it's so rare. I think I'll go back to Stray next, but I'll be picking up her backlist at the earliest opportunity.

CD,  8 March 2014 at 05:06  

"And I am so, so tired of heroines who are presented as being skilled or competent in their fields but who fumble and bumble and look like idiots. The message appears to be that only when a woman is humbled can she find True Love"

This may not be fair but my impression is that authors who do that just don't have the experience of what it takes to be competent in a corporate environment. I remember reading a book where the heroine was supposedly a very competent HR professional in a multinational organisation and had difficulty with conflict and confrontation. Ahem, yeah... Wrong job, sweetie pie.

Rosario 8 March 2014 at 07:07  

CD: Fair or not, I think that's probably what's happening in many cases. It doesn't have to be that way, though. For instance, from all I've read about Nora Roberts' life, she's never worked in a large organisation setting, and yet some of the stuff she's doing in the latest In Death books with Eve's career feels completely right.

CD,  8 March 2014 at 12:22  

That's true - you don't necessarily need experience here. Just a desire for internal consistency and a belief that competent female executives deserve love... Still, it makes me wonder where these romance writers worked/are working? Were they all small town librarians/teachers/owners of cup-cake bakeries?

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