Friday, December 31, 2010

Twilightdreamlover's Picks: Fantasy and Paranormal Releases for January, 2011

I'm starting this new year off with a list of recommendations -- my favorite new fantasy and paranormal releases for January.  Unfortunately, due to my lack of time (and money), this doesn't necessarily mean that I will read every one of the books I've picked.  I'm  merely posting them here because the plots look very interesting!  

It seems that I'm getting more and more into the YA genre.  This started with The Twilight Saga.  I used to look down my nose at this genre, I must confess.  Well, the Twilight books changed all that!  I suddenly realized that this particular reading category offers very compelling plots and fascinating characters. Also, it does deal with adult themes, although it examines those themes from the point of view of "an emerging adult", to coin a phrase.  This is the case, for example, with the Harry Potter series, which becomes increasingly "adult" as one progresses through the books. 

Here are the January releases I would LOVE to read:

One can't really go wrong with L.J. Smith.   Her books are usually GREAT!  This is an interesting reversal -- the Stefan's diaries books are based on the TV series which is based on the novels originally written by Smith.  These latest books present the events in the previous books from Stefan's point of view.  This one reveals the truth about how the love triangle of Stefan, Damon, and Katherine developed, back in Renaissance Italy.  

My first thought on seeing this one was that once again, we have a high school being associated with teen vamps, since this is, after all, a YA novel.  However, the plot does go beyond the by-now familiar stereotype.  The school in the title is a vampire-slaying academy, which is a nice twist.  Located in the Swiss Alps, it's the hiding place of the McDonald twins, two girls who have just discovered their Fae heritage.  Then their lives become endangered, and they have no way to contact their vampire boyfriends...  This is the newest installment in the series.

Here is yet another romance between a supernatural and a mortal, and yes, there's a school involved.  However, the heroine, Clara, is a Quarterius, which means that she's a quarter angel. and she has visions that puzzle her.  Her mother, who is a half-angel herself, helps Clara to unravel them, thereby revealing that Clara has a mision to complete on earth.  Then she meets Christian, the boy in one of her visions, and befriends two very different girls.  One of their brothers, Tucker, complicates the plot, which includes a surprise trip to hell.... 

The heroine of this novel, Quincie P. Morris, is a neophyte vampire, and, incredibly enough, owns a restaurant!  As if this weren't wacky enough, her chef, Bradly Sanguini (this last name is obviously a derivative of the Latin word for "blood"), is the vampire who turned her!  So far, not so good.  Except that Quincie's boyfriend, Kieren, is a hybrid werewolf who has been accused of murder.  Another interesting twist!  Then there's the gorgeous Zachary, an angel, who brandishes a flaming sword...  Smith unites the characters of her two previous novels, Tantalize and Eternal.

This is a debut novel, and I'm sure it will eventually spawn a sequel, and then a series.  I will be totally thrilled when it does!  The heroine, Tessa, doesn't believe in magic, but is forced to change her mind when a very unusual tapestry comes into her possession.  It's a very old unicorn tapestry, and it brings strange dreams to Tessa, dreams of a past in which she herself participated.  Then she accidentally pulls a thread from this tapestry, thus unleashing a terrible curse..  She also meets William De Chaucy, who is a 16th-century nobleman.  Ah, romance! 

This one is not in the YA genre.  It still attracts me though, because I find the whole idea of angels and humans having a love relationship just as compelling as that of vampires and humans!  In this novel, Elena Deveraux's boyfriend is no other than the archangel Raphael.  Wow.  As if that weren't enough, his irate mother -- and she's obviously no angel -- arrives on the scene to reclaim her son.  Of course, she wasn't counting on Elena, who happens to be a vampire hunter, and not to be messed with!

Lilah's mind-reading powers mark her as a member of the Kyndred, a group of genetically-enhanced humans.  They also make her vulnerable to a ruthless biotech company intent on stealing her superhuman DNA.  Murder is not a problem for them.  Meanwhile, Lilah will also have to contend with an unexpected threat from her fellow Kyndred...  This is an adult novel.

This is another very, very interesting series that I really want to read!  This book continues the story of Meghan and Ash after their exile.  Meghan has to fight the false Iron King; she has grown as a character, relying more upon herself than on others, while Puck and Ash have also come into their own. 

