Title White Christmas
Author Diana Palmer
Published September 24th, 2013 by Harlequin HQN
Pages 368 Pages
Intended Target Audience Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Romance, Holiday, Christmas
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Purchased from Chapters, Hardcover
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters
Everyone in Nicole White’s office described their boss’s mysterious older brother as a real woman hater. So when Nicky had to tag along with her ailing employer to his brother’s Montana home, she was prepared for the worst.
To her surprise, what she found was a man more roughly masculine than any she’d ever met. But Winthrop Christopher’s distrust of women ran straight to the bone. Nicky knew she should steer clear of him, but she couldn’t hide the feelings he stirred in her. Could she ever teach him to love again?
The Humbug Man
Montana rancher Tate Hollister was the grouchiest widower Maggie Jeffries had ever met. But, as the holiday season progressed, Maggie discovered that Tate wasn’t completely immune to the Christmas spirit. In fact, his loving embrace might just be the gift of a lifetime .
“Merry Christmas, sugarplum.”
She smiled back as she gave him her mouth. “You delicious Christmas present, you…”
As in the case of my experience with Debbie Macomber’s Starry Night, although I was familiar with Diana Palmer by name and reputation beforehand, I had no personal experience with Palmer’s work prior to beginning White Christmas. But with a résumé that included the publication of well over one hundred novels which had garnered a staggering amount of praise and positive reviews on Goodreads, I was sure I was in for a treat. Boy, was I mistaken. White Christmas, and in particular the first of the two stories included in it, ‘Woman Hater’, has the distinction of being one of the most hateful, disgusting, offensive, sexist and misogynistic pieces of trash I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that had I been able to award this novel less than one star, I would happily have done so. My only consolation is knowing that I’ve read it so that you won’t have to. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Diana Palmer’s White Christmas is a compilation of two stories previously published by the author – ‘Woman Hater’, which is 192 pages in length and was originally published in 1987 and ‘The Humbug Man’, which is 95 pages in length and was originally published in 1986. Because my feelings about the former were so complex, this review will focus almost exclusively on ‘Woman Hater’. While ‘Humbug Man’ contains many of the same problematic elements as the other aforementioned story, this shorter, novella-length tale will be given a pass simply because it is what I perceive to be the lesser of two evils. Fasten your seat-belts, fellow readers. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
“Nicky drew in a breath. “A real woman hater.”
“Now that’s the truth,” Becky laughed. “No, he doesn’t like women. So if you go to the ranch with the big boss, make sure you take lots of warm clothing. That way you won’t get frozen – by the weather or Winthrop.”
Twenty-two-year-old Nicole White is no stranger to hard work. Employed as a secretary at the Christopher Corporation in Chicago, Nicole has been supporting herself financially ever since leaving her family’s lucrative, multi-million dollar racehorse farm behind in Lexington, Kentucky at the age of twenty. So, when Nicole is offered one month’s salary in exchange for accompanying her boss, Gerald Christopher, to his family’s ranch in the Rocky Mountains of Montana while he recuperates from an ulcer, the answer is a no-brainer. Even if it means spending time with Gerald’s brother, Winthrop, who is a former playboy and notorious ‘woman hater’. A former Olympic hopeful with his entire life before him, Winthrop Christopher was irrevocably changed after a near-fatal automobile accident left him permanently scarred, both emotionally and physically. Eventually abandoned by his fair-weather fiancé during the subsequent recovery process, Winthrop has since become withdrawn and bitter, unable to trust in women and now living a life of seclusion at his family’s ranch. All that changes, however, when he meets Nicole White. Charmed by her innocence, Winthrop finds himself drawn to Nicole against his better judgement, and slowly begins to let her in. But if Nicole and Winthrop have any hope of cultivating a relationship together, they must conquer the demons of the past that threaten to destroy them before casting an eye to the future.
