Romance is glutted with the innocent ingénues, so in Silver Belles, it was refreshing to read about people with more years under their belts. Many of the protagonists in these stories have children but are now empty nesters, and so are at the perfect moment in their lives for a happy-for-now joyful romance.
The Christmas Pony
– by Sarah M. Anderson
Grade : B+ Sensuality: Warm
This story opens with Alice Moore coming face-to-face with a pony on her front stoop. Before she can understand why Elijah Rodriguez has brought a pony over to her house, the pony has dropped off a fragrant load on her welcome mat and Elijah has disappeared. As she’s pondering the mystery, a gorgeous animal control officer of the local police department shows up on her doorstep.
She’s pleased that she’s so stunned and attracted to him, because her well-meaning daughter has been driving hera little crazy by treating her like she’s a fragile little old lady who shouldn’t live alone. Alice values her freedom and her privacy, and now, her freedom to feel interest in an attractive man.
Convinced that Elijah is not in the country completely legally, she wants to prevent his family from breaking up over Christmas. So she lies to the police officer to say that the pony is hers, and she pays a fine for his removal to a farm animal care center. That whole scene is very funny and shows how a relationship starts developing between Alice and the officer, Kirk Douglas (yes, really!) from the get go. Kirk returns in civilian clothes after hours to write her up a ticket, and things progress romantically from there.
I enjoyed seeing how Alice handles disasters. “Do Better!” she scolds herself. How refreshing to see a protagonist behave with measured control, rather than drift away on their emotions.
I also liked the way Kirk manages to separate Alice, his lover, from Alice, the potential felon, and the little mystery about the pony in this short story space is a delight.
– by Ros Clarke
Grade : B Sensuality : Kisses
This is the only story in this anthology set in Britain; the rest are set in the U.S. Alison is suffering from depression, and in addition to the medicine she takes, she also exercises by taking vigorous walks. On one of her rambles, she’s felled by an over-enthusiastic dog. Rufus comes with a handsome owner, who offers her recompense for her accident with hot tea. She’s pleased to find herself experiencing the buzz of attraction.
However, when she finds out the man is a vicar, she’s filled with foreboding. Her ex-husband was a vicar who’d cheated on her. When she found out, she fled South Africa and returned to her homeland and her mother, who was in a nursing home. Now, her two teenage sons divide their time between England and South Africa.
However, she is alone for Christmas, and in Peter, she finds a kindred spirit who, like her, is cautious about getting involved in a relationship.
While this story isn’t an inspirational Christian romance, God is an important part of the main characters’ individual lives and their relationship. Alison’s rage at her cheating ex had made her develop a strong aversion to the Church and withdraw from God. However, in one short conversation, Peter completely reverses her opinion, and Alison’s quick capitulation does not flow organically from the violent opposition she holds for a large part of the story. It seems to have been done in service to the story arc, rather than in service to her character.
I enjoyed Midnight Clear overall, however. Ms. Clarke does short stories very well (see my review of Island Fling).
– by Laura K. Curtis
Grade : B- Sensuality : Warm
Laura K. Curtis’ characters are always a pleasure to read, and this a story of an IT specialist, who’s a volunteer firefighter, and his new boss at a moving company is no exception.
With the arrival of a new boss at the failing private moving company at which he works, long-time IT employee, Adam, feels his job is under threat, even though Kate Bellows assures him that it is not. Adam suffers this assumption all throughout the story and it adds a sharp undercurrent to their relationship.
One late night, Kate is woken up by the smell of smoke and the heat of fire in her childhood home. When she realizes that her house is on fire, she snatches her computer and dashes out in the sub-freezing temperatures. The arrival of the fire truck brings Adam over. While the firefighters work hard to save her house, nothing but the main structure stands; everything else is destroyed.
With both their daughters away from home, when Adam offers Kate a room in his house till she’s back on her feet. Their romantic entanglement stems from there. While Adam is falling in love with her, Kate is worried about separating the personal from the professional. This is the constant push and pull of their romance.