According to some of the Goodreads reviews, this is one of the best fantasy books yet, with lots of action, realistically-drawn characters, and a very vivid fantasy world.  Sounds absolutely awesome to me!!

Dana Hathaway is a very talented girl -- she's a Faeriewalker, one who can travel unhindered from the real world into Faerie.  She is a rare link between both worlds.  Now the Faerie Queen wants her dead.  The Erlking is after her, too, with his private, murderous army, known as The Wild Hunt.  They have entered Avalon, the one place on earth where humans and Fae have long lived in peace together, thus breaking the uneasy treaty between him and the Faerie Queen.  And what exactly are the Eerlking's intentions toward Dana? 

Well, here they are -- the books I like the most, and would dearly love to read, from this new crop of  fantasy and paranormal releases for January, 2011.  I hope that at least some of you will be able to enjoy them! 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fan Fiction: The Rainbow at the End of the Bridge

Disclaimer: I own nothing related to the Twilight Saga. These are Stephenie Meyer's characters, and no copyright infringement is intended, now, or at any time in the future, near or far.

Chapter 3: Breakfast Time


I could see that I had overwhelmed the poor girl. In the harsh light of reality, after a good night's rest, things could look very different. She was probably asking herself if she had acted against her better judgment in the middle of the night. But then, what she had been planning to do had most definitely not showed good judgment, either. There was no excuse for suicide. Carlisle's experience had taught me that.

With the thought of Carlisle came a wave of nostalgia. I hadn't admitted to myself how desperately I missed them all... especially Carlisle. But I also missed Alice, with her sudden, markedly urgent visions. She had seen that I would leave, and had told Carlisle. I flinched as I recalled his reaction. He had said nothing, but the pain of his sorrow had immediately struck my mind. Oh, he had tried to block his thoughts, of course. I still felt that sweeping torrent of grief that hit me like a great storm surge. I couldn't take it. So I blocked my mind, too, or at least, I tried to. I didn't quite succeed.

I had quietly slipped out into our back yard two nights later while they were entertained - or so I thought - with a game of cards. I began to run, faster and faster, until I was sure I had put enough distance between myself and the house near the woods of Forks - the house I had come to call 'home'. As I flew along, I could feel the trail of their collective sorrow following me. I screamed into the wind... it was a combination of rage as well as sorrow, for myself, for them.

I felt that I could not have done otherwise. I could not continue to live a lie. It was far better that I leave than continue to pretend something I couldn't hide. I could not bring myself to disappoint Carlisle. He had been much more of a father to me than my own biological father, whose memory had long ago begun to dim. I had not wanted to lie to Carlisle, especially when I knew that I never really could. He was never angry with me; instead, he grieved and was endlessly patient. He had been just as patient several days before my departure, even in the face of the evidence - I had killed a mountain hiker who had wandered too far off the beaten trail. After I had slaked my thirst, I felt an instant revulsion, fully understanding how Carlisle could have contemplated suicide when he was a newly-made vampire. But I could not go on trying to deny what I was. The struggle was too great. So I had given in to my monstrous nature.

In the end, I had hurt Carlisle anyway...the man who had become my father in every sense of the word.

"What's the matter?" she asked me, and I snapped out of my reverie. How long had I been standing there, holding this delicious girl's hand, wandering through my past?

I smiled, shaking my head at her. I took a deep breath, and was instantly sorry. Her enthralling scent wrapped itself around me once more, and I felt the tug of my demonic thirst. Still, I was confident that I would be able to control myself. I hoped. I had never gone this long without feeding before, but I knew I would have to be absolutely tortured by thirst before I could bring myself to end another life... I asked myself, though, if perhaps I was playing with fire. What if the life I was forced to end was Bella's? No, no, not her! Not this sweet, kind, luscious girl!

I shook my head again, but let go of her hand, pretending not to notice her little sigh of relief. I felt an urgent need to go to the bathroom. Revulsion swept through me again. The memory of that young man whispering Karen's name with his dying breath assaulted my mind. How could I have killed him so callously? What feverish devil had driven me to commit such a horrible act? Why could I not control myself, abiding by my father's ethical lifestyle? I had to get away from this girl. I was suddenly afraid that I would do the same thing to her.

