At the Corner of Love & Heartache

Cold Tea on a Hot Day

Driving Lessons

If Wishes Were Horses

Lost Highways

Love in a Small Town

Sweet Dreams at the
Goodnight Motel

Miracle on I-40
by Curtiss Ann Matlock
(MIRA, $14.95, G) ISBN 0-7783-2223-8
Curtiss Ann Matlock is certainly an accomplished writer, so if this book is completely predictable maybe that’s because readers want a familiar story to bring smiles to their lips and tears to their eyes at Christmas. But, somehow, charging fifteen bucks for fewer than 200 pages of very large type, plus a plug for one of the author’s other books, doesn’t seem in keeping with the spirit of the season.

It’s a big Christmas for Lacey Bryant. Lacey’s been estranged from her parents since she announced she was pregnant and her father threw her out a decade ago. With her marriage over, Lacey is now a single mother raising Jon, 10, and Anna, 5. At the urgent request of her sister, Lacey’s taking her children home for Christmas, where they’ll meet their aging grandparents for the first time. She can only hope they’ll like the surprise.

Lacey doesn’t make an extravagant wage at the diner where she waitresses, so it’s a good thing her trucker friend, Pate, is willing to give them a ride from Albuquerque to her parents’ home in North Carolina. Unfortunately, the day before they’re to leave, Pate breaks his arm and can’t make the trip, but he arranges for a fellow trucker named Cooper to deliver both his payload and the three Bryants.

The reserved Cooper, who has ‘bah, humbug’ spelled out in lights on his truck’s grille, is moderately pleased to have the company of a pretty gal for the three-day trip east (nothing lascivious, mind you), but he’s not thrilled to discover that her two children are part of the deal. Cooper’s not crazy about kids.

And you can pretty much guess the rest.

While well-paced and written in Ms. Matlock’s signature easy prose, this book is definitely only for those with a pronounced sweet tooth. It has all the requisite Christmas moments for all the requisite tugs on the heartstrings (emotional reunions, cute kids, cute animals, a visit from a jolly old elf, etc.). But, with all those clichés to cover in a novella-length book, the first thing to be sacrificed is any sense of originality.

There are certainly no surprises – at all – in the way the story develops (you couldn’t really call it a plot), and the characters are all stereotypes. In spite of that, the author manages to create a very pleasant sexual tension between Lacey and Cooper, although (presumably to ensure that it is palatable to the widest possible audience) nothing that proceeds beyond a kiss.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that being forced by over-eager retailers to deal with Christmas in October brings out the ‘bah, humbug’ in me, too, which may account for part of my slightly cynical reaction to this book. Those of you who prefer a Christmas reading experience that’s as sweet and familiar as hot chocolate with a heapin’ helpin’ of marshmallows will probably enjoy every moment.

-- Judi McKee

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