Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-4223-7
Mixed Genre, 2001 (Reissue)
Simple Gifts is all about the crass commercialization of Christmas. No, I’m not questioning the motives of Pocket reissuing two novellas from 1994 and 1995 from their two top moneymakers – 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.
Anyway, it’s not the motive. It’s also the theme of these novellas. Stupid dumb girls rescued by millionaires. Merry Christmas, people – give them 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 story as a case study. It’s pretty much the whole Regency historical genre 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 nonsense.
They meet at a masquerade, he steals some kisses and molests her a bit, she doesn’t want to marry – ever! – even as she melts inside, and they marry after he shows her what she is missing out on. The end.
Anyway, onwards to the contemporary story Double Exposure. This is a very long and hence very excruciating read of girly love minus breasts blossoming into girly love with breasts. No relationship development, no maturity, nothing but this heroine going gaga over the hero’s good looks over the years. The 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.
The 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 the heroine doesn’t realize anything is off until the last page of the last chapter. She storms out. He 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.
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 easily 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.
The boss chases after her, the heroine goes “Eeek, no, please, no, no, eeek!” and finally relents, the end.
Change of Heart is the reverse. The hero wants to marry the heroine in order to make babies. He’s rich too. The heroine, suffering from the aftermaths of an unfaithful husband, demures. “Eeek, no, no, please, eeeek!” The hero pursues her, she relents, the end.
Incidentally, a lot of space too goes to her genius twelve-year old boy and his girlfriend. Don’t worry, no underage sex here. In fact, since this is a Christmas story, we have lots of 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.
All four stories in Simple Gifts 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 that makes the world go round?