Island Bliss by Rochelle Alers, Marcia King-Gamble, Carmen Green & Felicia Mason
(St. Martin’s, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97893-6
Last year, St. Martin’s Press offered romance readers a respite from the winter doldrums with its Island Magic anthology. The publisher has developed a reputation for its entertaining anthology collections by some of the genre’s most popular authors. This year’s early spring break is called Island Bliss. Rochelle Alers, Marcia King-Gamble and Felicia Mason, who had stories in Island Magic, are joined this year by Carmen Green.

Rochelle Alers leads off the anthology with “From the Heart.” Set in St. Simons Island, off the Georgia coast, it is the story of art historian Aimee Frasier and best-selling author Leland Monroe, who writes under the pseudonym Hayden Lawrence. Leland and his ancestor, the real Hayden Lawrence, are the descendants of a slaveholder and his slave. Aimee has been hired as a consultant for the state’s historical preservation society to authenticate and catalogue the contents of the Monroe/Lawrence house on St. Simons before the holdings are loaned to various museums throughout Georgia. The task requires Aimee to live and work on the estate for a month. During that time, Aimee and Leland learn a great deal about the past, the present and the possibility of a future together.

Rochelle Alers writes stories about mature adults who come to grips with their emotions and who deal with them in a straightforward manner. In a TRR interview, the author once confessed she is not comfortable writing flashback scenes. In “From the Heart” Alers compensates by creating a heartwarming body of letters between Leland’s grandparents that chronicle their lives together.

In Marcia King-Gamble’s “Officer and a Hero,” Kitt Du Maurier has just completed work on her master’s degree and is pondering several lucrative job offers. The shy graduate is treated to a Caribbean cruise by her outgoing and often outlandish best friend. While Kitt’s grade point average is very high, her self-esteem is extremely low. It doesn’t help that a bevy of beauty pageant contestants are onboard. Despite the attention he is receiving from the women on the ship, crewman Jared Horne is attracted to Kitt’s gentle manner and wants to get to know her better. The author has extensive experience in the travel industry that serves her well as she crafts a story that gives reader’s the flavor of a Caribbean cruise.

Carmen Green’s “Our Secret Affair” is the story of Toni Kingsley and John Roberts, two co-workers vying for the same promotion with a high-tech firm. When the smoke clears, the victor will receive the job; the loser will be out of work. The competition for the job is complicated by the fact that Toni and John have a brief history, of sorts. They have shared one night of passion neither can forget. The former lovers are reunited at executive perk, a bonus trip in St. Croix. There, they begin a discreet affair in plain sight. Carmen Green’s quirky sense of humor and sensual scenes add spice to this story.

Felicia Mason completes the anthology with “Heart=s Desire.” Lucia Heart-Allen is a distant relative of the retailing family of the author’s novels Foolish Heart and Forbidden Heart. Lucia has gone to the Bahamas on a trip she has won from a radio station in her hometown. It=s a welcome trip after a messy divorce from the husband and stepchildren from Hell. Widower David Reynolds and his three children are spending spring break together at the same hotel.

Unknown to David, the kids chose the Bahamas over Disney World for their vacation because it fit into their plans to find a wife for their father. The Reynolds children are on a mission and will not be denied. Candidates are carefully screened before they are presented to their father. But David has set his sights on Lucia, a woman who does not want to be involved with a man with children ever again.

Felicia Mason’s story is warm and funny. The cast of secondary characters assembled by the radio station may make you think twice before you pick up the phone to be the designated caller to win a trip!

As with many anthologies, the stories are not equally weighted. Alers and Mason’s stories are strong fours. The Green story is a strong three, while the King-Gamble story is a solid three. That said, Island Bliss provides good medicine for a touch of cabin fever.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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