“He looked like a desperado. He hadn’t shaved, and the white line of a scar curved from one cheek into the stubble on his square chin with its faint dimple. His face was rather square, too, and his features severe. He had a straight, rather imposing nose, and his black eyes gleamed with a cold light. In one lean, dark-skinned hand he held a burning cigarette. And the look he was giving Nicky would have curdled fresh milk.”
Where do I begin? In a novel where racism, sexism and misogyny are the acceptable norm, poor character development seems like merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but it’s as good a place to start as any. My primary issue with the characters in this novel, aside from their complete absence of development or any semblance of consistency or sense regarding their motivations and behaviour, arose from the inaccurate, offensive and sexist stereotypes Palmer perpetuates about the two sexes. Women are portrayed as delicate, weak-willed, incapable individuals who are likened to children on more than one occasion, while men are portrayed as domineering, thoughtless brutes who are fundamentally incapable of controlling their physical urges. Neither come off well and the author’s generalizations are as offensive as they are inaccurate. Now, as painful as it will undoubtedly be, I’ll discuss the characters themselves.
Having been raised at the hands of a mother who is an alcoholic and a father who is a serial philanderer, twenty-two-year-old Nicole White has spent much of her life feeling neglected and unloved. While this is both understandable and theoretically adds depth to her character, Nicole comes to the rather nonsensical conclusion that their family’s affluence and wealth is somehow to blame for all this. The sudden and unexpected death of her mother is the final straw. Nicole eschews her trust fund and cuts all ties with her father. Her apparent neglect at the hands of her parents has left Nicole starved for affection, which is the only explanation I can find for Nicole’s willingness to accept Winthrop’s abusive treatment of her. I was given the distinct impression that we’re meant to sympathize with Nicole`s situation, but this was difficult to do as her ‘problems’ are almost entirely of her own making. Her immature and petulant response to her familial situation is largely unwarranted, and like the issues which arise in her relationship with Winthrop, the problems in her relationship with her father could have been remedied in a matter of minutes were they simply to engage in an open, honest dialogue. Her emotional immaturity, innocence and naïveté are exaggerated to an absurd degree and to put it plainly, Nicole Winthrop is an utterly pathetic character. She is so pathetic, in fact, that Nicole apologizes to Winthrop after confessing her love for him because she fears she has embarrassed him in some way. Let me reiterate: She apologies to Winthrop for the inconvenience of her feelings. This concept is an incomprehensible to me as it is infuriating.
Implausible though it may seem, as insufferable as our heroine is, our hero is assuredly worse. Because I’ll be describing Winthrop’s abhorrent behaviour in greater detail in the following paragraphs, I won’t delve too deeply into the subject here. Suffice it to say that Winthrop Christopher is one of the most selfish, arrogant, unlikeable and irredeemable characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction. He’s not unlike a petulant child throwing a perpetual tantrum after not being given his own way. Winthrop treats everyone apart from his sainted housekeeper like trash, and only demonstrates concern about other people when their fate is directly intertwined with his own. He’s so repugnant, in fact, that there’s a scene in which Winthrop berates and bullies Nicole as she recuperates in bed after nearly dying from hypothermia when she became stranded outside in a snow storm. Why is Winthrop angry, you ask? Because he was forced to worry about her. God, Nicole! How can you be so selfish? Who cares about your near-death experience when Winthrop is clearly suffering from having been forced to think about someone other than himself? He is clearly the victim here! Our romantic hero, Ladies and Gentlemen.
The secondary characters are equally abysmal. Nicole’s father is introduced as the stereotypical antagonist, all but twirling a figurative moustache as he seeks to destroy Nicole’s relationship with Winthrop and ruin his daughter’s reputation. While this in and of itself would not ordinarily be worth noting, it is his behaviour in the scene immediately following that makes this so notable. Without any preamble or explanation, Nicole’s father is suddenly contrite, conciliatory and apologetic. This sudden reversal of attitude is illogical and makes little sense within the context of the story. Rarely, if ever, have I seen a character change so drastically from one scene to the next for the sake of plot convenience. No explanation is given for her father’s sudden reversal of attitude, and I have to assume it was done simply to allow the author an easy means of orchestrating a reconciliation between Nicole and her father at the conclusion of the novel. This is as sloppily executed as it is painfully obvious.