I ran to the bathroom and locked myself inside, panting. The attraction of her scent had been too much for me. I had been over-confident. I leaned over the sink, holding myself up by grabbing its sides. Please...I found myself begging a God I wanted desperately to believe still cared about me, don't let me do this to her! I would not be the instrument of her death now, when I had only last night rescued her from its gaping jaws.

She knocked softly on the door. "Are you all right?" The concern in her voice was very evident. I closed my eyes against a sudden wave of guilt, mixed with a heady feeling of joy. She had suffered much in her life, I could tell, and yet, she was still capable of putting aside her own pain to care about another's. She was a precious jewel carelessly tossed aside by people who should have loved her, of that I was totally convinced.
I decided to fake loud retching. I hoped my performance would sound authentic to her ears. I went on like that for a full minute, then stopped.

"Are you sure you're all right?" She sounded really worried now.

"I won't be long," I called out, trying to inject a reassuring tone into my voice. Then I remembered to sound just a little hoarse. After all, I had supposedly just gotten rid of the contents of my stomach. "Just a little...well, I had a few drinks last night." Sometimes I found it necessary, although never pleasant, to invent little lies by the seat of my pants.

"Oh, that's too bad."

I had not misjudged her character, by the light of the moon last night. And I could not understand why that realization touched me so deeply. She was not the first nice girl I had met. However, she was the very first one whose blood I hadn't taken. At least, not yet...

"Can I get you anything?" she now asked, and I cursed softly to myself. I should have driven her to an ER and made them admit her. I shouldn't have brought her here. But wait...I was only fooling myself. I had wanted her for my own from the moment I saw her, no... smelled her. She had to be mine. It was just that I didn't know in what way, exactly, she was to be mine. Perhaps we could, well, have a relationship, as they called it nowadays. I smiled bitterly. Yes, of course we could - until she found out my true nature. Then she would run for the hills. I promised myself, then and there, that I would not pursue her if she chose to do just that.

"No, I'll be fine," I responded. I had to take control of myself. I had to stop trembling so...

After a few more minutes, I felt that I would be able to be in her presence without feeling the consuming need to sink my teeth into her delectable throat and drink until I had emptied her completely of blood. I lifted my head, and stared at my reflection in the mirror. I had to smile wryly as I remembered the silly old legends about vampires and mirrors. We had reflections, just like humans do. Perhaps it would be much better if we didn't. Then we wouldn't be able to see what monsters we were. Suddenly, I stared at myself with a new awareness. How long would my eyes remain black?It had been too long since I had fed. I wondered how long I could hold out. Was there a vampire record about this? I was glad, though, that my eyes weren't red. Yet. I knew that, when they eventually colored, I would not be able to stop myself from killing her, ethics or no ethics.

So that meant I had to get away from her so I could feed. I just didn't know how to do that without arousing the suspicion that something was radically wrong with me.

I straightened, pasting a charming smile on my face. I prayed it would fool her. Then, I slowly opened the door.

I wasn't surprised to see her standing right outside the bathroom, an anxious expression on her face. When she saw me, she squealed, but definitely not in delight.

"Oh, you look terrible!" And I thought my smile would fool her...

I nodded, careful not to breathe. There would be no problem at all, I hoped, if I simply didn't breathe. Doing so was entirely optional for vampires, of course.

"Well, er, thanks," I said dryly as I tried to walk past her. Control, Edward. You're doing fine.

Her gaze followed me into the kitchen. Then, she followed me into that room.

"But I don't understand," she went on while I quietly cursed myself. "You seemed fine a few minutes ago, when you came into the bedroom! How could you get sick so suddenly?"

Wildly, I sought some quick explanation.

"Well, you know, sometimes a hangover has a delayed reaction," I said through my teeth.

She shrugged, then sat down in a kitchen chair. "Well, I'm not much of a drinker, so I wouldn't really know."

Thank you, great God above! I had never thought of myself as a pious sort, but it now seemed appropriate to show gratitude to the Deity.

"Well, that explains it, then," I said with great relief. I immediately changed the subject. "Now, what would you like to eat? And don't tell me you're not hungry, because I won't believe you."

As if on cue, her stomach growled and I laughed. "Well, let's do like scrambled eggs, right? Or would you prefer French toast? And coffee, too, of course."

She shrugged, and gave me a wan, shy smile. "Whatever you have is fine with me," she said simply, not meeting my eyes.

My teeth were still clenched.

