Simple Gifts
by Judith McNaught and Jude Deveraux, assorted (2001, reissue)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-4223-7

This anthology is all about the crass commercialization of Christmas. No, I'm not questioning the motives of Pocket reissuing two novellas from 1994/1995 from each of the two of their top moneymaker authors - only the really, really idealistic will believe that this anthology is a special gift from the authors to fans. Come on, if it's a gift, fans wouldn't have to pay $7.99 for it. (This message is for all of you Stephanie Laurens and Johanna Lindsey fans who flamed me for daring to suggest that these authors don't love you - oh yes they love you, they write rushed hatchet job hardcover romances you pay $18.00 for, oh yes they really love you. Twits.)

Anyway, it's not the motive. It's also the theme of these novellas. Stupid dumb girlies rescued by millionaires. Merry Christmas, people - give me some money, ho ho ho.

Let's start with Judith McNaught.

Her first story, Miracles is... let me just say if Julie Beard wants to revise her romance writing manual, she can always use this novella as a study case. It's pretty much the whole Regency historical subgenre plot devices crammed into one story. There's a heroine who doesn't like balls and parties, who just wants to stay at home and read, feels uncomfortable with low-cut dresses, hates her mother (the feeling is mutual), and is besotted with the hero's character from get go. This skimpy cut-and-paste list counts as a personality, I guess? Hero? Starts out in a skanky mistress boff scene, gets bored with all that sex, sees heroine, drools over her innocence and purity and other gag-inducing quasipedophilia nonsense.

They meet at a masquerade, he steals some kisses and touchies, she doesn't want to marry - ever! - even as she melts inside, and they marry after he shows her what she is missing.

The end. Girly infatuation triumphs.

Anyway, onwards to the other McNaughty Girly Happy Meal, the contemporary novella Double Exposure. This is a very long and hence very excruciating read of girly love sans breasts blossoming into girly love with breasts. No relationship development, no maturity, nothing but this heroine going ga-ga over the hero's good looks over the years. Heroine is a photographer who is sent to photograph a grand wedding, meets the hero, and this sends me screaming into a long, long, and boring series of flashbacks. Our girlie heroine as a teenage girl has no breasts, so she has no dates. She has to create a fake boyfriend to ask this hero to teach her to kiss! My heart is breaking, I am bawling for a doctor to put me to sleep. The pain, the pain!

I can understand stupid things done in teenage years in the name of infatuation, but when this infatuation never matures and in fact passed off as Real Love, this is when I want to put my new multipurpose food processor to test. The man who sold it to me said it could mash up all sorts of things, after all.

Hero marries her in a really insulting wedding (no ring, so he uses a gold ribbon, and he demands the wedding to be quick, the judge is a plumber) and heroine doesn't realize anything until the last page of the last chapter. She storms out. Hero grovels - offstage. He throws a big "You don't see me grovel, hell no, but here's my bank account!" bash, no expenses spared, and heroine immediately forgives him. See, I told you money rules.

I read in a Barbara de Angelis book (stop laughing, I needed something to read on a long plane trip) that most women never stop to think beyond the wedding day. This is why most marriages crumble - most women believe that even if their men are really Mr Wrongs, a wedding day and a grand honeymoon will instantly perform miracle cures on the patchy relationship. Maybe Judith McNaught should read that book so that her romance stories will have something deeper than physical attraction and childhood infatuation to base themselves on. This relationship of her characters is just stupid and based on infatuation. I give these two dingbats a week tops.

Now, Jude Deveraux. The two stories here are related because the heroes are Taggert brothers. Hers are better than Judith McNaught's excruciating celebration of Dumb Girly Infatuation, but the heroines won't be passing their SATs that easy either.

Just Curious is about a widow who wants to sleep with her millionaire boss. Hell, I would too if that will give me the full access to his bank account, hot sex every weekend, and best of all, no prenuptial agreements. Unfortunately, this heroine believes that she will never love again after her husband's passing, and all she wants now is a baby from said Boss Moneypots. It's the honey, people, not the money.

Boss chases, pursues, heroine goes "Eee, no, please, no, no, eee!" and finally relents. She becomes a rich mother, the end.

Change Of Heart is the reverse. Hero wants to marry heroine to make babies. He's rich too. Heroine, suffering from the aftermaths of an unfaithful husband, demures. "Eee, no, no, please, eeee!" Hero pursues, she relents, and becomes a rich mother.

Incidentally, a lot of space too goes to her genius twelve-year old boy and his lil' girly. Don't worry, no underaged sexual thingies here. In fact, since this is a Christmas novella, we have lots of kiddie sentimental manipulative scenes instead. I think I'm growing Christmas trees on my head after this.

Oh, and Ms Deveraux:

Sperm bank, n: A facility where sperm are kept frozen in liquid nitrogen for later use in artificial insemination.
- Online Medical Dictionary

All four stories are filled with ridiculously one-note characters, contrived plot devices, and rushed endings where money is the panacea for all the financial and emotional troubles of the heroine. Okay, I think I won't debate with the realism of that, but look, people, Christmas is near. Why can't I be allowed to delude myself, if only for a while, that it is love (real one, not girly infatuations) that makes the world go round?

Rating: 57

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