Silver Bells
by Fern Michaels, JoAnn Ross, Mary Burton & Judy Duarte
(Zebra, $7.99, PG)  ISBN 14201-0363-6
Four talented authors offer us the chance to enjoy romance at Christmas and here is an anthology where all four stories deliver.  Silver Bells is well worth your time.

The title story is from Michaels, who gives us a tale of love between a movie star and her old high school flame.  Amy Lee has been in Hollywood for years and feels the need for a break. She has decided to go home to Apple Valley, Pennsylvania, the place where she grew up until tragedy struck. Her parents were killed and her aunt Flo whisked her off to California.  She doesn’t regret her life, but always wondered, what if…

Hank Anders has come to Apple Valley to have Christmas with his sister-in-law, Alice, and twin year-old nephews. His brother is in Iraq and won’t be home. But he is surprised when Alice takes off, swearing she needs a break too. He is suddenly with kids he is uncertain how to care for. He and Amy meet up and their romance rekindles as they both learn to appreciate family and Christmas.

Santa’s Village, Washington is the setting for “Dear Santa” by JoAnn Ross. Holly Berry is a writer on her way to Leavenworth when her GPS takes her into the Cascade Mountains and she meets a deer. Luckily for the deer, she swerves to miss him but unluckily for Holly who ends up in a ditch on a small mountain road with no cell phone signal. Gabriel O’Halloran and his daughter Emma take her in as their guest at the HO HO HO Inn, of which Gabe is the proud owner. Despite her name, Holly is not enamored of Christmas but she finds herself in a town that sees itself as almost Christmas heaven, a place where everyone exploits the holiday to make money but lives the magic as a way of life. Their romance is heartwarming and engaging.

“Christmas Past” is Burton’s very taut and suspenseful tale about an abusive husband who finds ways to haunt his widow after his death. Luckily for her, she has a friend who is a homicide detective. Nicole Porter gets a letter telling her about something left for her with a lawyer. When she decides to go see the lawyer, she discovers clues to a past murder that embroils Nicole and her boyfriend in a fight for their lives. This is one of the best stories in the book, not necessarily for its romance (which is satisfying but not great) but definitely for its drama.

Finally we have “A Mulberry Park Christmas” from Duarte. Alyssa Ridgeway is looking for something, but mostly she just wants to get through the holidays. She and her two kids have recently moved into her family’s old home and are in the midst of recovering from divorce. Alyssa’s husband decided to get together with his new family for Christmas and isn’t even sending her the child support payment.  To add to the mess, the elderly neighbor next door seems to think her son Alyssa’s son, Tommy, is a troublemaker and things have not gotten off to a good start.  Mac MacGregor has just moved into the neighborhood on a temporary basis to help fix up an old Victorian mansion that was left to him by an old friend.  He and Alyssa used to go out in high school and their history together was not all rosy.  Now they still find themselves attracted and just don’t know what to do about it. The kids and the neighbor help them figure it out. 

Each of these stories had merit. A couple of them stretched the imagination and brought in some “magic” of Christmas, but they are based in the present.  I was engaged in each story and felt sad to see them end. This is unusual for me when reading anthologies.  If you are looking for four nice Christmas stories, Silver Bells is highly recommended.   

--Shirley Lyons

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