This review includes spoilers.
Season of Love is a 2019 Mirabooks (Harlequin) release. It contains two previously published novels, Thanksgiving Prayer from 1984 and Christmas Masquerade from 1985. Both are by Debbie Macomber. Last year I read her recently republished book, This Matter of Marriage, from 1997, and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to these novels. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
Before I rant about everything I did not like in these stories, I must point out that these stories are thirty-five years old. They are from the beginning of the author’s career, and presumably written for the audience at the time. I’ve had enough involvement with publishing to know that the final content may not have been her choice, and the decision to re-release these novels, slightly updated, in a single book, may have been made without her involvement.
Claudia is a medical student in Seattle, living off a trust fund. She meets Seth, visiting from Nome, where he runs an oil company. He is instantly smitten with her and proposes in less than a week. He expects her to drop out of medical school and move to Alaska. She refuses, and then a few months later she accepts. When she arrives in Alaska, she discovers he is planning to marry someone else.
From the title, I should not have been surprised that Thanksgiving Prayer was a Christian romance – Harlequin calls them inspirational, but the ones I’ve read have all been Christian, usually vaguely protestant. Typically in Christian romances the characters pray, go to church, and don’t have sex before marriage. In Thanksgiving Prayer, religion plays a larger role.
The main characters appear to be born-again Christians, her five years ago and him six months ago. Their meet involves her anonymously leaving him an encouraging bible verse she senses he needs, and him tracking her down. He’s taken her note as a sign that she is destined to be his wife, and he quotes a biblical passage in support of that. Initially she disagrees with his interpretation, but her character growth arc is changing her understanding of the passage.
Trying to be open-minded about this, I imagine the story has a fantasy setting, where she has the mysterious urge to leave a secret message for him, he interprets it to mean she’s his fated mate, and at first they disagree on the meaning of an ancient prophecy. Okay – that’s a fine plot. But he’s still a short-tempered stalker who shows warning signs of being abusive, and no willingness to compromise in a relationship.
Curiously, an effort has been made to update the novel. A supporting character suggests the heroine exchange letters with the hero, so they can get to know each other better after the initial whirlwind week and proposal. “And I’m not talking email, either.” There follows an explanation why hand-written letters are better than email. However, by this point in the story we’ve already figured out the early-1980s setting. No mobile phones, no internet, and no email. Yes, technically all three existed at that time, but it was another decade before they were common in households. I can only assume the email reference was added in an effort to avoid the story seeming dated, but instead it’s an anachronism that emphasizes the age of the novel.
There’s a Thanksgiving Dinner in here somewhere near the end. Claudia nurses Seth after he’s injured, and then she has a serious flu, so there’s lots of drama in addition to resolving Seth’s plans to marry another woman, but it all works out, and in the epilogue we learn that Claudia has stopped working as a nurse, because “she was ready to settle into the role of homemaker and mother.” Not my idea of a happy ending, but I guess it suits the character’s values, and her wealth means she doesn’t need to work.
The second novel in the book, Christmas Masquerade, does not have the same strong Christian overtones. In fact, it may offend readers who enjoyed the spiritual emphasis in the first novel.
Jo Marie is in danger of being assaulted by three men during a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. A handsome stranger comes to her rescue. So far, so good. Then the stranger demands a reward. “His warm mouth settled over hers, holding her prisoner, kissing her with a hunger as deep as the sea” [emphasis added]. This “out of the frying pan, into the fire” rescue is more suited to horror than romance.
After the kiss, Jo Marie is pulled away by enthusiastic dancers, and they lose each other in the crowd, but she doesn’t stop thinking about him. A few months later, Jo Marie sees him again, and learns his name. Andrew is unenthusiastically dating his old friend Kelly. Kelly is Jo Marie’s room mate. Andrew continues to pursue Jo Marie, and long before we (or she) learn that he’s in a fake relationship with Kelly, he and Jo Marie are making out, but that’s okay because Kelly is making out with Mark. Mark is Jo Marie’s brother, who Kelly really wanted all along.
I’ve nothing against the fake relationship trope, though doing it to make someone jealous rarely works – I learned that from The Brady Brunch and/or The Love Boat. However, Andrew and Kelly keep Jo Marie in the dark, on the grounds that she is Mark’s sister. Andrew courts Kelly publicly and Jo Marie privately, and Kelly seems to be encouraging his behaviour. They are gaslighting her. And Andrew’s aggressive possessiveness when Jo Marie reasonably dates someone else sets off abuse alarms again.
This is a romance where the heroine spends most of the story feeling miserable, including at an office Christmas party that takes place somewhere near the end. Macomber is apparently famous for her Christmas themed romances, but I suspect this is not one of them, since the holiday does not play a significant role.
In both novels, I find the heroes creepy rather than attractive (however handsome they may be), and the heroines passive. The overt Christianity of the first one conflicts with the apparent cheating in the second one, making these an unlikely set. Macomber is prolific, you can’t argue with success, and I enjoyed the other book of hers which I read, so I can shrug off Seasons of Love as early work, perhaps for a different audience. Maybe there’s still an audience for romance with jealous, possessive men. But it might have been best to leave these stories in the past.