This quartet of novellas runs the gamut from half-baked to ridiculous. Add to it the commercials shilling for the authors’ next books in between each story, and it ends up being a big waste of 400+ pages.
“A Misty Harbor Christmas” by Marcia Evanick opens the show with the story of Olivia Hamilton, whose grandmother left her a big old house in Misty Harbor, Maine, where Olivia “spent months at a time” in the summers since she was two years old. (Shipping a toddler across the country for extended periods doesn’t seem to have been a problem for Olivia’s California-based parents), Even though Olivia hasn’t been back to Maine in fifteen years, she has happy memories of summers baking cookies with Gran, etc.
The memories spring back to life when she meets up with Ethan Wycliffe, her teenage crush. All grown up and conveniently unmarried, Ethan soon sets Olivia’s heart a-flutter. Exactly how he manages to be gorgeous, charming, successful, heterosexual, and completely unattached at the age of thirty is never explained, but hey, this is fiction. Olivia is unemployed as a computer something-or-other, leaving her to rediscover the joys of small-town America. Nothing new or even interesting about this romance.
And a nitpick: someone at Zebra needs to learn the difference between “discreet” and “discrete”. It appears at least three times in this short story and is never spelled correctly.
“All I Want,” by Holly Chamberlin, is a first-person attempt at a Chick Lit-style that falls flat on its face, due to the incessant whining of the heroine, Abby Walker. She’s unhappy with her job, her co-workers, her mother, her apartment, her love life, etc. Abby does nothing about her misery, preferring to wallow and snivel and generally making herself completely unsympathetic. Through a twist of fate, Abby has several brief, chance encounters with a handsome stranger, giving her plenty of time to fantasize over this gorgeous guy. Then their third chance meeting occurs and he asks her to have dinner with him, and what does our heroine do? Turns him down because she’s having a bad day, her shoes are wet from stepping into a puddle, and she’s suffering from low self-esteem at the moment. At that point, All I Wanted was for this nitwit to be hit by a bus and removed from the gene pool.
Alas, Mr. Wonderful turns up yet again and he and Abby manage to start a relationship. Too bad the author has Abby turn around and instantly believe some bad news about the guy, even though it comes from the worst possible source. Any and all glimmers of likeability went right out the window. Where’s a bus when you really need one?
“Merry, Merry” by Fern Michaels takes place in some romance alternate universe, because nobody on this planet could take this story for even remotely plausible. Veterinarian Andi Evans is nearly broke, clinging to her family home and three acres of land while playing nursemaid to a variety of abandoned pets, none of whom are cute or charming. She’s had exactly eleven patients in eleven months, which means she’s either a lousy veterinarian or the word “advertise” is unknown to her. She’s also a friend to an elderly homeless woman named Gertie. Oh, and a guy named Peter King, who runs a cosmetic company, wants to buy her property for a fat chunk of change, but she’s never going to sell it to him, no way, because it’s her family home and she doesn’t even wear lipstick and her lips are as kissable as they’re going to get, even without his greasy product, no sirree, which gives readers a huge insight into her thought processes.
Gertie shows up with a fat roll of cash, claiming that she and her homeless buddies “found it” and she wants Andi to have it to keep the wolf from the door. Knowing that Gertie probably hasn’t had a bath in days, is living under a railroad bridge, and is dressed in rags, Andi grabs the cash. Then Peter King shows up in person, ready to make an offer on her property. This being Romance Land, he starts at two hundred thousand or so, and Andi quickly gets him up to a million dollars an acre by bitching at him about the names he gives his lipstick colors, while he muses that she has spunk and grit and his grandmother would love her. (This isn’t downtown Manhattan or Miami Beach, it’s rural New Jersey, so a million bucks an acre might seem excessive, but Peter King has no more business sense than Andi – he’s already hired a contractor to build whatever he’s going to build, and he doesn’t even have the property to build it on.)
There’s plenty more of this nonsense, but I’m only nine pages into the story and it’s almost too painful to write about, so let me just say this story was a tired waste of time featuring characters that would need intensive tutoring just to qualify as morons. The copyright on it is from 1996; it should have stayed in the author’s bottom drawer.
“Christmas Eve” by Virginia Henley is the last entry, and again, it’s eight years old according to the copyright. Real estate broker Eve Barlow opens the tale standing naked in front of her mirror, doing a weird “mirror, mirror” conversation with herself: “Am I beautiful? Am I sexy?” Too bad the mirror isn’t animated like the one in Snow White. Maybe it could have blown Eve, and the rest of this book, a giant raspberry.
Eve is determined to achieve some big sales mark, and ends up showing a Lake Michigan property on Christmas Eve to a firefighter named Clint Kelly. Eve describes herself as a “feminazi” who thinks a man opening a door for her and helping her with her coat is the worst sort of chauvinism. Clint is a macho, chauvinistic kinda guy who really doesn’t want a woman showing him this property but ends up stuck with Eve. They snipe and bitch at each other all the way out to the property, where Eve displays her smarts by walking out on a frozen lake and falling through the ice, necessitating a “let’s get those wet things off” scene in a snowstorm that allows Henley to do what she does – pile on the hot sex. When Clint’s ladder goes up, Eve can’t lie down fast enough.
On a side note, the dialogue was distracting. Ms. Henley must have some Brit roots, because as a native Michiganian, I can state that we don’t use the word “arse”, we don’t spend four years “at university”, and when our car breaks down, we don’t call the “Motor League”. We can fall on our ass, go to college, and call Triple A, though.
Henley is well-known for her lush, spicy historical romances, so this foray into short contemporary romance is a little hard to explain. Wait, given the copyright, maybe it’s not. Having a well-known author haul out an old manuscript that can be quickly fit into a Christmas anthology probably makes perfect sense. But every single story in this anthology would earn a one-heart rating, so what doesn’t make sense is recommending this anthology to romance readers. If you have seven bucks to burn, burn it on something better than this.