Sarah Morgan’s Maybe This Christmas is the third in her O’Neil Brothers series. The first two (Sleigh Bells in the Snow and Suddenly Last Summer) received a B+ and an A- here at AAR. Today Dabney and Haley discuss the novel.

Haley: So, Dabney, I’m excited to discuss this book because Sarah Morgan has become an author to watch, for me. I really enjoyed the first two books of the O’Neil Brothers series and couldn’t wait to see how things panned out between Brenna and Tyler. The friends-to-lovers romance is always a favorite of mine. What drew you to Maybe This Christmas?

Dabney: Ms. Morgan’s characters are genuinely flawed. Tyler really struggles to find a way to be a good parent and the book shows how difficult a task that is. It’s clear from the beginning that the story of Tyler’s relationship with his 13 year old daughter Jess is as important as his relationship with Brenna, the heroine. In fact one of the things I like best about this book is how focused it is on parent child dynamics. In a world awash in New Adult contemporaries, this book, focused as it is on adults and their responsibilities, really worked for me.

Haley: Very true, there was a good balance between the romance and family life. I appreciated that Tyler didn’t totally ignore his daughter as the relationship with Brenna bloomed. Oftentimes, in books that involve single parents, it seems like the child melts away and is always with a family member or something so that they are only involved in the story when it is convenient to show how sweet the hero is.

What did you think of the pacing of the story? It felt to me like it took longer for Brenna and Tyler to seal the deal than most contemporary romances.

Dabney: The pacing didn’t bother me, in part because where the story isn’t about Brenna and Tyler, it’s about Tyler and his daughter. I also–and I often don’t in series–was willing to spend time with the characters from the earlier books. I did think the lusting felt by Tyler went on too long. I almost wish that he’d fallen in lust with her over the course of the story rather than it being something that he’s always felt but sublimated.

Haley: I think that was where it dragged a little for me. As much as I was enjoying Tyler slowly being overtaken by his feelings toward Brenna, it took a little too long. Although, that could be because I could see what was coming. For example, I knew he would be jealous of her going on a date as soon as it was mentioned and I actually wanted to read that scene, but it took awhile to get to that point. I kind of agree about the lust though. I wanted it to be either that he was totally struck dumb by this new found attraction to her, or that he had pined over her for years and denied it. Instead, it landed somewhere in the middle.

Dabney: This book isn’t as sexy as the two that precede it. Elise’s and Sean’s story burned hotter as did–though not as hot–Kayla’s and Jackson’s. So much of what Brenna and Tyler felt was showed by their thoughts and not their actions and that dialed back the heat of the story.

Haley: That’s true. Elise and Sean had, in my opinion, the sexiest of the relationships. I think that is partly what I was thinking when I mentioned the pacing. Much of the first half of the book is Tyler and Brenna thinking about each other without acting. Elise and Sean were the act now, think later couple.

Dabney: I didn’t like Tyler the man as much as I like his brothers, either. His story didn’t generate as much sympathy as did Jackson’s and Sean’s. On the other hand, I like Brenna more than Kayla and almost as much as I like Elise. Brenna is determined to succeed even though she does so with no support from her parents. One of the things I like about all three heroines is that each of them has a career she is committed to and, hey!, actually does. Their work is clearly portrayed as real and important. That’s one of the strongest things about the series.

Haley: Tyler fell slightly flat. I think there could have been more of a story with his ski injury and how it ruined his career, but it wasn’t played out. When I was reading the book, and had gotten really sucked in, I told my friend that I was really enjoying it and she asked what the book was about. When I said “well its two ski instructors at this resort”, she rolled her eyes. However, one part that I loved about it was that the characters all have careers that they actually have to work at. Plus, Brenna and Tyler’s connection through skiing added depth to their relationship.

Without trying to give any spoilers, I’m interested in what you thought of the storyline with Jess’s mother. I loved the rest of the book, but her interactions with Tyler and Brenna felt too conveniently forced.

Dabney: I am with you there, Haley. Not only was it obvious what role Janet had played in the past but that role itself was too pat. Janet is the one character with almost no depth in the book. I think the story would have been stronger if Janet had been just a difficult ex-wife.

I expect a lot from Ms. Morgan. The O’Neil Brothers books are, in general, nuanced. I suspect I’m more aware of this book’s flaws because so much that surrounds them is so well done.

Haley: Janet was cast as kind of a villain and I think it wasn’t believable. Whatever issues they had in the past or over Jess’s custody, it seems unlikely that a sane woman, with a relationship and new child of her own would still be so hung up on Tyler and Brenna.

That’s absolutely the case. I was sucked into the story, as I mentioned before, and I devoured it as quickly as I could. There’s a lot to love in Maybe This Christmas. Brenna and Tyler have great chemistry, the characters aren’t well-rounded and relatable, and there is a lot of family warmth. I think Janet stuck out for being so static in an otherwise dynamic story.

Dabney: I agree. If I were grading it for review, I’d give it a B.

Haley: I was thinking B or B+ as well. I enjoyed the book, but it was not as strong as the two predecessors.