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Holiday Cheer by Rochelle Alers, Angela Benson and Shirley Hailstock
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG) ISBN: 0-7860-0210-7
****
BET Books/Arabesque has reissued Holiday Cheer, its 1995 year-end anthology. Arabesque's year-end anthologies are, in my opinion, its strong suit. You can't go wrong with the great Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's Eve stories by some of the publishing house's best authors.

Holiday Cheer includes stories by Shirley Hailstock, Rochelle Alers and Angela Benson. As with the other books in the series, stories are presented chronologically. The Christmas story is first, followed by the Kwanzaa and New Year's Eve tales.

Shirley Hailstock's "Invitation to Love" is a story of second chances following a big misunderstanding. Elizabeth Gregory blames James Hill, her former fiancé, for her sister's death in an automobile accident. The story begins twelve days before Christmas and three years after their breakup. A misdirected holiday package lands Elizabeth on James' doorstep. Unaware he was back in town, she is unnerved and scampers to a holiday party. When James, who has been invited to the same party, arrives he puts his plan to resurrect their relationship in motion.

The seven-day Afrocentric celebration of Kwanzaa takes its name from a Swahili phrase that means "the first fruits of the harvest." "First Fruits," the Kwanzaa story in this collection is the story of art expert Shelby Carter and Marshall Graham, headmaster of a private academy for African-American boys. Shelby is hired as a consultant to create a Kwanzaa celebration and curriculum for the school. Marshall and Shelby, who have two marriages and two divorces between them, are wary of the growing attraction between them. However, when Marshall invites Shelby to celebrate Kwanzaa with him and pursues her in earnest.

Alers' does an excellent job of sharing the principles of Kwanzaa without lecturing or slowing down the story. Marshall and Shelby Make another appearance in the Alers' story, "Heart of Gold" in the 1997 Valentine's Day anthology. How many lawyers does it take to ruin a romantic holiday? According to Angela Benson's New Year's Eve story, "Friend and Lover, the answer is two. Paige Taylor's father and her fiancé.

Paige Taylor and Reed Lewis are Atlanta attorneys and close friends. They both were rising stars in the same firm until Reed leave the high-profile legal life for work in the public defender's office. Reed is secretly in love with Paige, but she is engaged to Mr. Fine – hot-shot local attorney, Dexter Fine.

Vowing to save Paige from herself and for himself, he sets up a ruse that gets him and his grandmother invited into her apartment for several days after Christmas. Paige agrees to pretend to be Reed's fiancé – for the sake of his visiting grandmother. Neither Dexter nor Paige's father are amused by the engagement-of-convenience and sparks fly.

Each of the stories in this collection convey the warmth, humor and fellowship of the holiday season. Each is a strong four-heart story I've re-read often. It also makes a great gift for other romance readers!

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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