“It seemed so natural, somehow. So right. His eyes closed and all the reasons why he shouldn’t allow her this close vanished. He didn’t make a sound, and neither did she. The wind sang through the tall lodgepole pines, whispered through the aspen and maples, whipped her hair against her flushed cheek. She pressed closed with a tiny, inarticulate sound, too hungry for the contact to listen to the warning bells going off in her head. He was warm and strong, and it was sheer delight to be held by him.”
There is little to recommend the romance in this novel. While I appreciated the sexual chemistry between Nicole and Winthrop, particularly in comparison to the more placid and chaste relationship between Carrie and Finn in Debbie Macomber’s Starry Night, Winthrop’s consistently sexist, misogynistic and abusive behaviour absolutely destroyed any semblance of enjoyment I might otherwise have derived from this story. There is no natural progression to the relationship between these two characters or a basis for the powerful feelings that quickly develop between them. Things move at an astounding, unrealistic pace, with Nicole and Winthrop going so far as to discuss the possibility of having children with one another after sharing what is only their second kiss. Nicole’s sudden and instantaneous devotion to Winthrop is troublesome. She declares Winthrop her ‘one chance at happiness’ almost immediately after meeting him, and becomes listless and despondent when he does not pay attention to her. As distressing as Nicole’s behaviour is, however, Winthrop’s is undoubtedly worse. I like an Alpha Male as much as the next reader, but Winthrop’s behaviour goes well beyond the definition of the word and becomes increasingly abusive and misogynistic as the novel progresses. While I understood that Winthrop had been hurt in the past and was understandably reluctant to trust another woman or make himself vulnerable again, his behaviour toward Nicole is simply unacceptable. He takes his frustrations out on her as though she is a representation of her entire sex, and while this attitude eventually changes, his initial impulses are more than enough cause for concern.
During their first kiss, it is explicitly stated that Winthrop wishes to both hurt and scare Nicole and seems to delight in her negative responses as a result. Nicole is made to feel uncomfortable, and even worse, endangered. (“She’d never felt more threatened in her life”) Don’t believe me? Take this quotation, for instance: “He wanted to hurt her. She was a child, playing at sensuality, and he wanted to make it so rough she’d stop tormenting him with emotions he never wanted to feel again…” Winthrop holds Nicole responsible for his emotional and physical response to her and seeks to punish her because of it. He takes no personal accountability and perceives her as a temptress who seduced him against his better judgement and reason. To make matters worse, Winthrop both expects and delights in Nicole’s resistance to his advances, and this is a recurring theme throughout their interactions. “Aren’t you going to fight me?” he taunted with a faint, mocking smile as his mouth poised over hers. There’s nothing vaguely endearing about a hero who seeks to frighten or intimidate his intended love interest, or who becomes aroused at the thought of the heroine resisting his advances. These are what most would recognize as warning signs and as potentially criminal behaviour. This is not romantic. Winthrop’s behaviour regarding Nicole’s sexual experience, or lack thereof, is equally revolting. He seems to delight in her inexperience and expresses ‘shocked delight’ upon learning she’s a virgin. Winthrop exploits this imbalance of experience between them and fetishizes Nicole’s sexual innocence, a point which is all the more disgusting given the couple’s significant age difference and the novel’s constant insistence on infantilizing Nicole by referring to her as a ‘child’ or ‘little girl’ on a number of occasions.
