Merry Kisses brings the Riverbend Romance novella series to a close in an admirable fashion. I think this one is my absolute favorite for a lot of reasons but how the commercialization of Christmas is handled and the different approaches to the issue is a big part. There’s also some beautiful descriptions and perfectly timed conflicts that made it a strong story.
If you’ve read my other reviews of Valerie Comer’s stories, you’ll know I count on her for strong characters. Merry Kisses does not disappoint. It was also fun to reconnect with the other couples in the series, and especially Elena, one of the daughters in Pinky Promise.
Sonya and Heath come at Christmas from very different angles and experiences. Sonya’s history provides a barrier that seems at time insurmountable when Heath has put so much of himself into portraying Santa to share the joy of the season with children. He’s up to more as well, but we only get glimmers of what that is until the very end.
Sonya was raised by a very strict father who considered what has been done with Christmas to be an abomination, condemning anyone who puts out any decorations at all. She’s been on her own for a while, but her father’s voice echoes strongly in her head, destroying any chance to change, or so she might have thought before she meets Heath.
Their attraction is instant, and more physically aware than I noticed in the previous books, but it’s well within inspy standards.
The book is also very religious in that it amounts to an examination (with emotions on the line) of how Christians celebrate Christmas and the potential confusion Santa can cause in what is a religious holiday, especially with his association with gifts which can lead to both money troubles and disappointments. This could have been either superficial or too heavy handed, but I appreciated the way Heath and Sonya struggled with their contrary positions and how they worked to explain and find a common ground.
Which brings me to the real reason this is my absolute favorite. Novellas don’t leave a lot of space for significant character growth, but in this case, it all works out. Without spoilers, let me just say I loved how Sonya came to understand the limitations of her upbringing and how she stood up for herself before making up with Heath. She didn’t exchange her father’s views for Heath’s but rather explored both positions and came to her own conclusions. The specifics on how this all came about are lovely, but it’s the way she grew that resonated with me.
While I enjoyed some of the novellas more than others, I can wholeheartedly recommend the complete series. I’m sorry to see the end of Riverbend and hope Valerie Comer will decide to return to this small, but welcoming community someday.
P.S. I purchased this novella as part of the Love’s Gift boxed set, which is no longer available, but the standalone title still is.