A Winter Wonderland – Anthology
Kensington Publishing Corporation/2012
Reviewed By – Sheri de Grom
It’s the season for love and laughter mixed with happily ever after and that’s exactly what Kensington Publishing brings the reader with their Christmas anthology under the imprint of Zebra. A Winter Wonderland is a mix of romance by Fern Michaels and Holly Chamberlin, a sweet mystery by Leslie Meier, and a women’s fiction story by Kristina McMorris.
A Winter Wonderland opens with Fern Michaels’ story of the same name. Angelica Shepard, a thirty-two year old off-broadway actress is getting further off-broadway with each passing year. She’s spending more time waiting tables than making curtain calls.
Angelica receives word from her agent that a part she hoped for has gone to a much younger actress.
That’s all Angelica can take. She hasn’t had a vacation in four years so she gives herself a vacation at an exclusive ski resort in Colorado. She plans to do exactly what she wants, how she wants, and when she wants for the full two weeks. The bottom line for Angelica is to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life. How many years does she have to continue a career in acting and finding the one break-out performance that’ll guarantee her stardom?
Dr. Parker North is nearing forty and he’s the best trauma surgeon at Denver’s Angel of Mercy Hospital. He’s reached a critical place in his career where he can’t continue pushing himself with his standards of unreasonable expectations. He demands perfection over and over. The recent death of a child on the operating table is unacceptable. He’s never lost a child before and he has to get away.
Parker calls an old friend and asks to stay at his luxury ski lodge for an undetermined amount of time while he sorts out his life. Does he even want to be a doctor any longer?
Angelica and Parker meet at the ski lodge innocently enough. Parker saves her from a nasty fall on the ice. The sexual tension is immediate and once they both realize they’re each trying to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives, the reader is satisfied with a happy ending.
The Joy of Christmas by Holly Chamberlin is the second story presented.
Holly Chamberlin tells of a grief so deep it’s paralyzed every moment of jewelry designer Iris Karr’s life.
Iris’ mother dies after a decades-long battle with cancer on Christmas Eve—a mere two months after Iris’ thirtieth birthday. Iris is devastated. It had been understood that she would eventually marry her long-time fiancé, Ben. The two had been living together and Iris’ mother had wanted to see Iris and Ben married before her death. In her magical thinking, Iris believed if she didn’t marry, her mother wouldn’t die.
Immediately after her mother passes, Iris packs a suitcase and moves to Portland, Maine, with no explanation to her fiancé, her equally devastated father or her many friends.
Fast forward three years. It’s December, the worst month of the year for Iris. She’s allowed a friend to drag her to a holiday celebration. Iris is in a panic when she runs into her former fiancé at the same gathering. What’s Ben doing there? Why isn’t he back home where he belongs?
Ben was so intimately intertwined in Iris’ heart with her mother’s death, she still can’t face the intense pain she’d run from three years before. Her mother’s illness had dominated Iris’ life for almost twenty years—and still does.
When Iris realizes Ben has moved to Portland, she lives in dread of the coming confrontation over how she left things between them. She’s stunned when Ben simply invites her to dinner.
In the limited space of a novella, an author still has to develop and complete a story arc. I’m impressed with the growth brought forward for Iris. It wasn’t an ‘in your face growth’ as often seen in shorter fiction. The supporting cast of characters and their brief conversations with Iris and astute observations lend themselves to a complete and satisfying read.
. . . Pg 157 [Ben and her mother had been friends. This was a fact. Why, Iris wondered, continuing her climb, had she never, until now, until it was too late, considered how much Ben had lost when Bonnie died?
Yes, in the depths of grief she had failed to understand the loss of others who had loved her mother—Ben, her father, her mother’s fellow artists, those who had continued to visit Bonnie and to love her until the bitter end.] . . .
Iris’ story is one that readily reminded me of how much physical and emotional pain I’m capable of causing myself when I don’t face my emotions and process them. Perhaps of more importance, there’s the destruction I may cause those I love.
Holly Chamberlain brings her Christmas story to a happy closure for the characters in The Joy of Christmas.
The Christmas Thief by Elizabeth Mier introduces Elizabeth Stone, who’s employed at the posh and historic Cavendish Palm Beach Hotel. Elizabeth and her friend Toni are graduates of the chain’s Guest Come First program. Both girls work at the front desk and are well-versed in the hotel’s rules about never talking about the paying guests.
