Midnight Clear
by Carmen Green, Monica Jackson, Leslie Esdaile and Gwynne Forster
(Genesis Press, $10.95, PG-13) ISBN 1-58571-039-3
Midnight Clear is set in the mythical town of Mystic Ridge, Maryland. It is a town carefully watched over by the spirits of the ancestors. The novellas in the anthology, compiled by Donna Hill, emphasize the resilience of the African American family and its links to the past and to the future.

The collection begins with “Angel’s Legacy.” Angelina Snowden has been chosen by the spirits of three African queens - Sheba, Nefertiti and Dahia - to save the town and its legacy. Angel, who has escaped the provincial small town, has returned home to find things pretty much as she has left them, including one Peter Dawson Homer Richland. Peter and Angel grew up together and became lovers before she moved on to college in California. Their reunion after fifteen years is bittersweet. She represents developers who want to dramatically change the town. He is the town official dedicated to maintaining the quality of life in Mystic Ridge.

Carmen Green”s humor and wonderful chemistry among her cast of characters make this story a joy to read. “Angel's Legacy” is proof you can go home again.

“The Choice” by Monica Jackson is the story of Evelyn Sweet and her family near the first anniversary of their maternal aunt’s death. “Sweet Mama’s” passing had been a blow to the entire family, but Evelyn felt her loss the hardest. Evelyn grew up taking care of her three selfish sisters, and later their children and “their men of the moment.” Sweet Mama cared for Evelyn. When David Douglas, an attractive former high school classmate returns to Mystic Ridge, Evelyn‘s haughty siblings set their cap for him. However, David only has eyes for Evelyn. As a result, both Evelyn and her family are forced to take a closer look at her and at themselves.

Monica Jackson has crafted a clever variation of the Cinderella story with an ancient family curse thrown in for good measure.

“A Home for the Holidays” is Leslie Esdaile's first romance in three years. Members of the Johnson family are returning to their family home in Mystic Ridge for the holidays. Unlike previous years, the comforting and unifying presence of grandmother “Nana” will not be there. Ester Johnson died a few months before the story begins. Each family member is bringing his or her own emotional baggage as well as personal memories of Nana back to the homestead. The atmosphere is further charged because the Johnsons are using this time to dispose of their grandmother’s home and furnishings. Attempts at civility among family members are short-lived and soon they are bickering with one another. But Nana’s calming spirit once again saves the holiday and makes the family look at what is really important.

Leslie Esdaile has taken a brief hiatus from romance writing since the publication of her book, Slow Burn in 1997. Unlike the other authors in this collection, Esdaile’s work has always encompassed a paranormal element. It is good to have her back.

Gwynne Forster's “Miracle at Midnight” rounds out the collection. When journalist Page Sutherland’s car breaks down outside Mystic Ridge on a cold evening, a tall - very, very tall - dark handsome stranger comes to her assistance. Page later learns that he is the reclusive author Nelson Pettiford. While the rest of the town thinks Nelson is strange, Page is intrigued. For his part, Nelson cannot get his encounter with Page out of his mind. As they get to know each other better, they discover they have many things in common. Mutual attraction develops into a full-blown relationship between them.

Gwynne Forster has created a wonderful story of love, loyalty and differences.

Donna Hill has taken a career leap with the development of this collection. Each story combines elements of paranormal romance and fantasy. With the exception of consistent works by author Eboni Snoe, few African-American romance writers have ventured into this corner of the genre. The stories are clear and thought-provoking. The collection is equally weighted with each a solid four-heart romance. The omniscient presence of mailman Solomon Whitfield provides a common link along with the setting.

Midnight Clear captures the essence of the holiday season: love, family memories, laughter, hope and spiritual renewal. Leslie Esdaile, Carmen Green, Gwynne Forster and Monica Jackson have given readers a wonderful gift. Thanks to Donna Hill for this a collection that is a welcome departure. It’s worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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