"Look," I replied, as I rummaged through one of the cupboards. "I have plenty of food here, but don't eat much myself. So go ahead and ask for whatever you like. Your body wants to live, even if your mind thinks it doesn't."

She turned her face away from me, and I could tell she was trying to hold back a sudden rush of emotion. I felt an urge to go to her and put my arms around her, but wasn't sure that would be a wise thing to do. Well, I had been holding my breath for a while now, so perhaps it would be all right.

I was at her side before I could change my mind. I gathered her into my arms.

"Hey, it's gonna be fine," I whispered soothingly. "But go ahead and cry. You need to let your emotions out."
She did. I held her until I knew I could do so no longer. Then I forced myself to pull away, although I wanted to hold her forever...

I went back to the stove, trying not to sigh.

"So, breakfast!" I did my best to sound cheerful. "Coming right up, a gourmet meal for Bella, who will not be jumping off any bridges any time soon!"

I dove into a cabinet under the sink, and started rattling pots and pans. It might seem strange for a vampire to have such things in his kitchen, as well as real food in his refrigerator, but I had some contact with humans, from time to time. Mostly it was fellow artists or my agent, or perhaps a gallery director. I always tried to discourage such visits, but couldn't prevent them from taking place entirely. The best I could do was to make sure they took place at night. It wouldn't do to have any of my human acquaintances - I couldn't consider them friends - see the effects of sunlight on my skin. And unfortunately, there was a lot of sunlight in the city I had chosen to live in - Miami, Florida. I figured there would be plenty of tourists here. Their sudden disappearance could always be explained away somehow.

I grimaced, running my tongue over my teeth. Anger suddenly rippled through me - anger at Carlisle, for making me what I was. I vehemently wished he had let me die. It was better than being an inhuman monster. Here I was, cheerfully anticipating my next tourist feeding. Had I forgotten that I had the grisly duty of disposing of the body afterward? That was the worst part. That was when the guilt hit, along with the revulsion, the regret...

Behind me, Bella actually laughed.

"You still haven't told me your name," she said suddenly. If I had had a heartbeat, it surely would have spiked.

I finally found a frying pan, grabbed it, and pulled it out. Then I straightened, facing her. For some strange reason, I was abruptly finding it a bit hard to smile.

"Edward. Edward Cullen."

She stared at me, an expression of abject terror on her face. Then she screamed.

I didn't have to ask her why. By now, I was incredibly hungry. My facial expression must have told her very clearly what I really was.

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Book Collection: Partial Views!

Since I'm still on vacation from one of my two jobs ( the part-time ), I have some free time available at night!  So tonight I started doing some blog browsing.  I checked out Hale & Salvatore's Supernatural Must Reads, and saw a post on bookshelves.  The pictured shelves are truly awesome!!  I especially like the one that encloses a reader in a cozy, little space in which books fully surround a comfortable chair!  It's Bookworm Heaven!!  The other bookshelf looks like it could be aboard the Starship "Enterprise".  It's cool, too, but I do prefer the cozy one.  It comes pretty close to my ideal living conditions.  Books all around me!  Ah, bliss!  I'm reminded of the Jorge Luis Borges quote: "I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."  Oh, absolutely!!  Borges, for those not familiar with him, was a great Argentine writer and Nobel Prize winner.  (For more Borges quotes, click here.)   I've been meaning to start reading his books, but another quote goes: "So many books, so little time..."  That one comes from Frank Zappa, incredibly enough!  (For more FZ quotes, click here.)

You can check out Hale & Salvatore's favorite shelves here.  A link to Hale's personal bookshelf can also be found on that page.

Now here's a look at part of my own shelves.

These books are in our bedroom.  The first picture shows part of two shelves that take up one wall, from floor to ceiling.  The second one shows stacks of books on the dresser, and the third shows more stacks on the night table right next to my side of the bed. 

It's more than obvious that I'm seriously addicted to books.... I've been collecting for years and years!  I buy them mostly online now, but I still buy at good ol' Barnes & Noble from time to time, as well as Borders.  I've gotten a LOT of used books at both eBay and Amazon; however, if I buy a used book, it had better be in "like new" condition!  Otherwise, I'll return it.

Here's a partial list of the books on the shelves.  I'm hoping and praying I'll be able to get to all of them, or at least most of them, someday!

