Midnight Clear
by Leslie Esdaile, Gwynne Forster, Carmen Green, and Monica Jackson (2000)
Indigo, $10.95, ISBN 1-58571-039-3


This Christmas anthology is set in a town called Mystic Ridge where nosey ghosts and spirits will matchmake couples whether the couples like it or not.

Carmen Green starts off the show with Angel's Legacy. Angelina Snowden returns to Mystic Ridge for business purposes and finds her old boyfriend Peter Richland waiting. Despite the irritating superperfection of these two characters (enough with telling me how powerful, beautiful, supersmart they are already, I get the picture after the superlative overkill in the opening prologue!), this short novella sparkles with a fast-paced whirlwind (re)courtship and a snappy ending.

But the paranormal aspects distract more than they enhance the story. Three historical figures, Nefertiti, Sheba, and Dahia, plot to matchmake Angel to Peter, and they are the ones who keep irritating me with their gushing about how PERFECT PERFECT PERFECT these two mortals are. Also, they serve no purpose in the story apart from holding hands and channeling love (or something) in some Care Bear inspired sugar overdose.

Left on their own, Angel and Peter are decent characters. They could do without the constant hawking about their perfection - this is not a beauty pageant after all. Still, a good read nonetheless, saved by great chemistry between the two leads.

Monica Jackson's The Choice is also a great story, but it succeeds better as a family story than a paranormal story. These two elements don't gel that well together, and the final magic-laden climax seems as it belongs to a different story compared to the first few chapters. But the author creates a wonderful tale about a woman who learns to live again after the death of her beloved aunt.

Evelyn Sweet is a woman who has always been the doer in her family. She cooks, she sweeps, she cleans, and now, she wonders where her life has gone. When David Douglas, all hunk, breezes into town and actually sets his cap on dowdy, plain Evelyn, much to everyone's surprise, Evelyn's path to self-discovery becomes even more fun. There's some family curse thingie in this story too, and it never seems to gel properly into the story.

I prefer to read more about Evelyn who decides to put her life in order and move on (with a sexy man in her life, of course). She is a great, strong heroine with real weaknesses, and I can only wish I have more of her story.

Leslie Esdaile's Home For The Holidays... well, for those who keep complaining about the lack of heroines who masturbate, take a look at this one. Colette and Franklin Johnson are a married couple who just don't feel the magic anymore. Franklin is overworked and the money never seem to be there. Colette is feeling neglected by her husband's distance and cursory lovemaking, and if that man can't do it for her, she'll do it herself!

The scene where Colette does her DIY drives home her loneliness and sexual frustration rather than to arouse any reader. Also, the marriage problems are real, not some contrived misunderstanding nonsense (yes, I'm talking to you, Debbie Macomber), and this set the stage for a well-done family story.

The troubled couple returns to Mystic Ridge for a family holiday reunion. The other siblings and their men/women have their own baggages too, and it is up to the spirit of the late Nana to show these youngsters a clue or two about life, love, and all. I have my doubts about relationships that require a ghostly helping hand to mend, but the author nonetheless creates a great family story. The interaction between the family members are just real and they bring a smile to my face between they remind me of those family reunions of mine come Chinese New Year. It is no mean feat juggling several relationship stories in one novella, but the author succeeds in doing just that.

Gwynne Forster's Miracle At Midnight is the weakest of the lot, because it is so familiar and hence, boring. And it is also unintentionally amusing in its inconsistency: it ridicules society for the very sins the hero commits by the buckets. Double standard or silly oversight? Who knows?

For instance, the hero Nelson Pettiford is a political cartoonist who, if he's a good one, must have razorbladed enough politicians up at Washington. But he is also very sensitive about his (excess) height, and he scowls at a lady who teases him about it. What gives people the right to say what they thought at the expense of other, he rants.

Does he call up the Senators and ask them permission to satirize their actions in the papers then?

Likewise, he has no problems mocking, insulting, judging women based on some trivial observations of his, yet he is pissed when people teases him about his height. Like, hello, why can't people be more sensitive? Isn't society evil?

I wonder what his neighbor Page Sutherland sees in him. But oh yeah, Nelson's a hero, so he's probably exempt from all those common sense behavior that bind us mere mortals. But really, talk about a silly hero!

I just couldn't get into this novella at all, because it is outright schizophrenic, castigating everyone for the very sins the hero performs without much thought and without having to face the recriminations either. Okay, romance heroes are allowed some privileges, but this is ridiculous (and unintentionally hilarious).

Apart from the novella by Gwynne Forster, the other three are well-written, more often than not heartwarming tales of family and love. And Midnight Clear's three out of four enables me to recommend this book heartily.

Rating: 88


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