Season Of Love
by Kim Louise, Niqui Stanhope, and Angela Winters; contemporary (2002)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-371-8

I hate to do this, but Season Of Love is more like a season of lunacy. These authors can write pretty entertaining full-length novels, but judging from this anthology, they should think at least three hundred times before tackling another novella again.

The only novella with a plot remotely contemporary or sane is Angela Winters' Coming Home, but the high-pitched bickerings of the main characters and the equally shrill cheery la-la's of the huge secondary cast make it seem like a foodfight mayhem in a loonybin. How did the saying go? "Too much drama"?

Angela Winters' story revolves around the elder brother of the groom and the elder sister of the bride trying to halt the marriage. This is a familiar tale: she believes that all men are no good (ditto sis' hubby-to-be) and he believes that all women are no good. They meet, he acts like a crazy misogynistic mingebasket, and it's downhill bickering like pre-school brats all the way. This one trundles along the familiar path like every single romance story that uses this plot, only this time we have everybody cheering the hero and heroine on as they bicker and lust like mono and stereo. My eardrums, they bleed, they bleed!

Still, the most readable of the bunch. Terrifying notion, isn't it?

Niqui Stanhope presents The Gift: a nosebleed for me just in time for Christmas, ho ho ho. Noel Peterson is a real-estate developer who wants to relocate an orphanage while Nathaniel Hawkins, community leader, will bang her into a Christmas enlightenment, ho ho ho. Firstly, the heroine is grotesquely wrong, and the hero therefore apparently is given the free pass to either treat her with heavy-handed obnoxious condescension or lusting after her despite thinking of her as a selfish high-class career ho. Whack, whack, whack - the hero has fun hitting away at our heroine like the pinata that made Christmas stoopid, bringing forth annoying mantras like living today for today, blah blah blah. In the end, there's an amazing revelation: our hero has deliberately set up our heroine's humiliating come-uppance as a lesson he intended to deliver to her all along. All hail Mathuselah Nathaniel, the new prophet to redeem us from sin! Here's a penny, now get lost.

Look, I have no problem with heavy-handed redemption if the author hasn't made Noel so transparently stupid. In this case, Noel's redemption isn't a redemption as much as a plot device display of ignorance, and Nathaniel just has to spend Christmas schooling her, Man Showing Woman Who Is Always Right style.

Christmas isn't the same as a Right-Wing Values Renaissance, at least not where I come from. Next!

Ah, Kim Louise's Impromptu. I really sigh at this one. Nothing like infidelity on Christmas to make my day. Not that I am against the infidelity part - why remain faithful to an idiot? But the bigger question here is: why want to marry an idiot in the first place? When I factor in the fact that the Other Man isn't an idiot but an okay (if slightly thoughtless) guy, Impromptu threatens to give me an impromptu lobotomy.

It's the heroine. Wanessa Taylor just has to marry because you see, she was a sad lanky gal nobody likes when she was a kid so when a man proposes to her, she just must marry - she must! Where is the crate of self-esteem pamphlets when I need them? What the heck, let's just fill the crate with rocks and drop in on her head, maybe then she'll see some sense.

Her best friend eggs her brother Byron to stop Wanessa - I better clarify that Byron Moore is the brother of Wanessa's friend - from doing more stupid things, so he gets Wanessa to cook and clean for him (smart man, stupid woman) and treats her like the First Man To See Her Inner Beauty or something, and she is so touched. Next thing you know, they're making goo-goo eyes at each other, but Wanessa can't! She's engaged! She can't! She runs off and wails in despair. Her Life Is So Miserable, Sob Sob Sob.

Call me heartless, but I say that dim-witted woman asked for it.

I would have respected Wanessa more if she calls off the wedding as soon as possible. But no! Obligations, promises, et cetera - so why not wait until the flowers are done, the gowns are set, the guests are invited, and the premise is rented, and then have our heroine sail into the hero's arms after he crashes the wedding and humiliates the groom in front of his family and guests?

As our thoughtless, selfish fools sail off to Timbuktu for their Christmas honeymoon, I shake my head at Gerard, who is left, no doubt, to foot the bill. What a sucker. There's one born every minute.

And then there's this concluding paragraph:

And that night, Mr. Byron Moore made slow, passion-consumed love to Mrs. Byron Moore until she screamed out his name and all her fears of inadequacy were gone.

What the... you know what, I don't think I can go on. But I gotta love Byron Moore and his magic man-juice that can heal all of a woman's fears and neuroses. Maybe we can bottle it up and sell it at pharmacies.

I think I'll be getting wee more drunk than usual this Christmas. Anything to drown the pain. It's the Season Of Love after all.

Rating: 44

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