cover image Somebody like Santa

Somebody like Santa

Janet Dailey. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5108-4

Dailey’s fifth Christmas Tree Ranch novel (after Santa’s Sweetheart) offers a satisfying combination of intrigue and romance. Journalist and divorced single father Cooper Chapman moves to Branding Iron, Tex., eager to reconnect with his sister, Grace, and precocious niece, Maddie, and separate his teenage son, Trevor, from unhealthy influences. To that end, Grace introduces Cooper to youth counselor Jess Graver, a retired FBI agent traumatized by a failed mission. Though attracted to each other, both Jess and Cooper resist romantic developments, focusing on mutual concern for Trevor. After Trevor falls prey to bullies, Cooper buys a ranch house outside of town complete with horses, an elderly neighbor who happens to own a Santa sleigh, and an extra room that comes in handy when a tree falls on Jess’s house. Dailey sensitively handles a subplot involving domestic violence, which ultimately forces Jess to confront her demons. The roadblocks impeding Cooper and Jess’s developing romance, particularly her sense that his journalistic curiosity violates her trust, feel a bit flimsy, but, thankfully, Dailey doesn’t belabor their rifts. Meanwhile, Maddie’s insistence on a Christmas tree and Trevor’s enthusiasm for fixing up the old sleigh gradually break down the grown-ups’ resistance to getting into the holiday spirit. The result is sure to melt hearts. (Oct.)