Santa Baby
by Lisa Jackson, Elaine Coffman, Kylie Adams, and Lisa Plumley; contemporary (2002)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 0-8217-7294-5


Unless I am under the influence of too many bad Charlotte Church warblings, I don't think that song Santa Baby has anything to do with women desperately trying to get pregnant and wedded before Christmas. The singer wanted a ring, yes, but I don't think she's asking for a successful fertilization to come along with the Tiffany rock she wants so badly.

There is a very common theme in three of the four novellas here: woman, you are sad, pathetic, and desperately unhappy unless you have a few babies (it doesn't even have to be yours, buy one from Cambodia today!) on your knees and a man for you to rest your chin adoringly at his knees and looks up at him in full love and worship as he pats your silky Head-and-Shouldered hair and asks you to go fetch him a beer before the game starts on TV.

Kylie Adams, thankfully, is above that nonsense.

(Then again, she probably still hasn't been infected long enough to Silhouette Homely Values nonsense that plague the RWA hallways like the new Legionnaire's disease. Who says I'm being pessimistic?)

One more thing. Lisa Jackson's A Baby For Christmas and Elaine Coffman's Under The Mistletoe are actually first published in 1997. You may want to check your anthologies from that year before you buy this one. Incidentally, it's a shame, really, because Lisa Plumley and Kylie Adams' stories can kick the butts of the sorry-ass reissues of the other two authors. Midlist authors 1, established authors 0.

If I'm someone else, I'd probably enjoy Lisa Plumley's Merry, Merry Mischief better. Katie Moore is a party gal - quick, catch her and pickle her in a jar for the Smithsonian before she gets the Repent Ye Sluttie smackdown - but when she encounters her workaholic too-serious ex Jack Brennan staying back to work on the weekend before Christmas, she has to go awww. When he is stuck with his dad's baby daughter, guess who has to do the babysitting. That's right - the woman. Here, Katie Katie, coddle that baby. Here, Katie, Katie, feel your Unfertilized Ova and realize what an Unhappy Woman You Are. Repent! Be a mother, be a wife now - all hail the Divine Homespun Old Fashioned Values Of The Apple Pie!

If I strip away the Homespun City Girl Rediscovers Her Eggs BS, I'd actually find that Katie and Jack make an appealing couple of polar opposites in love. When he offers to share the workload of bringing up baby (lip service, lip service - that's what they all say) I actually almost believe that guy. And still, Katie doesn't exactly give up her happy-go-lucky life, and best of all, he and she agree to a compromise between her outgoing nature and his more introvert personality.

This is one novella where the characters demand that I look at them and smile at their falling in love, even when it's a love over the babysitting thing. If this novella has taken its time to show love and affection as opposed to being yet another Infant Panacea Magic Show, I'd be giving this two thumbs up without hesitation. As it is, this is still the most heartfelt romance of the four. Not that it's a great feat, really, because the romantic aspects of the other three novellas are pretty much the pits.

Kylie Adams, however, takes her funny fork and stabs me to death. Okay, I really should say that she should take time to develop her characters, because at this point, her secondary characters overwhelm and even drown her main characters, but I have so much fun laughing over Holiday Stud that everything's okay. Really.

It's still a silly piece of crap, but it's a fun one nonetheless. Any author who dares to make a post-9/11 airport funny is alright with me. Where other members of the Romance Novel Sisterhood remain united in staleness, tameness, and determined to turn the clock back on female progress by a hundred years, it's really nice to see Kylie Adams tossing up some in-your-face bitchiness, dark humor, and gay conspiracies in a romance novel. I have almost forgotten to laugh at the sillier side of life after wading through so many humorless books, so thank you, ma'am!

Out-of-job pilot Colby Douglas is intrigued and shocked at the same time when he learns that his buddy is a very rich male hustler. When this hustler's latest assignment clashes with another assignment, so to speak, George Bigalow, Male Gigolo here asks Colby to step in. Hey, Audra Jarecki, the woman who hired George, won't know the difference.

What? You're screaming in disgust before there's a gigolo in this story? Shoo, shoo, go off and read something - Debbie Macomber has a new hardcover out. Go eat apple pies and leave me in peace.

Now, where was I? Audra hires "George" to pretend to be her boyfriend on her Christmas homecoming. Yes, Ms Adams is a bit behind in the Silhouette Progress Chart timeline, because this plot is overkilled in 1990. Ms Adams, contemporary romances are now overkilling the "I Need To Lose My Virginity To That Bad Boy Who Left Town And Stood Me Up At Prom Night Ten Years Ago And Now He's Back, A Millionaire, TAKE MY HYMEN BAY-BEE AND GIMME A BAYBEE!" thing.

