a Retro Review
originally published on October 31, 2003
Patricia Potter's first Silhouette Intimate Moments release, Home for Christmas, didn't receive the attention it deserved when it first came out. Maybe because it was released the same month as Ruth Wind's For Christmas, Forever and Suzanne Brockmann's It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, both excellent books. Maybe because it involves that most scorned of plot devices: amnesia. If the very sight of that word hasn't sent you scrambling for your mouse to click away from this review and its lowly amnesia book, you may want to try this one. It's fantastic, one of the very best I've ever read.
Attorney Julie Farrell is trying to build a quiet life for herself and her young son after some turmoil in her past. She doesn't expect to make headlines herself after a devastating car crash. Trapped in their vehicle with no way to get out, she and her son are saved by a stranger who frees her son, then her, just before the car explodes.
She later awakes in the hospital, where she learns her savior is now in a coma following the explosion. His name is Ryan Murphy, and he's a former cop and convicted murderer who was working in a chain gang the day he saved her. When he finally comes out of the coma, he is suffering from neurological damage that leaves him with no memory of who he is or what he did. Naturally, no one believes his claim except Julie. His selfless act on her behalf makes her want to help him in return. She can't believe that a man who risked his life for her and her son could be a killer, and she doesn't think he should be punished for an act he cannot even remember committing when his memory loss has left him a different person than he was.
She begins to work on his behalf, resulting in his eventual freedom. Cast into the outside world, Ryan has to try and start a new life for himself. It's not easy. He doesn't remember his old one, yet is still forced to live under the stigma of being an ex-convict. He has an ex-wife and teenage daughter somewhere he doesn't even know. As he struggles to come to terms with his new life, he tentatively draws closer to Julie and her son. But the truth of the crime he was accused of committing looms over them and any chance of a future they could have.
Home for Christmas is an uncommonly "big" series romance, a book that takes place over a larger period of time than most and which takes the time to develop these characters and their story. It's not a book of instant attraction and people quickly falling in love. It unfolds at a more deliberate, steady pace, as Potter shows the events that bring Ryan into Julie's life, his attempts to start over, the bond he forms with her son, their growing closeness, and eventually their quest to learn the truth about his purported crime. It's another one of those books that's longer than the usual series book due to the small print, something that's also reflected in the breadth and depth of the story.
Ryan is a stoic, self-contained hero, but Potter still shows the emotion and struggle beneath his outward strength. There's a great deal of poignance in his story that comes across the more time we spend with him and the more we learn about him. Julie is a capable, intelligent heroine whose heart and determination make theirs a good match. It's a very sweet relationship, especially with Julie's son added into the mix, a boy without a father paired with a man who can't remember his own child.
The story builds to a fast and exciting climax in the final few chapters with the eventual discovery of the truth and the danger it puts them in, all without losing track of the characters that made the rest of the book so good. In spite of the crime element, this isn't really a suspense novel, but it still is tense and suspenseful when it counts. Mostly though, I'll remember it for the characters and their relationship. It delivers all the heartwarming emotion you'd expect in a Christmas-themed book, although the holiday element isn't so heavy that it can't be enjoyed year-round.
How good is it? It has some of the smallest typeface I've ever seen in an Intimate Moments book, and I read it during a five hour bus ride in the middle of the night with only one of those dim little overhead lights to see by. I nearly went blind reading it, but wasn't about to miss a word of it. You shouldn't either.
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