Here we have the following:

1.  Creativity - Eric Maisel
2.  Silence, Simplicity, and Solitude - David A. Cooper
3.  Diamond Heart, Book Three - A.H. Almaas
4.  The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose - W.H. Auden
5.  The Kabbalah Tree - Rachel Pollack
6.  The Hidden Face of God - Gerald L. Schroeder

This group consists of the following:

7.  The Republic and Other Works - Plato
8.  Dialogues: Cratylus, Phaedo, Timaeus, Critias - Plato, with commentary by Thomas Taylor 
9.  The Wisdom of The Enneagram - Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
8.  Christmas In My Heart - Joe Wheeler
9.  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Anonymous

Well....I have to be honest here.  This is not one of my bookshelves; I got this picture from Goodreads.  I do have some of these books, though; it's just that they're not all in one place.  The ones I don't yet have, I intend to acquire, with the possible exception of the Anne Rice book pictured here.  Of course, I did want to show off my paranormals!  They are as follows:

10.  City of Bones - Cassandra Clare (owned)
11.  Dead In The Family - Charlaine Harris  (wish list)
12.  Spirit Bound - Richelle Mead  (wish list)
13.  Tempted - P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast (wish list)
14.  Evernight - Claudia Gray (wish list) 
15.  Twilight - Stephenie Meyer (happily owned!!)
16.  Night World, Vol. 1 - L.J. Smith (omnibus edition, owned)
17.  Vampire Diaries, Vol. 1 - L.J. Smith (omnibus edition, owned)
18.  Queen of The Damned - Anne Rice (maybe wish list)

All right, so I don't own all of them.  They all look so nice together, I decided to post the picture! 

I'm a very eclectic reader.  Most of the ones shown in the closeups are non-fiction.  I'm glad I photographed them, even if the pics look darker here than they do on my cell phone, because this will serve as a reminder that I do have these very fascinating books that I really need to sink my teeth into!  (I suppose the pun is intended.)

By the way, there is one writer whose books I will never read or buy: Stephen King.  There are some others, like H.P. Lovecraft, for instance, whom I also refuse to read or collect.  Any writer in the hard-core horror genre (I do not consider books like those in The Twilight Saga part of this genre) is a writer that will not make money from me!  


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Review: A Christmas Kiss

A Christmas Kiss
Author:  Elizabeth Mansfield
Mass Market Paperback, 263 pages
Published December, 1990 by Jove Books (first published April, 1978, by Dell)
Reading genre: Christmas Regency romance

This is a wonderful, very sweet, feel-good comedy of errors, reminiscent of Shakespeare's own comedies, that had me glued to the page, so I breezed right through it, even chuckling aloud in some places as I read.

The characters are certainly unforgettable, so real that, once the book is closed for the last time, the reader feels bereft, wishing that the story could go on and on...  At least, this reader did.  I shall have to re-read it at some time in the near future.  And here I thought I wouldn't find anyone to compare with Mary Balogh!  

The plot immediately starts off on a humorous note.  Two young aristocrats, Reginald Windle, who has the title of Viscount Farnham, and his friend, James Everard, the future Earl of Gyllford, are quietly having a drink in the library at Carbery Hall, where they are guests, when they hear a body rolling down a nearby staircase.  It's Geoffrey Carbery, who has just been hit on the head with an Atlas!  The two friends arrive on the scene just in time to see the governess, one Miss Evalyn Pennington, still holding the book in one hand, come calmly down the stairs to make sure that Geoff, who had been accosting her, is all right.

When Geoff's tyrannical mother discovers what has happened, she promptly dismisses Evalyn, even refusing to give her a letter of recommendation.  James and Reginald -- who has a lisp and is affectionately known as "Reggie" -- come to the rescue.  They manage to get Evalyn invited to the Christmas festivities at Gyllford Manor.  Their plan is to allow Clarissa, Jamie's aunt, to get to know Evalyn, and thus recommend her for another position.

The comedy of errors begins when Philip, Jamie's father, misunderstands his son's explanation for the invitation, believing instead that Jamie, as he calls him, intends to marry the hapless young girl.  Thus, he feels honor-bound to deny his growing feelings for Evalyn.

