by Adrianne Byrd, contemporary (2011)
Kimani, $6.25, ISBN 978-0-373-86234-4
Now, before any of you run off and purchase A Christmas Affair based on the score I've given this book, I have better warn you guys: this book has two very hot buttons - the selfish heroine cheating on her fiancé with the hero and some unnecessary implication that it is better to marry within your race. If you are okay with these two elements of the story, then come on down, the water's fine and this story is absolutely hilarious.
Fourteen years ago, Corona Mae Banks was thrilled that she and her boyfriend Lyfe Alton finally lost their virginity together. It was great... until her pastor father showed up with her mother, and grabbed for his gun. During the ensuing pandemonium, a bullet grazed Lyfe's rear end and these two were ordered to marry by the furious father. Corona, however, had always wanted to leave the small town of Thomason, Georgia, and ended up running away, leaving Lyfe and everyone else behind.
Today, she is Chloe Banks, the Olivia Pope of the entertainment industry, and the fiancée of Rowan James, one of the hottest male celebrities in town. Never mind that there are problems in this relationship. Rowan's mother dislikes Chloe, maybe because she's black and he's white, Rowan's ex-girlfriend is being bitchy and annoying, and... oh yes, Chloe hasn't really let go of Lyfe like she thought. This is made even more clear when Rowan's mother invited Chloe's parents to the engagement party in an effort to sabotage Chloe's big day, and the family brings Lyfe along.
Okay, first off, I must say that this story doesn't follow the typical structure of a romance novel. Firstly, more time is spent on these characters' past and their interactions with the various secondary characters here, and their reunion is actually quite rushed. But the author does a good job in showing me how crazy these two were for each other once upon a time, and who knows, maybe they may just work out fine in the end. Secondly, Chloe sleeps with Lyfe while she is still engaged to Rowan, so yes, you can call her a cheating whore if you want. But me, I think the author has done a pretty good job here in showing me why Chloe will be happy with Lyfe, so hey, mistakes happen - and Chloe wants to make things right, anyway, so I'm fine with this.
Indeed, "mistakes happen", instead of "hey, baby, love is beautiful", seems to be the theme of this story. I've seen some people being unhappy with how Chloe behaves in this story, but I think she actually did grow up. After all, Chloe learns to let go of any shame and guilt she harbors about her past and admit that, in the end, she is happier with her family and Lyfe close to her.
This isn't a straightforward chain-and-balling fantasy of a heroine - while Chloe does move back to her hometown and give up her former career, the author shows me how unhappy Chloe is with her life in the city. Therefore, it's actually good that Chloe learns to embrace what makes her content in the end. Also, no one here judges her for moving to the big city to pursue her dreams - she is judged for sins that she should feel bad over. In fact, her father admits in the end that he was also to blame for their estrangement, as he overreacted when he tried to force her and Lyfe to marry fourteen years ago. As I've said, the theme of the story is "mistakes happen" - Chloe is allowed to make her mistakes and learn from them, without being called a scarlet woman in the process, and I really like this.
Oh, and before I forget, this book is hilarious. I lost count of how many times I crack up while reading this book. There are some very obvious sequel baits here, but Ms Byrd sneakily makes these characters an integral part of the ensemble cast that just sparkle with humor as they interact with Lyfe and Chloe. The second time romance between Lyfe and Chloe is somewhat rushed, but getting there is such a hoot that I can't help having a fabulous time along the way.
Therefore, while the romance isn't deep and I can understand why some readers will find the heroine off-putting, I can't resist A Christmas Affair. It's pretty much the perfect holiday read: it has me in stitches and actually make me think that, yes, Christmas is here and it's really just... great.
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