Kissing Under the Mistletoe
In Romancelandia, Christmas means brand new romance anthologies. The folks at St. Martin’s Paperbacks have collected stories by some of their best-known historical romance authors into a single anthology, and they’re here to warm your hearts. For the most part they succeed, although one of the stories is rather cheesy.
Great Scot! by Suzanne Enoch
Grade: B- Sensuality: Warm
Spinster Jane Bansil has a problem – she is recently unemployed, having helped her charge elope, and heads to Scotland in disgrace accompanied by her cousin. She tries to convince herself that she is satisfied with what life has given her, but she yearns for romance – and sex – and peace and quiet, because life with the McTaggert clan is anything but peaceful. Fortunately, she meets the handsome architect Brennan Andrews, who might provide her with a way out.
The book has Enoch’s usual reliance on phonetic Scottish accents and spicy banter, and it wraps up quickly and with a rather thin plot to boot. But Enoch’s unusual character-types carry the day, and it’s a perfectly enjoyable story, with a lovable heroine and a lot of fun little romantic moments to be had. This is also a offshoot from Enoch’s fun Wild Wicked Highlanders series.
Christmas at Dewberry Hollow by Amelia Grey
Grade: A- Sensuality Level: Warm
Social misfit Isabelle Reed, forgotten granddaughter of a viscount, runs the local inn with her mother Alma, and she’s hoping to spend a merry festive season with friends and family nearby. She plans to never leave the small town of Dewberry Hollow after being disappointed by a crush at a tender age. She’s stunned when she shoots a presumptive intruder, and he turns out to be a gentleman accompanied by his grandfather, who is suffering from dementia, looking for a specific tree – a tall birch with his grandparents’ initials carved into it, which his grandfather insists exists in Dewberry Hollow. Isabelle, with her rifle and knowledge of the woods near the inn, vows she will keep Mr. Gatestone’s vow to get his grandfather back in time for Christmas dinner. Soon she finds herself attracted to the roguish Mr. Gatestone, but even as close as Gate and she become, Isabelle knows they cannot overcome the class differences between them. Or can she?
Grey wins the reader over with this sweet, fun, if predictable holiday tale. Its brimming warmth and tenderness ultimately work beautifully, and one really roots for Isabelle to be happy, even if those class boundaries have to be stretched a bit so she can land her HEA. I loved her crusty point of view – she knows that gentlemen do not offer favors to women who are ladies without strings attached, and though she wants Gate, she does not expect him to love her back. Gate too – in spite of his goofy name – is an endearing man who can’t believe he’s tumbling into the vortex of love. This is a winner no matter how you slice it. It’s a little insta-lusty, but darn it, I loved it. This should have been a full novel.
My Mistletoe Beau by Anna Bennett
Grade: C- Sensuality Level: Warm
The amazingly-named Eva Tidings stands on the doorstep of London’s most eligible rogue with one mission in mind – to break into the home of Jack Hardwick, Earl of Frostbough (Yes. Really) and steal back the gold-plated watch he’d swindled from her beloved father during a game of cards. After having tried to get the watch back through polite methods she’s done with pleasantries, but though she manages to gain entry to the man’s house she’s horrified to be caught – with her hands filled with the man’s undergarments.
It turns out that Jack was on a mission of revenge because Eva’s father, Lord Gladwood (Yes. Really) stole the woman his widowed father, the Duke of Northcott, had planned to marry. Jack’s father withered in the face of this betrayal, withdrawing from society and Jack himself, and Jack has never gotten over the sight of his vibrant father turning into a mere shadow of himself. As far as Jack is concerned, Lord Gladwood should never have been so impulsive as to have wagered such an important item. Eva, naturally, has no idea that this is how her parents met and just wants the watch back. One thing leads to another, which leads to Eva singing loudly and badly on the Earl’s couch and the Earl trying to shut her up by threatening to get naked in front of her. Realizing she won’t leave without the watch, he finally names his price – she must agree to pretend to be courting him over the holiday season, culminating in an engagement which will hopefully please his grandmother, and then he’ll turn it over.
We all know that Jack’s going to fall into his own trap and there’s a complex reason why he needs a fake fiancée. But let’s brass tack this – I hated smug Jack’s ass and kept hoping that he’d die of frostbite to the weenus before the end of the novella. He’s so annoying, so painfully annoying – and not in the ‘I’m such a bad widdle boy’ way Bennett thinks he is. He’s just a baby. And of course they both fall afoul of the Big Mis because they won’t talk to each other. I hated him and found her to be a ninny.
Bennett doesn’t take herself too seriously, which makes it impossible for us to care about Eva’s and Jack’s fairly serious plight. She ladles the cheese on so heavily she could’ve sold it for a prime chunk of change in Wisconsin. The groanworthy humor goes on and on. There is a reference by Jack to his own shapely sugarplums and a character named Lady Rufflebum, for heaven’s sake. My Mistletoe Beau is the only miss in the entire collection, and it’s a pretty significant one.