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Jeannie Moon

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“It’s not always about the time, but the place we are in our lives.”

Jeannie Moon’s Christmas in Angel Harbor (Tule Publishing Group, LLC) is a heartfelt romance of love deferred. As with all of her work, she creates engaging characters of charm and honesty. In this case, she has set her novel on Long Island, in the fictional town of Angel Harbor.

Author Jeannie Moon. Photo by Fox Gradin, Celestial Studios

Best-selling author Dan Gallo has returned home after an absence of several decades. It is revealed that his most recent novel inspired a psychopathic true-crime copycat. He has now decided to escape the fast lane and try to catch his breath by writing a more personal novel. He is also a man in search of himself; his quest is for an inner peace that his success has not provided. “He’d learned the hard way that a good life was a collection of small experiences. While big and flashy might impress in the short term, the millions of tiny details about an experience were what mattered.” He settles in with his sister’s family, living in a cottage on the property. He begins to unwind and to come alive.

Jane Fallon is the proprietor of Harbor Books. As a young woman, she had dreams of a world-spanning career in archeology. With her father’s sudden death, she felt obligated to return home to run the family bookstore. “It hadn’t been her dream job, but owning the store brought her many rewards and even more happy moments.” She is grateful for the life she has had — especially close bonds with both her mother, a retired school teacher, and her daughter, Tara. But Moon gives Jane a welcomed complexity: Jill still wonders about the life she could have had and that slight shadow of regret gives her an added dimension.

Throughout high school, Dan had used the table in the bookshop as his writing headquarters. Dan and Jane had been best friends since fifth grade and, while they had never been a couple, their relationship had an emotional intimacy. While Dan was getting ready for law school, Jane indicated that she wanted more. Spooked, Dan disconnected from Jane and the entire Angel Harbor community. Even when Jane’s father passed away, Dan maintained both distance and silence.

And now he has returned. Jane struggles with her feelings but, with great caution, allows him to begin writing at the table once again. “They were bound by an old friendship, and by the shared history of a small town that held one of them back, while the other shot forward.” Needless to say, they begin to rekindle what was snuffed out thirty plus years before.

What is delightful is the innocence of the courtship between two fifty year-olds. There is a sense of wanting to recover what was lost, picking up almost where they left off. Moon gives us a couple that is reminiscent of Our Town’s George and Emily: love and hope and possibility.  “… there was something magical about her, something so centered it was seeping into him. Even as she faced huge changes in her own life, she found a way to focus on others … for the first time since he’d left home all those years ago, he wasn’t on edge.” But their relationship is not without heat, and the pull between them is genuinely strong.

The  story begins two weeks before Thanksgiving and carries through the Christmas holiday. Both Dan and Jane are going through struggles, internal and external. Dan’s current project is outside his comfort zone; he wants to inspire readers and allow his work to be a source of healing.  However, he is facing pressure from his “people” to stay with what works. Jane is facing her mother’s relocation to warmer climes and her daughter’s departure for college the following fall. As always, the store’s survival and growth is always present.

Playing as a backdrop for the story is a wonderful sense of village life in modern times. With shades of nostalgia, Moon finds the richness of a Long Island Christmas, from the perfect pastry to snowfall to walks in the brisk night air. The writing is easy and fluid, with characters rooted in personal realities as well the world she has vividly fashioned for them. It all rings romantically true.

A little past the half-way mark, the real crisis is introduced, throwing Jane’s fate into turmoil. It is not the suspense of what will happen but the painting of the community that rises to the surface. The denouement has shades of It’s a Wonderful Life.

Christmas in Angel Harbor gives us something that we need right now: the joy that can come in the Christmas season. Here is a romance with the sights and sounds but above all the heart that we associate with hope in the holidays. Looking for the gift of a little light in the darkness? This book is just the right present.

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A school librarian by day, and an established author by night, Jeannie Moon has written 17 books to date. Christmas in Angel Harbor is available at bookrevue.com, barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Jeannie Moon’s latest romance novel, “Then Came You,” is a wonderful portrait of love in a small town and gets to the heart of what really makes a family.

The book is cleverly rooted in a legend connected to the history of the fictional town of Compass Cove, founded 1667. The prologue tells the story of a young widow, a compasssmith and a needle that pointed not north but to an individual’s true north (i.e., love). It is a sweet tale and one that sets just the hint of magical realism (and will surface later in the novel).

Above, author Jeannie Moon

At the center of Moon’s novel is 29-year-old Mia DeAngelis “who in another life … would have been a star. In this life, she was doing damage control. Again.” Mia is raising her orphaned nephew, Ben, after her sister’s suicide nine years earlier. Initially, Mia’s rather cold mother was raising Ben with Mia’s father. After the two were hit by a drunk driver, taking the father’s life and injuring Mia’s mother, it was decided that Mia should become guardian.