Philip himself reflects the author's modern concerns with class discrimination.  He writes political books under a pseudonym, and has such radical -- for the time -- notions as the enfranchisement of all social classes.  He refuses to consider Evalyn beneath him just because she's a governess.  He sees her true worth, her inner spirit, irrevocably falling in love with her without any thought for the class difference between them.

Humorously complicating the plot are the love stories of four minor characters -- Reggie, Marianne, Joseph, and Annette, who happens to be Sally's personal maid.  These stories, too, are resolved by the end of the book, and, as I pointed out above, are related to that of the main characters.

In short, this book, while seemingly "just" a romance, is also a comedy and a critical review of the social customs of the time.  The author's skillful storytelling makes all these elements fit together seamlessly, while the tale unfolds without a hitch, amidst the vividly depicted merriment of the season.

This is my first Mansfield romance, which I recently acquired on eBay as part of a used Regency book lot.  It most definitely won't be my last.  This novel not only provided a good dose of the holiday spirit, but was a delightfully entertaining read, as well!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!!


Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th' angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!

May you have the merriest Christmas ever,
full of divine blessings
and all the joys
of this beautiful season!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review: A Dreamspun Christmas

A Dreamspun Christmas
Authors: Marilyn Campbell, Carole Nelson Douglas, Justine Davis, Edith Layton, Emma Merritt
Mass Market Paperback, 379 pages
Published November 1, 1994, by Topaz (Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA, Inc.)
Reading Genre: Christmas paranormal romance

The combination of Christmas and the paranormal is one that I especially treasure.  My all-time favorite movie, after all, is “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  

It wasn’t just the sweet, tender cover of this book that caught my eye.  It was also the title.  What kind of Christmas, I wondered, would dreams spin?    

Although one of the stories didn’t quite give me that satisfied feeling at the end, I decided to give the book an overall rating of five stars, because just one story shouldn’t affect the general impression, I think.

The first story, titled “Ghosts of Christmas Past”, by Marilyn Campbell, is a total delight from start to finish.  The author skillfully portrays the humorous, even eccentric, side of small-town life.

Small towns, of course, tend to be traditional places, and this is the case with Haversham, Vermont, founded in 1710, with a total population of 956, soon to be 958…

Wesley Haversham XII, the town’s mayor, and Janice Fowler, a free-lance journalist, are paired off in the minds of the townspeople, as well as by Wesley’s antic-loving ancestors, from the very beginning. 

Janice is doing an article on haunted towns, although she's a skeptic.  This is her last stop of a tour of such towns, and she has so far seen nothing to shake her skepticism.  Wesley assures her that  his town is different, since his own ancestors, as well as those of other townspeople, regularly make appearances. 

Meanwhile, a very strong attraction has sprung  up between Janice and Wesley, and, after a night of passionate lovemaking, he suddenly proposes.  While Janice is reluctant at first, telling him that, after all, they've just met, she finally becomes convinced that Wesley, is, indeed, the right man for her.  Talk about a whirlwind courtship!  With some help from the spirits, she decides to accept his proposal  Yes, this is the stuff of every girl’s dreams and fantasies…although I have heard of such lightning-fast courtships taking place in real life, as well.  The end of the story is certainly awe-inspiring, as a miraculous event takes place on Christmas Eve. 

My rating is, obviously, five sparkling stars!

The second story, “Christmas Magic”, by Carole Nelson Douglas, shows a lot of potential at the beginning and throughout.  It’s the ending that I find somewhat disappointing.

Melody Johansen, usually known as “Mel”, is a window display designer for Macy’s in New York City, and just getting over a failed relationship.  One day, after work, she stops at a quaint little store, “The Santa Shoppe”, to buy a Christmas tree.  Somehow, she is transported back to the year 1896, where she meets Jeremy Gardner, a struggling young actor/songwriter whose father is determined to push into the banking business. 

The unusual thing here is that Melody is invisible, and Jeremy thinks she’s the spirit of a long-dead aunt.  However, she begins to solidify as the story, and their romance, progresses, until, nearly at the end, she has become fully solid.  Then she and Jeremy return – still in his time – to “The Santa Shoppe”, in order to find Jeremy’s brother, who had been disowned by his father due to his choice of bride. 

It is the story’s ending that spoils everything.  I’m not giving anything away.  Suffice it to say that all the charm and beauty just kind of disappear....

The story wasn’t entirely disappointing in spite of the ending, though, so I’m giving it four stars.

