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
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
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.