Candlelight And You
by Leslie Esdaile, Melanie Schuster, and Linda Walters; contemporary (2003)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-382-3


This Valentine's Day anthology is a mixed bag.

Leslie Esdaile's Valentine's Love is a clear winner of the three - it's funny, the romance works, and the characters are fun to read. Florist Denise Blake is rather flattered but wary when radio guy Brandon Thornton notices her and starts wooing her. This one works beautifully because these two characters have no contrived baggages to keep them apart. Their courtship is humorous yet romantic, sometimes this like a less raunchy version of the British sitcom Coupling. There's also a slight element of magic that results in an epilogue that has me laughing.

I like this one because the characters are no-nonsense people who may bumble a little but they never lose sight of the fact that love is fun. Brandon is cute as the guy who has no problems falling in love and working an extra mile to make the woman feel the same way too. This one is a really nice Valentine romance.

Melanie Schuster's Wait For Love is less successful. The author has a nice way with conversations and family interaction, but the hero should get over himself. Janice VanHook, hotshot interior designer, and basketball champ Curt Bowden meet again when his cousin recommended her to him without the cousin knowing these two's past history. See, as kids, each believe that the other deliberately stood him/her up at prom night. Now, this experience leads Curt to spend the entire novella giving Janice the suspicious eye and vice-versa. It takes the now ubiquitous meddling busybodies (this time read: kids) to bring them together.

I wish someone will knock into that idiot Curt's head some sense that (a) people change and stupid high school kids can turn out to be the freak that owns you (also look under Gates, Bill) and (b) high school and college days are long over. GET OVER IT, DWEEB!

In the end, evil hoes and jealous skanks are the ones to be blamed, and everyone's happy. Seriously, college is over. So what if those pretty cheerleaders made you unhappy? They're now probably fat and dowdy. Why indulge in childish pretty-is-skank name-callings? Why can't we get along, ladies? (Or get a new plot, at least.)

There's nothing like infidelity to spark up one's Valentine's day, and Linda Walters is happy to oblige in Seventy-two Hours And Counting. Ooh, is that a clock ticking I hear?

Morgan Collins is fed up with her useless boyfriend of two years. She attends a conference, meets hottie Danton Yearwood, and ooh. Morgan and Danton make a bland couple. Unlike Ms Esdaile's novella of courtship where Brandon and Denise resemble human beings, Morgan and Danton are perfect cardboard cut-outs of romance stereotypes.

In the end, I wonder which is the greater evil: stupidly remaining with a jerk for two years or cheating on him with a sexy guy when he is away. I'm more inclined towards the former, personally. Climbing out of a tub of crap means nothing if you are stupid enough to dive head-in into the tub in the first place.

I love Ms Esdaile's novella, I wish Ms Schuster has put her nice voice to use in a better plot, and I wish Ms Walters hasn't tried too hard to fit herself into the mould. All in all, a mixed bag indeed. But Ms Esdaile's really nice story has me leaning towards a more favorable overall impression of this anthology. I won't recommend it whole-heartedly, but to be honest, I can't say I regret reading it either.

Rating: 70


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