I have a love/hate thing going with anthologies. I love the short-and-sweetness of the stories, even when I hate the oft-forced romance. A successful anthology, though, can build upon a theme and supply all the emotion and depth of a full-length novel. Holiday Kisses is the latest offering from Carina Press, and there are more hits than misses in this anthology, plus one absolutely fan-freaking-tastic novella from Shannon Stacey.
This Time Next Year by Alison Kent – Dillon Craig is a mountain doctor, tending his rural patients with the same care he tended his soldiers in Afghanistan. When Brenna Keating is stranded by Christmas snowstorm, Dillon takes her in and they spend the holiday together. Sparks fly, but Brenna is scheduled to leave on an overseas mission trip – can she and Dillon continue their relationship from a distance of several thousand miles?
This story was such a sweet tale, both sincere and romantic and yet the conflict didn't feel at all forced. Dillon and Brenna were both focused adults with live and careers, and their finding each other felt special. It was so obvious that they were meant to be together if time and travel weren't in the way. Plus the love scenes were gorgeous – yum. Lots of Christmas-y details made this story a terrific start to the anthology. Grade: B+
A Rare Gift by Jaci Burton – Calliope Andrews always had a thing for Wyatt Kent – even when he was married to her sister. Now that Wyatt's single again, and is working on an addition to Calliope's daycare, does the unlikely couple have a chance?
My first question after reading this was, why was this in a Christmas anthology? Other than the fact that the final scene took place at a Christmas party (and it could totally have been a Flag Day party for all the cheer and festivity it engendered), there wasn't anything holiday-ish about it. And that bugged me. As for the romance, it wasn't Burton's best work. I liked that Calliope went after what she wanted, and she made no apologies for being a confident female. Unfortunately, I don't think Wyatt was worth it. Aside from some general pissed-offedness, Wyatt didn't have much going on – and without a functioning hero, neither did this story. Grade: D
It's Not Christmas Without You by HelenKay Dimon – Carrie and Austin were small-town sweethearts back in West Virginia, but when she headed off to D.C. to pursue her career dreams, Austin was left behind. Austin heads to the big city with a plan to stir up some Christmas cheer – and to win back the girl of his dreams.
This story ended well despite some rough patches in the middle. I always love reading about a couple in love that just needs to find a way to make it work, and Austin and Carrie do that. If in the middle they both act a bit goofy and immature, well, I can forgive that as long as I believe they deserve their HEA. And in the end, Carrie and Austin do. Grade: B-
Mistletoe and Margaritas by Shannon Stacey – It's been two years since Claire Rutledge's husband, Brendan, died unexpectedly, and in that time, no one has been a better friend to her than Brendan's best friend Justin. The Christmas season, though, may bring out feelings that Claire and Justin aren't fully ready to face.
Shannon's story was absolutely fantastic, and made this anthology completely worthwhile – you must read it. With Kleenex, if possible. Unexpected bonus: sex in a snow plow! 'Tis the season! Grade: A
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: December 5, 2011
Length: 103,000 words
I read this book as part of the Book Lovers, Inc's Holiday Reading Challenge. Interested in participating? Join here!