Jingle Bell Rock
by Lori Foster, Janelle Denison, Susan Donovan, Donna Kauffman, Alison Kent, and Nancy Warren; contemporary (2003)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0569-4

The lines between bad Harlequin novels and bad Brava novels continue to blur as Harlequin Blaze authors are increasingly bought by Brava to write longer versions of their annoying Harlequin Blaze books. Make it stop, please - am I the only one here thinking that "stupid" and "contrived" are far more appropriate descriptions to the majority of Harlequin Blaze novels out there compared to "erotic"?

It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that when there are six authors contributing novellas in an anthology, the novellas will be extremely skimpy when it comes to character and plot development. in Jingle Bell Rock, Lori Foster, Janelle Denison, and Susan Donovan seem to have thoughtfully cut down the length of their contributions to make space for the longer works of the other three authors. Somewhat ironically, the shorter works are the best of the bunch. The only stand-out novella is Susan Donovan's Turning Up The Heat.

Lori Foster kicks off the naked Christmas skin parade with He Sees You When You're Sleeping. This one is yet another one of the many novellas the author churns out every other month for this type of anthologies: Booker Dean, one of three brothers (ah yes, there they are, screaming for sequels already - suckers), realizes that his girlfriend doesn't love him. So now he thinks he is free to make a move on the woman next door, Frances Kennedy. Frances is his friend, of course, although there is always an undercurrent of sexual tension between them, but now that he's making a move on her, can she resist? Horny hero and an annoying protesth-too-much heroine - the best I can say about this novella is that it reads like every other novella this author has churned out before. Safe, predictable, and forgettable, forgettable because I can't tell this novella apart from the author's previous novellas. They are all the same.

Janelle Denison's All She Wants For Christmas has Faith Roberts wants to have sex with kiddie doctor Matthew Carlton and on Christmas, he puts on a Santa fat suit and she gets what she wants. This could have been a typically neurotic "I must have sex with that man I am in lust with!" tale typical of Harlequin Blaze sorts, but thankfully, the story is too short to prevent these cookie-cutter Blazin' template characters from getting out of bed too much to annoy me. The sex is hot. In this instance, I'll take what I can get and good hot love scenes with no plot development gets my two thumbs up, especially when any plot development in this story will no doubt lead to a direction that will annoy me thoroughly. We need shorter Harlequin Blaze stories with minimal (stupid) plots.

Susan Donovan's Turning Up The Heat is the only novella that fits the definition of erotic. Without any contrived sexual neuroses or stupid plots, this one sees Valerie Matthews nursing a broken heart over Christmas. When her furnace breaks down - ooh, that's subtle, Ms Donovan - she gets visited by a handsome repairman. Yowza. This one is easily the best because it is funny, the characters have fun sex without being bogged down by weird plots or weirder sexual neuroses, and the love scenes have a playful quality to them that makes it more erotic and enjoyable than the mechanically clinical love scenes of the other novellas in this anthology.

Then it is time for Novellas With Plot. And unfortunately, plot in this case means yet another one of those overused Harlequin Blaze plots with equally inane execution, weird sexual neuroses on the heroines' parts, and other lamebrained thingies. The party has ended - may as well switch off the lights and go home now.

Donna Kauffman's Baby, It's Cold Outside is about how Suzanna York and Jace Morgan are reunited after ten years of nonsense and now they have a chance to rekindle something new when they are stuck in a snowstorm. Alison Kent's A Blue Christmas is also about reunions: Thomas "Blue" Miller and Jessie Buchanan where Jessie wants One Last Sex Session to get him out of her system, and Bizarro Moron Sex inevitably leads to the predictable conclusion. The Nutcracker Sweet by Nancy Warren is about two co-workers that can't stand each other but decide to have sex anyway on Christmas. All three novellas read like truncated Harlequin Blaze types complete with contrived sexual baggages and foolish behaviors that make that line more annoying than it should be. The only good thing I can say about these three novellas is that they are too short to annoy me too much.

Jingle Bell Rock contains six short stories that don't actually leave any impact on me. The only one I have a really great time reading is Susan Donovan's anthology. The rest are predictable stories that rarely deviate from the Harlequin Blaze formula. Should I suggest that you go get this anthology? I don't know. There's another anthology coming out next month and two months after that and probably ten more after that one. My suggestion is to take your time and see if there are better ways to spend your money, because I'd bet that the anthology next month or the ones that comes after that one will be pretty much the same old truncated Harlequin Blaze affair.

Yes, Jingle Bell Rock is just another unimaginative and routine anthology from Brava. I was hoping that the authors will go extra sexy to make up for the scarcity of story in their novellas, but only Susan Donovan seems to go the extra mile in making sex fun. Everything else is strictly formula. This doesn't bode well for the upcoming full-length novels from Alison Kent and Nancy Warren. We'll see though how those books turn out.

Rating: 69

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