By Rochelle Alers:

Careless Whispers
Gentle Yearning
Harvest Moon
Heaven Sent
Holiday Cheer
Rosie's Curl & Weave
Summer Magic

By Shirley Hailstock:

Holiday Cheer
I Do!
Mirror Image
Opposites Attract
Winter Nights

By Marcia King-Gamble:

Under Your Spell

By Felicia Mason:

Foolish Heart
Man of the House
Something to Celebrate

Island Magic by Rochelle Alers, Shirley Hailstock, Marcia King-Gamble & Felicia Mason
(St. Martin's, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97300-4
I have no use for Punxsutawney Phil. I live in Chicago. No matter what Phil says, there will be four more months of winter where I am.

It is February and the view from my window is not pretty. Ice chunks on Lake Michigan are reminiscent of a Discovery Channel documentary on Antarctica. The sky, the water and the snow are all the same drab shade of gray. Local meteorologists speak of “wind chill,” “lake effect snow,” and “measurable accumulation.” Martinique, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii or the Grenadines are very appealing. Right about now, I could use a bit of Island Magic.

Last year, St. Martin’s Press released Rosie’s Curl and Weave, a wonderful collection of romances set against the backdrop of a Harlem beauty salon. Rosie’s alums Rochelle Alers and Felicia Mason are joined by Shirley Hailstock and Marcia King-Gamble, in what I think, is a worthy successor to last year’s collection. In Island Magic four couples find their own ways of creating tropical heat.

Felicia Mason’s “Enchanted” leads off the collection. It’s a story about looking for “Mr. Right” and being able to recognize him when you meet him. Four college buddies head off to Martinique for their annual tropical getaway vacation. Regine Bryant is the only unmarried woman among the group of four. Regine is determined that she is going to have a fling during the trip and sets out to find a worthy candidate. After a few days on the island, Regine learns that things aren’t always what they seem and there is a distinct difference between “Mr. Right” and “Mr. Right Now.” Felicia Mason has created an enchanting story with a secondary thread about friendship.

A mix up in reservations at a Hawaiian estate is the premise for Shirley Hailstock’s “An Estate of Marriage.” PR executive Stephen Weller has come to Hawaii after breaking his engagement to complete a musical score he’s put off for too long. The travel agent has made sure everything he could possibly want is available for him at the estate he has leased. He didn’t count on Naomi Davenport being part of that package. Neither did she. A booking error gives both Naomi and Stephen concurrent leases.

But the massive estate is soon not big enough for both of them. Naomi, an historical film consultant, also has an engagement dilemma. Unlike Stephen, hers is not broken, it’s just cracked. The trip will give her time to make a decision . . . and to make sweet tropical music with Stephen.

In her author’s note, Hailstock says she once had a mix-up in accommodations. Unfortunately for the author, there was no adventure similar to that of her heroine. Fortunately for her readers, she was able to ask the all-important “what-if?” and create a great story.

Marcia King-Gamble returns to St. Vincent in the Caribbean, where she was born, as the setting for an excellent story about a heroine who literally jumps ship. Days before her wedding, Raven Adams discovers that her fiancé has been having an affair with his secretary and gotten her pregnant. Raven decides to go on the cruise planned for their honeymoon. Much to her chagrin, the voyage is filled with lovers. Raven is so taken with St. Vincent and the Grenadines that she decides to spend the rest of her trip at that port-of-call. There, she encounters the mysterious and omnipresent Logan McFee.

“Then Came You” is Marcia King-Gamble’s best romance since her debut novel, Remembrance. The author has combined her writing skills with her travel industry experience and familiarity with the setting to create a memorable story. It proves she can hold her own in a collection with more experienced authors.

Last, but not least, is Rochelle Alers’ “Far From Home.” It is the story of divorcée Ericka Williams. When her college-age children opt to spend the Christmas holidays in California at a hip-hop party with their record producer father, Ericka finds she’s got time on her hands. Rather than stay home alone in New Jersey to brood for her brood, she books a trip to the Virgin Islands.

In a crowded restaurant, she meets Jordan Phillips. They decide that sharing a table for dinner is preferable to dining alone and extending their wait for a table. Jordan is a politician and a widower. Ericka and Jordan enjoy each other’s company and decide to spend their time and the holiday in the Virgin Islands together.

Rochelle Alers’ has created a mature story with main characters who are over 45. It is an intelligent story without baggage. The characters are secure in their relationship with each other. Jordan is not carrying a torch for his deceased wife and Ericka has no illusions about the demise of her marriage.

The subtle humor, great characters and interesting story makes “Far From Home” my sentimental favorite. Alers’ story, like the others in the Island Magic anthology, provides a cure for the winter blahs no matter where you live.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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