Give Love
by Francine Craft, Linda Hudson-Smith, and Michelle Monkou; contemporary (2003)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-434-X


Kisses And Mistletoe by Francine Craft kicks off this year's Christmas anthology from Arabesque and it's like what happens when you put a bottle of sleeping pills with How Stella Got Her Groove Back in a blender. Single mom Janet Smith is dragged into a club by a matchmaking friend, and this matchmaking friend introduces her to Nick Redmond, a musician that's ten years younger than Janet. Janet will be the only person that worries about the age difference, but that worry is forgotten when Nick's ex-girlfriend looms over the horizon to cause trouble. Yay, catfight for Christmas! Also, this story is not at all subtle. Every secondary character in this novella - apart from the Ho - is a matchmaker. Nick's mother, upon meeting Janet the first time, immediately pegs Janet as the future Mrs Redmond. Everyone that meets the couple cooes about how well-matched they are, when's the wedding, la-dee-da. It occurs to me that the poor woman in Rosemary's Baby probably undergoes the same experience that Janet is having right now. I mean, why else will we have so many people with an unhealthy interest in this couple? Plotting laziness or the preparation for the conception of Satan's baby? You be the judge. I'm down with flu. Thinking too much makes my head hurt.

Linda Hudson-Smith revisits the couple of her novella from a previous anthology in Fantasy Fulfilled. Ashleigh Ayers and Austin Carrington are finally on their way to their happily ever after. No, wait, here comes the Ho! That's right, more catfights for Christmas. Ashleigh is still a pathetic doormat and Austin is still an idiot and half the problems in this story arise because Ashleigh is a spineless and whiny nitwit. Oh, can they be happy? Ashleigh goes eek-eek-eek in shivery doubt. Can their love last? Oh, will Austin love her forever? I know it's Christmas, but seriously, Ashleigh? Please visit the vet and ask to be put down and out of your misery, thanks.

May I ask what happened to this author anyway? She used to write credible dialogues, but now her recent books are filled with greeting card tripe passed off as conversations. Fantasy Fulfilled is no different. "I want us to take our time with each other. The crescendo already promises to be a mind destroyer... I want us to love both the player and the game" - hello? Who talks like this other than creepy gurus on some cheaply produced informercial?

I've enjoyed this author's books in the past and it really hurts to see the author's writing degenerate into Mumbo-Jumbo Greeting Card nonsense. Please, Ms Hudson-Smith, stop writing about crackpot Martians and come back to Earth for your muse.

Just when I am starting to believe that this anthology is not called Give Love but Kill Ho: Volume One, then comes Michelle Monkou's Someone To Love. This novella is easily the best of the bunch because the heroine, widow and single mom Jennifer Stone has a smart head on her shoulders. The hero Thane Jackson is an idiot - he's a self-proclaimed romantic that has the nerve to castigate Jennifer for being a mother when all he does is to spend some happy fun and game time with the eight-year old daughter Patti. As usual, he disapproves of Jennifer being so busy with trying to make money to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, the usual nonsense.

But don't be fooled by the initial anti-career overtones of the story. Someone To Love is subversive: in the end, Thane is so in love with Jennifer that when Jennifer moves to another city for a career upgrade, he meekly asks to come along with her. Score one for hardworking single mothers everywhere!

But, here's the problem: Patti. That creature... ugh. We're talking about a monstrous little ghast that asks Thane to kiss Mommy when Mommy is (pretending to be) unconscious and then giggle and tell Thane that Mommy doesn't have bad breath. I'll just quote the touching letter she writes to Mommy.

Mommy,

It's Patti. Your daughter. Mommy, T.J. loves you. He told me that he loves you. He is telling the truth. I went to see daddy. He gave me a sign. You can love T.J. Daddy understands and so do I. Please love T.J. before he loves someone else.

That is singularly the most terrifying paragraph I have ever read in a long, long time. At least this eight-year old knows enough to dot the acronyms and is wise enough to use "so do I" instead of "me too", I guess. I'm still calling for the exorcist.

The novellas by Francine Craft and Linda Hudson-Smith are nothing more than plotless non-happenings spiced up by the ever reliable Evil Ho subplot. Michelle Monkou could have delivered the only readable novella in this anthology if that Patti monster isn't so grotesque in her saccharine cuteness. So that leaves Give Love with not one decent novella worth the money and the time. Give Love? Give me a break, more likely.

Rating: 44


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