Duets #40
by Cara Summers & Lori Wilde
(Duets 40, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-444106-1
**
I feel a bit like Scrooge as I write this review about two holiday books. I mean, it takes a real grinch to find something wrong with Christmas books, right? Well, Ol' Ebenezer here didn't find too much in the way of holiday cheer from Duets #40, much less the romantic comedies that they're advertised to be.

In Mistletoe & Mayhem, librarian Jodie Freemont decides that she needs to change her image. She's tired of being as predictable as the sun rising in the east. One of the first changes she's going to make is that she's going to try to catch her ex-fiancé, a man who's been accused of embezzling millions of dollars. This plot line is about as believable as the mice joining forces to bell the cat, but it's one we're asked to believe.

Shane Sullivan has come to town to investigate the missing five million dollars. Jodie is one of his suspects. He wonders if she's really trying to catch the ex-fiancé or help him abscond with the money. They form an uneasy alliance, each unsure of the other's motives as they team up to find the missing money.

Santa's Sexy Secret features an undercover cop whose penance for blowing up the mayor's car is to be a department store Santa. His job is to see if he can catch whoever is responsible for the current rash of thefts at the store. Dealing with all the kids will make his job harder but an endearing elf may be his greatest challenge.

Edie Preston, a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology, is moonlighting as an elf, one who helps keep the children in line as they wait to see Santa. Edie, who thinks that Sam is having to play Santa because of a community service obligation, totally mistakes his intention. While he's making friends with men from the halfway house, trying to get a lead on the thefts, Edie wrongly thinks that he's hanging out with men who will be a bad influence.

While I rarely editorialize, I did wonder what kind of judge would assign Santa duty to anyone as community service. This plot line just rubs me wrong, wrong, wrong.

Okay, Sam wonders if Edie is in cahoots with the thieves. Edie thinks that Sam is part of the robbery ring. Ah, mistaken identities all the way around. To make matters more interesting, Edie changes the thrust of her doctoral dissertation and will write on Sam. She wants to prove how appropriate intervention can change the course of a person's life, to "enhance his self-image through positive reinforcement."

Somehow I don't think it's that easy to change a dissertation topic, and choosing someone you've got the hots for as a research project stretches credibility.

A shortcoming that's found in both stories is that the heroines are realism-challenged. I found them to be ditzy. The heroine from Mistletoe & Mayhem, one who considers herself dull and ordinary, suddenly wants to trap the bad guy all by herself, to show that's she's got spunk. That's about as logical as someone who's bothered by the sight of blood wanting to be her own surgeon.

In Santa's Sexy Secret, the heroine is so sweet and well-meaning that she could sweeten coffee just by sticking her pinky in it. Spare me from people who are perpetually perky, the Little Mary Sunshines of the world. And to think that she can use ‘positive reinforcement' to change Sam is borderline egotistical.

Both of these holiday stories seemed to lack the warmth of holiday cheer. And while they were set around the holidays, that didn't seem to be an integral part of the story. If you're in the habit of buying all of the holiday stories, then I'd make sure that this book goes in somebody else's stocking.

--Linda Mowery


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