By Felicia Mason:

Foolish Heart
Man of the House
Rosie's Curl & Weave

By Margie Walker:

Public Affair
Remember Me
Seasons Greetings

By Brenda Jackson:

Fire & Desire
One Special Moment

Something to Celebrate
by Felicia Mason, Margie Walker & Brenda Jackson
(Arabesque/BET, $15, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-045-X
The holiday season is approaching. The year-end holiday observances of 1999 carry added significance because they also mark the end of a decade, a century and a millennium. As we prepare to gather with family and friends, it is easy to forget that there are those among us for whom the impending season brings feelings of dread and bittersweet memories. There are many among us desperately who are seeking something to celebrate.

Something to Celebrate, Arabesque/BET Books' 1999 holiday collection, carries on a five-year tradition that has given us wonderful stories by some of the line's best writers. These collections of Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s stories are still available. They are all on my keeper shelf and are as much a part of my holiday season as reruns of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Something to Celebrate is one of two collections released by Arabesque/BET Books this year. Winter Nights, which was published last year in a hardbound version, has been reissued in paperback.

Something to Celebrate opens with Felicia Mason's "The First Noel." Several weeks before Christmas, Kia Simmons’ home was destroyed by fire. Her older sister Kim was killed and, at 17, Kia was left to care for her sister's one-year-old son Joshua. Chapter one begins seven years later.

Kia has devoted her life to Josh, whom she has legally adopted. Josh is a growing manchild with questions about almost everything. While the death of her parents and sister have created a personal crisis of faith for Kia, she diligently makes sure that Josh is raised in a religious environment. Josh’s appearance in the church Christmas pageant brings her in contact with Franklin Williams, a carpenter who is active in the church and community.

“The First Noel” is a wonderful story of faith, hope and new beginnings. It is a well-written story with one of the best heroes I’ve encountered in quite some time. The Franklin we meet in the story is emotionally unencumbered. There are no bad relationships, ex-wives or children. Franklin gives back to the community, serves as a mentor to children and is strong in his faith. He leads by example and is an appropriate complement to the uncertain and vulnerable Kia.

“Kwanzaa Kupendi” by Margie Rose Walker is probably the most difficult story in the group. Suicide, particularly during the holidays, is a reality. The author has shown great courage in taking on the issue in a holiday romance.

Researcher Michelle Craig does not want to live to ring in the new year. In the opening scene, Michelle contemplates how to use the revolver she has bought to end her life. Her suicide is postponed by the intervention of her friends, Loretta, Clarissa and Reba. They set up their own crisis network, taking turns watching over Michelle.

Recognizing Michelle’s need for professional help, Loretta contacts her friend Simon Stevenson. Simon is a psychiatrist whose practice and professional reputation was nearly ruined by false allegations of sexual misconduct brought by a patient. He is rebuilding his career. He grudgingly agrees to see Michelle under the guise of a blind date to help plan a Kwanzaa celebration. Simon has never celebrated the holiday and learns a lot from Michelle.

Once the initial eye-averting suicide attempt subsides, “Kwanzaa Kupendi” settles into a romance of discovery and of second chances. I had finally gotten into the rhythm of the story when I was stopped cold by a twist in the plot. Near the end, the author inserts a scene reminiscent of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol” I found confusing. It slowed down the action and didn’t really add much to the story.

Last, but by no means least, is Brenda Jackson's "Truly Everlasting." Austin Gardner wants a temporary dad for the holiday season. Someone to do some of the things his Uncle Clayton used to do before he got married . . . the kinds of things a full-time dad would do.

Austin’s mother is Felicia Madaris. Twice divorced Felicia, the free spirit of the popular Madaris clan, was introduced in Jackson’s third novel, Eternally Yours. The novel also introduced Trask “The Max” Maxwell, a former pro-football player turned sports commentator. Trask is the older brother of private investigator Alex Maxwell and the best friend of Felicia’s cousin Clayton.

Trask, Felicia and Clayton were inseparable as children. The six elder Madaris brothers served as surrogate fathers to Felicia, whose father was killed in Vietnam, and to Trask, whose father abandoned his family. Throughout their lives Trask and Felicia have been both natural antagonists and extremely close friends.

When Trask decides to spend time with Austin, both he and Felicia are unprepared for the new feelings developing between them. Their initial instincts prompt them to dig in and fight. However, a crisis brings them together.

“Truly Everlasting” is a worthy addition to the Madaris family saga. For those who have never read a Brenda Jackson romance, it is an all too brief introduction. For Jackson fans, it’s a teaser for the long-awaited story of Jake Madaris and Diamond Swain.

The Mason and Jackson stories are strong fours. The Walker story is a strong three. The first two stories in the collection are G and PG, respectively. The Something to Celebrate anthology is rated PG-13 for the Jackson story.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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