by syaffolee

A Christmas Anthology

I usually stay far away from Christmas themed books with romantic undercurrents unless the author is someone I would read regardless of the subject matter. Maybe I’m just a cynical person. Or maybe it’s because some Christmas stories skirt too close to the “inspirational”–which annoys me. Miracles which force the characters to act (rather than having the characters choosing their own decisions) seem de rigueur for these stories–making them cliched and as sweet as candied plums. Too many authors go for the sappy feel-good instead of the edgy such as, say, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising.

An Enchanted Season contains four novellas. I got a hold of this book only because there was one author I wanted to read (who also happened to have penned the best novella of the lot). There were two other authors who I have read before but have only found so-so–although only one of them managed to rise above the mediocre. The last author I have never heard of before, and I doubt I’ll ever want to read her again.

“Melting Frosty” by Maggie Shayne. The two main protagonists, Matt and Holly, have had terrible things happen to them during Christmas in the past, but they have dealt with it in different ways. When the two meet, it is up to the heroine to convince Matt that Christmas is supposed to be about joy and happiness. This just seemed like a generic trapped-in-a-cabin-with-a-stranger-because-
there’s-a-freak-blizzard story. Nothing in Shayne’s story was original or striking enough to elevate it above the kazillion others with similar themes.

“Charlotte’s Web” by Erin McCarthy. An unfortunate title, since it evokes the children’s story of the same name but has absolutely nothing to do with it. Like Shayne’s story, this one has a well used cliche as its backbone–two childhood friends falling in love. Fortunately, it doesn’t use the particular variant in which one person abruptly sees the other person in a different light (which to me, shatters the suspension of disbelief). Instead, Charlotte and Will are already in love with each other–they’re just too afraid to admit it. It takes the sudden manifestation of Charlotte’s latent telekinetic powers for them to take a risk at moving their relationship beyond friendship. This story worked because the plot focused on one problem and none of the characters were actually trying to change each other.

“Beat of Temptation” by Nalini Singh. This is the reason why I got the book. “Beat of Temptation” is a prequel to Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, although it’s odd in that I would recommend reading at least one of the books in the series before reading the novella–otherwise the reader might find some things confusing. But that’s a minor detail. In an alternate future world, the Psy have attempted to outlaw Christmas–but with little effect. However, this takes a back seat to the main part of the story which deals with Tamsyn, the healer of the shape-shifting leopard pack, and the mating bond tug-of-war she has with Nate, a fellow pack member. Singh really drags the two protagonists through the emotional wringer, but it’s worth it. In the end, when Nate presents Tamsyn with a bouquet of orchids, the reader actually believes that he means it and that the token was not just obtained to get into someone’s good graces. Well, it was impressive to me that the author got me to buy into the ending–I’m usually quite skeptical about men and flowers.

“Gifts of the Magi” by Jean Johnson. Steve and his fiancee Rachel are struggling with a family bed-and-breakfast. The weather is horrible, the guests cancel their reservations, and their relationship is on the rocks. It doesn’t seem like a very good holiday until three unexpected visitors show up. I didn’t particularly like this story. The three visitors–Bella, Cassi, and Mike–were sort of annoying. I felt as if the entire story was a deus ex machina. If Steve and Rachel truly cared about each other, they could have worked it out even with a failing bed-and-breakfast–no magical interference needed.

I found it interesting that the two stories that I liked out of the entire anthology weren’t exactly Christmasy. The preachy Christmas magic woo-woo stuff was probably just a bit too much for me. I’d recommend the Singh and the McCarthy. Now if only people will figure out a way where they could sell novellas separately