This is an exquisite collection of sparkling stories by four great authors. Each story highlights a uniquely delightful twist, resulting in seraphim-fresh starlight (compared to the typical slobbery stuff).
I've rarely been drawn to short stories or books with collections of shorter works. When I take time to get into a book and memorize details, I like to stretch out for a while with that investment, which is why I seek series. But, I was pleasantly surprised that each of these stories was easy to get into, easy to read, and regularly called to me pleasantly to catch another bit. This type of collection is a great way to addict readers to each of the authors presented, which might be the plan!
If it weren't for Joanne Pence, I wouldn't have overcome my prejudice against short collections and holiday sticky syrup, so I read her story first, and savored every quarter-inch of it.
The Thirteenth Santa blossomed Rebecca & Richie from seedlings in the Angie & Paavo series, and the match making of this odd couple was perfecto! (Kissing fingertips in salute.). Rebecca was the perfect female to yank Richie out of the caricature woodwork and into the hot-light-reality of flesh-and-bones. Rebecca's displayed holiday loneliness, as she pranced around the precinct in solitary simplicity, shot an instant warmth into this reader, who had previously taken a mild dislike (as the author intended) of the female homicide inspector's romantic interference with Angie and Paavo.
The 13th's humor was entertainingly dark enough to dim the usual garish Christmas glare of sweet & light, and it exposed perfectly the type of cloistered chuckles big city policemen resort to, to save their sleigh bells during holiday cheer, especially when they're on duty and everyone else seems to be lapping up the luxury of home.
It was a hoot following Rebecca's periodically listing infractions under her breath, as Richie casually collected mini-crimes as her streetwise, unlikely sidekick. The violations were merely misdemeanors, so maybe that was why Rebecca couldn't build up any resistance or righteousness, and the hand cuffs stayed in storage. Or, maybe it was because she wasn't sure which way she'd use them once released from her (Pandora's) purse.
Loved the funny, geriatric, non-generic Santas, aging with realistic loss of various faculties, but without loss of spirit, which made the fun poked at-and-with them delightfully tasteful, especially through the spyglasses of their hilarious Mafiosa attitudes and accents. Being half Italian myself I can connect with the banter... though I'm not connected myself (as far as I know). Who knows, maybe if I were connected my sci fi and mystery series manuscripts would have already been on the International bookshelves! Yeah, yeah. All in good time ... and company.
The scene picked up to a higher plateau of tangy, balsamic spice, when Angie's "Momma Mia" (Serefina) brought the ingredients for edible gifts, and zapped the hilariously red-garbed, well-connected celebration with her background and presence.
There was also the great scene between Paavo and Rebecca, "To be or not to be" too typically "cop" during the holiday season when the geriatric Mafia joins the family party.
Loved the 13th's ending, too, with the short story ambiance closing the scene with hope and positive speculation, without losing its zing into an epistle of explanation.
For my tastes this was delightful entertainment at its holiday best, like true Italian pastries and constable humor, a bare essence of sweet with enough anise-seedy-spice to repel the gooey, parasitic type of overdone, overwhelming sentiment which usually has me avoiding holiday collections.
This is true warmth of spirit at its zesty best, no slobbers necessary but enough saliva for a sensual stew. This one I like.
And, I'm happy to report that each of the other three entries (even though Pence's story ended the sequence) follow the R&R (Rebecca & Richie) suit of enough sauce to liven the soup. I liked the fact that 2 of the 4 stories kept the mystery at the fore, with the romance as a non-graphic sideline; while the other 2 stories, being more romantically inclined, provided typically tangy, but tasteful sexual undertones.
Though I've read and reviewed nearly all Pence's culinary mystery series (which is one of the reasons for my reading her 13th Santa story first in this collection), I hadn't read any of the other 3 writers' work. I wasn't disappointed in their holiday offerings here, and am intrigued to expand my reading in the directions of McCoy, Page, and Ridgway.
These 4 authors are mature character and story builders. Maybe their genuine warmth and lack of hype enhances their abilities to write such sensitive human stories, without drowning in the soup.
I could go into the same detail with each story as I did for Pence, but I've passed the epistle mark. Maybe my gift should be to leave the other 3 to surprise, without any hype intended, except to kiss my fingertips again in salute for each!
(Go) Out on a Limb; (Meet) The Two Marys; (Kiss) The Twelve Frogs of Christmas; (Bless) The Thirteenth Santa.
Meet Christie Ridgway, Kathrine Hall Page, Judi McCoy, and Joanne Pence. (The words in parentheses are my teasers for each title.)
Blessings to all ... & pass the salt. Travel the Night with spirit and fun. Lighten up with the dawn when it comes. It usually arrives, just in time.
Working toward my sunrise,
Linda G. Shelnutt