Dafina, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4967-0050-6
Contemporary Romance, 2015
I suspect that if we actually conduct a study on the matter, we will find that the greatest amount of throwaway short stories are generated around this time of the year in the form of anthologies. I know, they serve a purpose – readers may find it easier to enjoy shorter stories during the bustle of the holiday season – but surely so many of those stories don’t have to be so mediocre. A Christmas Kiss is not going to be the anomaly that will challenge the hypothesis. It’s just so… mediocre on the whole.
In Celeste O Norfleet’s Sealed with a Kiss, Dean Everett and Carmen Stiles were BFFs ten years ago who discovered that they were in love. Alas, she was a bad girl while he was a good boy – ha, ha, fooled you! You are thinking that this story is going to buck the trend, aren’t you? Sorry, not today. Dean was the bad one, Carmen was the good girl, and of course he wanted them to leave town together. Carmen decided to let him go alone because she’d rather stay in Hayden and she knew he wouldn’t be happy if he did the same. Anyway, today he is loaded, rich, hot, and he has come back to Hayden mostly to lay low as his company closes a big deal. At the same time, he realizes that he’d never gotten over Carmen and he’d like to rekindle what they had. Being the Grand Marshal during the town holiday festivities gives him a chance to stay close to her.
There is no good reason why these two won’t get back together and spend the next twenty pages doing nothing but having hot sex. Her parents are more than happy to see Dean again – then again, the rest of the town do too, especially since Dean is now rich and loaded (and this is supposed to be a good thing, not, say, a reason why Hayden and Dean should just give these people their middle fingers). Dean is single. Carmen is single too. They are attracted to one another. So what’s the problem?
Carmen’s an idiot, that’s the problem. The author decided that the best way to pad her story is by having the heroine show everyone that her head is jammed up her own rear end. Depending on the page, her mood, or whatever – maybe the tides or the phase of the moon – our heroine will have all kinds of excuse to wail and moan. She can’t get close to Dean, as her heart will be broken! Why he will break her heart, considering that she was the one who broke his ten years ago, I will never know. He will leave Hayden so she cannot be with him! Because an adult woman like Carmen will be traumatized if she has to leave town and her parents’ home, naturally. And on and on, she’d go, often coming up with weird excuses based on what the voices in her head would tell her about Dean. She’s crazy, in other words. And this story is a pain to read because the heroine’s crazy mind games with the hero is the plot.
Regina Hart’s Mistletoe Lane is set in the same locale as her Finding Home series, and I won’t recommend it to anyone who is unfamiliar with the series. This is because various secondary characters clog up this short story like a precursor to an acne outbreak, and all of these characters are good looking, one-dimensional, and very eager to see our hero and heroine get shagged and wed. The rare exception is the cartoon female villain, whose over the top antics feel right at home in the increasingly flat feel of this series. The plot is basic – Benjamin Brooke, divorced and convinced that his evil ex-wife’s betrayal would leave him incapable of loving another woman again, and his employee June Cale – who also has a broken heart – have trust issues up to the wazoo but they are determined to boink. Can their hormones break down the walls of their hyperbolic angst? “Shag! Shag! Shag!” the cast of secondary characters all but yell at them.
The earlier books by the author that I have read felt raw, real, and authentic, but as her Finding Home series continues, it seems like all the hot boring dudes moved to that place while I wasn’t looking, followed shortly by hot women who need hot boring men to prop them up and validate their existences. Before long. the series are populated by interchangeable hot but one-dimensional stereotypes trying to play mooch games while evil women and cartoon male villains try to stir the pot now and then. Unfortunately, Mistletoe Lane follows this downhill trend, and the best thing I can say about it is that the heroine is not as deranged as the one in the previous story.
Deborah Fletcher Mello serves up the only readable – and fun! – story in the anthology. His Christmas Gifts sees Bianca Torres reluctantly coming back to Boone to care for her mother, who was hurt after falling down from a tree. The fact that her mother, almost 80, thought nothing of climbing a tree is one of the reasons why Bianca try to minimize close contact with her parents. They thrive on drama, and she prefers things to be a little… quiet. She befriends Jerrod Christmas on her train ride to Boone, and they bond over the fact that they are both not-that-eagerly heading there to visit their parents. When she meets Justin’s father Ethan, however, coming back doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all!
This is somewhat a May-December romance, as Ethan is said to be old enough to be Bianca’s father (that man is a good friend of Bianca’s parents), and if you can get past that premise, you may find the romance to be quirky and sweet. Ethan isn’t as smooth as he’d have liked around Bianca, and his awkwardness is both hilarious and endearing. Bianca can be a grouchy poo at times, but I like her – she has a sense of humor and she also has her heart in all the right places. Their romance feels pretty organic, just like Ethan’s preferred food choices, and all in all, this one is one fun story.
But that’s just one out of three. In the grand scheme of things, A Christmas Kiss is just another forgettable and unsatisfying Christmas cash-in. Read the last story in the bookstore itself, and save your money for chocolates and candies. You can never go wrong with those.