by Ellie Marvel, contemporary (2011)
Samhain Publishing, $3.50, ISBN 978-1-60928-853-2
Claustrophobic Christmas is a quaint romantic comedy novella that revolves around love during the holidays. Yes, it's a Christmas thing, but this one doesn't bring on the sugar overload or requires liberal consumption of festive alcohol to get me in the mood.
The heroine is Darcy Burkell, who runs a travel agency. She produces lovely brochures to promote her tour packages and such, and these brochures are so well-researched that people such as our heroine James Jones believe that she's been to those places herself. Actually, Darcy avoids traveling if she can help it, as long-distance travels in confined spaces such as inside a vehicle, as she is claustrophobic. When James shows up at her doorstep as she is about to - deep breath - go back to Tallwood to be home for the holidays. James clearly wants something more than friendship, but Darcy isn't sure whether she can commit to a relationship.
The beginning of the story feels quite disjointed to me. It may be that the romance started in a previously related story that I either hadn't read or can't recall much of, because Darcy and James are revealed in a rather abrupt manner that they have corresponded in the past (he supplies the photographs for her brochures) and he knows her from way back. Apparently he has fallen for her from their correspondence, with him imagining that she is this seasoned traveler with a case of wanderlust or something. It will be nice if these developments had been introduced gradually instead of thrown at me all at once, really.
Still, I manage to get back my bearings after a while, and I find myself reading a quirky and entertaining romp. Darcy is not an easy heroine to write - she's a bag of neurotic tics, so it takes some fine balancing act on the author's part to make me like Darcy while letting her be occasionally exasperating and annoying like neurotic people tend to be. James is a more straightforward roguish hero, and while sometimes I feel that he is pushing too hard for a relationship with Darcy when he barely knows her, he turns out to be a pretty good match for Darcy. The conflict is predictable and I'm sure most, if not all, readers would see it coming from a mile away, but the author handles what could have been a basic jump-to-wrong-conclusions drama into a believable catalyst for James and Darcy to fall in love, this time with their eyes wide open and, on James's part, without any fanciful romantic illusions about Darcy.
The story derives its humor from a nice blend of slapstick developments and sharp repartee. The author also portrays the charming and exasperating aspects of a family get-together in a manner that only adds to the comedy.
If this story is a bit longer, it may have flowed a little more smoothly. But as it is, Claustrophobic Christmas is still a pretty good entertaining read.
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