Avon Impulse, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-213329-8
Contemporary Romance, 2011
Dean Silverthorne is an NFL quarterback who is currently benched due to injury. He recuperates in his hometown of Deer Lick, where he meets and decides to peek up the skirts of kindergarten teacher Emma Hart. She’s reserved and guarded where bad boys are concerned – or so the author tells me – but it really doesn’t take much for her to throw her panties into the air like all the skinny blonde supermodels that she looks down her nose on for putting out to Dean. So, she basically hangs around, waving her hands, and everyone awaits in bated breath whether Dean will decide to fall in love with Emma and happily wear the ball and chain for the rest of his life.
This story is that story, and honestly, it’s as formulaic as can be. There are no doubt many, many, many small town romances with similar story lines, character psychology, maybe the same names as those in this story. It is as if the author had decided to go all out with faithfully replicating every single small town “prodigal sports star hero returns” trope she has ever come across here. Okay, Dean’s late mother coming back as a ghost is probably new, but that aspect of the story never develops beyond an awkwardly-inserted plot device, as the mother often rehashes the things I already know anyway, so she doesn’t count.
While normally Any Given Christmas would be just an average story because it is too much of a cookie-cutter small town romance for its own good, it does have an added disadvantage of sorts with me. You see, I’d rather dip myself in barbecue sauce and throw myself into a vat of piranhas than to read again the previous related book by this author. And goodness me, this book only drives home the huge double standards that I normally deplore in romance novels, and thus, every page of this book rekindles my loathing of that book. It’s like reading love letters from a particularly hated ex-lover and remembering all over again why that bastard’s rear end deserves to be introduced to the business end of a stone drill.
The heroine of the previous book was practically dismissed as worthless by everyone, even the hero of that book, because while she had a successful career away from home, she dared to leave her hometown to achieve her dreams and came back to that place without a husband. In this book, the hero leaves his hometown to be a big NFL star in the big city, and he comes back a celebrated hero – every woman here wants him because he’s so hot and amazing and – you know, in romance novels, have penis, will travel. The hateful ghost of the mother tells the heroine of the previous book that she loves the heroine only after the heroine ends up doing what the mother wanted of her all along. Here, the same hag treats the hero like he’s her favorite child, hugs and kisses all around.
Nobody considers Dean worthless because he doesn’t have a wife, no, women want to be his wife because he’s awesome and hot and all that. The heroine of the previous book is financially stable and has a good career, but everyone looks down at her because clearly her success means that she is unloved by a man and, therefore, broken in some way.
Dean does give up his job in the end, but he does it with some semblance of dignity. The heroine of the previous book has no choice but to quit – her business associates dump on her because all city people are evil if you have a small town vagina, the man she loves yells at her and treats her like a leper when she considers resuming her career in the big city, and the poor darling doesn’t really have a choice but to embrace the small town ball and chain. She never had any choice. Dean has plenty of choices, because Emma actually gives him the power in the whole relationship.
And the worst part is how I have to read in this book that the heroine of the previous book is now so happy, rediscovering her cooking skills while embarking on her rightful role in life of popping out at least one brat every year when she’s not doing other “appropriately womanly” things, right down to holding some job that will never challenge her husband’s position as the number one concern in her life.
So yes, Any Given Christmas is a very formulaic read, and if any credit should be given to the author, it’s probably for how she manages to replicate so many overused tropes so faithfully and so coherently in her story. It will be nice if the author has inserted some kind of twist or interpretation that is uniquely hers instead of using the cookie cutter so well. But more importantly, if you do loathe the previous book in the series as much as me, be warned that this book won’t just remind you just how much you loathe the book – I swear it actually accentuates the loathing to unhealthy levels.