has also reviewed:

By Francis Ray:

Break Every Rule
The Heart of the Falcon
Silken Betrayal

By Shirley Hailstock:

Mirror Image

By Donna Hill:

Charade
A Private Affair
Quiet Storm
Rooms of the Heart

 
Winter Nights by by Francis Ray, Shirley Hailstock & Donna Hill
(BET Books/Arabesque, $22.00, PG) ISBN 1-57566-369-4
****
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and I couldn't be happier. The December Holidays Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's Eve are my favorites. The nine-day period beginning Christmas Eve and ending New Year's Day is an important time for my family and friends to honor the old traditions and to create new ones.

The season has begun early this year. I've already gotten my first gift from Arabesque/BET Books! Winter Nights is a holiday anthology with stories by Francis Ray, Shirley Hailstock and Donna Hill. It's a beautiful, four-color hardbound book that will be comfortable on a coffee table or someone's keeper shelf.

While the outside of the 1998 collection has changed, inside is a wonderful continuation of Arabesque's year-end anthology tradition begun in 1994 with Spirit of the Season. (Others in the series are Holiday Cheer (1995), Silver Bells (1996), Moonlight and Mistletoe (1997), and Seasons Greetings, this year's paperback anthology.) Francis Ray, Shirley Hailstock and Donna Hill have given us three strong stories that celebrate the best of our Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's Eve traditions.

The first story, "Until Christmas," is a sweet romance by Francis Ray. Samantha Clark has applied for a job as a housekeeper for Ethan Rawlings and his adorable twin sons, Alex and Alan. Samantha ran a local bed and breakfast until it was sold and the new owners decided not to keep her on. She's an excellent cook and manager who is not put off by two young charges, wayward pets or "emergencies."

Of course, the children and their grandparents know a good thing in Samantha when they see it. But Ethan can't get beyond her 27-year-old exterior that sends his 39-year-old hormones into overdrive. He has visions of his reputation as a small-town high school principal going down the tubes and of the winks and nods that are sure to begin if Samantha becomes his h-o-u-s-e-k-e-e-p-e-r. Against his better judgement, he hires her on a trial basis until Christmas. Samantha is determined to secure a permanent position in his life by the deadline despite Ethan's semi-strong resolve. Francis Ray offers a story of love, romance, Christmas and cute kids that even the Grinch would find hard to resist.

Shirley Hailstock's "Kwanzaa Angel" is a story of second chances which draws upon the seven-day Afrocentric celebration. Hailstock's story exists on two levels. On one level, it is a story of about second chances. Raimi Price is a successful businessman who learns you can go home again even if it means facing the girl you dumped at the prom for another girl. Erin Scott eventually got over the small-town gossips and the humiliation of that night. When they meet again she is chagrined to discover she's never gotten over Raimi.

On the second, and much deeper level, it is a story about how one woman extends the ideals of Kwanzaa beyond the seven-day celebration. Hailstock has developed the character to personify the season's seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Erin Scott is the Kwanzaa angel.

"Round Midnight" by Donna Hill is set in Washington, DC. Summer Lane is former psychologist who has created a popular late-night talk show that is an eclectic blend of advice and music. It's one of those stories with an extra element I've come to appreciate a soundtrack. There are a few old-school songs I found my self humming as I read.

Summer is attracted to Tre Holland, the station's program director, but is reluctant to get involved in an on-the-job fling with the boss. Their relationship is further stained by preconceived notions they have about each other. By the time they summon up the courage to go out on a date, a big misunderstanding gets in the way. Will they get-it-together in time to ring in the New Year?

The publisher has lined up a cast of heavyweights for its first foray into hardbound books with four-digit prices. Francis Ray, Shirley Hailstock and Donna Hill are up to the challenge. Readers won't be disappointed. The authors have served up fresh approaches to their work that help to make this volume special. Each author has crafted warm, funny and positive stories that will become classics. Winter Nights is the gift that will keep on giving.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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