Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-073205-9
Contemporary Romance, 2004
Take note that this anthology has two romance stories and two straightforward mystery and suspense stories. The stories by Katherine Hall Page and Joanne Pence are mystery-oriented. If Mistletoe and Mayhem is any indication of how things are, the romance authors will have to enlist the mystery authors for a postmortem autopsy for where they went wrong.
In Christie Ridgway’s Out on a Limb, our heroine Stacy Banks finally gets the courage to ask her sexy neighbor Ryan to be her Christmas date. Stacy is a schoolteacher, with “schoolteacher” here functioning both as an occupation and a succinct description of the kind of unimaginative stereotype Stacy is. Predictable hijinks ensue, mostly of the “Omigod, am I sexy? Eeek, am I sexy? Oh, I am sexy? Oh, wow! Ouch!” sort. The last is when I smash the turkey over Stacy’s head to keep her quiet. Still, I have some mild chuckles from the one-liners here.
Katherine Hall Page’s The Two Marys is next. I’m not a mystery reader so I’m new to this author and I haven’t read any of Ms Page’s Faith Fairchild books. In this novella, Faith Fairchild helps her neighbor Mary Bethany when Mary finds in her barn a baby with some clothes, baby food, and fifty thousand dollars. Mary is a much better person than me. It will take me all of five seconds to convince myself that God must have chosen me to be some emissary for the people (but is kind enough to spare me the ordeal of a virgin childbirth) and happily spend the fifty grand in a conscience-free giddy shopping trip. Fifty grand can buy me plenty of nice things for Christmas while my husband stays at home and takes care of the brat. Um, where was I?
This is a fun, sometimes funny, story about how a little mystery come Christmastime may not be such a bad thing after all. Faith is an attractive character, being a genteel New Yorker type married to a minister, and the author has a deft way with combining warmth and humor with a credible mystery that shows even in this short story. If I move to the mystery genre, I would check out this author’s books.
Judi McCoy’s story The Twelve Frogs of Christmas is next. The author’s paranormal books for Zebra intrigued me, although they don’t always work for me. I don’t understand why after her move to Avon she starts churning out unbelievably stupid stories starring people who are just dumb living out plots that are dumber – a painful combo of dumb and dumber, if you will.
And here, it is no different. From braindead aliens bent on procreation to this. Claire St Germaine is obsessed frogs – many of them – that she hopes would turn into men when she kisses them. Don’t ask. Her neighbor Hugh Burton is a frog guy because he is a scientist that spends his lifetime researching them. What he doesn’t understand is why there are so many frogs and men coming in and out of Claire’s place. While the story has a wacky premise that could have worked, Claire is unbearably painful as a mix of every irritating heroine stereotype one can pack into a seventy-pound supermodel body and wacky soon becomes nose-bleedingly nonsensical. Yes it’s Christmas and people sometimes get unreasonably drunk on Christmas but it’s too much, I think, to expect me to be so drunk that I won’t suffer too much while reading about a heroine who kisses frogs and makes them cry.
Joanne Pence’s The Thirteenth Santa has Rebecca Mayfield, a San Francisco homicide officer, investigating the death of a Santa Claus in a shopping mall parking lot during Christmas. I knew it – one of these days someone will lose it and hurt those annoying creatures pushing their faces at harassed shoppers and asking them with a leer, “Santa has a big one for you, pretty lady, ho-ho-ho!”. Is Rebecca Mayfield the heroine of some ongoing series by this author? A check on Amazon shows that Ms Pence has an amateur sleuth series starring a chef. Maybe a story starring that chef lady would be more interesting than this straightforward, familiar police procedural tale. Not that this is a bad story, it isn’t, it’s just a rather ordinary story. On the bright side, Rebecca is free from the more annoying tics that are present in the heroines of the two romantic stories in this anthology. She can – gasp – actually do her job, for one.
So, it is Mystery Authors 2 to Romance Authors 0. If this is Avon’s Christmas gift to me, I think I need another stay at the deprogramming center because romance heroines are looking to be a mighty insufferable species once again and I need a higher threshold of pain brainwashed into me some more. Thanks a lot, Avon, thanks a lot.