November 10, 2015
It's short story time!
The Last Chance Christmas Ball
What Happens Under the Mistletoe
So, I just finished two anthology books - one with sex and one without. The first one is from the Word Wenches authors - Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Rice, Susan Fraser King/Sarah Gabriel, Nicola Cornick, Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose and Joanna Bourne, titled The Last Chance Christmas Ball. The other one is titled What Happens under the Mistletoe, and the authors who participated in this one are Sabrina Jeffries, Karen Hawkins, Candace Camp and Meredith Duran. Here's the up side to both of these books - all the stories are new - the down side - they are short.
Let's start with The Last Chance Christmas Ball. First of all, there were a lot of stories trying to get squeezed into around 300 pages; if a deep character study is what you require in your stories, you're not going to find it here. This is just a relaxing story for the holiday season.
The majority of the stories in this book were second chance romance; which means there wasn't too much character development required. Most of the characters had a past together. I will confess that my favorite story in the bunch was a couple who hadn't met previously. It might be an interesting experiment for the publishing world to create short stories that are a little longer and give us a 500 page book. I for one would buy it - because I'm a sucker.
The Last Chance Christmas Ball had a neat little plot device. All the short stories happen at a Christmas ball at the Dowager Countess of Holburne home, which all the characters are going to attend. While the intention of this plot device was a great idea, it didn't necessarily work. I would have liked the stories to flow seamlessly from one story to another. Oh sure, there were a few which connected, but only because of family relationships, not the nuance of the story lines.
In the introduction of this book we are bombarded with all the character who are going to be in the later stories. By the time I read each story, I did not remember the intro for each of them, or their problems; it was sort of a waste of space. I would have been happier without the plethora of characters. Oh sure, there should have been an intro, but all the name dropping was not necessary, nor did it add anything to the stories in the following chapters. If it had been me doing the writing, I would have had the dowager tapping her chin wondering who to invite. That would have been it. Then for the epigraph to each story I would have the dowager thinking pithy thoughts about each character in the following story. But, no one asked my opinion.
The stories were so short, it's hard to review each one individually, but here’s a quick rundown:
My True Love Hath My Heart by Joanna Bourne: a second chance romance involving spies, revenge and thieves.
A Scottish Carol by Susan King: a second chance romance between a widowed woman and a doctor.
Christmas Larks by Patricia Rice: another second chance romance, this time between two old friends. There are also some charming talking mice in this story, which I thought added a bit of whimsy. Too bad it turned into a Scooby-Doo reveal, I would have preferred magical mice.
In the Bleak Midwinter by Mary Jo Putney: once again a second chance. By this story the second chances were becoming a bit repetitious. This one has a wounded war hero hiding away from everyone who loves him. Then he is forced back into the land of the living by his lost love.
Old Flames Dance by Cara Elliott: again, a second change. The brother to the war hero finds his romance with an old friend who has returned to England looking for her lost love - lost love - lost love. A lot of lost loves in this book, a lot of misunderstandings, and a lot of jumping to the wrong conclusions.
A Season for Marriage by Nicola Cornick: this one revolves around a married couple. Of all the stories in this book, this one deserved a longer platform. Nothings better in romance than a marriage on the rocks. But for that plot line to work, complex issues need to be explored. We don't have that in this story. Too bad.
Miss Finch and the Angel by Jo Beverley: this is the first story which wasn't a second chance romance. The dowager’s companion and a happy-go-lucky duke are the focus.
And finally, Mistletoe and Kisses by Anne Gracie: this one was my favorite. While I knew the rest of the stories were taking place during the Christmas season, this is the first one that I had a sense of the season. I could almost smell the crispness in the air. It’s not a second chance romance and it works. We have a woman who is about to leave her home and a man (and his sister) who are snowbound at her house. I loved Ms. Gracie's offering.
Overall, The Last Chance Christmas Ball is what one would expect of some talented authors doing short stories. Nothing earth-shattering, just some quick tales that may enhance your holiday season and should be read with a cup of hot chocolate in one’s hand.
On to the second anthology, What Happens Under the Mistletoe. Unlike The Last Chance Christmas Ball, What Happens Under the Mistletoe has enough space for everyone to have
at least one whankee-roo-hoo scene. There is also a little bit more character development; but remember this is still a book of "short" stories so there isn't a whole lot of complex storytelling going on.
First off is The Heiress and the Hothead by Sabrina Jeffries. This one is part of the Sinful Suitors series, and we have a couple of 21st century politically correct characters residing in 1829. Lord Stephen Cory is a journalist fighting for the rights of mill workers and Amanda Kane is an American heiress who owns a mill. Needless to say these two butt heads, immediately, form the wrong conclusions about each other and bicker. It was actually quite a good story - until. Usually, a short story is not going to trip my OMG button, but this one did. I have ranted before about couples who take time out from the kidnapping, killers chasing them, running from the law/pirates/murderer to have a spot of whankee-roo-hoo. This one takes the cake. Go no further if spoilers upset you! Amanda and Stephen are trapped in a burning building, about to die. However they can no longer help themselves. Yep, they have hot hot-watch-out-below-Mr. Potato-head whankee-roo-hoo. OMG, I just had to laugh. In a burning building! Obviously Ms. Jeffries has never been inside a building which is on fire. There's heat and smoke and gasping and choking and fire and darkness. So, instead of finding a way out, they partake in the "one last time before I die" routine. By the way, there was another way out.
Next is Twelve Kisses to Midnight by Karen Hawkins. This one is tied to The Oxenburg Princes. Guess which irritating secondary character show up? Yep, that hi-lar-i-ous grandmother Natasha. We do get to see more of Crown Prince Nikolai, he seemed to be pretty sexy by the way. But the story isn't about him, it's about Marcus Sutherland and Kenna. This was a second change romance with a couple who really really had some misunderstanding issues.
By Any Other Name by Candace Camp featured Gregory and Rylla. This one has a girl disguised as a boy trying to locate her brother. It also has a hero who thinks there is something wrong with him because he is attracted to a guy. The story tackled way too much for a short story, hence it seemed to be a bit rushed.
The Sweetest Regret by Meredith Duran. This is another second chance love story and another misunderstanding/jumping to the wrong conclusion plot. By the way, it was a biiiggg jump to the wrong conclusion story. We also have a horrible dastardly father, who gets off way too easily in the end. This one didn't seem like a short story at all.
Bottom line. Both books are easy, fast holiday reads. There isn't any stand out story and none will stick with me as I move on to another book. However, if you are looking for something to relax with between other romances, either one of these might do the trick. Just watch out for the fire scene - on second thought, maybe a storyline might stick with me. I can hear myself in some distant future time asking someone, "Remember that story with the couple who did the hot-bootle-ooo while the house was burning down around their ears? What was that story? I guess I’ll go to a message board and see if someone else can remember."
Time/Place: Mostly Regency England