Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-8608-7
Historical Romance, 2015
Four of the more recognizable names on Pocket’s historical romance roster come together to share with everyone What Happens Under the Mistletoe. Well, given how little the stories here vary from the usual formula, the answer is on the non-happening side.
Sabrina Jeffries starts the show with The Heiress and the Hothead, which pairs two immature creatures who are, fortunately, beautiful or else their existence will have no worth whatsoever. Lord Stephen Cory fancies himself a radical. Which means, from the comforts of his wealthy life and lofty position in society, he lectures everyone else about how we are all living our lives wrongly. His favorite topic of the moment is the evil that are the English mills. He gives speeches and write tracts about it – I hope he makes sure that the papers he uses are made by the nicer mills in town. When he hears that an American mill owner is in town, a female one to boot, he automatically assumes that she is a prune-faced spinster. Well, when he kisses a hot babe who turns out to be Amanda, the joke is on him. Or is it?
This one has two characters who live on melodramatic hyperbole. All mill owners are evil! No, no, all English aristocrats are pampered brats! They will hiss and argue while experiencing explosive lust for the other person, until they learn how wrong they are about the other person. Amanda loves the kids and the poor! Stephen writes and rants about the kids and the poor! After a “we may be locked in this mill and die – forever – so let’s make love!” moment of passion, these two are in love, the end. How old are these people again?
Karen Hawkins is next with Twelve Kisses to Midnight, in which our hero Marcus Sutherland mistakenly kisses his ex-girlfriend Kenna Stuart under the mistletoe and reopens all the old wounds between them. This is a big misunderstanding story with stubborn refusal to communicate or compromising as cherry on top. These two wasted over ten years with pointless, bitter sulking (although Marcus predictably shags every lady in sight in the meantime, because the worth of a romance hero is equal to the number of disposable skanks he shags and doesn’t respect) and I’m not sure that these two are in any better position by the last page.
Candace Camp’s By Any Other Name has Amaryllis “Rylla” Campbell donning men’s clothes and trying to locate her MIA brother Daniel. You see, Daniel is debt-ridden and what not, but a loving romance heroine never allows dangerously reckless siblings to be held accountable for their actions. Rylla instead wants to track down Daniel so that they can all have a happy Christmas gathering – never mind that no one else in the family is willing to talk to him. She runs off to explore gambling dens and such, all the while without bringing along anything that she can use to protect herself. Our genius of the decade is soon unmasked to be a lady by our hero Gregory Rose. He steals a kiss, assumes that she is another lady, and stupidity ensues, with Rylla bringing on 99% of that stupidity. Seriously, this is one young lady who is so way out of her depths that it is not even funny to see her stumbling her way from one point to another.
On the bright side, there is plenty of unintentional hilarity here, thanks to Rylla constantly complaining about how Society treats women unfairly and how women deserve to be treated as equals… even she demonstrates that she is barely functional without a man like Gregory propping her up.
Meredith Duran closes the show with Sweetest Regret. Georgie Trent, a diplomat’s daughter, is left to make sure that the boisterous guests at her father’s home are entertained while her father runs off to do a diplomatic thing. Among the guests is Lucas Godwin, who flirted with her two years ago and had her thinking that perhaps… Well, he decamped on a diplomatic thing shortly after, so there is no “perhaps” with that man after all. Incidentally, isn’t it amusing that our heroine is stuck with a hero whose behavior echoes her father’s? Maybe Freud is right when he said that all girls want to marry their fathers. At any rate, this is another tale of two people who are frowning because of wrong assumptions and mistaken beliefs, but unlike the two fools in Karen Hawkins’s story, these two wasted only two years and they do have a pretty good thing going once they stop sniping at one another and start talking.
Candace Camp’s story is the weakest of the lot, but come to think of it, the author manages to capture the popular “I’m so feisty, I’m so stupid as a result!” trope that is ever present in the romance genre. The other author’s stories also capture various facets of the more popular tropes and story lines in that genre. Therefore, while What Happens Under the Mistletoe will make a pretty unnecessary addition to any reader’s book pile, it may just have its uses as a primer to historical romance for people who are unfamiliar with that kind of stories.
Of course, there are probably much better stories out there that will serve this function just as well. I’m just trying to say something nice about this anthology. It’s Christmastime, after all!