The third story, “Star Light, Star Bright”, by Emma Merritt, is another winner.   Once again we have a whirlwind courtship, and a very beautiful one, too, with an unexpected surprise thrown in along the way.

On December 24, 1852, Architect Nicholas Devlin returns home to Port Huron, Michigan, to celebrate Christmas with his loving adoptive mother, Adeline Peabody Stimms, affectionately called “Addie”, and her “family”, consisting of a cook, a housekeeper, several stray dogs she’s taken in, and “Tommy” (Thomasina), a formerly homeless old woman who can see angels and stardust.

Nick soon meets Sara Finley, a nurse from Chicago whom Addie has hired to look after Tommy.  Nick learns that Tommy has been wanting to go home to heaven; she tells Nick that Sara is really her angel, sent to take her there. 

Sara is indeed an angel, one with a hard decision to make.  If she chooses to stay with Nick, she will have to endure a mortal life, with all its sufferings and vicissitudes.  Much as she loves the heavenly realm, she can’t give up Nick, and I can’t say I blame her! 

My rating is definitely five stars!

The fourth story is “It’s A Wonderful Christmas”, by Edith Layton, and the title is no coincidence.  The story borrows its theme from the great film classic, but what Layton does with that theme is amazingly inventive.

Lady Maude has been married to Miles Randal, the Viscount of Southwood, for several years.  The couple has three children.  It’s Christmastime, 1835, in Merry Old England, and Lady Maude has gone to gather some mistletoe growing in a grove on the outskirts of the village.  There is an ancient well in that grove, and people frequently make wishes there.  She unexpectedly runs into the village vicar, accompanied by a young man, Mr. Clarence.  Fans of the movie will remember that George Bailey’s guardian angel was also named Clarence.

The family gathers together at Southwood Hall, as is their yearly custom, to celebrate the holiday.  Maude, who carries a burden of unnecessary guilt over the childhood death of her brothers, is stunned to meet Cressida, her husband’s ex-fiancee, at the reunion.  Other circumstances lead her to believe that she is not really wanted, and, in desperation, she runs back to the well, where she fervently wishes she had never been born.

Mr. Clarence mysteriously reappears at that precise moment.  After chatting with him briefly, Maude proceeds to walk toward the village, and he strolls along with her.  As in the movie that inspired this story, everything, and everyone, has changed.  Even her husband is a cynical, hardened man who boasts about his illegitimate offspring.

Distraught, Maude finds herself back at the well, where Mr. Clarence explains that her wish has been granted.  Maude begs him to make everything as it was before.  She breaks down and cries, and, when she looks up, he’s gone.

The ensuing events mirror the ones in the movie.  Maude is ecstatic at seeing how blessed she really is, and discovers that her husband is not secretly pining for his former love, as she had mistakenly thought.

Layton’s writing is not only extremely engaging, but also evokes the appropriate mood without sentimentalizing.  I give this one five stars, as well!

The fifth and last story, “The Crystal Dove”, by Justine Davis, is the most unusual one in this anthology.  

The dove in question appears one morning on the hotel desk of one Case Rafferty, a hard-working business tycoon who leads a rather lonely existence, and doesn’t know it.  He’s totally indifferent to anything that might distract him from accomplishing his business goals.  Naturally, he considers holidays, and most especially Christmas, a total nuisance.

Mystified by the dark-blue glass dove, he contacts the hotel’s security department in an attempt to discover how it could have gotten into his penthouse suite.  No evidence of anyone entering his apartment is found.  So, on the recommendation of a hotel butler named, significantly enough, Raphael, Case approaches Kestra Shepherd, the proprietor of "Celebration", a shop in the building he owns.

Need I say that this is a truly magical tale?  Case and Kestra are immediately attracted to each other, discovering that each of their fathers has painfully marked their personalities, thus affecting their children's future love lives.  The dove continues to mysteriously appear in different locations, its color getting lighter and lighter as Case gradually changes, discovering the power of love, while Kestra herself gradually gets over her own distrust of men obsessed with their work.

Beautifully and simply written, this story is a wondrous tale of redemption, admittedly a clichéd theme, but masterfully handled by the author.  I give it five stars, too!

This book is well worth acquiring, even if it takes some time and effort to find it.   It will make your Christmas a warmer, more love-inspired one!  I guarantee it!