"Hot Toy" by Jennifer Crusie
"Christmas Bonus" by Lori Foster
"Naughty Under the Mistletoe" by Carly Phillips
Originally published in 2006
Rating: It was alright (3/5) -- see individual ratings below
I remember watching a TV special about Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" years ago that mentioned that after the story's success there appeared a plethora of Christmas ghost stories. These stories involved ghosts and were set at Christmas-time, but they were not, the narrator insisted, 'about' Christmas.
This was the reaction I had reading these novellas. Crusie's story is 'about Christmas'. Foster's and Philips' are 'set at Christmas'.
"Hot Toy" by Jennifer Crusie. (Liked it - 4/5)
This story absolutely charmed me. It's a great example of being about to write an outrageous plot and have the reader leave all disbelief behind. It also comments quietly on the materialism that has saturated Christmas. Trudy, on Christmas Eve, must track down that year's 'hot toy' for her five-year-old nephew. (I'm sure you all remember Tickle-Me Elmo.)
Her nephew's father promised that Santa would bring him a Major MacGuffin, then ran off with the boy's nanny. If Trudy doesn't get the "'Guffin", her nephew will hate her, his mother and the world, "because he knew there was no Santa, but we all said, 'Trust us, Santa's going to come through for you.' We hung that kid out to dry. He's going to be right to hate us."
So when the secret agents tell her "the doll or your life", she responses with the equivalent of "over my dead body".
"Christmas Bonus" by Lori Foster (Not that good - 2/5)
This novella, as well as Phillips', are of a very different tone. The three women were instructed to write a 'hot' novella. Crusie's heat consisted of a one-line fantasy of her heroine's. Foster's consisted of an extended sex scene covering more than half of the word count.
While there was a superficial nod to the Christmas season in this story, it would have taken little effort to set the story at any other time of the year. Two co-workers begin planning the office Christmas party and their long standing attraction comes to the surface. A major project with a deadline might have created a similar situation.
"Naughty Beneath the Mistletoe" by Carly Phillips (Not that good - 2/5)
Phillips uses the twin plot twist, which rather disappointed me from the start. Not that the twist really bothers me, but I have yet to find a heroine across whose mind it fleetingly passes that the love of her life looks just like her co-worker of five years. I don't think it would stop me from a relationship with said twin, but surely it there would be a pause for bemusement.
Phillips' story sits in the middle of the 'set at' and the 'about' categories. Toni is set to start the new year by shedding her 'good girl' image and sets out to seduce her co-worker. A resolution of that kind is quite understandable, but seemed rather convenient and, again, plot and characterization were secondary to an extended sex scene.
All told, it was an interesting series of stories, but Crusie's novella just didn't seem to belong to the same collection. Not that anything could be done, as contracts were signed before the stories were written.