What is most alarming of all, however, is Winthrop’s insistence on touching Nicole without her consent, despite her vocalization of ‘No’ and ‘Stop’ at various points during their interactions together. He uses the natural and inadvertent responses of her body against her and perceives it as evidence of her willingness to continue, despite her verbal responses to the contrary. He refers to her pleas to stop as ‘token resistance’ which he believes he will inevitably overcome (“Go ahead, fight for your honor…And I’ll wear you down anyway…It’s only going to be token resistance.”) and sees Nicole’s eventual submission to his physical demands as an inalienable right once they enter into a relationship (“No more fighting…You’re mine, now. That gives me the right to take any liberties I please with you.”) This is absolutely, unequivocally unacceptable. This is the behaviour of a potential rapist. Rather than romanticizing Winthrop’s behaviour, we should be using Diana Palmer’s ‘Woman Hater’ as an example to young women of the warning signs one should heed that they’re engaged in an abusive relationship. Think I’m exaggerating or oversimplifying the point? Winthrop actually goes so far as to indirectly threaten Nicole with rape on at least one occasion, the implication being that men are unable to control their physical urges or desires and that rape is the unavoidable result. (“…Men have it rough early in the morning. You had a close call you didn’t even know about!”) This is not okay. This is not romantic. Shame on you, Diana Palmer.
“I don’t like flattery.”
”Suit yourself, you ugly old artifact,” she shot right back.
It had been a long time since anything had made him laugh. But this plain-faced, mysterious woman struck a chord in him that had never sounded. She brought colour and light into his own private darkness. He felt the sound bubbling up in his chest, like thunder, and then overflowing. He couldn’t hold it back this time, and the rush of it was incomprehensible to him.”
Much like Debbie Macomber’s Starry Night, the writing in White Christmas is serviceable, if a little simplistic. The novel has a regrettable tendency to become repetitious, both in terms of concept and use of language. For example, I lost count of the number of times Palmer made mention of the ‘disturbing’ feelings which Winthrop evoked in Nicole in ‘Woman Hater’, an issue which was made all the more obvious by the author’s peculiar choice of wording. The story and the manner in which it’s told often comes across as incredibly antiquated, an impression which is given all the more credence when one realizes that the two novels were penned in the late 80’s. The primary conflict in the aforementioned story is derived from a simple misunderstanding and miscommunication between Nicole and Winthrop that could have been overcome in a matter of minutes had either character been willing to engage in a single, honest conversation. Because this doesn’t happen, however, the friction between the couple was both aggravating and patently contrived. I have little patience for this sort of thing, and as such found that irritation rather than romance was the prevailing emotion throughout this novel.
“Outside, the first flakes of snow began to fall. A white Christmas was well under way.”
With the publication of White Christmas and, more specifically, ‘Woman Hater’, Diana Palmer has certainly earned a place on my ‘Naughty’ list and is one author who has surely earned a lump of coal in her stocking this Christmas. I’m nothing short of flabbergasted by the inordinate amount of praise this novel has garnered. ‘Woman Hater’ is one of the most loathsome stories I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading and I cannot think of a single aspect of this tale with which to recommend it. While I would ordinarily say ‘to each their own’ and leave it at that, the relationship between Nicole and Winthrop is so abusive and the ideas Palmer perpetuates so damaging and repugnant I can do nothing short of advising strongly against reading this novel, if only for the sake of your sanity. It’s not too late to save yourself! As for myself, I desperately wish I could say that this will mark the first and last time I read a novel penned by Palmer, but unfortunately, I cannot. I had foolishly ordered a second Diana Palmer Christmas-themed novel, Silver Bells, prior to beginning White Christmas, and as such will be forced to endure what I suspect will be more of the same. Wish me luck – I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll need it.
Around The Web
Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?
● Tala @ Darker Passions wrote “This is basically a story about two people learning to love and trust again. Of course they couldn’t do so without each other. I really enjoyed the dance of Winthrop and Nicki as they would get close and then pull back.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)
● Lisa @ Fic Talk wrote ” In the end I felt that while I didn’t love both stories, I did like them very much. An overall satisfying and well-written compilation of stories.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)
● Deb @ HEA Romances With A Little Kick wrote “If you want a sweet dose of wonderful holiday romance stories gone by, then grab Diana Palmer’s White Christmas! This book contains ‘Woman Hater’ and ‘The Humbug Man’ and I for one am glad to have had the chance to revisit these wonderful reads.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)