The Present
by Johanna Lindsey, historical (1999)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-80438-7


First of, a thought. Ms Lindsey says in the acknowledgments that this book is a holiday present to her fans. So how come this book isn't being handed out free in bookstores? Just a thought.

Now, I confess I don't exactly follow the Mallory saga. So I guess this book may be finding the wrong audience with me, but to Ms Lindsey's credit, I'm never bewildered or overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters foreign to me. The story is simple: patriarch Jason Mallory is in love with his long-time mistress/housekeeper Molly but the woman just refuses to marry him on grounds of propriety. One Christmas gathering, the Mallories find a mysterious present that turns out to be a book written by their grandmother Anastasia, a gypsy who married their grandfather Christopher. The main part of this story chronicles Ana and Christoph's relationship and how this inspires Molly and Jason to finally find their own happy ending.

I'm sure Mallory fans will finally rejoice that The Mallory is getting hitched to Molly. But me, I can't help but to be puzzled: if the Mallories thrive on scandal, what actually is stopping Jason from marrying Molly? Why is Molly so concerned with propriety yet having no qualms in inviting Jason to her bed (covertly, of course, so that the staff won't find out)? As this whole Can't marry you premise is very shaky, I'm hardpressed not to think of Molly as immature and indecisive.

However, Ms Lindsey can sure tell a story. I chuckled when every Mallory thought they were the only one with the brilliant idea of sneaking a peek in the mysterious present before Christmas, only to barge into each other in an impromptu gathering in the hall. Likewise, Ana is a refreshingly spunky woman who knows what she wants. When Christoph, in the grand tradition of goons, rejects her, this woman's first thought is to turn the tables on him. No simpering missy here, but a fun heroine who pulls all the strings in the relationship.

Yet most of time Ms Lindsey tells more than she shows. This book has so many elements - family reunion and two star-crossed romances - and too little space allocated to each that in the end, I feel shortchanged by all three. This book ends up like candyfloss, sweet, nice, but ultimately lacks any substance.

Rating: 61


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