Betting on Santa, by Debra Salonen

23 Sep

Betting on Santa, by Debra Salonen

Full disclosure: I got the book in a giveaway in a blog where Ms Salonen was a guest.

Betting on Santa, a Harlequin Superromance, is the second of five titles in the multi-author continuity Texas Hold ‘Em. The continuity follows the fates of a group of long time friends from a small town in Texas, known to their families as the Wild Bunch. This installment tells the story of Cole Lawry and Tessa Jamison.

It is a good idea to keep in mind that while in theory continuities function as mini series—in that main characters from one are secondary characters in another one, and vice versa—the writing voice and characterization are naturally different in each book, written as they are by different authors.

Here is the back cover blurb for Betting on Santa:

The odds are always against her…

But this time, Tessa Jamison isn’t leaving River Bluff, Texas, until she finds what she came for: the father of her sister’s two year old son. And the stand-in Santa at the local church bazaar could be the man she’s looking for.

Cole Lawry seems an unlikely candidate for instant daddy. What’s more, the divorced ex-businessman and consummate poker player insists he’s not a father—never has been, never plans to be. Until Tessa calls his bluff.

Which means gambling everything she’s got. Including her heart.

Texas Hold ‘Em. When it comes to love, the stakes are high.

Let me start by saying that while I think the story had great potential, particularly the main two characters, and that the writing is good, there was too much extraneous… stuff cluttering the novel. Too many characters, too many larger-than-life improbable coincidences and felicitous happenings for my suspension of disbelief to handle.

For example, Tessa. As a result of the difficult circumstances of her childhood and adolescence, Tessa has become fixated on financial security. She’s described as mildly obsessed with material possessions, very responsible, controlling, managing, organized to the nth degree, and a workaholic. Yet, she is introduced to the reader while doing something completely out of character: based on some convoluted writing in her sister Sunny’s diary, she takes of from the hospital where Sunny lies in a coma, with her toddler nephew in tow, to find and confront his father. The only man clearly identified by name being Cole Lawry, that’s where Tessa starts.

While I understand that grief can make people do crazy things, this one was a little too much for me.

Then we have Cole. Years before he married the boss’ daughter, who proved to be a grasping materialistic harpy who, when things didn’t go the way she wanted, took him to the cleaners. By then, he had realized that the rat race was killing him—alcohol, painkillers, what have you—so once the marriage was over, he moved back to River Bluff to live a much quieter, much less ambitious, and hopefully much happier, life. A life without any sort of relationship-type complications, by the way.

But Tessa shows up and in three weeks he’s ready to change his life again, just like that.

Okay, that could work—this is a romance novel, I expect the main characters to end up together, after all.

My problem is that I feel they were short-changed—as was I—because there were way too many secondary characters popping into the scene, and that is not counting her sister, her mother, her nephew, his mother and his sister. There are also his four closest friends—one of which happens to be his sister’s husband. And his current boss, who happens to be a complete ass. And his previous boss—and his wife. Plus there are mini back stories for each of these characters—up to and including both their families.

There was enough material for novel at least twice as long as Betting on Santa, and at less than 270 pages, there wasn’t enough space in the book for each of these people to come fully alive, but more, I just didn’t feel that their presence was truly necessary to tell Cole and Tessa’s story.

6 out of 10

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