Desert Isle Keeper
My Christmas Number One
I had been prepared for Leonie Mack’s debut romance My Christmas Number One to be a ‘Hallmark-esque’ holiday romance complete with Christmas tree-lighting, cookie-baking, and enough snow to cool me down during California’s heatwave. Surprisingly, the fresh plot is largely unpredictable and largely set in tropical locations. I quickly realized that this poignant, interracial love story between a Colombian superstar and a British amputee pop singer was the slow-burn romance that I did not know I WANTED.
British pop music sensation Cara Poignton works hard to advance her rising career while keeping the personal trauma of her leg prosthesis a secret. With an upcoming album and tour in the works, Cara can hardly refuse her music label when they ask her to record a Latin Christmas single with Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Javi Félix. The shy, fiercely private Cara has many reservations, but she is most worried about singing a song that will remind her of a tragic Christmas when she was eighteen.
Despite her personal concerns and the two singers’ clashing personalities, Cara and Javi collaborate long-distance on Nostalgia, a Spanish-English love song that speaks of forgiveness and hope at Christmas time. When they meet in London for the first time to shoot a music video, their powerful mutual attraction takes them by surprise. (In fact, the simmering sexual tension between them could be cut with a C-sharp.) Shortly afterward, Cara and Javi embark on a three-week, pre-Christmas promotional tour that spans Miami, Mexico, and Colombia with a detour to Javi’s hometown on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Afraid to explore their growing feelings for each other, the duet singers try their hardest to resist each other. As they regularly perform Nostalgia and spend time together, their souls connect, making it impossible to distance their fragile hearts.
In this enemies-to-lovers romance, the ‘opposites attract’ protagonists beautifully complement each other. Cara is uptight and cynical; Javi is carefree and upbeat. Responsibility anchors her; it unmoors him. She sings British pop ballads and eschews sexy dance moves; he sings Caribbean raggaetón and moves provocatively on the dance floor. Even though their approaches to life differ, they are similarly strong-willed, deeply loving individuals who are united by the pain they hold inside. Their simpatico understanding inspires a true love that is compelling to see unfold on the page.
Javi’s ‘too smart-for-her age’ pre-teen daughter, Bea, and Cara’s over-protective and casually racist father, Gordon, are cleverly crafted secondary characters that serve as perfect antagonists to the lovers. Bea and Gordon create conflict and obstacles (at times, entertaining) that challenge Cara and Javi to face the insecurities and fears that prevent them from claiming the life and love they deserve.
Leonie Mack not only possesses a talent for writing well-developed characters, but her storytelling prowess is notable. First off, Javi’s tender response to Cara’s physical disability is written with incredible sensitivity. English and Colombian Christmas traditions and Latin culture, music, and food are described in vivid detail. Concerts and dance scenes are orchestrated with such precision that I felt as if I were sharing physical space with Cara and Javi. And, Mack creates a show-stopping grand gesture that is EVERYTHING – a sweet, touching, unforgettable ‘aww…’ moment.
Leonie Mack’s shining debut, My Christmas Number One, brilliantly portrays lovers who learn to embrace intimacy as an extension of, not as an impediment to, their emotional self-preservation. Readers who enjoy heartfelt love stories, diverse characters, and Christmassy, music-themed romances will find this novel particularly satisfying. I look forward to reading more by this promising new author.