Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-24812-8
Historical Romance, 2015
Christmas is a time for giving, so all these publishers take the opportunity to give average Christmas-themed anthologies, so that we readers in turn can give our money to them and the authors. See? Everyone’s a winner. Dreaming of a Western Christmas is all about the cowboys and the damsels who need them to make their lives meaningful and whole.
In Lynna Banning’s His Christmas Belle, Suzannah Cumberland survives an attack on her carriage, which killed her driver. She drives the carriage herself all the way to Fort Hall, before terror sinks in. The military big boss at Fort Hall summons our hero, Brandon Wyler, to escort her to Oregon, where her fiancé awaits. However, Brand’s sister committed suicide in Oregon, so Brand will never, ever, EVER go back in that place, even if it is to escort a woman who has nowhere else to go. No, no, no! How can anyone be so selfish as to ask him to overcome his fear? Who does Suzannah think she is, the bloody Virgin Mary herself? No, no, NO!
But he is forced to do so, thus his plan is to drag the heroine through an arduous trek, refusing to stop or anything, until she realizes how tough the journey is, gives up, and lets our big, manly hero be on his way. I mean, so what if she has been attacked by Indians and she saw someone die in front of her? Brand’s sister committed suicide and left him a note! THAT, people, is PURE TRAUMA. A spoiled little brat like Suzannah should just deal with the hard knocks life gives her. So says the Brand.
The ending scene is sweet, although I roll up my eyes when the author does the predictable thing when it comes to the other guy. The sad thing is, that contrived “twist” could have been taken out and the story would still be as it is, hence its insertion sabotages the story even more. Also, because this is a short story, Brand never has a chance to show me that he is anything more than a bratty little crybaby, so this story shrinks, rather than melts, the heart.
Kelly Boyce’s The Cowboy of Christmas Past is too big for its length. Eight years or so ago, bad boy Levi MacAllistair and sweet Ada Baxter were in love. They had sex, and because this story is what it is, she got knocked up. Alas, his outlaw father got caught while trying to rob a bank, and dragged Levi – who refused to be a criminal like his father – into the mess out of spite. Levi got thrown into jail until recently, when a repentant uncle finally went up and testified that Levi is innocent all along. Meanwhile, when Levi was thrown into jail, Ada discovered that she had a bun in the oven, so she married the man she was supposed to marry all along. He treated her like dog crap – not that one can truly blame him, considering that she cheated on him and only married him because his mother, the one holding all the purse strings in the family – insisted that he did so – before having the grace to die. Ada couldn’t tell Levi about the baby because her mother-in-law insisted that they should pass off Micah as the legitimate child of Ada and her husband.
So, now Levi is back in Ada’s life. What will they do now?
This story has many, many issues for the two main characters to overcome, and there is no clear hero or villain here. Ada married someone else shortly after Levi got thrown into the slammer, ouch, so he is understandably annoyed, especially when he learns that he has conceived a brat with her. But Ada has to marry, as she needs to think about her child. Being known as a criminal’s pregnant girlfriend would be disastrous for the two of them, as she would be the town pariah, and marrying the town golden boy would provide her child with a security and legitimacy that she alone could never give him. Both Ada and Levi have all kinds of things to work out before they can have a believable happily ever after, but the story has these issues come out only a short while before the author realizes that she has to end the story. She then has the brat do something to force the two to swallow their hurt and get together for the brat’s sake, the end. Needless to say, I don’t believe the happy ending one bit – too many issues are left unresolved, unfortunately.
The previous two stories are flawed, but Carol Arens sweeps into the picture like the heroine that saves Christmas by offering Snowbound with the Cowboy. This one is horribly sentimental, manipulative, and exploitative, full of orphans needing TLC – in other words, the perfect story for that time of the year.
Mary Blair has always believed that she is barren, due to a childhood accident. She yearns for a child of her own, however, and she pours her heart and soul into loving every single one of her charge in her career as a professional nanny and caregiver of children in need. Her most recent employment is with the good Reverend Peter Brownstone, who has her care for the orphans taken in by the parsonage. The Reverend is currently on his honeymoon, so Mary has to find a way to give the orphans the Christmas they deserve.
This Christmas is especially a poignant one because, with the Reverend getting married, the parsonage would have to close (the Reverend needs the space for his own family, after all) and the orphans that still remain are those that cannot find new homes or, in the case of Maudie, she is wanted by only a creepy drunkard who would no doubt have her clean up the house like a seven-year old Cinderella. Soon, these kids would be boarded off to the next train that would send them to another orphanage. Dan, at ten, is probably never going to find anyone who would adopt him, while the four-year old twins Brodie and Caleb would most likely be separated. Mary’s heart aches for each and every one of them. She’d love to take them all in herself, but she is a single woman and she lacks the means to care for them.
Maudie wants a mother for Christmas, while Dan wants a horse. Brodie wants a dog while Caleb wants a father. Mary knows it is silly, but since everyone is wishing, she wishes in her heart that she’d have a baby of her own. Of course, all of them will never get their Christmas wishes. She may be able to find a dog and a horse, were not for the weather.
And then, Joe Landon shows up one heavily-snowing night. First, he stumbles upon a dog. The dog leads him to a site of a carriage accident, and Joe discovers that the sole survivor is a baby. He, his horse, the dog, and the baby make their way to the parsonage, where he hopes that the Reverend would take in this baby. With the Reverend away, it is up to Mary to welcome Joe and care for the baby, and it doesn’t escape her notice that Joe has brought the very Christmas presents requested by Brodie, Dan, and herself. But she can’t be the mother to Amelia, of course. And what about Caleb, who immediately assumes that Joe is his new Pa? And how about poor Maudie, will she ever get a mother for Christmas?
Naturally, Joe marrying Mary will be the perfect Christmas gift for everyone. And why not? Joe himself was an orphan, and his foster mother is a generous and loving woman who opens her heart and home to those in need. Joe knows, correctly so, that Cornelia will welcome and love all these orphans. When he learns of Mary’s inability to conceive, he has no issues about it at all, and neither does his foster mother. It is only Mary’s insecurities that stand in the way of the happily ever after, but Christmas has a way of making magic happen. That and a few kiddies acting all puppy-eyed and sad.
This story is wonderful. The author plays me like a violin. My heart breaks for all the kids – they are like three little drummer boys and one little matchstick girl looking up at me, all earnest and never asking for my pity but making me feel like dying inside all the same. I tear up at how unrealistically amazing and wonderful Joe is, and my eyes get all red and puffy by the time I finish this story – I have to tell everyone that I have hay fever. Yes, this story is, on paper, hideously manipulative and the author practically exploits those brats’ orphan status to make me feel all choked up inside. But this is a Christmas story, and I find it so easy to get swept up by all that saccharine here. I’m so happy for everyone by the time the story ends – I really do, sincerely too – and the author has me blubbering like a delirious drunk in the process. I love this one, sniff.
I am rather indifferent about the first two stories in Dreaming of a Western Christmas, but the last story hits all the right notes perfectly, wonderfully. Perhaps it is worth getting this book just to read that one.