HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77855-3
Contemporary Romance, 2013
Sleigh Bells in the Snow is Sarah Morgan’s first single title with HQN after producing sixty billion category titles, most of them in the Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern line. It’s also the start of a new series, and if you don’t know that before, you will know that after finishing this book, as the author isn’t subtle when it comes to marketing the upcoming books in the series.
Do note that fans of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern line may find too little sexual harassment in this story for it to qualify as “remarkably romantic”. The hero Jackson O’Neil is quite progressive compared to those fake Republican sheikhs, Greek tycoons, Mediterranean princes, Latin billionaires, and reclusive musical maestros that run the mad house in that line. The key word here is “compared”, though. He’s still a recognizable hero to warm the hearts of readers yearning for the good old days when men run the show and women happily bake cookies in the kitchen.
Jackson comes home to take over the reins of the company business, Snow Crystal Resort and Spa, in Vermont. His father died, leaving the company in shambles. Jackson, alas, seems to be the only sane man in the family. His grandfather refuses to face the fact that the company is going to Teletubby land and challenges his every effort to get everything in order, his mother and his grandmother are those virtuous women that refuse to accept reality and instead prefer to bake cookies and try to get everyone in the family to smile and be nice, and his brothers have too many daddy issues and enough evil ex-girlfriend baggage to spend the whole book pouting and mouthing at me, “Buy my book, because you must be intrigued by my stereotypical emo dude act. PS 1: I have a big dong, trust me. PS 2: Everything? That bitch’s fault. Honest.”
He sensibly enlists the service of Kayla Green. who helped a travel agency make the big time with her expertise. If he gets her to spend a week at the resort, she would surely work her PR magic and bring in the clients, right? The author assures me that Kayla is simply incredible at her job, but I know there is trouble when I am not given a clear idea what Kayla actually does. She works for a PR agency and she uses the computer a lot, and that’s about it. Account executives don’t work in a vacuum – they are constantly in close love-hate flux with copywriters, media executives, designers, and more. Kayla just mopes and whines here, unable to separate even a little her job from her emotions.
Worse, she is horribly incompetent here. Kayla shows little interest in even knowing a bit about her client’s work, so I have no idea how she is going to sell the place to the media and what not. She doesn’t even research on the proper clothes to wear to the place. She is a workaholic and has family issues up the wazoo, so upon seeing Jackson’s family all gathered together, she acts like she has seen the devil flashing his sausage at her and completely loses it. The author knows that Kayla is horribly unprofessional – she has Jackson accuse Kayla of this, after all.
And ultimately, the take home message here is that Kayla is, predictably enough, miserable in her job because it’s just an unhappy substitute for her desire for a family of her own. Jackson even exerts some pressure on her to resign because he knows that she is not cut out to be a successful career woman. Now, I don’t know whether the author is being sneaky or just pandering to certain readers’ desire for the uncomplicated old days when all a woman needs to be happy is a kitchen and a permanently fecund womb, but Kayla is depicted as horribly incompetent to the point that, yes, she should be banished to the kitchen or the maternity ward for the rest of her life. Her happiness, Jackson’s happiness, and the sake of the world depend on that. But if the author was being subversive in this, then why claim that Kayla is the best in her job? And why portray Kayla’s job in a way that has me wondering whether the author has any idea how the world of public relations operates?
Anyway, yes, how nice that, once again, I have another story portraying career women as horribly emotional and incompetent, and all they really want, at the end of the day, is to be coddled from the troubles in this world by a man with a fat bank account. That’s not factoring the over the top dysfunction solved when the heroine experiences a complete personality transplant in the last few pages, the disquieting take home message that women should be sheltered from realities of life because they are too fragile to deal with these things, and a heroine whose miserable workaholic nature is straight from the caricature handbook. Sleigh Bells in the Snow is like an incoming truck to my deer in the middle of the highway, staring at the approaching headlights as I can only think, “At least it will be quick.”