Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review: Secret Santa by Fern Michaels et. al

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Three engaging Christmas set stories
Cons: I can't begin to tell you how awful Fern Michaels's story is
The Bottom Line:
Skip the first story
And you'll find other three are
Worthy of our time

The Headliner is the Problem

Once again, I find myself, a guy, buying and reading a romance.  Why is that?  Because once again, a mystery author I love provided one of the stories in an anthology.  That happened years ago with Joanne Fluke, and it happened again this year with Secret Santa.  This time, Laura Levine is the author I picked up the book to read.  And once again, I enjoyed three out of the four stories.

The book opens with "Mister Christmas" by Fern Michaels.  This is the second story I've read by her (the first being in the other anthology), and my original impression was confirmed.  How did this woman get any kind of fame as a writer?  It's not that the writing itself is bad, but the plotting is horrible.  The story features Claire, a corporate lawyer, who is forced to cancel her Christmas plans when a wealthy client demands she come to Ireland before he dies.  In reality, it's a trick to get her to meet his nephew.  And here's a twist, they fall in love almost immediately.

Are you looking for conflict in this story?  You'll have to look pretty hard because any and all potential conflict is resolved in 10 pages or less.  In the span of the 89 pages this story takes, we get a drunk Claire, a poor single mother, and a hostage crisis.  It's just too much with nothing being really developed at all.  The characters are cardboard at best, and I found myself skipping paragraphs in an attempt to get through it faster.

I can only image what would have happened if she'd taken the extra 10 pages everyone else did.  Blizzard?  Potential amputation?  War?  Heck, there was room for another "plot" in there somewhere.

Okay, I'm done I promise.  Let's move on because the rest of the stories were actually pretty good.

"The Yellow Rose of Christmas" by Marie Bostwick takes us back to the 1980's and the little town of Too Much, Texas.  Velvet Tudmore is the town historian, and she has never had any use for men.  However, the new high school history teacher catches her eye.  Is it too late to find love in her sixties?  When she starts getting notes and roses from a secret admirer, she thinks she knows who they are from.  Is she right?

This was a sweet story.  It's a story that could only happen in a romance novel, but I didn't mind because I liked the characters and the plot.  Only one twist caught me off guard, but I didn't mind spending time with Velvet and her family at all.

Now we come to the reason I bought this book.  I must admit that "Nightmare on Elf Street" by Laura Levine does seem a bit out of place here since it is a murder mystery with no hint of romance, but since I love the series, I didn't mind at all.  Freelance writer Jaine Austen has taken a job as the elf at a mall to a pretty despicable Santa.  When he is killed with a Christmas ornament to the heart, there are no shortage of suspects, but Jaine dives in to make sure the case is solved before her annual trip to visit her parents.

The series always features wacky humor, and this story is no exception.  Even though the story is only 100 pages, we manage to get a couple of sub-plots and some twists as well.  I loved every page, and it makes me all the more ready for Jaine's next full length adventure, coming in just a couple of weeks.

Finally comes "Room at the Inn" by Cindy Myers.  This one isn't really a romance either (although there is a very happily married couple in it) but chick lit.  Barb and her husband Jim are stranded on the side of the road in Colorado just days before Christmas by a giant snow storm.  As they get to know their fellow strandees, Jim drops a bombshell on Barb.  Will she recover?  Can she bring some Christmas cheer to the others when she might need it herself?

It took a little bit to get where this story was going, but once I got into the story, I really enjoyed it.  The characters were all well developed.  While there were a couple of parts that stretch credibility, I didn't mind because I was having fun.  And you've got to love a reminder to embrace change and reach out to those around you.

So there you have it - three very different but good reasons to read Secret Santa.  Now, I just hope that no other authors out there get put in a Fern Michaels's anthology so I never have to suffer through one of her "stories" again.

Looking for more fun with Jaine?  Here are the Jaine Austen Mysteries in order.

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