I received this book for free from NetGalley, the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Harmony Harbor #1
Published by Forever on October 25, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
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The first novel in a brand new series from USA Today bestselling author Debbie Mason! The series will appeal to fans of feel-good romances by New York Times bestselling authors Brenda Novak, Robyn Carr, and RaeAnne Thayne.
Sophie DiRossi loved growing up in Harmony Harbor. But after fleeing in disgrace many years ago, it is the last place she wants to be. Left homeless by a fire, she’s forced to go back to the small coastal town that harbors a million secrets, including her own. Sophie sees this secret reflected every day in her daughter’s blue eyes-and she must keep it hidden from the only man she has ever loved.
Sophie’s return is a shock for everyone . . . especially Liam Gallagher. The firefighter had some serious feelings for Sophie-and seeing her again sparks a desire so fierce it takes his breath away. Now Liam will do whatever it takes to show Sophie that they deserve a second chance at love, even if everything they’ve concealed threatens to keep them apart. In this special town at this special time of the year, Sophie and Liam can only hope for a little holiday magic . . .
Launching a series with a Christmas read is an unusual move, in my experience; most book series will wait to introduce a holiday-themed read at least a few volumes in. I imagine there are a number of reasons for this, not the least being that the first book is something you’ll want to push all year round. So I was intrigued by the bold choice Debbie Mason made with her Harmony Harbor books, which launched with Mistletoe Cottage just this week.
This was my introduction to books by this USA Today bestselling author, and I found that the move worked because the book was a clean romance with a light, humorous nature that works well as a holiday read. Apart from that, starting with this couple and this holiday set an inspirational tone to the series without crossing the line into cheesiness.
A bit part of that is the fact that Liam and Sophie appear to have been made for each other from the get-go, thanks to their shared past. That attraction sparks instantly, and in such a natural way, makes it all the more convincing. That their getting together is pretty much a foregone conclusion in the eyes of their families and virtually everyone in town before the novel is half over simply strengthens their case.
I’m not saying they’re a cookie-cutter couple, either. Liam is a hot firefighter working to overcome past trauma. Sophie is also working to prove to herself and to Child Services that she’s a good mom despite an unfortunate incident that occurred before the point at which the novel starts, which led to her losing her job in LA and moving back to Harmony Harbor. As a result, she’s stubborn, paranoid, and overprotective of her child. So part of their journey as a couple is learning to let go of the demons that keep them from trusting each other and from letting the people who love them into their lives.
But as anyone who reads small town romance series knows, the couple in this type of romance only makes for about three-fourths of the appeal. That last quarter of magic relies solely on local flavor, in particular the supporting characters who bustle in and out and around the lives of the main characters. And this was the winning element for me more than anything else.
First off, you’ve got a town rife with rivalry, but you also have two large extended families who are generally too loving and squabbly to follow the mold of the Montagues and Capulets. Secondly, you have the Widows Club, made up of meddling matrons with the best of intentions and not always the best of executions; at the head of them is a town matriarch who just plain doesn’t know how to let go. It’s pretty delicious stuff, and it introduces enough of the couples sure to feature in upcoming volumes that I’ve already earmarked the characters I particularly want to learn about (Ava and Dana being at the top of my list at the moment).
If you’re looking for a light read that’ll have you chuckling at some moments and sighing at others without the drama of wrenching your still-beating-heart out of your chest, Mistletoe Cottage is a great choice of read. I know I’m looking forward to the next chapter in the Harmony Harbor story, not to mention seeing certain individuals get their much-needed comeuppances and certain mysteries unravel. So I ended this book without much of a hangover, which was pleasant because the final note was more of a “see you again” than a “goodbye.”
Feel Factor Ratings
Harmony Harbor Series:
Excerpt from Mistletoe Cottage by Debbie Mason
The door to the bathroom opened. Liam lowered his razor to smile at Mia and Sophie.
Sophie slammed the door in his face. “You stay right where you are,” she ordered him from the other side. “Mia baby, let’s go check out your bedroom.”
He heard the sound of their retreating footsteps and shrugged. He wasn’t sure what the problem was. He’d just lifted the razor to his chin when the door reopened and Sophie stepped inside, closing it behind her. Her eyes flitted over him, then she raised her gaze to meet his, a faint blush coloring her cheeks. He grinned at her reaction. At least he wasn’t the only one feeling the attraction.
She glared at him. “If you wanted to give me a welcome-to-the-apartment present, flowers or a plant would have been a better idea than . . . than this.” Her hand fluttered between them.
“You think I’m your welcome-to-the-apartment present?” he said, unable to keep the amusement from his voice.
“It’s not funny, Liam. I have an impressionable daughter. You can’t just show up at my apartment half naked, expecting to—”
He put the razor down and turned to her, crossing his arms. “Think what?”
“Don’t do that. It won’t work,” she said, her eyes landing somewhere between his chest and the towel.
“Soph, you’ve lost me. I don’t have a clue—”
“Please, as if you don’t know how sexy you look right now standing there all naked and wet with your muscles on display.”
He looked down at himself then raised his gaze to hers while holding back a full-out grin as it hit him what was going on. He didn’t plan to enlighten her just yet. He was having too much fun. “You forgot my impressive abs.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Where are your clothes? You need to get dressed and . . . What are you doing?” she asked as he closed the distance between.
Her palms landed on his chest when he crowded her against the door. “I just thought, since I went to all this trouble to surprise you, you could at least give me a kiss.”
“No, Mia is in the next room.” She stared at his mouth. “And even if I wanted to kiss you, you have shaving cream on your face.”
“Admit it. You like your present. And you really, really want to kiss me.”
The corner of her mouth lifted as her hands inched their way up his chest and around his neck. She leaned into him. “Yes, I like my present. But I’d like it a whole lot more if Mia wasn’t with me. And I might want to kiss you a little.”
“A lot,” he said and cupped her face in his hands, lowering his mouth to hers. He wanted to linger, to explore her sweet mouth with a deep, consuming kiss. Instead, because Mia was down the hall, he went with soft and tender and long enough that she’d feel how much he wanted her.
He pulled back. Her face was tipped up, her eyes closed. He smiled at the shaving cream covering the lower half of her face and slowly trailed his finger through it to draw a foamy line of white down her neck. With her eyes still closed, she leaned back against the door, a small hum of pleasure escaping from between her parted lips. He ducked his head and whispered. “You like that, don’t you?”
She opened her heavy-lidded eyes and nodded, watching him as he dipped his fingers beneath the V of her caramel-colored sweater.
He felt her shiver beneath his fingers and moved her hair off her shoulders with his other hand before rubbing his cheek against hers. He’d never look at shaving cream the same way. He wanted to cover every inch of her . . .
A knock sounded on the door. She shoved him away. Her eyes wide and glazed, she wiped frantically at her face. “Be right there, baby.”
Liam grimaced. He’d gotten so carried away he’d forgotten about Mia. “Sorry, Soph. Give me a sec, and I’ll get some clothes on.” He turned to open the door leading into his apartment.
“You have got to be kidding me,” she said.
Liam glanced over his shoulder. “Nope, your apartment shares a bathroom with mine. Welcome to the neighborhood,” he said with a wink.
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