Bride of the Mist

Christmas Knight

Key to Forever

Season of Wishes

The Perfect Gift by Christina Skye
(Avon, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-380-80023-3
Another of Christina Skye's Draycott Abbey books, this story is so overstuffed with plot, plot, and more plot that I found myself constantly scratching my head trying to remember it all. Skye has a tendency to fill her pages with a tremendous amount of business, but she has gone overboard with this one. Let me give you a brief rundown (excuse the poor punctuation, but I'm trying to make a point):

Jared, the modern Scottish Highland hero, reincarnated from some previous Highland Scottish hero, is a demolitions expert with British Intelligence who spent a year in captivity "in the box" in Southeast Asia and now has terrible nightmares, not to mention the fact that sometime during that time his older brother died and he inherited the family "gift" of sight passed on through the generations. The heroine Maggie, is a world-class designer of jewelry mourning the death of her father, also a famed jeweler, who disappeared some seven months before with a fortune in priceless gems, only no one except Maggie is convinced he is dead and so she is being stalked by mysterious evil doers intent on bodily harm, which is why Jared is protecting her even though he's had visions of his own death. Jared and Maggie go to a secluded mansion in Scotland inhabited by a centuries-old ghost in residence and his pet cat, and Maggie starts having wacky dreams and sleepwalking and talking like someone out of Brigadoon and refuses to believe anything is wrong even when she wakes up with filthy feet.

And that's not even half of it.

This book is such an odd mishmash of "realism" and "fantasy" it’s like a Nelson DeMille suspense crashed into a Diana Gabaldon and all the pages got mixed up. I have no idea what the writer was going for. One minute it’s detail on Jared's all too vivid nightmares about his torture, the next it’s the inner musings of a ghost or Maggie's dream induced memories of a previous life. Mix that with fawning, self indulgent conversations about the "perfection" of Maggie's silver jewelry designs or how great she looks in her cousin's stunning lingerie designs, with repeated descriptions of Jared's icy but supreme capabilities and the reader becomes further distanced from two characters who are about as warm as snow to begin with.

Both Maggie and Jared are terrifically contradictory characters -- to the point where their constant emotional ups and downs leave the reader feeling nothing but annoyance. Both are healthy attractive human beings and therefore sexually drawn to each other, but they seem to secretly delight in "turning on" and "turning off" and take turns doing it. First it's Jared on the hunt until he remembers he's going to die and has misgivings…then its Maggie's turn. There is so much back and forth between these two that the reader simply sighs, says, "get on with it" and begins skipping pages to get to the end.

Maggie is a particularly thick young woman, extremely good at making conveniently contrived snap decisions. Unlike many of Skye's previous heroines, I found very little to like in Maggie. Jared as well is not as well drawn as some of Skye's previous heroes. He seems to sleepwalk through much of the proceedings until prodded by some dire circumstance into action.

I was disappointed in this effort, and also heartily chagrined by the publisher's attempt to turn it into a seasonal favorite. As Adrian, the ghost of resident ghost of Draycott Abbey might say, "Do not be fooled, ye lovers of Yuletide romance! Let not the festively wrapped paperback con you into believing that what is inside the Christmas wrapping has anything to do with that most joyous of Holidays. Alas, it’s a marketing ploy, meant to beguile the willing reader out of hard earned coin. Publishers…for shame!"

--Ann McGuire

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