Cheryl St. John’s and Sherri Shackelford’s COWBOY CREEK CHRISTMAS

Cowboy_Creek_ChristmasMissB’s been very busy at the day-job and preparing for Pascha to get a lot of reading done. Though it’s seasonally months-late and incongruous given the Paschal season, she thought she’d try one of her not-yet-reviewed Christmas romances. Maybe get that warm glow of hope going. And … novellas, short reads are good when your time is at a premium. Yet it still took her ages to get through them, despite being possessed of some of Miss B’s favourite tropes. St. John’s “Mistletoe Reunion” has a proto-feminist, no-nonsense alternative medicine doctor-heroine, Dr. Marlys Boyd, and the man she left to be educated and practice her profession, newspaperman and widowed father, Sam Mason. Theirs is a reunited-fiancé(e)s romance with doubt and hurt on the hero’s part and a reassessment of her life-choices on the heroine’s. Shackelford’s “Mistletoe Bride” is a marriage-of-convenience romance, Miss B’s favourite histrom trope. Newly-arrived Austrian immigrant mail-order bride, Beatrix Haas, arrives in Cowboy Creek, Kansas, only to be told that the man she was to marry, Sheriff Quincy Davis, was killed by a local gang. When farrier-hero Colton Werner meets her, it’s because he’s been summoned by the mid-wife to help translate from Beatrix’s German as she labors to give birth. Beatrix travelled to Kansas to give her baby a name and Quincy Davis, it seems, was willing to do so. Now, the realization that she’s near-death and her baby to be born thus and left without a care-giver is devastating. Until Colton offers to marry her, even knowing she might die and he left with an infant’s care. 

Miss Bates is a fan of St. John’s early work and of the opinion that Shackelford gets better and better with every romance. She is not, however, a great fan of the romance novella and, sadly, the “Mistletoe” duet, while it didn’t disappoint, also didn’t redeem. Of the two, St. John’s felt like it went on too long and Shackelford’s as if it wasn’t long enough. “Reunion”‘s most interesting aspect was Dr. Boyd’s overcoming of the obstacles that stood in her way of practicing medicine, the prejudices against her as a female doctor. Less interesting was her reconsideration of her life-choices, mainly leaving Sam. Sam, in turn, and rightly so, struggled with trusting his heart to Marlys again. While Miss Bates loved St. John’s early category romances, she had a hard time warming to “Mistletoe Reunion” because of a distancing from its characters. Marlys and Sam never came alive. They moved around the narrative stage woodenly, saying and doing and thinking, but never released from their mouthpiece roles.

Shackelford’s “Mistletoe Bride” fared better in Miss B’s estimation. The initial scene of labouring woman and the willingness of this huge, kind man to marry a stranger and care for an infant was moving, dramatic, and engaging. Miss Bates loved Beatrix’s strength and resolve: to commit herself to happiness, to loving and appreciating her gentle-giant husband, learning English, and making Cowboy Creek her home. Colton too is a wonderful character, still haunted by the Civil War, but even more so by a burden of guilt he carries from his youth. This guilt makes him think himself undeserving of love and family. This causes a rift between him and Beatrix, despite their secret growing feelings for each other. Miss B. loved Colton, but found the relentless reiteration of his “undeservedness” tedious. But Shackelford is one of the sexiest of the “kisses-only” romance crowd and the few moments of attraction and tension between Colton and Beatrix made up for his emotional self-flagellation. The novella was resolved abruptly, however, when Colton’s realization that he does deserve love emerges out of the blue, without the reader’s access to what moved and motivated him.

Nevertheless, St. John and Shackelford are adept writers and the novellas were pleasant reads. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says that “Mistletoe Reunion” provides “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park; and “Mistletoe Bride,” “real comfort,” Emma.

Cheryl St. John and Sherri Shackelford’s Cowboy Creek Christmas is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in November 2016 and may be found at your preferred vendors. A copy was provided for Miss Bates by the authors.