There is nothing of the Hallmark movie about Moon’s dealing with the dysfunctional pieces of the family; she has created real people in a complex situation. Mia’s desire to adopt Ben is very candid and the complications that ensue feel honest. Mia is faced with the double challenge of being a single mother who is not the biological mother. This desire to adopt Ben is the driving force in her life and in the story.

Ben is now an active 10-year-old boy who Mia has moved from Maryland to raise Ben in Compass Cove where she had summered as a girl. Her grandmother, a vital and free spirit, pitches in and Mia is finding a new life. There is nothing random about the relocation from a city to the Long Island suburb. Mia is doing everything she can to save Ben from himself and the latent anger that is brewing beneath the surface. Gradually, it is revealed that Mia lived in the shadow of her thinner, prettier sister — “the sainted Sara” — and is just now coming into her own. It is clear that the sister’s suicide had been a destructive force in all of the family members’ lives, and they are each dealing with it in a different way.

Mia has taken up the post of librarian at the local university, and it is there she begins to find romance. Prior to Compass Cove, she had been unlucky in dating, not having had a second date in five years or a real relationship in nine. Ben has become her whole life and she has accepted that this is her lot. At this point in her life, Mia has never been in love.

Her immediate chemistry with the college football coach Adam Miller is helped along by Adam’s kindness to Ben and his welcoming the boy to become a sort of mascot to the football team. Adam, a former pro-athlete and past “bad boy,” is smitten with Mia. Adam has a long history of risk-taking that ended his professional career but helped him find himself. A native of Compass Cove, he moved back home to find balance again. Their attraction is natural and believable and electric at the get-go.

The cover of Moon’s latest book

There are struggles from the beginning of their courtship (Mia’s mother, even at long distance, has a real canker about sports in general and athletes in particular) but their attraction is undeniable. The novel addresses real fight-or-flight issues in relationships and the challenges that force people to put up walls and barriers.

Moon shifts effortlessly between the voices of Mia and Adam, changing syntax and diction seamlessly, alternating between the articulate and educated Mia and the slightly rough-hewn Adam.

After Adam stands Mia up for a date, she becomes more involved with Noah, a self-important professor, who is “the right guy” and ticks all of the appropriate boxes — but who is clearly not the right choice. Mia begins seeing Noah seriously but is constantly drawn back to Adam.

It is in a crisis involving Ben that the two suitors true colors come out, and Moon deftly addresses the issue of what makes a hero and, ultimately, what makes a good man.

There is plenty of heat between Mia and Adam and their passion is vividly depicted. Their intense and breathless physical compatibility leads to deeper feelings and the examination of second chances and what defines “the love of your life.” One chapter ends with Adam’s plea to himself: “Love her back. Just love her back.” Likewise, when she looks into Adam’s eyes, she sees the future — their future. In “Then Came You,” passion and intimacy are about trust.

In the background of the burgeoning relationship is a cast of interesting and engaging characters, including both their grandmothers, whose families are longtime Compass Cove residents and are involved without the caricature of meddling.

One of the richest characters is Mia’s mother, Ellen, a distant woman of strong opinions and a judgmental streak who has become acerbated by her daughter’s and husband’s deaths. Living in Charleston, Ellen does not want to give up legal custody of Ben and yet she doesn’t want to take full-time responsibility as it would interfere with the new life she has set for herself. While she is mostly portrayed in phone calls, the depth of her control permeates Mia and Ben’s lives. Moon has well-crafted Ellen’s literal and figurative disconnects and becomes the threat to Mia’s adoption of Ben.

In addition, the surfacing at Thanksgiving of Adam’s ex — the rail-thin, acid-tongued model Pilar — brings up doubts but then strengthens Adam and Mia’s future. This forced confrontation with his past, helps Adam grow yet another step toward what he really wants in the world. There is a late-in-the-game plot twist that enforces Mia’s complicated family history. But rather than feeling contrived, it is brutally honest and raises the final stakes in Mia, creating the family she truly craves.

If anything, “Then Came You” is a tribute to the support of a small town. “Mia had only started to learn it was okay to lean on others since moving to Compass Cove.” She moves from a life of isolation and the illusion of independence to embracing extended family in the form of friends and neighbors.

For both Mia and Adam, making Compass Cove a home brings out the good and the better in them. “Then Came You” is an appealing novel that will delight fans of both the romance and literature genres.

Jeannie Moon is the author of 15 published novels. Born and raised in Huntington, Moon is currently a librarian in the Smithtown school district and the president of the Long Island Romance Writers. “Then Came You” is the first book in her new Compass Cove series, published by Tule Publishing Group, and is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo and iBooks. Meet her at a romance author panel, The Power of Love, at Sachem Public Library in Holbrook on Saturday, Feb. 10 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Books will be available for purchasing and signing. For more information on the author, visit her website at www.jeanniemoon.com.