The difficulty of reviewing a holiday romance for every day in December is that you have to read a LOT of holiday romance, and some of them aren’t good. Normally you know that I don’t believe in reviewing books I don’t like but I get a little torn when it comes to anthologies. If one of the stories is amazing, then I want you to know about it, but what if the other isn’t?
This is the dilemma I had with the duo-ology (is that a word?) of Linda Lael Miller and Lindsay McKenna‘s A Proposal for Christmas. I like both of these authors very much, but while each novella felt like a story the author had tucked in a drawer for years, the difference was that Miller’s was both dated and had characters I wanted to dope slap, while McKenna’s story was a heart-warming holiday tale about the healing power of love (and was a little bit dated, but I’m willing to file it under “historical”).
“State Secrets” by Linda Lael Miller
I like Linda Lael Miller’s writing so much that I have no plan to even tell you anything beyond the merest hint of this story, which is actually a full-length novel peripherally involving Christmas. A Secret Service officer is assigned to investigate the third cousin of the president-elect who happens to be a good-looking cookbook author with a brother who is also a former Secret Service agent who is now a drug addict with ties to Al-Qaeda. No, I’m not joking. That IS the plot.
A little research reveals that this story was originally published in 1985 (who wants to guess it was Russians then?) and then reissued in 1999, and maybe that should have been the last time we had to read this puppy. Despite the modern terrorism reference to update the story, no character has a cell phone and a major part of the plot involves an answering machine, yes, of the whirr, click “did you rewind the tape?” variety. I could handle the inconsistency of the dated references juxtaposed against the carefully placed modern insertions, but the characters came off as very unlikeable to me. AND they didn’t give a thought to condoms or birth control and then were incredibly surprised a couple months later. Uh-huh. Did I mention I have have terrible allergies…to stupidity? Hand me an EpiPen, already. Go read Miller’s McKettrick series and wallow in what a terrific writer she can be. This one should have stayed in the drawer.
“Five Days of Christmas” by Lindsay McKenna
Lindsay McKenna – a writer of such renown that she not only served in the Navy during the 1960s but actually is credited with inventing the military romance – provides a fabulous palette cleanser in the form of this novella. McKenna has produced one of the longest running sagas in romance publishing, the Morgan’s Mercenaries series, which is actually divided into multiple subseries and is so complex I require a flowchart to understand it (the Goodreads link here is your best bet for understanding the order). This is clearly what happens though when you’ve written over 100 romance novels!
Morgan Trayhern and his wife Laura take seriously the celebration of the holiday in their base of operations, a small town in the Rocky Mountains in Montana. All the employees of the Perseus Black Ops company who find themselves stateside are invited and case in point many of the mercenaries actually have families based in the small town the Trayherns call home. For five days, this family hosts multiple events at their home and the area to get everyone appreciating the holiday spirit.
Originally published in 2001, “Five Days of Christmas” centers on Colt Hamlin, a very tired mercenary with a mild case of PTSD from his multiple missions in Kosovo. He’s been holing up in his condominium and nursing a bottle of Jack Daniels to help with the pain, but it’s not working. When his boss calls to tell him that Colt is needed at the house of the local biology teacher to help with the preparations, a disgruntled grizzly would look more charming in comparison. But one look at the fiery-haired woman who answers the door and Colt realizes that something pretty momentous just happened.
Abbie Clemens is only twenty-seven, but she’s well acquainted with pain. Her husband and best friend died two years and since he was a mercenary for Perseus, the Trayherns have always treated her like one of the family. She also helped them with their troubled son Jason, now at the Naval Academy, but she’s never seen someone in more pain than the incredibly handsome Colt when he turns up on her doorstep. She realizes that not only can she see past his surface to the well of pain lying underneath, but that her presence seems to help Colt, hopefully reminding him of all the good things in life.
This was an exquisite tale of love between two people who are so meant for one another that the awkwardness comes from knowing one another so quickly and so well. Colt feels he’s damaged goods and Abbie believes that she’s plumb and plain with little but an empathetic shoulder to offer the good-looking man who is slowly coming back to life. I adored both these characters and was impressed with the many characters and their families clearly accumulated over the decades she’s been writing this series. Even with not having read these books (and that will change, let me inform you now), I could easily pick up on the past storylines and character dynamics, making this tale (of which the miracle of Christmas features heavily) a true favorite.
Worth Putting Under the Tree?
At around $8.57 for the Kindle edition and over $12 for the hardcover (what is Harlequin thinking?), I would recommend this for Morgan’s Mercenaries fans in ebook form or simply as a requested book from your local public library or used book dealer. I’m so glad I read the McKenna novella that I can certainly recommend the book from that angle, but Miller fans will want to stick with her other excellent work and not demoralize themselves with this particular story.