A Very Special Love
by Janice Sims, Courtni Wright, and Kayla Perrin; contemporary (2000)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-106-5


This is a Mother's Day anthology and therefore there are going to be babies and single mummies galore between the pages of this book. Since it's been awhile that I read a story with babies in it, I thought it's safe to venture into the dark territories of Hunks & Babies, so to speak. And I am happy to report that A Very Special Love, while isn't as special as the fellow(s) who coined that title would like to hope, is a good read. Its strength lies in the first and best story - Janice Sims' The Keys To My Heart.

In TKTMH, Kiana Everett is an overworked woman caught in a custody battle with her brother-in-law over a niece. Bro-in-law Gabriel decides to drop by Kiana's place to discuss matters, but you know how things are. The Everetts are gonna get a new Daddy, whether Gabriel likes it or not. (One look at Kiana persuades the man not to fight too hard, however).

The best thing about TKTMH is its heartwarming portrayal of Kiana's sometimes frantic, sometimes manic, but always loving family. Her children and family members rally around to keep Kiana sane and witty despite the nasty things life may throw her way, and she gives them back a healthy dose of love. Gabriel falls in love with her as well as her family, and this well-done family warmth elevates the novella from the muzak soap-opera hour it could end up should it take a wrong turn somewhere. It doesn't, thus making it a fabulous read.

The other two novellas are unfortunate enough to follow this story. Courtni Wright's A Mother's Love has Jackie Peterson brooding because no one is at home to celebrate Mommy's Day with her (read that as darn, no one is here to pamper her silly). This story has flashbacks of Jackie to her happier days, complaining to her sister about ungrateful creatures men (hubby and son) are, and - hey, who's knocking at the door?

AML just goes on and on in circles, really, and it doesn't even try to hide the fact that Jackie is making mountains out of molehill of her "problems". Sure, she's lonely, but I would be hard-pressed to look past her mansion, bank account, and well-manicured fingernails to give a damn really, when Jackie just whine and brood. Now this story's definitely soap opera material.

Lexy Sinclair in Kayla Perrin's Maternal Instincts is also a rather lacklustre read - single (widowed) mommy meets ex-boyfriend and shrieks herself silly in protests before succumbing to the inevitable. Yeah, yeah, Lexy has maternal instincts, but she is too prone to feel guilty for the slightest imaginable sins, too uptight, too hesitation-prone, and too much of a stereotypical "modern" woman to be interesting. Gabriel is a typical Arabesque hero - sensitive and noble to the point of being boring. If Lexy's mommy-hysteria rings true, then maybe I might see Gabriel as a patient man. Lexy isn't real - she seems contrived, therefore my reaction to Maternal Instincts is to roll up my eyes. Maybe Lexy should ask Kiana advice on stress management.

Well, this anthology therefore has one out of everything. It is a heartwarming family drama (Janice Sims), a soap opera tale of a bored woman with way too much time on her hands (Courtni Wright), and a typical romance where cute children (this time, a lil' girl) is used as a vehicle to bring two people together. Heartwarming, contrived, and predictable all share equal limelight in one anthology - equal opportunities for all indeed. Still, I don't mind rereading that TKTMH novella all over again.

Rating: 73


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