Gettin' Merry
by Francis Ray, Beverly Jenkins, Monica Jackson, and Geri Guillaume; assorted (2002)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98219-4

Gettin' Merry is a Kwanzaa anthology and I'm reading this book three months too late. Nonetheless, all four stories are emminently readable, the strongest being Geri Guillaume's really adorable The Seventh Principal. One can complain that the Christmas and Kwanzaa theme isn't particularly dominant in most of the novellas (only Monica Jackson's The Way Back Home has a plot that directly relates to the festivities), but overall, most of the stories are enjoyable enough to make up for that lack.

Francis Ray's The Wish is a silly tale of a doctor Nicholas Darling's recent brush with a fairy-godmother type old lady leads him to being hounded by husband-hungry women everywhere. In desperation, he asks this old lady's niece Andrea Strickland to pose as his lady. Only, of course, they fall in love but these two dummies keep waffling over whether to make their sham engagement real until it's almost too late. The characters and the plots rarely deviate from the sham engagement formula. Still, the hero's good nature charms me into overlooking the heroine's typical emotional baggages or the predictable plot.

Beverly Jenkins' Homecoming is the sole historical in this anthology. Lydia Cooper is heading home to Detriot after a broken engagement when she meets her old beau Grayson Dane. Sparks fly once again as Lydia reconnects with him as well as the rest of her family for the holidays. Like this author's previous works, the heroine is sensible, the hero is gallant, and the whole story is very enjoyable. I like the main characters and I even like those old dames with a craze for matchmaking when I will usually scream and trust a crucifix at these creatures on other occasions. A solid read from Ms Jenkins, this one.

Monica Jackson attempts to tackle the attempts of Anne Donald in trying to fit in with the world around her. Her father is African-American and her mother is white. When they died while she was a kid, Anne's maternal grandparents took her in and they prevented her from learning about her father's culture. As a result, she knows she is biracial but she can't fit in with people of either race. With the help of her college professor Dr Trey Frazier, she discovers her father's family, finds love, and heaps on the sugar until I'm sure I need to get an insuline shot afterwards.

Kudos to Ms Jackson for tackling a potentially explosive issue with finesse. It will be very easy to demonize Anne's grandparents, but the author instead chooses to portray them as human beings who did the wrong thing out of fear and who aren't afraid to make amends with Anne when they realize they are wrong. Unfortunately, Anne's paternal grandparents and relatives are so sugary and Anne's finding family and love is so overdone in a saccharine way that... brrrr. It's a nicely written story and I guess the sugar can be excused as this is, after all, a holiday novella, but still, I cannot help but to shudder at the really sweet moments. I'm happy for Anne and Trey, but gawd, this is just too much, people, too much!

I'm not too impressed with Geri Guillaume's third-person books, but when she is writing in first person, she seems to have it made. In my review of her first-person book Hearts Of Steel, I remarked that her male voice seems to be weaker than her female voice. I take that back. After reading The Seventh Principal where she has me falling in love with the narrator Paul "Bear" Barrett, I take it all back, humbly eat it all, and down it with a bottle of humble vinegar. I love this one. The plot is not much to do with the festivities, but damn, it makes me laugh and sigh at the same time.

Bear is in an interesting, if precarious, spot on his job. The seventh principal of Gilbery Audrey Calhoun High School, he is nonetheless the first African American principal. When you factor in the fact that the school mascot is a Confederate soldier, oh boy. It is close to the holidays, but the poor man is having a headache. The suspension of three students have the student body all in arms. Since the three students are suspended for fighting and two of them are star players in the football team, this fractures the student population even more. Soon, racial tensions begin to flare, parents begin to cause problems, and Boston Public starts to seem like a heavenly place in comparison.

Still, he has an ally in the substitute couselor Kirby Kayin, who also happens to be his old sweetheart. They parted friends - her career as a humanitarian takes her all the way to South America and soon the heat just dissipates over the distance. But now that she is back in his life, he is all about winning her back again. Bear is the best. He is so sweet in his earnest determination to be a good principal and a good boyfriend. Also, he has very little baggages. He is also one shameless romantic, and seriously? I'm in love with this man. Ms Guillaume has done a splendid job in bringing this very nice man to life in her story, and Kirby isn't too bad in comparison either. She's smart, she's good in her job, and she is an ally as well as sweetheart to dear Bear. And she calls him Bear. It's actually pretty sweet.

I'm also impressed at how the author manages to wrap up the heavy issues of her story adequately while presenting a nice romance at the same time. All this in 94 pages too. It feels like a very long 94 pages that I really wish won't to end. Personally, I'd have given this novella a well-deserved keeper grade.

But overall, as an anthology, Gettin' Merry is a nice read. The stories are all very readable and charming. While I really enjoy Ms Guillaume's story that the other three suffer really badly in comparison, those three aren't too bad, really. Overall, this is a solid anthology to cuddle up with.

Rating: 83

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