I bought the romance anthology Santa Baby because Jennifer Crusie has a novella in it. Knowing that the other two stories would look really flat in comparison to Crusie’s, I tried reading Lori Foster and Carly Phillips’ contributions first.
I couldn’t make it through even chapter one of Foster’s story, “Christmas Bonus”: I found its prose stilted, its characters insufficiently engaging (especially since the heavy breathing started right away), and its plot annoying—and worse, it could have been an interesting inversion of gender stereotypes if it had gone the other direction (I flipped to the end to check). I did finish Phillips’ story, “Naughty Under the Mistletoe,” but it was more out of habit than anything, and I won’t remember a thing about it in a week. Its prose was a bit awkward, but more importantly, it failed to overcome the problem inherent in short stories within the romance genre: unless your characters knew each other already, it’s really hard to convincingly portray their falling in love in such a short space.
Fortunately, Crusie’s story, “Hot Toy,” was as fun as I expected. I mean, how can I resist a story that starts with a character searching desparately for a Christmas toy called a “Major MacGuffin”? The explanation given for the MacGuffin is, of course, not in the least sensible, but who cares, because this is pure distilled Crusie goodness: funny, fast, and energetic, with family and a consistent and satisfying emotional theme.
(Not reading the back cover of the book made this story a different, and I think mildly better, experience, as I was in the same state of ignorance about something as the point-of-view character. Of course, now that I’ve said that, anyone with the book is automatically going to look at the back cover, so never mind.)