A Natural Father
 

 
Home for the Holidays
by Sarah Mayberry
(Harl. Super #1599, $5.50, PG) ISBN 978-0373-71599-2
****
Other than a little too much sentimentality, this would have been a five-heart book.  Home for the Holidays is filled with mature romance, characters that have depth and a storyline that feels like something real.

Joe Lawson is a widower with a 13-year-old son, Ben, and 10-year-old daughter, Ruby. He just moved them from Sydney to Melbourne, where he could be closer to his mother. Joe’s wife was killed in a car accident two years ago. The memories are still strong and Joe knows he needs to start over, so he bought a pub that he plans to operate and which will allow him time with his kids.

Joe meets his next-door neighbor when he yells at her for making noise with the motorcycle parked in the driveway. Thinking he was dealing with a crazy male biker, Joe didn’t hesitate to use strong language in his anger. He was utterly surprised to see a tall, lanky, beautiful woman emerge from under the bike helmet. Hannah Napier is equally surprised at the buff man standing in her garage yelling about waking up his kids. She also finds him quite attractive.

Hannah is living in the house next door with her mother. She moved back in after her fiancé left her and married her younger sister, and Hannah is trying to recover from the embarrassment, anger and humiliation. She works as a mechanic and her self-esteem is dented.  Joe is just what the doctor ordered with his steamy eyes and smoldering looks. He also has a great sense of humor. But it isn’t just the two of them in this relationship. Ruby is thrilled to have a woman to share with, but Ben is sullen and struggling with the move and the budding relationship. Added to the mix is the fact that Hannah has a dream of traveling around Australia on her bike.  She isn’t sure she is ready to give up her dream for a man.

What make this story so great are the day-to-day realities and the new relationship interactions.  Joe and Hannah have to deal with how to be friends and then how to be lovers – all while trying to keep things normal for the kids and her mother. Their efforts result in adult conversations and family activities that are warm and engaging. They do things like help Hannah restore an old bike and go out for pizza as a family. I liked how Hannah realizes that Joe has to take care of his kids first, and she handles it like a mature adult.  I liked how Joe puts his kids first, even while trying to juggle his feelings and his libido. Ruby is a bit precocious but it is easy to understand how a girl who lost her mom would seek out a woman friend for things like a mother-daughter fashion show.  Ben seems like a stereotypical teenager until some issues are revealed that explain just how troubled this young man is. Hannah helps him but recognizes that he also needs more and makes sure he gets it.

The downside to the tale is a little bit too much angst and sentiment thrown in at the end, but even in this (a life or death situation I don’t want to spoil), the issue is handled maturely. Even as I thought this was a bit over the top, I had tears in my eyes. 

Home for the Holidays is a rare category romance that reads more like a contemporary novel and is packed full of emotion and real life.  I liked this tale and highly recommend it. 

--Shirley Lyons


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