I'll Be Home for Christmas

Linda Lael Miller, Catherine Mulvany, Julie Leto and Roxanne St. Claire
2006, Contemporary Romance
Pocket, $7.99, 421 pages, Amazon ASIN 074344227X

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Varies

Remember those “what doesn’t belong” SAT questions? When the biggest reaction I have to an anthology is wondering what kind of reader this bizarre and decidedly schizophrenic collection is targeting, this is not a good thing.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas is all over the place with a corny Linda Lael Miller story featuring an older heroine and no sex, a 25-year old and a 26 year-old super-achieving (and nauseatingly unrealistic) hero and heroine in Catherine Mulvany’s contribution, a hip thirty-something Latina and her stuffed shirt boss from Julie Leto, and, last but far from least, another thirty-something heroine and a former KGB double-agent Russian millionaire from Roxanne St. Claire. The Leto and St. Claire seem like they’re hitting the same vibe, but the Miller and Mulvany are so out of the ballpark – both from each other and from the remaining two stories in the collection – I can’t imagine what the publisher was thinking.

Contemporary Romance
Christmas of the Red Chiefs
Sensuality: Kisses
To put it bluntly, this story is awful. A corny tale with unbelievably clumsy exposition, Ms. Miller’s story features a poor woebegone widow and her stepdaughter finding love and happiness forever in the heroine’s small hometown with a handsome and loving widower. Yeech! It’s all about caroling and love and family and sweetness and light and heartwarming Christmas thingies. (And, for the record, I love Christmas and all things associated with it.) Christmas of the Red Chiefs felt manipulative and unimaginative and…well, just bad on any number of levels. Grade: D-

Contemporary Romance
Once Upon a Christmas
Sensuality: Warm
The older I get the more annoying I find romance-land’s particular brand of super-achieving characters. Catherine Mulvany’s heroine is a 25 year-old bestselling author. Okay, that happens sometimes, so she gets a pass here. The hero, however, is a 26-year old (or maybe he’s 27, like that makes a difference) network TV correspondent who is the proud recipient of a Pulitzer. This guy has supposedly worked his way up from local news, managed to snag a rare network job, pulled duty in Iraq, and earned a Pulitzer along the way. Uh-huh. (Am I the only one who thinks this kind of stuff diminishes real achievements?) The story involves these wonder kids going home to the ranch (yes, really) and a matchmaking visit from the heroine’s ghostly mom. To make the contrast between this story and the Miller even more dramatic, a big chunk of it takes place during the characters’ teenage years – the characters’ uninteresting teenage years, I might add. Corny, yes, again, and predictable, Catherine Mulvany has certainly done better before (I recommend Shadows All Around Her). Make that far better before. Grade: D

Contemporary Romance
Meltdown
Sensuality: Warm
Things pick up considerably with Julie Leto’s entry. The story of a Latina PR executive trying to loosen up her stuffed shirt boss was both well done and hot. That is, until the Mayan magic element kicks in. See, while on vacation in Mexico the heroine comes across a mysterious old woman who encourages her to make a wish on a magical coin. Guess what she wishes for? The author actually manages some character development here within the very narrow confines of this story, I liked both the hero and heroine, but would have liked it all a whole lot better without the contrived magic theme. Grade: B-

Contemporary Romance
You Can Count On Me
Sensuality: Warm
Roxanne St. Claire’s story of a security operative detailed to protect the daughter of a visiting Russian millionaire is also pretty nifty. Amidst doings involving a stolen Faberge egg and a visit to New York’s American Girl store (okay, so I’ll admit I think those dolls are cool), Ms. St. Claire puts together a fun and lively story involving a security expert on her first real assignment and a former KGB-CIA double agent who’s now rich enough to have a fancy New York apartment. Easily the best of the bunch, this story moves at a spanking pace, features larger than life characters who are also somehow believable, and is altogether a winner. Grade: B

The bottom line? If you’re a big fan of Julie Leto or Roxanne St. Claire, both authors contribute good stories to this anthology. Otherwise, I’d advise taking a pass on this one.

-- Sandy Coleman

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