Where There's Smoke by Donna Kauffman
When flames from a recipe gone disastrously wrong send hunky fire-fighter Will Mason to pretty Clara Parker's rescue, the sparks really begin to fly! And once Will gets a taste of Clara, he aches for more than just a little sugar from the famously single food columnist
Really fun second chance story. Clara is the advice columnist for the newspaper and loses that job after a very public breakup with her boyfriend. She saves her employment by agreeing to do a series of Christmas cookie columns. There's just one problem - Clara is a disaster in the kitchen. While in a bookstore looking for a simple cookbook, Clara runs into Will, her best friend from her freshman year in college. Will had had to leave school when his dad died and went on to become a firefighter. He's in the bookstore signing hunky firefighter calendars for charity. They are happy to reconnect.
Will had had a massive crush on Clara but never had the courage to try to move beyond their friend status. Now that he's seen her again, he's determined to make up for lost time. He just happens to be nearby when she sets her kitchen on fire during a baking attempt and comes to the rescue. With her house uninhabitable he offers to let her stay with him.
I loved Clara, She is rather klutzy, and doesn't have much in the way of self confidence, but she knows what she wants in life. She is determined to make this column work. When she sees Will again, she immediately remembers the good times that they had and that she had felt normal with him. She also discovers that she's even more attracted to him now, but figures that a guy like him has better prospects than she is. She's also hesitant to take a chance on ruining their revitalized friendship.
Will was great. He was determined to make the most of this opportunity with Clara. I loved the way that he understands her and sees past her klutziness. It was really sweet to see how he helps her with the baking parts of her column. His feelings for her keep growing, and he has a constant inner debate over how hard to push.
I loved seeing them grow closer over the days she was staying there, and how each of them was so hesitant to take a chance. The attraction keeps building, and so does the connection. I loved seeing Will finally take the leap. What he said to her was so romantic and sweet. I also loved that Clara was able to see that he loves her just as she is. The ending was fantastic.
The Gingerbread Man by Kate Angell
Folks have always told fun-loving Abby Denton that her anatomically correct Gingerbread cookies are ... impressive. But those erotic cookies have nothing on the sexy stranger Abby saves from a snowy country road. Could Lander Reynolds be the Christmas treat she's truly been longing for?
Hot and sweet story of unexpected love. Abby has just started her online business of anatomically correct gingerbread men. Her contribution to a local charity cookie auction is purchased by a stranger who then disappears into the night. Driving home to her isolated cabin in the beginnings of a blizzard, she comes across the stranger's car in a ditch, with him unconscious behind the wheel. A harrowing rescue attempt has Abby taking the man to her cabin to recover until the storm passes.
There's an instant connection between Lander and Abby. When Abby finds out that the sight of her cookies distracted Lander long enough for him to lose control of his car, she feels really guilty, but she can't deny the attraction she feels for him. Lander feels the same pull, but it's a distraction that comes at the wrong time.
Both Abby and Lander are dealing with the pain and sadness of the loss of someone important to them. Abby's grandmother has recently died and she's having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit. Lander understands how she feels and makes a vow to help Abby through this time. I loved his sensitivity toward her feelings. It was really sweet to see how he ignored the pain of his injuries to put up her tree and help her decorate it. Helping her also helped him through his own grief over the death of his father just before Christmas the previous year.
I loved the building of the attraction between them. It was fun to see how Lander used touch and looks to tease Abby as they got closer to giving in. The scenes between them were great. I really loved seeing them fall for each other and ached for them as the time they had to part grew closer. Lander was determined to see Abby again. I loved the ending and Lander's big moment.
Sugar And Spice by Kimberly Kincaid
Series: Pine Mountain (Book .5)
When caterer Lily Callahan goes up against hotshot pastry chef Pete Mancuso in the bake-off of the season, the stakes are high -- and scandalously passionate. Will the gorgeous gourmand steal Lily's heart -- and the top prize in the Christmas cookie competition?
Excellent story of opposites attracting. Both Lily and Pete have entered a Christmas cookie bake-off and both are determined to win. Lily is a highly organized, follow the rules kind of baker, who has spent the last month testing various recipes, looking for the best ones to use. Her dream is to use the prize money to open her own bakery. Pete is a bake by the seat of his pants baker, who hasn't met a rule that isn't worth breaking. Pete wants to use winning the contest to get the recognition needed for his dream job.
Lily knows Pete from his non-relationship with her friend Grace, and doesn't have a very good opinion of him. When she runs into him at the resort and realizes that he's competing also, she takes a momentary hit to her confidence. The biggest thing Pete takes away from their encounter is the instant attraction he has for her, and the knowledge that he can't do anything about it.
