A Country Christmas
by by Patricia Rice, Jodi Thomas, Emily Bradshaw, Raine Cantrell, and Karen Harper; historical (1999, 1993 reissue)
Onyx, $4.99, ISBN 0-451-17725-8

Oh, I think I'd better say that this book is a reissue of a 1993 edition.

Now, with that out of the way, let's get to the good stuff. Forget rakes and larger than life superheroes, this anthology features romance between real, good people. People with vulnerabilities and could be your next door neighbor. And out of five stories, two stories made me sniffle.

Jodi Thomas has always been a sensitive wordsmith who can write scenes so emotional that they make me go dizzy with warmth. Likewise, in her story story A Husband For Holly that starts off the anthology with a bang, she makes me believe in the magic of love all over again. Holly McCarter's birthday is also on Christmas day. Her two fuddy-wuddy godfathers decide to get her a Christmas gift of all Christmas gifts: a mail-order hubby. Zachary Hamilton is a man in need of love and direction in life, and he answers the advertisement. He collapses in exertion and hunger in the two startled godfathers' arms. Imagine Holly's surprise when she find her two rascally godfathers carrying an unconscious man up to her place. Imagine her ire when she discovers that that man is supposed to be her Christmas present! The Civil War is just over, and this southern farmgal will rather be tanned before marrying a Yankee soldier. But the next train out of here is due after Christmas, so she begrudgingly lets him stay.

These two people find themselves having more in common with each other, however, and they just can't help falling in love. Holly is a woman who is more comfortable being one of the guys, which results in her loneliness among both men and women in her area. And Zach is a man who just needs a place to stay, a woman to love, and a direction in life. Ms Thomas makes these two characters larger than life while firmly rooting them to earth. These people are wonderful to read, and I can't help wishing this story is a little bit longer.

Patricia Rice's story Friends Are Forever is a charming story about Brian McGee returning to his hometown to spend Christmas with the family of his friend Gerald Allister. And Clare Allister, Gerald's sister, has been in love with Brian all this while. Brian soon charms the family into setting up Christmas trees, learning the true meaning of Christmas, marrying Clare, and even righting some Allister family problems. This is a sweet story that is just... well, sweet.

Emily Bradshaw's The Gift has an amnesiac heroine, but the story is my favorite. The heroine is your typical superwoman who, despite having given birth to a son a few days earlier, could get about and clean up the rancher's household and find the energy to bring love and cheer into his life. The author weaves so much tenderness in the relationship between Eliza (a name given to her by the hero Luke after his favorite schoolteacher) and Luke, however, than any reservation I have just melts away.

Luke is a wonderful hero who is a softie despite his gruff exterior, while Liz is truly a sweet woman, radiating maternal warmth to Luke's son Jacob while generously sharing her love to everyone. I can't help but to love these people. The relationship between Luke and Liz is beautifully fleshed out in tender scenes that practically resonate with emotions. Jacob's not-at-all-subtle wish for Liz to stay with them for all time is rather delightful to read too, but also heartbreaking at the same time as it shows what a lonely boy he actually is. Keeper!

If only Ms Bradshaw will demonstrate this sort of emotional richness in her next Emily Carmichael book.

Following the masterpieces by Jodi Thomas and Emily Bradshaw, Raine Cantrell's A Time For Giving is rather a disappointment. It's a story of a soldier trying to woo a spinster into a marriage of convenience, but the story is rather spoiled somewhat by the rather immature characters and too much He loves me, he loves me not petal-plucking sort of behavior on both the characters.

Karen Harper's O Christmas Tree is a very readable story of a woman's mending of her estrangement with her family (they never forgive her for moving to New York to actually work there instead of marrying the good old farmer they choose for her), while finding love with her boss, but while the story is rather good, there is little room for the relationship between Charlotte and Donald to be fully developed convincingly. And the resolution at the end is a bit too convenient, but hey, this is a short story after all.

I must say this book is just perfect for Christmas. Really. There is so much sweet feel of goodness and giving and everything lovey-dovey within these pages that I can't help but to be charmed. I think I'll keep this book for rereading on Christmastime. I bet with all the carols and Christmas spirit and friends and family gatherings, I'd be just in the right mood to enjoy these sort of stories even more. For now, however, I can't help feeling that after reading five sweet, good, lovely stories in a row, I feel as if I've consumed too much candy.

Keep this one for the stocking.

Rating: 79

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