Monday, December 16, 2013

25 Days of Christmas Stories: ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS BIG BLUE EYES by Claire Ashgrove

Renowned architect, Josh McDaniels, spent ten years avoiding his hometown and the unforgettable memories of his youth. But when a former classmate phones him before Christmas with a proposal he can’t refuse, he finds himself back in small-town, Lexington, Missouri, surrounded by holiday festivities and engulfed in memories of a blue-eyed girl.

Amanda Masterson knows three things about Josh. She loves him, he loves her, and he’ll walk out when those feelings terrify him, as he always does. Ten years ago, he abandoned their dreams. Eight years ago, he returned to break her heart again. Now, he’s back once more, and this time, he’s jeopardizing not only her heart but her daughter’s as well.

Can the spirit of Christmas overcome a past riddled with mistakes? Or will fears and doubts destroy the greatest gift of all?

“Amanda?” he called out, quietly.
She stopped, turning around with a puzzled expression. “Yes?” She started back toward the car’s rear end.
He hurried forward, meeting her halfway. As those blue eyes focused on him, and recognition settled into their dark depths, Josh couldn’t breathe.
Oh, God. Amanda.
Everything inside him screamed to reach out, touch her, hold her in his arms, and go back. Go back where everything was normal. Where she was so in love with him she made him believe dreams were possible.
“Josh,” she whispered.
Nodding, he swallowed and searched for a smile. He found it, but it faltered with his nerves. Though he’d hoped, he hadn’t expected to find her here. Lucas hadn’t said anything. “Hi,” he managed.
“Hi.” She worried her free hand through her short hair, and in the streetlight, a diamond glittered on her left ring finger.
His gut turned over, clamping down tight. Someone had, indeed, been smarter and braver than he.
“I didn’t know you took over Mom’s house.”
Holding his gaze, she nodded. “It was all I had.”
Fighting down the urge to wince, he ignored the flash of hurt that passed behind her eyes. When she blinked, it was gone. But lurking there instead was something that took his breath away again. Emotion. The same kind that haunted his memories when he dared to think back on her. The kind that went hand in hand with the words, Josh, you’re everything to me.
He shifted his weight. “You look good, Amanda.”
She did too. She was still as slender as she’d always been, but the last eight years added a little softness to her youthful form. A woman’s fullness a man couldn’t hope to ignore. Age had yet to mark her face, aside from a few small smile crinkles in the corners of her eyes.
“Thanks. The years haven’t been too hard on you either.”
Her smile sent his heart careening into his ribs. For the love of God, he couldn’t stand here and not touch her. “Could I…” He swallowed again, his throat tightening. “Can I hug you?”
Without a word, her arms wound around his neck, and she stepped in close.
He slipped his around her waist and held her tight, inhaling the faint scent of some sort of perfume that made him think of summertime and the lake’s sandy beach. Her body melded into his as it had a hundred times before, snug and perfect. Soft. She felt so good.
He tightened his arms, as if he might be able to erase everything and somehow transcend time. She nuzzled her nose into his shoulder, and he caught the back of her head in his hand, her silken hair sliding through his fingers. Tipping his chin, he leaned his cheek against the top of her head.
Review by Melissa Snark:

When I'm looking for a happy holiday buzz, there are certain things I look for in a story and ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS BIG BLUE EYES really hit the bull's eye.   I loved the intimate small town setting, the rekindled romance between childhood sweethearts, and the joint motifs of home and family. Claire Ashgrove's has real talent. Her prose flows smoothly, her dialogue sounds natural, and she maintains good pacing right to the end.

Amanda Masterson is the widowed mother of a lovely five-year-old daughter, Emma. The heroine operates a flower business and struggles financially to stay afloat since her husband's accidental death left her with many unpaid bills. She is a smart, sweet lady, instantly likeable and highly sympathetic, although something of a soft touch. She really allowed herself to be taken advantage of and hurt too easily. I wanted to see her toughen up a bit. However, when push comes to shove, Amanda really stepped up and championed her daughter's cause.

A key point of external conflict in the story stems from a nefarious aunt attempting to steal Emma's land inheritance out from under her in order to develop a strip mall. Amanda owes back property taxes and had too much pride to accept money from someone else. 

Enter her childhood sweetheart, Josh McDaniels, who also happens to be the architect contracted to design the strip mall. Talk about conflict of interests! Josh is handsome and intelligent, but also surly and not really a people person. Initially, I found him to be too selfish and self-centered and I would have preferred best friend (third wheel) Lucas Benning as Amanda's romantic interest. However, you love who you love and Amanda's heart clearly belonged to Josh.

Internal conflict comes from a complex set of hang-ups both Amanda and Josh seem to be carrying forward from the past. She is afraid of being hurt (yet again) and he is distrustful of love. To his credit, the hero does evolve as the story progresses. He gets over himself in a big way and steps up by the end in time for a wonderful HEA ending.

 Love scenes are sensual, not overly detailed, but wonderfully evocative. I really liked secondary characters Emma Materson and Lucas, and I'd love to see a follow-up romance for him. The author inspires warm, fuzzy feelings with a deft hand throughout the telling of this contemporary Christmas romance.

Footnote:  Apparently, Lucas' story is out:  Timeless Valentine by Claire Ashgrove.

Available for purchase:

Author Bio:
Claire Ashgrove has been writing since her early teens and maintained the hobby for twenty years before deciding to leap into the professional world. Claire’s award-winning paranormal romance series, The Curse of the Templars debuted with Tor in January 2012.  In addition, she writes as the National Bestselling Author, Tori St. Claire and Sophia Garrett.
She is an active member of Romance Writers of America and her local RWA chapters, Heartland Romance Authors and Midwest Romance Writers.  Claire lives in Missouri with her two toddler sons and too-many horses, cats, and dogs. In her “free” time, she enjoys cooking, studying Ancient Civilizations, and spending quiet moments with her family, including the critters. 

To learn more about Claire, visit her on the web at:
Twitter: @ClaireAshgrove

For another charming Christmas read, check out Claire's 2013 historical novella, AN ETERNITY OF YOU, written as Sophia Garrett. -- A VERY SCANDALOUS HOLIDAY


  1. Claire, your story sounds lovely. I wish you a big success with sales and a happy holiday season!

    1. Thank you, Ashantay! I hope your holidays are bright and merry as well!

  2. Good morning, Claire! Welcome to the Snarkology. I loved your story. Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to review it. :-)

    1. You're most welcome and I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Thank YOU!

  3. Sounds like a great read! Nice review, Melissa. :)

    1. Thanks, Karen!! Hope your holidays are awesome too. Been too long since we've talked!

  4. Oooh, I love return-to-small-town stories. I'm a suburban gal, but I've always wanted to live in a small town, so stories like that help me live my dream!

  5. This is a great book, Claire. Definitely a well deserved review. Happy holidays!

  6. Sounds like a lovely story. Thanks for the nicely-written review.

  7. oooo That sounds really good. Thanks for the review :)