Romancing the Holidays by Belmont Delange, et. al.
(Elan Press, $13.95, G) ISBN 0-9706710-0-8
Like many anthologies, Romancing the Holidays is a mixed bag. A few of the stories are clichéd, some are acceptable but unmemorable, and several have quite a bit of sparkle. The ten offerings in this trade-sized softcover are based around various holidays. A quick rundown of each seems to be the only way to approach reviewing them, so here goes:

“Everybody’s Destiny” by Belmont Delange is the story of a country singer who comes to a small Kansas town to rediscover the joy of his music, and along the way meets a pretty widow. This one fell flat with its predictable storyline and flat characters. Not a great way to open the anthology, but things improve.

“Love, Lies, and Cherry Pies” by Barbara White-Rayczek is a delightful confection. Innkeeper George Washington (and the name is fully explained) desperately needs some paying guests, but when an attractive handyman offers his services in exchange for room and board, she can’t say no. Zach Andrews is a self-avowed drifter, and George is afraid he’ll break her heart when he leaves. Funny, with a touch of paranormal, this is one of the best offerings in the book.

“Falling for You” by Deborah Shelley is centered around dentist Tovah Levy, who is dressed for a part in a local Purim pageant when handsome David Benjamin falls out of a tree and at her feet - literally. Tovah may be a whiz with a dentist’s drill but she’s a complete klutz outside the office, and a bit of a ditz, too. Her over-the-top portrayal took a lot of shine off the story.

“Lucky in Love” by Pamela Johnson really sparkled. Parade organizer Caroline MacIntyre has her hands full trying to get the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade lined up when a man dressed in a kilt and carrying bagpipes comes to her rescue. He’s Officer Mike Dameon, a mounted policeman, and Caroline’s fantasy man come to life. A short, sweet sleeper of a tale that will leave you smiling.

“Sweet April” by Carrie Weaver is the story of April Stewart, who comes to a small Colorado town to try and discover her birth parents’ identities. Arriving as the clerk’s office is closing, she runs smack into county clerk Luke Gray. When her efforts to uncover the truth run into a dead end, Luke comforts a distraught April, and a romance is kindled. Luke came across as a nice guy with a big heart; April as sweet but a bit mired in self-pity. Their quick journey to love has touches of humor, though.

“Fragile Beginnings” by Su Kopil finds Angela Dunn trying to live down the humiliation of being left at the altar six month before. When her old pal Brody Gaines returns from Alaska for the town’s Arbor Day festival, Angela is in for a delightful surprise. Gone is the short, awkward teenage boy she remembered; the hunky outdoorsman who has taken his place is definitely worth another look. A fun tale about friends who might become something much more.

“Better Partners Than Adversaries” by Cathy McDavid is one of those tiresome stories that only work because the lead characters never communicate. Aaron Gallagher assumed he’d take charge of Banks Contracting when the owner retired, and he’s none too pleased that the job has gone to daughter Jolyn Banks, a woman with whom he shared a scorching kiss six weeks earlier. Since neither of them will be honest about the effect of that kiss, Aaron and Jolyn get defensive every time they are around each other, while the reader will no doubt be rolling her eyes and wishing these two would act like adults.

“Devlin’s Wicked Wish” by Karen L. Williams is a short time-travel romance. Devlin Wilde is booted into the future after an encounter with a New Orleans fortuneteller. There he meets Alayna Pedrieux, who falls for the handsome stranger who appeared suddenly in her home. Eventually, the magic will fade and Devlin will return to his time. The short format means that the obvious complications of time-travel are skimmed over in order to get these two together, and fast, and the story is diminished to entertaining fluff. Time-travel lovers may enjoy it.

“A Gift of Time” by Trudy Doolittle find workaholic Theodore Behr visiting time-management specialist Katherine Katz to learn how to lighten up. As Katherine drags the uptight Theodore into fun Christmas adventures, a romance is kindled. Neither Katherine nor Theodore are very interesting characters, and their attraction felt forced at best.

The final story, “Coming Home” by Christine Eaton-Jones, is a little gem. It’s a post-Civil War historical, the story of Sarah Bradshaw and her long-lost love J.D. Anderson. Sarah has lived a lonely existence since J.D. left for the war, and his complete lack of communication has led her to believe he never loved her, after all. Now J.D. is back, and he has quite a story to tell. Can Sarah believe him? Poignant and believable, the author strikes just the right note. Well done.

In summary, you will likely find at least several stories to your liking in Romancing the Holidays, but you’ll have to decide for yourself if the $13.95 price tag is too steep. As far as sensuality goes, none of these stories go beyond kisses. For a bedside anthology, it might just fit the bill.

--Cathy Sova

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