I loved seeing how both of them show up for the competition ready to take each other on, only to end up having to work with each other during the first round. Their differing methods create instant conflict when they can't agree on how to proceed. They eventually work it out but not without some issues along the way. Luckily for them, they manage to move on to the next round. An unexpected result of their partnership has the people running the competition asking them to do some other appearances together as their chemistry has viewers tuning in.
Over the next week they grow closer with the more time they spend together. Lily sees that there is more to Pete than the cocky pastry chef is willing to share, and what she sees, she likes. I really enjoyed seeing them work together at the community center, and how they came up with a plan to raise even more money at the fundraiser. I especially loved Pete's treatment of the boy Lucas, and how and why he understood him. I liked seeing how Lily was able to get Pete to open up to her about his past and the effect it had on her. The attraction that was building between them finally boiled over, and what they had was amazing.
When the final competition came, it required each of them to connect their pasts and their presents. With her happier childhood, it wasn't such a stretch for Lily, but Pete really had to face down some of his ghosts. I loved the bit of meddling that Lily did, though she worried that she may have gone too far. The influence that they had on each other, and the love that they felt, came out in a surprising way during that last competition. The way it turned out was perfect, and I loved the final result.
The epilogue was a grand wrap up of the three stories, with all three couples back at the community center where it all began.
**Note: I only read Sugar and Spice, the short story by Kimberly Kincaid in this anthology, as part of a virtual book tour. Although my review primarily reflects my opinions on Kincaid's story, it broadly covers the other stories based off their summaries and the prologue and epilogue as well.**
Lily might not have gone to a fancy culinary school in Philadelphia, but she'd still been around enough chefs to know Pete's suave, I-know-best type. She hadn't spent the last month refining her skills and perfecting countless cookie recipes just to be upended by an overly confident pretty face.
Even if Pete's smile had threatened to knock her knees out from under her.
Lily sticks to the rules. That's just her thing; whether it be a recipe or a "type," she adheres to her own restrictions, and seldom strays very far. Pete, rebellious and charming, is the exact opposite. The fun-loving chef takes tremendous risks both in and out of the kitchen, which is why when he and Lily come face to face in a cutthroat Christmas cookie competition, something's going to simmer... if not explode.
Sugar and Spice is the last of the three stories in The Sugar Cookie Sweetheart Swap. It's short and sweet, exactly the kind of Christmas romance quickie you want to read when you're in between holiday festivities and can't sit down and concentrate on something heavy. Kimberly Kincaid's voice is frank, but she manages to make her characters sentimental. I love the honesty and realness she breathes into Lily as a character. Even though there isn't much character development and obviously with such short length, there isn't much complexity or texture either, Lily is easy to sympathize with and love, which is why readers will relate to her frustration upon meeting Pete, who's trouble from the moment she sets eye on him. Not only does he happen to have the most bone-melting smile she's ever seen, but he'll also be her competition... but then again, who said there's anything wrong with sleeping with the enemy?
Pete's daredevil personality is matched with an equally troubled past, and as Lily is the first and only girl to ever coax him to comfort, both realize there's something there. The concept is cute, but it's inevitable that a Christmas romance would be tacky. The entire story is unrealistic (they just happen to run into each other, they just happen to be partners, the media just happens to love them on TV, resulting in even more duo time... blech) and extremely predictable but I'm not too disappointed by that. After all, this is a cute, cheerful holiday read, one meant to lift your spirits and indulge you in a sugary, spicy, contemporary Christmas fantasy.
While I didn't read the other two stories in the anthology, I did peruse the prologue and epilogue; love how the three best friends' stories all come together! Sugar and Spice was a decent read, but I didn't like it enough to go back and read the other stories; the epilogue, as hurried as it was, was more than enough of an indicator of each of the women's fate: a far-fetched, optimistic happily-ever-after.
Pros: Very quick read // Light tone // Fun, festive, and spirited // Warm and cozya feel-good story for a feel-good season! // Likable characters // Each romance story is integrated into the others, and the characters all involve each other
Cons: Way too predictable // "Happily ever after" is really cheesy // Ending is rushed and unrealistic // Not much chemistry because short stories leave little room for relationship development
Verdict: The warm, heartfelt romance that blossoms in the midst of a tense, frenetic Christmas baking contest in Sugar and Spice makes for both a merry, diverting holiday quickie that'll make you smile, and a sizzling, intense affair that will make you blush. I liked how the preceding stories in the anthology are all incorporated into Kincaid's contribution to the collection because it draws three otherwise disengaged women together, but the story itself isn't anything noteworthy. As light contemporary romances go, it's quick, unmemorable, and has both its hot moments, as well as its dullI enjoyed myself keeping the holiday spirit in mind, but otherwise, I wasn't that impressed.
Rating: 6 out of 10 hearts (3 stars): Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back.
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via tour publicist, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Kensington and Tasty Book Tours!).