REVIEW: Christmas Revels by Mary Jo Putney
Dear Ms. Putney,
This collection, published by Jove in 2002, includes one original contemporary Christmas novella and reprints of four of your older novellas from the early 1990s. All but one were new to me when I picked up this book. Here are my opinions of each of the stories:
“A Holiday Fling”
This is the contemporary novella. It is set in England and featuring two side characters from your book The Spiral Path. Jenny Lyme is a British actress. Greg Marino is an American cinematographer. Many years earlier they worked on the same movie, and after Jenny’s then-boyfriend dumped her, she ended up in bed with Greg. Because she was still hurting from being dumped, it didn’t turn into a romantic relationship, but rather a long distance friendship.
Now, years later, Jenny needs Greg’s help. A video of a play she is directing and starring in needs a good cinematographer. The proceeds from the video will go toward saving the tithe barn that served as a community center for Jenny and her neighbors for many years. So she calls Greg and asks him to be her cinematographer during his Christmas holiday. Greg has always had a crush on Jenny, so he says yes.
More than that I won’t reveal, except to say that I really enjoyed this story, partly because unlike many contemporaries, it had a very contemporary feel. I also thought it was more romantic than either of the two of your contemporary full-length books that I’ve read, The Burning Point and The Spiral Path. The only thing that bothered me was the obligatory marriage proposal at the end, because it felt rushed. It would have been more modern for Jenny and Greg to live together for a while first.
My grade for “A Holiday Fling” is a B+.
“The Christmas Cuckoo”
This Regency-set story is about a case of mistaken identity. An army major named Jack Howard arrives at an inn drunk and soaking wet from the rain. Miss Lambert goes to the same place to pick up her brother’s best friend, a captain named Jack Howard. Of course she mistakes one Jack for another, and he is too drunk to correct her. Soon he finds himself in the home of a genteel family fallen on hard times, and enjoying the Christmas preparations very much. But what will happen when his identity is discovered?
Although amusing and smoothly written, this story wasn’t very involving for me, partly because the premise seemed too far-fetched, and partly because I didn’t really see why Meg and Jack fell in love. A problem I often have with romance novellas is that there isn’t much time or space for an author to show the hero and heroine’s feelings develop, especially when the novella only takes place over a few days. As a result, the romance can seem kind of slapdash to me, and that was the case here.
My grade for “The Christmas Cuckoo” is a C+.
“Sunshine for Christmas”
This novella is set in 19th century Italy and features Lord Randolph Lennox from The Rake (or The Rake and the Reformer). Randolph was Alys’s former suitor who had accidentally hurt her feelings and (compounded by her father’s actions) caused her to run away from home.
Now widowed, Randolph feels melancholy in winter time and decides to head for sunny Italy. He arrives in Naples, and soon meets Miss Elizabeth Walker, a governess who has lived in Naples for a number of years, and he convinces her to be his guide to all things Italian.
I enjoyed this story very much. It’s obvious that you have done your research about Italy, and I really enjoyed all the setting details you included. The only part I didn’t enjoy was the reference to The Rake. There was a little bit of a misunderstanding and a secret in this story, but since they weren’t dragged out, I didn’t mind them at all.
My grade for “Sunshine for Christmas” is an A-.
“The Christmas Tart”
This is another regency story. Nicole Chambord is a french emigrÃƒÆ’Ã‚ ©e and seamstress. She gets accused of a theft she didn’t commit, her lifetime savings are then confiscated, and she is thrown out on the street in London.
Philip Selbourne, the hero, has come to London to relax. Two of his friends decide to give him a woman for the night as a gift. They mistake Nicole for a prostitute and she agrees to sleep with him, for twenty pounds.
I won’t tell what happens next, but I enjoyed this story moderately. Nicole seemed a bit ditzy to me, but I liked Philip quite a bit. Again, this was another story where the hero and heroine only spent a day or two together before deciding to get married, and while it was a pleasant way to pass the time, I can’t say that this didn’t give me doubts about their future.
My grade for “The Christmas Tart” is a B-.
“The Black Beast of Belleterre”
A Beauty and the Beast story set in Victorian England, The Black Beast of Belleterre has a hero, James Falconer, who was born homely and was additionally disfigured by an injury. He wears a cowl to hide his face, and lives in solitude.
A man named Sir Edward Hawthorne borrows a substantial amount of money from him, and then can’t repay him. When he goes to confront Sir Hawthorne, he sees the man’s beautiful daughter Ariel from afar. Later he learns that Sir Hawthorne intends to wed his daughter to a pox-ridden old lecher in order to pay his creditors. Falconer offers for her instead, to marry in name only.
This is a lovely little story to anyone who is fond of the fairy tale it’s based on. It’s marred only by an overuse of the word “for” in its “because” meaning. At one point I counted three in a paragraph! But I enjoyed this story a lot, and along with “Sunshine for Christmas,” it’s among the best romance novellas I’ve read.
My grade for “The Black Beast of Belleterre” is an A-.
With the exception of one weak story, Christmas Revels is an enjoyable collection that showcases your writing in a variety of settings. I recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of romantic Christmas cheer. My overall grade for Christmas Revels is a strong B.