One of the first new Christmas books I read this year was Mischief and Mistletoe, an anthology that includes stories by eight romance authors who blog together as the Word Wenches. They are (in the order in which they are listed on the cover) Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Nicola Cornick, Anne Gracie, Patricia Rice, Cara Elliott, and Susan King. It’s an interesting collection on several counts, not least because this is a gifted group of writers. Among them, the Wenches have written 231 novels and 74 novellas, made every bestseller list in the genre, and amassed a string of awards that include several RITAs and one RWA Hall of Fame inductee (Jo Beverley).
The stories are short, around ten thousand words, and although five of them are reunion stories, they cover a variety of classic romance tropes from road stories to mistaken identity to protagonist as thief (with a good reason, of course). The stories are also remarkably true to the authors’ individual styles and voices. These are writers whose books I read regularly, and I didn’t really need the attached names to recognize the returned hero transformed by his war experience as Mary Jo Putney’s, or the French spies as Joanna Bourne’s and so on with most of the stories.
Christmas stories are nothing new for this group. Jo Bourne is the only novice Christmas story crafter. (I don’t think she’s the Joanna Bourne who wrote Grandma’s Christmas Cookies.)
According to my count, they have written twenty-six Christmas novellas with settings ranging from 1000 A. D. to the 20th century, plus Jo Beverley’s two Christmas novels—one Regency, Christmas Angel (a Rogues book), published in 1991 and one Georgian, Winter Fire (a Malloren book), published in 2003.
Beverley, Putney, Rice, and Elliott (as Andrea Pickens) all wrote novellas that appeared in the Signet Christmas anthologies that were annual favorites of many historical romance readers from 1989-2005. But their contributions to that series are paltry in number when compared with those of the late Edith Layton, one of the original Word Wenches. Layton wrote thirteen Signet Christmas stories, considerably more than any of the other twenty-three authors who wrote for the anthologies. Gracie’s and Cornick’s more recent Christmas tales are part of Harlequin’s rich archive of Christmas anthologies.
Most of the twenty-six novellas written by the Mischief and Mistletoe authors are Regency-set stories, but both Putney and Rice have novellas in Signet’s A Victorian Christmas (1992), and Rice’s story in A Country Christmas (NAL, 1993) is set in Kentucky. Putney even has a contemporary Christmas novella, the new story in her collection Christmas Revels.
Beverley, who often has stated her fondness for the Medieval Age, has two medieval Christmas stories and a third about a family who celebrates the holidays with a medieval twelve day feast, and Susan King’s only Christmas novella is set in 17th-century Scotland.
If you’re looking for a good Christmas read, I think you’ll find stories to enjoy in Mischief and Mistletoe. I’ve added it to my Christmas collection, and I have no doubt that it will become part of my annual Christmas rereading tradition. Among my rereads for Christmas 2012 are my five favorite Word Wench holiday stories.
1. “The Black Beast of Belleterre,” Mary Jo Putney: a retelling of Beauty and the Beast (A Victorian Christmas, Signet, 1992; Christmas Revels, Jove, 2003)
2. “Friends Are Forever,” Patricia Rice: a sweet in-love-with-brother’s-friend tale (A Country Christmas, NAL, 1993)
3. “Sunshine for Christmas,” Mary Jo Putney: a rare Italian-set Christmas romance that ties in to the author’s classic The Rake and the Reformer/The Rake. (A Regency Christmas II, signet, 1990; Christmas Revels, Jove, 2003)
4. “The Virtuous Widow,” Anne Gracie: an appealing child, an amnesia plot, and a heartwarming HEA. (Gifts of the Season, Harlequin, 2002. The anthology also includes a novella by Miranda Jarrett, aka Susan Holloway Scott, aka Isabella Bradford, a Word Wench emeritus)
5. Winter Fire, Jo Beverley: Christmas at Rothgar Abbey with a Malloren cousin as hero and a baby in the mix. (Signet, 2003)
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.