When a voice from his past invites renowned Hollywood cameraman Greg Marino to film a charity show in distant England, more than Christmas festivities are in the air. In "A Holiday Fling," a contemporary novella included in Mary Jo Putney's charming Christmas anthology, Christmas Revels, Greg's visit leads to a rekindling of his brief affair with actress Jenny Lyme. But just as Jenny and Greg have each been re-evaluating their lives before their reunion, their holiday fling proves to have a mind of its own. The entire community of Upper Bassett rallies to the challenge of saving their beloved tithe barn, now used for performances and community events, from being sold. The holiday spirit works its own magic as Jenny and Greg rediscover each other. But even the magic of Christmas needs help sometimes, as Jenny and Greg realize that building a relationship means coming to terms with careers that may take them to distant parts of the globe. Putney's charming Christmas story ably reminds us that home is wherever the heart leads. As a counterpoint to her delicious new contemporary tale, Christmas Revels also includes four classic historical stories that offer and deliver the promise of Christmas joy in the eternal magic of romance. Welcome treats for readers in snack-sized morsels for the hectic holiday season.

Storm-tossed

A divorced single father with two daughters and an alcoholic mother should be the last romantic choice Lynette Graves would make after her own life is turned upside down by a destructive hurricane. Yet from the moment she sees Foster Hamilton's loving care for his daughters, Lynette is drawn to the hard-working crime scene photographer in Leslie Esdaile's Through the Storm. Burned by her own divorce, and exasperated by her mother's constant carping that she should be finding a new man, Lynette should be running for her life from all the well-meaning advice. But in Foster she senses that she is running to her life, a life of hope, promise and second chances at getting marriage right. Esdaile strikes just the right notes of gritty reality and budding dreams in this powerful paean to the belief that even when you're most battered by life and fate, taking risks is worthwhile for the chance to find a life and a lifemate worth clinging to forever.

Valley girl

Sometimes it's tragedy, not holiday celebration, that draws a person back to their roots. When Shelly Granger left her rural background behind, she never expected to be drawn back. Yet her brother Josh's bewildering suicide compels her to confront her past in Shirley Busbee's Return to Oak Valley. Part of that past is Sloan Ballinger and the bitter family feud between the Ballingers and Grangers that destroyed the relationship between Shelly and Sloan. Blend in Oak Valley gossip about the true relationship between Shelly and Nick, who she believes is Josh's son, and the heady mix of scandal and loss brews up entirely unexpected new bonds for Shelly. No longer a girl, Shelly learns, with a woman's heart, the true significance of family and honor and enduring love.

Sleeping beauty

A murder mystery adds an intriguing element to Sherryl Woods' new romance Along Came Trouble, the third book in her Trinity Harbor trilogy. Finding his long-ago love asleep in his bed should be cause for celebration for small-town sheriff Tucker Spencer . . . except for the trauma that brings Mary Elizabeth Swann back into his life. Tucker always believed he knew the heiress better than anyone, trusted her, until she married the politically ambitious high-tech millionaire Lawrence Chandler. Now, Larry's dead and his childhood sweetheart comes home to Tucker because she's the most likely suspect. But even as Tucker takes a leave so he can protect her, Mary Elizabeth's return opens old questions: Does he really know her, and can he trust her again? And most importantly for both their futures, does he dare take the risk of loving her again? Woods deftly draws in readers with a winning blend of suspense, romance and small town living in this climactic conclusion to the saga of the Spencer family.

Sandy Huseby writes and reviews from her homes in Fargo, North Dakota, and lakeside in northern Minnesota.

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