Desert Isle Keeper Review

A Very Merry Christmas

Lori Foster, Gemma Bruce and Janice Maynard
2006, Contemporary Romance
Kensington, $14.00, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0758215428

Grade: A-
Sensuality: Hot

One of my indulgences is a Christmas anthology. As a rule, I'm not one for short stories and other anthologies rarely pique my interest. But Christmas-themed stories always seem appropriate this time of the year. And what better to mix them with but romance? This offering from three very talented ladies definitely hit the mark and put me right into the holiday spirit.

Contemporary Romance
Do You Hear What I Hear By Lori Foster
Ozzie Decker only has one problem with Marci Churchill: She's nuts. Well, not certifiably, but the woman talks to animals and thinks they talk back. It's the week before Christmas, and Marci's brother-in-law, a co-worker of Ozzie's, asks him to keep an eye on Marci. When Ozzie hears that a donkey (yes, a real donkey) has been stolen from a local nativity scene, he has an inkling that Marci just might be the culprit. Once they return the donkey to his rightful owners and start to get to know each other in the process, Ozzie and Marci decide to spend the holidays together.

The unofficial Queen of Anthologies has struck again with this quirky, sweet, and sexy installment about an untrusting cop and a real life pet psychic. Marci is the perfect foil to take down this hardnosed cop and give him something to come home to. I only wish there was a little less focus on Marci's ability with animals. Grade: B

Contemporary Romance
Bah Humbug, Baby by Gemma Bruce
After a horrible and hurtful breakup a year before, Allison and Lee are thrown together at an isolated cabin in the Rockies by their meddling siblings. The couple quickly give in to their attraction to each other and spend Christmas week together in bliss while enjoying the quaint, if somewhat strange, town of Good Cheer and its decidedly retro inhabitants. They have a long history with each other and both are dedicated to their work; Lee is a photojournalist and Allison heads up a large ad agency. They have an obstacle to overcome before giving in to their love: commitment issues.

This is the one I didn't want to end. Allison and Lee have one of the best and real romances I've ever read - period. Their issues and what keeps them apart are true-to-life problems that aren't romanticized by the author. The spirit of Christmas is a third, and very important, character in this short story and worked well enough to bring a tear to my eye. Truly, a small masterpiece. Grade: A

Contemporary Romance
By Firelight by Janice Maynard
Maddy Tierny is on a research trip with her two friends hiking through the Virginia Appalachians when they bail on her and she is forced to continue on by herself. When she's caught in a storm, she spots a cabin not to far away and makes her way there, collapsing at Grant Monroe's feet. Grant takes her in and they spend a few days getting to know each other and fighting their attraction in the isolated Virginia Mountains. When it's time to return to civilization, they need to make some choices about where they are going and what they are going to be to each other.

Grant and Maddy are upfront about their feelings for each other making this one of the more honest stories Iíve read. By Firelight has a more serious tone than the first two offerings and is a welcome addition. Grant was simply to-die-for and I could have done with a full-length story of these two. While the setup was slightly contrived, it worked. And that was the only flaw I could find. Grade: A-

I will be reading A Very Merry Christmas again next year and probably a few after that. Gemma Bruce and Janice Maynard are new names to me, but I'm certainly feeling a glom coming on now that I've sampled some of their work. Theses three holiday stories worked well with each other from the quirky Foster to the romantic Maynard. Bruce's tale will stay with me for a while. I urge anyone who needs a little good cheer to pick this up and keep it for future seasons.

-- Lisa Gardineer

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