An Enchanted Season

Maggie Shayne, Erin McCarthy, Nalini Singh and Jean Johnson
2007, Romance
Penguin, $14.00, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 042521785X

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Varies

My first taste of the holiday anthology lot for this year and it wasn’t too bad. An Enchanted Season has two standout pieces which made this moderately overpriced collection worth it for me. Let’s hope there are more where they came from.

Fantasy Romance
In Maggie Shayne’s Melting Frosty, Holly and Matthew are strangers thrown together through some magical workings of fate. Holly is visiting her childhood home for the holidays just when Matt comes to view it as a possible investment. A blizzard strands them together and Holly attempts to put a little Christmas cheer into Matt’s life while Matt wants nothing to do with the holiday.

Considering Maggie Shayne is known for her vampire romances, I expected something a little darker. Her tale of a magic hat bringing these two lost souls together was too syrupy for me. Holly and Matt are nice enough characters, if a bit too clichéd. The story isn’t cringe-worthy, I just couldn’t help being bored. Hallmark Hall of Fame: The R rated version. Grade: C+

Paranormal Romance
Back in Cuttersville, OH, the scene of two previous Erin McCarthy novels, we meet Charlotte and Will, best friends both hopelessly in love with each other. They also think that each other's love is unrequited. Charlotte’s sisters convince her to use the family tradition of witchcraft to finally have a sexy night with Will, only to realize that she didn’t need any magic in the first place.

Erin McCarthy’s contemporaries hold a special place in my heart. Charlotte’s Web may technically be a short story, but everything I love is there: humor, heat, and above all, heart. Charlotte, her two crazy sisters and Will are a treat to read. The Christmas aspect isn’t at the forefront, but no matter how you look at it, this is a winner. Grade: A

Shapeshifter Romance
Beat of Temptation, a prequel to Nalini Singh’s popular shapeshifter series, will go down as an all time favorite of mine. Tamsyn is mated to Nate, but not in the physical sense. They have known each other, being in the same pack, most of their lives. When Tamsyn turns 15, something snaps in both of them and they cannot deny they are fated for each other. Nate, being 10 years older, thinks Tamsyn isn’t ready, and won’t be for quite some time. Tamsyn, now in her twenties, can’t get Nate to understand that he is all she wants and she now is ready to finish the mating process.

If someone would have told me a few months ago that my first A+ for AAR would go to a short story from a Christmas anthology about shapeshifters of all things, I would have laughed in their face saying “silly, I don’t even read shapeshifter books.” How wrong I was. Nate is everything Alpha, but he loves Tamsyn and he does what he thinks is best for her. Tamsyn loves Nate equally but must realize that he will never look at her as the adult she is if she doesn’t take drastic measures. What made this work so well is that Tamsyn doesn’t cross the line when it comes to what she will put up with. She finally says, "enough is enough" and takes some action. Nothing under 100 pages has ever had my heart stuck semi-permanently in my throat before. There is no doubt that I will be reading the ensuing series now. Grade: A+

Fantasy Romance
Steve and Rachel, affianced couple struggling to run a secluded B&B are on the verge of loosing everything. In walks three young men with a warning that the mortgage money needs to be on time or else. Not long after three more people show up, strange people who seem to make things…happen. Oh, and Steve and Rachel seem to be stuck in a relationship rut. Maybe the three newcomers can help out with that, too.

Hmmm. Gifts of the Magi is, well…different. Wish I could say different in a good way, but no. It’s a fantastical plot with some modern day miracle workers who don’t do anything too amazing (so no awe factor) and a couple who are already a couple and love each other, but haven’t had any passion for each other in a few months (nix the romance, too). I give Jean Johnson credit for creativity. The idea is very interesting. Sadly, the poor construction of a plot and lack of interesting goings on just made the last part of this otherwise delightful anthology sag Grade: D-

Funny, that my favorite stories are also the ones that seem the least in the spirit of the season. I won’t be complaining. If you want something to curl up with that will leave sugar plums dancing in your head, go ahead and read Melting Frosty. But if you’re looking for some flat out great reading, no matter what the season, check out the McCarthy and Singh. Gifts of the Magi. I’m sure you can guess what I’d recommend for that one.

-- Lisa Gardineer

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