Rescuing Christmas

Vicki Lewis Thompson, Catherine Mann and Kathie Denosky
November 2012, Contemporary Romance
Harlequin, $7.99, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373837682

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

For as long as I can remember I have been reading Christmas anthologies. In fact many years ago, my mother and I had a tradition of using these books as stocking stuffers. Add to this long established tradition the inclusion of rescue pets, and that turned this into an impossible to resist book.

Contemporary Romance

Vicki Lewis Thompson starts the anthology off with Holiday Haven. Cameraman Ben Rhodes has never felt such an instantaneous attraction to a woman before. With her mop of curly black hair, laughing blue eyes, expressive face, and effortless smile Tansy Dexter lights up the studio. Plus her ardor for the animals she cares for is infectious.

As the director for Haven, the no-kill animal shelter, Tansy is on a mission. She wants to place as many animals as possible in foster homes for the holidays, giving them that much needed human interaction and a break from the shelter. In addition she is hopeful that this will lead to some of the animals finding their forever home. Also, the shelter just removed sixty cats from a hoarding situation and she is looking to build another kitty condo to take care of their needs.

Tansy can tell that Ben loves animals and he has a way with them, even charming a curmudgeonly cat at the shelter that tends to avoid everyone. But Ben had a heartbreaking experience of losing a pet when he was a teenager, so he never wants to experience that type of loss again. Why would anyone sign up to care for an animal that probably is going to die before you do?

Still Ben canít keep away from Tansy, and soon finds himself volunteering to help her raise money by taking professional pictures of the animals and packaging a Christmas DVD. However, Tansy canít imagine getting involved with someone that is afraid to love a pet.

I did like this story, although I found it to be the weakest of the three. One reason is due to the faulty premise. I have read that holidays, with all the excitement, stress, visitors, decorations and holiday food, is the worst time to introduce a new pet into the home. So the whole campaign of fostering Ė a temporary arrangement - seems thoughtless and needlessly stressful for many of the animals. And the variation of "I lost someone I love and I will never love again" is one of my least favorite plot devices. I donít have a lot of patience for someone stuck in the past. Still the characterization is excellent. Both Ben and Tansy are very appealing. Their attraction to each other is very believable, and overall it is a sweet story.

Grade: B

Contemporary Romance

Next up is Home for Christmas by Catherine Mann. Shelby Dawson-Conradís marriage is all but over. Still she has spent her whole life being the antithesis of her mother, a woman who abandoned her soldier husband and children, so there is no way she is going to allow Alex, her husband, to return home after his latest military deployment with no one to greet him.

Facing the heartbreaking end to a marriage is difficult anytime, but especially over the holidays. In order to keep from dwelling on the dissolution, she signed up to transport three dogs from the Haven animal shelter to their new adoptive families. She is hoping that Alex will agree to go along, and maybe they can use this time in the car to have an open and honest conversation. Alex surprisingly does agree but the plan is derailed somewhat when Tansy calls and informs them that a cameraman is going to join them to film the introductions.

Alex feels like he has failed Shelby. He is not an officer like her father was, and she gave up her dream of going to veterinarian school. After she suffered two miscarriages and failed fertility treatments, he realized he couldnít even give her the family she wanted. The treatments put them thousands of dollars in debt, so he volunteered for more overseas assignments. But to Shelby it appeared he only wanted to run away from conflict and her.

The desire that they have for each other hasnít faded but their inability to communicate has derailed their once happy marriage. Can they break down the barriers, and truly talk?

I found this story both touching and heartwarming. I tend to love second chance at love stories, and this one didnít disappoint. While I found it strange that after eight years of marriage Alex had shared so little of his childhood, I easily accepted the quick fix to their marital woes.

Grade: B

Contemporary Romance

Last but not least is A Puppy for Will by Kathie Denosky. Will Parker has turned into an all work and no play type of guy. The end of his marriage three years ago played a part in eliminating any desire to socialize so he threw himself into his work. Now his company has come to expect him to handle an even heavier load after they downsized. While he is not too happy about fostering a puppy over Christmas, he is helpless to resist his grandmotherís plea. But he has been conned. Instead of a small manageable puppy, she has arranged for him to foster Harley, a five-month-old Saint Bernard and Bernese Mountain mixed breed puppy. Since he has given his word there is no backing out now, but how is he going to deal with a puppy this size on his houseboat?

Macie Fairbanks loves her new community; since she is unable to make the trip home because of the snow in the Cascade Mountains, she decides to throw a Christmas Eve party. Intent on delivering her invitation she is stunned by the large black and white dog scurrying toward her. Luckily for her, the owner is not far behind, and the dog responds to "sit". She has seen Will at a distance before, but the close-up view of him is astounding. He is drop dead gorgeous. He is so attractive, it is almost enough to make her forget she is off men. Her ex-fiancť broke up with her over the holidays last year. While both have reasons not to get involved, with help from Harley, these two are shown that they are meant for one another.

Of all the stories this is the most humorous, causing me to break into laughter several times. From the very beginning, it is just plain cute. The short courtship and resolution of some trust issues are a little problematic, but overall I had fun reading this story, enough so that I am going to check out Ms. Denoskyís backlist.

Grade: B

It is not often that all the stories in an anthology get the same rating. While each story has certain aspects that hampered my ability to suspend belief a bit, those plot devices were balanced by appealing characters, adorable pets, and feel-good endings. I plan to pull this out again closer to Christmas for a re-read. Even though it is being released before Christmas, donít let this one slip by you.

-- Leigh Davis

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