Gifts Of The Season
by Miranda Jarrett, Lyn Stone, and Anne Gracie; historical (2002)
Harlequin Historical, $5.25, ISBN 0-373-29231-7

This is - duh - a Christmas anthology, but unless you consider feeding starving authors stuck in the Harlequin Historical ghetto (oh, Miranda Jarrett, how could Pocket do this to you?) an act worthy for notching up brownie points with St Gabriel, I suggest you stick to giving your $5.25 to the Salvation Army or to me. Fans of Anne Gracie may be pleased to know that she's continuing her morality tales of Moral Womyn Who Protesth Too Much About Virtue And Honor (While Needing A Man To Better Themselves) in The Virtuous Widow, and I'm pleased to report that this is also the best story of the bunch. Which isn't much, but for starving waiflings around the world needing something to read around Christmastime, it'll do, I guess.

Miranda Jarrett's A Gift Most Rare - not a reference to her departure from Pocket, I'm most certain - is basically a story of two Proper People who, in all their Virtue and Honor, take the Silence Is Golden Rule a little too close to heart. Years ago they have a Great Separation due to some Horrible Miscommunication, and today, during Christmastime, they will need 103 pages to tell each other "I've been stupid, I messed up, can we start over?"

Sara Blake, a long time ago, lost her stupid Daddy and her lover Revell Claremont in one go. Bereft of a male garden prop to cling herself to, our enterprising heroine is reduced to being a governess to a mutant half-monster, half-sage-creature caled Clarissa "Know-it-all" Fordyce. Rev's back, and Sara spends all her time going "He's hot! But - oh no!" like a halfwit who can't muster up a spine to even confront the man and clear things up. These people just keep dancing around in some annoying evasive circle dance of the stupids, it's annoying. It's not exactly a Big Misunderstanding as much as two people who just cannot open up and just keep dancing and playing stupid games, hoping the other person will somehow crack first and confess.

I can sum up this story in six words: I have better things to do. Or to be very succint: waste of time.

Lyn Stone's Christmas Charade is even better. Two brothers, Jack and Keith, and two cousins, Euphemia and Bethany, play stupid games with each other. Jack inherits the title but wants to convince Bethany, whom he wants, to go on a mock engagement on the flimsiest of reasons with him, all the while intending to seduce her and making the engagement real. Seriously, will it kill the both of them to just sit down, look at each other, announce that they like each other, and then get married? Why play stupid games? Likewise, Keith pretends to inherit to woo Euphemia who believes he inherits and... oh, my head. Needless to say, there's a really fun big misunderstanding that eventually blows up on everybody's face and it's a miracle I didn't burst a blood vessel in my brain.

Bah humbug.

Anne Gracie continues her quest to be Harlequin's Marie Corelli, to espouse female honor and more in The Virtuous Widow. Ellie and her daughter are eking out a miserable life until an amnesiac stranger stumbles into her life. She nurses him back to health ("A good womyn always nurtures her menfolk!") and in his amnesia, he assumes that he is her husband and that stumpy replica of her is his daughter. Foreplay consists of "How could I respond to his kiss like that? I am a harlot!" and orgasms are a merry Yuletide scene of family warmth as she happily cleans the house, wipes the glasses, pops out the brats, and cleans until the man comes home and gives her orgasms as her reward, a Whole Woman Pure And True at last, reunited with a man who gives her the orgasms her lousy loser dead husand can't.

Ellie isn't a human character as much as a patchwork of "good woman" stereotypes while Amnesiac Encino Man here is just another stock The Man Who Gives Orgasms archetype. All in all, a morality tale of how we women must tend the home fires until Mr Man comes home. It is a testament of the author's writing skills that she manages to bring out some drama and emotions from the two walking stereotypes. When Anne Gracie spreads her wings and wades a little into the deeper, uncertain waters of her genre, she'll be an amazing author. Right now, she's okay, but she can do a lot better if her stories aren't so derivative.

One in three isn't good no matter how I look at it. When I factor in the fact that this one is the only one I would even consider giving a decent grade, things don't look good at all. But since this is a Christmas anthology and in the spirit of Mickey Mouse and carols and what-nots, I'll be a little generous than usual and give this book a 40. Ho, ho, ho, a belated Merry Christmas to you folks at Harlequin from Mrs Giggles, muah muah muah!

Rating: 40 (hey, it's seven points more than it deserves!)

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