December was a month of anthologies, Christmas stories and second chances, so there was a lot of romance to go around. For heroines, we got:
- 1 Batshit Insane Cross-Dressing Page
- 4 Unsatisfied Wives
- 1 Virgin Romance Author
- 1 Virgin Dairy Farmer
- 1 Virgin Accountant (what's with all the virgins in Christmas antho...oooooh, right)
- 1 Psychic Animal Whisperer
- 1 Merry Widow
- 1 Recovering Rape Victim
- 1 Cold-Blooded Assassin
- 2 Sexy Santas
- 1 Poor Little Rich Boy
- 4 Clueless Husbands
- 1 Autistic Savant
- 1 Machiavellian Fop
- 1 Intrepid Investigator
- "I can't love him - I don't even know what he does for a living!"
- "I can't love him - he's a dirty filthy pervert who wants to touch my no-no place with his wee-wee!"
- "I can't love her - I can't even manage eye contact!"
- "I can't trust him - the tabloids said he cheated on me!"
- "I can't love him - he loves his job too much!"
- "I can't love her - she's a lying liar who lies!"
- "I can't love her - she's a total doormat to our selfish asshole children!"
- "I can't love her - she touches cows! In bad places!"
- "I can't love her - I could accidentally murder her during sex!"
- "I totally love him because he's perfect and saintly and if anyone says different I WILL CUT THEM A NEW HOLE WITH MY SHINY KNIFE - but he's sooo out of my league!"
- "I can't love her - she's a romance writer! Them bitches be CRAZY!"
- 1 Elvis-Themed Nativity
- 1 Magical Snowglobe
- Several Spontaneously Humping Woodland Critters
- 1 Impressively-Mustachio'd Detective (who will be getting his own book, please please?)
- 2 Families of Notoriously Passionate Redheads
- 1 Baby Trade
- 1 Really Really Bad Hair Day
- Several Severe Brain Injuries
- 1 Trip Down a Chimney Hampered By Unexpected Boner
- Several Pieces of Furniture Broken by Sex-Addled Telekinesis
Winner of the Julia Quinn Medal in Sequel Baiting.
Ahhhh, now this was a delightful romance that actually did live up to all the hype. A hero with autism. A been-there-done-that heroine. Sexy redheaded brothers who miraculously manage to pimp their own respective stories while still contributing to the narrative at hand! Ashley skillfully tells a familiar story (a hero who can't express himself) from a unique point of view (Asperger's). Definitely worth checking out.
An Affair Before Christmas, by Eloisa James. B+
Winner of the Surprise! Sexual Education Award.
Now this Eloisa James novel came with an intriguing romantic obstacle - the heroine, raised by her man-hating mother to despise the penis, drives her hubby to hair-pulling insanity with her loyal refusal to "vulgarly" succumb to his sexual ministrations. The result? Estrangement, cured only by the heroine's leap into independence and the hero's discovery that love is more important than sex. But of course, both learn that sex can be good! While the heroine is a bit squirrelly, the writing sparkles, the themes are delightfully conveyed, the hero is yummy, and lessons are learned by all (except Jemma, who continues to bash her head against the I'm-TOTALLY-Not-In-Love-With-My-Sexy-Husband-So-Please-Stop-Asking-Until-Book-Six Wall).
So Enchanting, by Connie Brockway. B
Winner of the Lamest Excuse for a Magic Power Award.
This was my first Connie Brockway, and while I really enjoyed the interplay between the hero and heroine, I ended up puzzled by the plot point of the heroine's magic - she can influence animals when she becomes emotional. However, her power doesn't really contribute to the plot (investigating threats made against her ward) - it just serves as an excuse for the heroine to suppress her emotions. Brockway deserves kudos, I guess, for coming up with an original motivation for being repressed, but while the story is enjoyable and the outbursts of the heroine's magic are occasionally amusing, I couldn't understand why Brockway chose to go the paranormal route when there are hundreds of other real-life reasons to repress that would have served just as well.
These Old Shades, by Georgette Heyer. B-
Winner of the Dem Crazy Gingers Award.
Heyer wrote this when she was my age (23), and it is certainly interesting as a piece of fiction. Kidnappings! Baby switchings! An entire family of fiesty people whose tempestuousness is genetically tied in with their redheadedness! Yes, the Fake Heir, despite being raised by bad-tempered Titians, is naturally clumsy, plodding, and interested in agriculture - because he's really a peasant and a brunette! Despite an engaging (if psychotic) heroine, this romance didn't quite match up thanks to an emotionally frozen hero who thaws too slowly - if he does at all. It's hard to tell. Oh! He twitched an eyelash! It must be lurve!
This Year's Christmas Present, by Sandra Hill, Nina Bangs, and Dara Joy. B-
Winner of the Best Way to a Man's Heart Is Through His Hemmoraging Brain Award.
A generally uneven anthology, all three stories depend somewhat on wacky silliness, but only Nina Bangs' story (about a worrywart accountant who's seduced by an old flame) manages it with style. The other two deal with Scrooge-y heroes who discover the true meaning of Christmas after taking serious bumps to the noggin - unbalancing Dara Joy's hero enough to make him start reading romance novels to woo his opposite number, while the swelling grey matter of Sandra Hill's protagonist helps him overcome his aversion to his lover's talent for impregnating cows by hand.
Caressed By Ice, by Nalini Singh. C+
Honourable Mention, Best Way to a Man's Heart Is Through His Hemmoraging Brain Award.
This was my Second Chance Challenge, and while it didn't warm me up to Singh, it did provide greater insight into what doesn't work for me - her worldbuilding is great, her plots are interesting, but her particular frank, declarative writing style made me feel like a kindergartener being lectured on basic facts. I understand why other readers like her, but I've given up on her for now. Much like These Old Shades, we have an emotionally repressed hero - and, again like Shades, I didn't feel this Ice Man thawed enough by the book's end to satisfactorily convey his contribution to the romance. Instead of really experiencing his changing emotions, we get descriptions of how his mentally-created shields act like a psychic garlic press everytime he feels a feeling - nothing says "I Love You" like bleeding out of more than one facial orifice! That being said, I admired the heroine, who (wow, AGAIN like Shades) knows she loves the hero from the get-go and will do what she can to rope him in.
*December Dud* The Holiday Inn, by Phyllis Bourne Williams, Farrah Rochon, and Stefanie Worth. C
Winner of the Gold Medal in the Field of Insomnia Research and Treatment.
My goodness, but this was a boring, BORING book. The general plot of all three stories revolves around fractured couples who make up over the holidays spent in a swanky resort. The result? Lots of stilted dialogue that reads like an uninspired transcript of someone's couples' therapy, smacked up against travel-brochure-perfect descriptions of the hotel perks. None of the stories truly stuck out as being original, and they all tended to blend together, making the whole read about as exciting as a lump of coal. What a snooze.