Jan 1 2014 4:30pm

First Look: Jane O’Reilly’s The Holiday Survival Guide (January 1, 2014)

The Holiday Survival Guide by Jane O'ReillyJane O'Reilly
The Holiday Survival Guide
Escape / January 1, 2014 / $3.99 digital

When tabloid journalist Erica Parker is forced to take a holiday, she's determined to make it the most miserable holiday she possibly can, but not even her impressive imaginative powers could have come up with sharing a tent with survival expert Nathan Wilde.

Nathan was a married man with a successful TV show before Erica got to work on his life. Now the hottest man she’s ever met is single, furious, and he’s got her alone in the wilderness for three long days…

With a real test of the notions of hot and cold, The Holiday Survival Guide by Jane O’Reilly takes readers to the Swedish northern landscape and turns up the heat. An assortment of obstacles along the way, though, makes finding the hot stuff even more tricky than you would naturally expect in the bitter cold. So, too, is finding a condom dispenser in a snow-covered survival camp. But these elements all combine in this story that is sure to offer some distraction during the long winter months ahead.

Erica has been forced to take vacation time from her beloved job as a tell-all reporter and, despite feeling that more unfaithful husbands and wives need to be exposed post haste, she must do as the boss asks if she has any hope of saving her career. To Erica, sun and sand would be too much like fun, which she seems dead set against as a form of self-punishment. Instead, her solution is to head to the icehotel in Sweden, and for a little survival training while she’s there. With snowshoes and dogsleds galore, this is as far from relaxing on the beach as you can get. When the notion of a two night stay in a tent is mentioned, the chill takes firm hold of character and reader alike.

Erica and Nathan, the survival guide, have a history, though seeing each other is the last thing either of them expects. Erica’s job has become about catching famous people cheating, having decided long ago that it's her duty to inform, not only their significant others, but the news reading public in general of the indiscretions. It’s no surprise, then, to learn that Nathan, having been affected by Erica’s work in one form or another, would find his blood boiling at the first sight of her. From their initial contact, even before setting out for the tents, the idea of extremes in temperature becomes somewhat thematic.

Upon arrival to the site, Erica’s need to “powder her nose” coincides with a moose coming into the camp area. Nathan, rather than warning her about the danger of screaming in panic, decides to kiss her to keep her mouth shut. This feels like it would qualify as one of the most unique pickup lines ever, in a, ‘if I didn’t kiss you, the moose would have killed you’ kind of way. The physical contact is the catapult that sets in motion the chemical reaction these two headstrong characters will try to fight from here on out.

Common in the frozen northlands, of course, is the whole idea of human versus nature, and for Nathan and Erica, this is no exception. Problem after problem arises where they are faced with a lack of food, hypothermia, and potential frostbite. It does generously offer many opportunities for cold hands to be stuck against warm bodies, but even that can only last for so long. When things become too serious outdoors, Nathan takes Erica back to his home cabin, located conveniently nearby, to heal (and warm) properly.

Erica didn’t need to be told twice. She staggered forwards through the door, almost tripping as she did so, the entrance high enough off the ground to clear most of the snow. If there were steps, they were well buried. Strong hands came up and caught her waist, steadying her. Glancing down, she saw the skin was almost blue, the network of scars and battered marks that patterned it ice white in contrast. Grabbing his wrist, she forced his hand up inside her jacket. She stifled a gasp at the cold and his muscles jerked tight as his fingertips grazed the underside of her breast.

With less discussion of arctic breezes and frozen lakes, the focus turns to the deeper matters at hand. Both characters have been scarred by past relationships, leaving one working as the survival expert in Sweden, the other as a self-appointed judge and jury, fighting the dishonest people of the world. While neither deny their attraction to the other, the issue becomes whether they can move beyond their former experiences and find personal acceptance, or if they will continue to be dogged by the ghosts of the past.

There’s more to it than just being burned by others, though. Moral questions arise about abortion and cheating, where lines should be drawn and who has the right to do what. The topics are lightly touched on, just enough to make the reader think about them and make up their own minds about who deserves sympathy, if any, and who needs to be held responsible for their actions.

“How many marriages have you wrecked now?”

“Eighteen,” she said without hesitation. “Though I’d hardly say I wrecked them. Those marriages were broken long before I came anywhere near them.”

“You don’t know that,” Nathan tossed his cup to the ground. “You don’t know what the hell would have happened if you’d left well enough alone. You had no right…”

“No right?” She glared at him. “Do you think it’s okay for a footballer to rake in millions in advertising deals by parading as a family man when he’s sleeping with women other than his wife? Do you think it’s okay for politicians to tell us how to behave when they’re seeing prostitutes? Do you really think cheating is acceptable?”

Broaching topics like these runs the risk of making the story a heavier one to read, but before that can happen, it's discovered that Nathan appreciates his steam room more so when alternated frequently with running through the snow naked, taking things, now literally, from hot to cold in rapid succession. This seemingly weather indiscriminate duo discover that their attraction to one another burns hotter than the (steam) room they're in, and this is where the need for a condom comes into play, of course. The lack thereof gives Erica the extra time needed to once again fill her own head with doubt regarding her motivations with sex, never mind the potential for love. The pause is as thoroughly effective as the proverbial cold shower.

As the two work out the will they/won’t theys, they both realize that not only do they need the forgiveness or understanding of others, but also for, and from, themselves, holding the key to their their combined or separate futures. Finding the right balance between the cold realization of Erica's devastating power to destroy the lives of, not only to the guilty parties, but, also, the innocent cuckolds hurt in the fallout, and Nathan's burning desire to hate the woman that has changed the course of his life, is a bumpy ride. Ultimately, through all of their revelations, they discover that human relationships aren't as cut and dry as either had once thought. With nothing lukewarm about these characters, going to extremes to sort out the answers is all in the nature of the game.

Learn more or order a copy of The Holiday Survival Guide by Jane O'Reilly, out now:

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Jackie Lester imagines a day when she can make a living as a writer. Until then, she reviews eclectic books at My Ever Expanding Library and lives in small-town Ontario with her daughter.

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