If you’re like me, you’ll be delighted to know that what was supposed to be a Christmas novella isn’t. Sure, there’s some Christmas stuff but it’s way too long to qualify as a novella and that in itself is an early Christmas present.
Caroline Parker hates Christmas. She has good reason to, since all her girlfriends seem to believe the holidays are the perfect time to break up with her. So when one Christmas Eve she comes across Hannah Dalton, one of the most gorgeous women she’s ever met, she doesn’t expect anything special to come out of it. Furthermore, Hannah is straight and married to Caroline’s former nemesis. Then Hannah hires her to be her divorce lawyer and everything changes.
Falling in love with a straight woman – or a woman who believes she’s straight – is one of the most common and terrifying experience a lesbian can face. Therefore to have it as the subject of a book should be painful. And honestly, it is, but in an exquisite way.
The chemistry between Caroline and Hannah is believable from the start, it’s big and beautiful, just as well-written as with Charlotte and Sutton in Cass’s debut novel. It simmers for a loooong time, real slow-burn, until fireworks finally – finally! – are let loose.
And I just love Christmas stories in which at least one of the main characters doesn’t like Christmas. It’s like an enemies-to-lovers trope between them and Christmas and the anticipation of them falling in love with Christmas is a lot of fun to watch (metaphorically). Christmas and the holidays in general are not as prominent in this story as they are in other holiday romances, as it takes place over a longer time period, yet Caroline’s distaste of them – not Halloween though – hovers in the background at all times. Caroline’s inner grinch will resist valiantly but to no avail. Because it’s a romance, and because of course Hannah has a child and Christmas takes another dimension when there are children involved and of course Caroline loves children.
Maybe because When You Least Expect It is shorter than Those Who Wait, the secondary characters are not as present, but when they appear, they more than do the job. The most important one is obviously Hannah’s daughter Abbie, whose admiration for Caroline is adorable. And the good news is, she really sounds and acts like a child, albeit a well-behaved one.
I don’t know what it is about Haley Cass’s writing that works so well for me. It is far from perfect – though with a good editor it could be – yet there’s something, an energy, a tone, a timbre, a balance of enthusiasm and desperation that goes straight to the deepest part of my heart.
When a debut novel is as good as Those Who Wait is, there’s always this pressure on the author and this worry in me that it could be a one-hit-wonder. With When You Least Expect It, Haley Cass puts this fear to bed with panache.