Stroke of Midnight
by Carly Phillips, Janelle Denison & Jacquie D’Alessandro
(Onyx, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-41164-1
The Christmas anthology season is underway, and Stroke of Midnight offers up a trio of contemporary novellas, with mixed results.

Carly Phillips headlines the book with “Midnight Angel”, but hers is easily the weakest entry of the lot. Movie star Dylan North has been dreaming of his high-school sweetheart ever since he callously dumped her with a scribbled note and left for Hollywood ten years earlier. Waking up in bed with a starlet one morning, he realizes he wants to go home to Acton, Massachusetts, and see if he can rekindle the flame with Dr. Holly Evans.

Holly has been dating a perfectly fine, handsome attorney named John, but has been unwilling to commit to marriage. She hasn’t been able to get Dylan out of her mind, either. When Dylan shows up at Christmastime, John graciously offers to step aside so Holly can sort out her feelings. Holly and Dylan still strike sparks, but can she trust him? And will he explain why he left her flat a decade earlier?

The problem with this story is that the wrong man was designated as the hero. Dylan comes across as a self-centered jerk. It’s taken him ten years of sleeping his way though half of Hollywood to return home and explain to Holly that he still loves her? Be still, my heart. And Holly dumps a great guy to fall at his feet. The reason Dylan left her is revealed in half a page, and it’s so flimsy I was tempted to stop reading right then and there. A few scenes of hot sex don’t make up for a weak, unconvincing plot. Were these characters real, I’d predict a divorce in three years.

Janelle Denison follows with “Meet Me at Midnight”, a story of two good friends who decide they want to be more than that. Alyssa Harte confides to her buddy Shane Witmer that her New Year’s resolution is to find a great guy and get into a real relationship, rather than bailing out when things get intense. She doesn’t want to end up alone, like her mother. Shane is unsettled by this. He’s wanted Alyssa for years, but hasn’t wanted to rock their friendship and have her leave him, so he’s remained in the “best pal” role. Alyssa, for her part, thinks Shane is equally hot but doesn’t want to risk losing their friendship, either.

Shane decides to approach Alyssa via the Internet and claim to be her secret admirer. When a series of instant messages start appearing on her computer, Alyssa is intrigued. Could the person who signs himself TheOne4You really be the perfect guy? And what will happen when they meet at a New Years Eve party, at the stroke of midnight?

I liked both of these characters. They seemed like normal, rational people, and that’s also part of my hesitation in giving this a wholehearted recommendation. There really wasn’t any reason why Shane and Alyssa couldn’t have approached one another years earlier, or why Alyssa couldn’t have had a heart-to-heart talk with her mother about her single status. The resolution, however, was sweet and satisfying.

The final story is Jacquie D’Alessandro’s “Mine at Midnight”. Merrie Langston is a free-spirited party planner. Tom Farrell is her buttoned-down accountant. They’re attracted to each other, but total opposites in personality. Or so they think.

Merrie and Tom embark on a hot affair, and they end up falling in love. But a final event shows them both how opposite they are in personality. Will it drive them apart?

This was a cute couple, if not overwhelmingly mature. The big climax was rather irritating, as everything could have been smoothed out with one conversation, but instead readers get our couple storming off in high dudgeon, sure that they will NEVER work things out. Rather tiresome to read. The dialogue is trademark D’Alessandro, though, sparkling with wit and sass. Read it for that reason alone, if you must.

Overall, readers will likely find Stroke of Midnight entertaining, if not memorable. The clunky first tale is balanced by two that are much more satisfying.

--Cathy Sova

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