One Snowy Night
Jill Shalvis’ Heartbreaker Bay series adds another volume in this Christmas-themed novella, One Snowy Night.
Rory Andrews is on her way home for Christmas for the first time in six years, and she’s nervously hoping the family will accept her as a responsible, sober adult. Rebellious Rory ran away to San Francisco to make a life for herself (and, in her words, because she was a ‘horrible, unhappy teenager’), a move that has netted neutral results: she has a support system and several roommates but lives hand to mouth. Only some prodding from her lovingly meddling boss Willa (heroine of book two, The Trouble with Mistletoe) has convinced her to make the trip at long last.
But Rory isn’t traveling alone. She’s driving with her neighbor and high-school crush Max Stranton and his permanently hungry doberman Carl. This is something of a problem for Rory, as Max just happens to give her a serious case of the butterflies even though he doesn’t seem to see her as anything but fling material.
Rory’s pretty sure those butterflies are flapping free in Max’s belly too, but he resists the obvious attraction between them, mostly because of an old high-school grudge. Now a police officer who tends to have pretty women trailing in his wake, he doesn’t expect to spout anything beyond lust for Rory, but as the trip goes on their feelings begin to steadily blossom, presenting them a choice between distrust and old memories and the promise of new love and platonic, distant friendship.
Shalvis apparently has a history of writing engaging romantic comedies and erotica. Don’t ask me what happened here. While there are some cute bright spots – one scene I liked involved Max and Rory sharing a sandwich during a pit stop – much of the chemistry between Rory and Max feels like it’s been whipped up via committee instead of being a natural development of their acquaintanceship.
It gets more ridiculous from there. Each supporting character exhibits an unhealthy interest in micromanaging Rory and Max’s love lives. In some books, when handled gently, this can be a cute plot device. Here, it feels as ingratiating as that one aunt who stays too long at your holiday gathering. An example: at one point Max’s big sister Cass calls to give him ‘permission’ to fall in love again, then announces she’s made a popular Facebook for his dog and found a soulmate for him through it. The author apparently finds this kind of smothering behavior adorable.
Rory is described as being formerly shy but at the same time not as quiet and meek as her sisters. I guess that could be put down to a discrepancy in character point of view; after all, timid girls do not run away from home to rebel against their strict stepfather. But she’s also the kind of stubborn that thinks accepting references so she can become a vet tech is somehow begging for charity. Is she ever planning on working for someone who isn’t a personal friend? Why is she cool with taking Willa’s help and hectoring yet won’t take a reference from her? This manages to come off as pigheaded, which is a shame because she’s otherwise fairly enjoyable.
Max is a mixed case. He’s nice enough and hot enough and teasy enough, even if he finds the bow Rory puts on his dog’s collar a slur against his reputation. But then a major plot revelation happens and I promptly found him unbearable. Let’s just say that the novella’s big plot twist, the one that reveals the Unbearable, Terrible sin Rory committed against Max – a secret that Max is ridiculously complicit in extending and compounding due to his own blatant foolishness – left me hurling…my e-reader against the duvet.
As for Carl, he feels like nothing more than the worst thing an animal can be in a romance novel – the plot-device pet. Does Rory need to be wet and topless for a scene? Oops, time for Carl to wander away into the night during a pit stop and force Rory and Max to chase after him in the dark, resulting in Rory getting knocked into the snow! Does she need a reason to reach a Big Emotional Epiphany and make out with the hero in a snowstorm as they wait for a tow? Uh oh, Carl’s gotten loose! It’s trite, pat and easy.
Ms. Shalvis has done better. She will do better again. But this is One Snowy Night you’d be wiser to sleep through.
BUYER BEWARE: the actual novella is only 62 pages long; the rest of the book is stuffed with preview chapters for the previous books in the Heartbreaker Bay Series. The miniscule price tag won’t break the bank but those looking for more storyline meat will be disappointed.