Desert Isle Keeper
A Texas Christmas: An Anthology
I’m not much for holiday romances, mainly because the limitations of the season and especially the sentiments surrounding the holiday often stifle authors’ creativity and the result turns out to be hackneyed or cookie cutter-ish. Since all the stories in this anthology are related by time and place, something I didn’t know when I offered to review the book, I was subsequently expecting the worst. Happily, I was wrong and got only the best.
Away in the Manger by Phyllis Miranda
In Phyllis Miranda’s Away in the Manger, a huge, gruff blacksmith whose mother always said was too big for any woman to love, must house a woman and her orphaned niece and nephew for a few days because of a snow storm. Although Randall Humphrey galumphs and growls, Sarah Callahan, Damon, and Addie burrow deep into his heart when he isn’t looking. Soon instead of looking for his stepbrother who is suspected of stealing the town’s money for its orphanage, Rand is busy fashioning a decorated Christmas tree of iron. Miranda writes one of those holiday stories that keeps the spirit of the holiday alive while making it sparkle with believable, empathetic characters.
Grade: A Sensuality: Subtle
Naughty or Nice by DeWanna Pace
The weakest of the stories, DeWanna Price’s Naughty or Nice, brings a crusty female saloon owner and a shy, absent-minded botanist together in a winter wonderland that lasts just a little too long for comfort. When James Elliott III loses track of time and the weather while looking for an elusive pink bluebonnet and misplaces his eyeglasses, Anna Ross, driving her whiskey wagon back to replenish her bar, picks him up from the snow where he has passed out.
Knowing they won’t get back to town safely, Anna drives them to the Henton Ranch where the town Christmas party is in progress. Anna knows she won’t be welcome there because the women think she’s luring their men into her saloon and the men are afraid she might let some of their secrets out. While the premise is good, Price’s dwelling on bathroom problems and Anna’s obnoxious dog blunt the good will of the season. Add to that James’ marshmallow personality, and any belief that Anna and he would make a good couple goes right out the door into a snowdrift.
Grade: B- Sensuality: Subtle
One Wish by Jodi Thomas
Jodi Thomas’ One Wish brings together two lonely outcasts who once bonded when they were children in school. Now grown, Sam Thompson, one of the notorious Thompson clan who live by themselves in the canyon outside town, is a farmer and is raising his two-year-old son after Sam’s wife died. Spinster Margaret Allison now runs the mercantile after her parents’ death.
When Sam overhears three men planning to rob the mercantile and knows that Margaret, the only one who befriended him in school, is alone there, he quietly enters the store after the men and thwarts their plans, getting injured in the process. When the sheriff says he doesn’t have the manpower to protect Margaret after the worst of the robbers vows to come back and kill her, Sam takes her to his home for the holidays.
In his secluded two-story house, they at first skitter around each other, but soon the unreal situation with a storm brewing brings out their innermost longings, to be in a loving home for once in their lives. To this end, they agree to pretend to be married, her cooking and cleaning like a real ranch wife, and he protecting her like a real husband. Thomas skillfully shows the baby steps they hesitantly take toward each other while knowing that the real world is just beyond the doorway and the snow drifts. The story illustrates all the wonder and love of the season without spilling over into sentimentality or syrupy bromides.
Grade: A Sensuality: Subtle
The Christmas Bell by Linda Broday
Linda Broday explores how one person’s good deed can become a life-changing event in The Christmas Bell. Rancher Sloan Sullivan sees a stopped train during a snow storm and realizes that the passengers need help. So sloughing his way through the drifts, he manages to bring them blankets and food.
Onboard he finds a feverish man attended by his wife and a pregnant woman about to give birth. Trying to stop the passengers from fighting and help those who need it, rich, well-educated Tess Whitgrove doesn’t see his arrival as much of an asset. In the past, Sloan, believing himself to be her opposite in wealth and learning, has avoided her in town, and she thinks he heartily dislikes her. But as the blizzard continues, they revise their opinions of each other and become closer than they would have ever dreamed. Brody deftly explores the gulf between classes and its potential to divide two people who rightly belong together.
Grade: A- Sensuality: Subtle