Holiday Miracles is a trilogy in the Harlequin Romance series. This series is the original and the core product. As Harlequin describes it, “You adore a feel-good love story! Harlequin Romance offers uplifting escapes featuring real, relatable [sic] women and strong, deeply desirable men. Experience the intensity, anticipation and sheer rush of falling in love. Harlequin Romance titles are printed in slightly larger font (point size 13.5). [The stories are a modest 50,000 words]” These three were published in the fall of 2012 by three authors:
- Snowbound in the Earl’s Castle by Fiona Harper
- Sleigh Ride with the Rancher by Donna Alward
- Mistletoe Kisses with the Billionaireby Shirley Jump
As trilogies go, it is a little unusual in that all three stories take place at the same time, and have different authors. The stories are linked by family (the three women are sisters), time, and to some extent geography. They are variations on a theme, but that’s true of the whole genre. They work fine as standalone stories, and they mesh reasonably well, but there is nothing significant that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Snowbound is set in England. Faith has lived there for a decade, and works restoring stained glass windows. She travels to an isolated castle to research a window for an elderly man, as a favour to her grandmother. The castle’s current owner, Marcus, is an aspiring Mr. Rochester, though his ex-girlfriend has fled the premises. He’s glum about the responsibilities of the castle, glum about his grandfather’s obsession with a window, and resents the cheerful optimism of Faith. Her optimism hides her own fears and cynicism about relationships. She’s only snowbound for a day or two, but grandfather insists she remain in the castle as a guest while researching and working on the window. There’s a Davinci Code lite mystery associated with the window, leading to much shared time researching and following clues, and lessons from the past push our couple together. It’s an entertaining if slightly over the top romantic tale.
Sleigh Ride is set in Alberta, like much of Alward’s work. Hope is a professional photographer living in Australia, but she’s traveled to an isolated farm to take pictures. The farm provides therapeutic riding lessons, some promotion is required, and Hope goes there as a favour to her grandmother. Hope and Blake, the operator of the farm, have both lost people close to them and have set up walls to avoid intimacy. A week of sharing a house does a lot to bring down those walls. Christmas finds our couple at grandmother’s house in Smalltown USA. I can’t decide if this story is best described as sentimental or melodramatic, but either way the tone is spiced with dashes of unexpected realism.
Mistletoe Kisses is set in Smalltown USA, and Grace is home for the holidays. Her work as a freelance journalist has become disappointing, and her grandmother suggests taking a break from globe trotting for a long overdue visit. Once there, Grace meets J. C., an old boyfriend who left town to make it big in the city. Grace and J.C. broke up years ago over a misunderstanding, and they spend most of this story dating while avoiding talking about their old misunderstanding. This story includes an annoyingly adorable four-old-boy that J.C. is largely responsible for, in a melodramatic twist.
The authors note that they enjoyed working together on this project, and I can appreciate the pleasure of having a writing buddy. For the reader, pleasure may vary depending on the sort of hero you like. The cowboy is the most ordinary and humble of them, which gives him a certain appeal, and makes Sleigh Ride the most realistic of the set. Snowbound is more adventurous and less melodramatic than the other stories. The earl has a touch of Gothic, and there are elements of a historical despite a thoroughly modern setting. Mistletoe Kisses has a whiny billionaire. He has father issues, but with all his money he should have been able to hire a therapist. And a nanny. A little less money would have made him more realistic and interesting. As a former boyfriend, he does not have the uncertainties of the other men. Fortunately for the narrative, Grace is remarkably out of touch with events that happened while she was away.
In all three stories, the heroines are independent and successful women. Grace is having trouble with her work, but her new love and appreciation of home reignites her passion and brings new success. Faith and Hope realistically meet their men in the course of their work, notwithstanding the push from Grandma. These women don’t need men, but having a good one makes things better. In contemporary romances I prefer this positive approach, where the relationship is a choice that makes your life better, as opposed to relationships where the woman is rescued by a man, or sacrifices herself to rescue a man. As per the series guidelines, there’s lots of physical yearning but little action. The characters are not shy virgins, but they just aren’t interested in getting too physical too soon, and each story is only a few weeks. Sex is absent, but not conspicuously so.
The most interesting character in the trilogy is the offstage mother of these three women. Grandmother is the domestic anchor and matchmaker, but their mother is the adventurer and creative free spirit. She spent her life traveling and indulging various passions, and has a tumultuous marriage. One of the sisters has a different father. The women resent the inconsistency of their childhoods, but I suspect they gain much of their strength from it. In this trilogy they are happy to settle down and accept their grandmother’s guidance, but I trust in time they will appreciate their mother’s influence. I’d be interested in her story, but 50,000 words could not do it justice.