Unlike the other stories in this anthology, this romance felt a tad rushed. The plot is overly complicated for this short space, and it read like a novella that was made into a short story. Regardless of that, though, this is a sweet romance.
The Longest Night
– by Yasmine Galenorn
Grade : B- Sensuality : Warm
Marilee Johansson is a painter who’s just returning to her art after her ex made her give it up. Her first painting is of the hawk outside her window. The hawk is a lovely coda in this story signifying Marilee’s soaring to new freedoms.
She has recently moved into the community and when handsome IT tech Chris Hunter shows up to set up her computer and peripherals, and they strike instant sparks off each other. If anything, their romance progresses at almost too fast a pace.
On their first date, Chris takes her on an impromptu tour of the town. At an art gallery, he insists on introducing her to the curator.
“Why did you do that?” I asked, still blushing.
“Because you’re an artist and that’s the local gallery, and maybe you might want to get to know the art crowd around here?” He just grinned as I sputtered. “As pretty as you look with rosy cheeks, you shouldn’t get so flustered. You’ve got a lot going on for you, Marilee. Own it.”
This is just wonderful. Seeing the best in the other person is one of the main reasons I read romance. It makes the other person feel seen and acknowledged and valued.
This is not a Pagan inspirational romance though their religion forms the heart of their relationship. In addition to his other execrable treatment of her, Marilee’s ex had moved away from their religion and this had saddened her. So finding that Chris follows the old religion makes her instantly cleave to him. There’s a lovely scene where they celebrate the Winter Solstice in the forest.
Ms. Galenorn conveys a fairytale-like story with her setting, the old religion, and the romantic arc. It’s a satisfying read.
A Taste of Blessings
– by Suleikha Snyder
Grade : A- Sensuality : Warm
A Taste of Blessings has hot romantic tension going on in the midst of a religious Hindu festival. I loved this story for all the cultural details woven seamlessly into the fabric of the Indian Bengali American society in the Midwest.
Tiya Chatterjee is a modern woman who likes the fast life in the big city. However, returning to her parents’ suburban home is like slipping into the life she knew growing up: the same elderly people, the same peers, the same jokes, the same gossips, the same strictures… it all feels like a familiar cozy blanket.
One of the big reasons she had left was one Arnav Biswas: a six-foot-two-inch, dark-eyed, salt-and-pepper-haired delusion who she’d met when he was still married and had small kids. She has met him every year at the festival for the past fourteen years, but this time around, things are different. He is no longer married, she’s still unmarried, he’s still hot, and all the elders in the community are plotting to marry them off.
Other guilty plotters are Arnav’s two teenage sons who’ve adopted Tiya as an aunt/sister. Tiya later finds out that she has been ruthlessly interviewed all along for the position she has been dying to occupy.
Despite a lot of details of the religious festival of Durga Puja, this story is not an inspirational romance. The festival is more of a cultural event than a religious event in the story.
In addition to the look into Bengali culture, Ms. Snyder has knit a solid romance in the short story format that feels just right and flows organically from the characters.
I enjoyed this anthology very much. The older age of the protagonists makes for mature relationship interactions and there are none of the silly misunderstandings and irrational emotional outbursts that mar many romances. These people talk to each other and resolve their differences, because they value their newfound happiness above bickering.
My one stumbling block was that most of the protagonists have had disappointments in all their previous relationships, be it with spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends. Not a single one of them had a previously happy relationship that ended while happy, say, with the death of a partner. A new romance does not have to rise from the ashes of a dead romance, because it is possible for a person to be happy with more than one person in their lifetime. This seems to fall into the romance trope of The Only One Forever, where it is inconceivable to imagine repeat sequential happiness.
Overall, however, I was well pleased with Silver Belles. These stories bring the joy of the season to life for those who would otherwise have felt the sting of loneliness. They’re a perfect accompaniment to a cold winter’s day spent cozied up with the smell of pine trees in the air.
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