All a Cowboy Wants for Christmas

Judith Stacy, Lauri Robinson and Debra Cowan
October 2012, Frontier/Western Hist Romance
Harlequin Historical, $6.25, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373297076

Grade: D
Sensuality: Varies

I'm always willing to try a Christmas anthology. Perhaps too willing. I like frontier stories, and I like Christmas. But I didn't like any of the stories in this book.

Frontier/Western Hist Romance (1889 Texas)

Waiting for Christmas by Judith Stacy is a small town, aw shucks kind of story. Marlee Carrington has had a lot of lonely Christmases in Philadelphia. Her mother has always worked in various service occupations, and her father isn't in the picture. Still, she's trepidatious about spending Christmas in Texas with her cousins. She isn't sure she'll fit in, or that her cousins will even recognize her after so many years. When she sees a handsome man at the train station, she knows that Harmony, Texas has at least a few attractions. Then she is welcomed warmly by her family, and finds herself pulled into the town's preparations for its Christmas festival. She keeps running into that handsome guy - who she discovers is Carson Tate, the richest man in town. When the festival experiences a cash shortage, the organizers recruit Marlee to solicit funds from Carson. Heartwarming antics ensue.

This is a sweet enough story, but it's really too sweet. There's very little depth to it; what you see is what you get. In fact, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was reading a story for young readers - which made the one sex scene seem jarring, even though it was subtle.

Grade: C-

Frontier/Western Hist Romance (1884 Nebraska)
It's out of the frying pan, into the fire with Her Christmas Wish by Lauri Robinson - which is, unfortunately, the worst story in the book. Cora Palmer lost her first husband and is now married to Morgan, a man she secretly loves. Her fondest Christmas wish is for Morgan to love her back, and finally claim her as his wife. Morgan has some serious guilt feelings: He always thought Cora was hot, and Cora's husband Orville died after rescuing Morgan's cattle. Morgan married Cora so she and her young son would have a provider...and also because he thought she was hot. But he thinks that sleeping with her would be the height of dishonor. But oh, how hard it is to resist Cora's charms. When a blizzard keeps them all together inside their cozy home, something's got to give.

The first thing that gave was my willing suspension of disbelief. I had to reread a passage a couple of times to make sure I didn't misunderstand what happened. Nope, I was right; Cora appears to have an orgasm while her husband swoops in and saves her from a falling Christmas tree. Which I guess only makes sense, because they were just starting to get hot and heavy in front of a toddler. Like you do. You would think that Cora's avid interest in these activities and verbal encouragement like "Kiss me, Morgan!" would lead Morgan to the conclusion that his sexual advances were welcome. But to put it politely, Morgan is a little obtuse. Eventually, they work everything out, and we are treated to a clunky sex scene featuring unbelievably bad sentences like this:

Their bodies, joined as one, absorbing and withdrawing with unionized blessings, freed Cora of any inhibitions that might keep her from fully experiencing the ultimate, sacred ritual of loving Morgan."
I'm not sure whether their union was sanctified by the Teamsters or the NEA, or whether there's some sex union we all should be paying dues to. If it's the latter, I'm way behind. Cora and Morgan are sweet, earnest people, but this story is just bad.

Grade: D-

Frontier/Western Hist Romance (1872 Indian Territory)
Once Upon a Frontier by Debra Cowan is another mediocre offering. Teacher Caroline Curtis still mourns her fiance Smith Jennings, who died two years ago right around Christmas. But she is trying to move on, so she accepts another man's proposal. That sure makes life awkward when Smith shows up. He's alive after all, and has simply been in prison for two years. Wrongly imprisoned, of course. The only thing that got him through his ordeal was the knowledge that his steadfast Caroline would be waiting for him. He can't believe she would ever love someone as much as she loved him. But Caroline has other issues. Secret issues. Even though she loves Smith more, she doesn't think she can be with him. Can a young boy's tragedy bring them together?

This story is fairly pedestrian, and full of the type of conflict and plot you've seen before. In defter hands, it probably could have been more than that. The whole issues of Smith's false imprisonment - which basically happens because he has a dark complexion - would definitely be worth some exploration. But that gets swept under the rug. Kind of like if one of my kids said, "While I was walking home from school, I saw a purple hippopotamus!" And I replied, "Oh, so you walked home from school today? You're supposed to write about the interesting stuff. Oh, and if you are waiting for the scene where Caroline breaks up with her other other fiance, that's offstage. all in all, it's a miss.

Grade: C-

And that pretty much sums up the book. The stories run from very mediocre to outright bad. Even for laughs (the Robinson story was full of unintentional ones), it's just not worth the time.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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