Anyway, there's not much romance here, as Holiday Stud is more of an ensemble comedy. Audra's family is hilarious. There's the ambulance-chasing elder sister Judith and her husband, both lawyers who cut cost by starring in their own cheesy TV commercials (call 495-I-SUE now!). Younger sister Reese is married to a golf freak and she has "sexually frustrated" tattooed on her forehead. Younger brother Max is the trademarked Mandatory Gay Guy In A Kylie Adams Story and believes that every man in Hollywood is too. (Hey, I believe that every man in Hollywood wants me bad, so who am I to say anything?)

From the drunk sisters scene ("I hate that drug (Viagra). All it does is allow a mediocre lover to keep you bored longer and more often.") all the way to more silly shennigans, this one keeps me amused no end. I'm charmed not by the romance of nondescript Colby and slightly more well-written Audra, but by the whole vibrant and lively atmosphere of handbag, lipstick, sex jokes, and bitchy sisterhood. Apart from Baby, Baby, so far all of this author's stuff have captivated me because the women's attitudes towards sex and life are so beautifully hedonistic compared to the puritannical save-me, fertilize-me, marry-me, pamper-me damsels-in-distress of what seems like every other books out there.

So no, Audra never makes apologies for hiring a gigolo. Although I'm puzzled by her reaction to Colby when his identity is revealed. Duh, I thought everybody knows that people in the sex as entertainment business never use their real names. Audra shouldn't blink an eye when "George"'s driver's license bears another name. (The photo, however, is a different story, but nothing a few stories about plastic surgery can't fix, surely? I thought everybody gets everything artifically enlarged in the business... right?)

Never mind. So what if the resolution is silly. Kylie Adams gives fluffy romantic comedies a good name.

Elaine Coffman's Under The Mistletoe actually has a very nicely done couple in the marriage-mad Southern belle Holly Noel and reclusive Scrooge Dr Stanley Levine. If they are allowed to fall in love by themselves under unforced circumstances, I will want to be there all the way.

But my god, Holly's seven brats! They are the worst hellions I've ever encountered. They not only ruin Stanley's lawn and break his windows what seems like every other day, they steal his milk, leave chewing gum in his doorknob, and more, every day for every month, mind you. And you know what? Stanley is painted as the villain for wanting those monsters out of his way. This story is all about the Monsters being so cute, so adorable, ho-ho-ho! And their crazy nannies agree. Stanley is so mean and evil to ask those kids to stop bothering him. They're just happy, innocent kids!

If I have nothing better to do, I'm going to borrow seven problem kids from the local correction center and move next door to Ms Coffman. After a few months, I'll see if Ms Coffman will still cheerfully puts out stories that romanticize future Hannibal Lecters as Parent Trap plot devices.

Time to ask the doctor if I still need to get my tubes tied, just in case. Even at my age, I don't want to take chances, not after reading this story.

Oh, and this is also the longest novella of the lot. All the Psycho Kids actions you can swallow and more. Be very afraid.

Finally, Lisa Jackson's A Baby For Christmas, a story that convinces me that white trash losers have taken over Christmas and Santa Claus is not only dead, his bloated corpse is now hanging from an iron maiden cage for the carrions to feed on.

Let me see if I can sum the story without asphyxiating myself blue. Annie McFarlane, no life, pathetic, dim-witted, divorced and dumped (smart man), hates all men ever FOREVER, has a slut sister. Liam O'Shaughnessy, male slut, ex-con, betrayed by Annie's sister (or so he believes, and since he's a man in a romance novel, hey, he's probably correct), hates all women, never trust women again - BIIIITCH, incoherent rantings, et cetera. She finds a baby at her doorstep in the middle of what seems like the worst snowstorm ever - won't it be easier to just throw the baby into a ditch? - and cooes and goo-gooes over it, because remember, she is dumped because she is Sterile and now she has a chance to be Whole and a Real Woman all Over Again. He shows up at her doorsteps, and now they both fight over the baby.

The judge must be facing a difficult choice. The white trash misogynist misanthrope ex-con bastard versus the pathetic, psychotically man-hating useless bimbo - oh, the agony of making the right judgment! What's the number for social security? Someone save the poor baby from these crazies!

Love? Try hate-sex-hate-sex-hate-sex, the end. Annie gets A Baby For Christmas, but I get a migraine.

Lisa Plumley and Kylie Adams serve up novellas that are enjoyable in various degrees, and they really are done a great disservice by being forced to ride the coattails of two more established authors whose contributions are pure rotten baloney. I don't know if I will even recommend this book to anybody, but to be fair, it's a 50/50 thing. Only this time, I can't help liking the better novellas that I don't have the heart to give this anthology a bad rating. Maybe I'll just consider this a "two-thirds good" scenario. After all, I'm more than glad to consign Lisa Jackson's novella into the pits of selective amnesia.

So, okay, two out of three ain't that bad, surely.

Rating: 75


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