The Christmas season is rapidly approaching and Elizabeth is planning a vacation home to visit her family and friends. Suddenly, all vacations for hotel staff are cancelled.
The entire hotel is booked by the Wall Street financier Jonah Gruber for a Christmas extravaganza for six-hundred of his closest friends. The highlight of the four-day celebration is to be a black-tie dinner, dance. The Bingle Bells Ball is where Mr. Gruber’s wife, a former porn star, will be wearing jewels valued at forty-seven million dollars.
Tension heightens and challenges are added for every hotel employee. The guest list are all high-profile individuals and they are each potential targets for crime ranging from simple theft to kidnapping.
The author increases tension between the two young friends, Elizabeth and Toni. Elizabeth receives a temporary promotion to assistant concierge and Toni becomes jealous.
The date of the extravaganza approaches and Elizabeth is drawn into the intimate circle of final preparations.
Leslie Meier layers in the clues along with the characters for the precious jewels that are missing.
The Christmas Thief has a sweet ending as Elizabeth’s mother and her mother’s friend, Miss Tilly, visit her in Florida. The two older women aren’t going to allow their girl to take the rap for something she didn’t do. The two amateur sleuths have had a lot of experience solving crime in Leslie Meier’s Lucy Stone Mystery Series. The series is set in the fictional coastal town of Tinker Cove, Maine.
The Christmas Collector by Kristina McMorris is the women’s fiction presentation in the fourth story of A Winter Wonderland.
I’ve read both of Kristina McMorris’ former novels and knew a Christmas delight awaited me. I’d been tempted to read Kristin’s story first, but I made myself wait. I knew it would be a great read and my anticipation compared to opening a brightly wrapped package on Christmas morning.
The Christmas Collector combines present day events in the lives of Kristina’s characters and eloquently brings them full circle to memories of World War II.
The story opens as Jenna Matthews visits her mother for their traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Their standard holiday meal is always the same: turkey TV diners.
Jenna built her successful estate liquidator career upon the principal that her mother is on the verge of becoming a hoarder. Jenna cannot make herself save a single memento. Her shelves and drawers are empty.
At Thanksgiving dinner, Jenna spots yet another acquisition her mother has made, . . . Pg 358 [What other purchases lurked in the shadows? She wrestled down the urge to spring from her chair and tear through the china cabinet on a hunt for more evidence. Perhaps she was overreacting.
Then again, she had witnessed firsthand how quickly a handful of knickknacks could multiply until they packed an entire mantel. A wall of bookshelves. Every drawer and cupboard in the house. And before long, you were drowning in a sea of objects no more satisfying than cotton candy: a temporary filter for her mother, eventually gave way to the reality of loss. It was this very emptiness that had devoured most of Jenna’s high school years.] . . .
Jenna excels in her work environment. She cares little about personal valuables, but she does care about promises. This revelation about Jenna’s character sets the reader on the journey for the completion of Jenna’s character growth.
The reader meets Reese Porter, the grandson of Estelle. It’s Estelle’s estate Jenna is currently preparing for liquidation.
Reese is a conflicted young man and he’s at odds with his father. He’s holding on to his girlfriend—who everyone expects him to marry—even though he knows something is missing in the relationship. He suspects he’s staying with his girlfriend out of guilt.
There’s a shoe box of mementos among Estelle’s many possessions and Jenna’s business associate wants Jenna to promise the shoe box won’t get picked up by the trash collectors. Jenna promises and hopes something of value is in the box she’s to rescue. Her boss told her previously that if she can increase the sale of this estate over the last one by fifteen percent, he’ll make her a partner.
Jenna didn’t expect to find stepping-stones to a new career, redemption of her past, and a peek at what might be waiting for her if she can only open her mind and heart. Who would think to find so much in the contents of one shoe box?
The nostalgia of WWII, the rescued shoe box and its contents, repaired family relationships, and a lost romance rekindled places The Christmas Collector squarely in women’s fiction.
I highly recommend this anthology of Christmas stories for your reading enjoyment. Each story is unique and each provides a different slant for holiday reading. Enjoy and may your holidays be everything you wish for!