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Wendy the Super Librarian‘s review of Western Winter Wedding Bells by Cheryl St. John, Jenna Kernan & Charlene Sands
Historical western romance anthology published by Harlequin Historical 01 Oct 10

I love Harlequin Historical for their willingness to publish a variety of settings, but I gotta be honest – I’m mostly in it for the westerns.  And lucky me, they’ve had a tradition the last couple of years of publishing a western anthology just in time for the holidays.  Three Christmas-themed westerns in one book?  Merry Christmas to Wendy!

Christmas in Red Willow by Cheryl St. John

I think I might have mentioned a time or two (or three….) that Cheryl St. John is one of my very favorite authors.  So it was with some disappointment that I was…well…disappointed in this story.  Chloe Hanley’s grandfather was the town preacher, and after he passed, the beautiful church fell into disrepair.  Now the town council wants to tear it down and build a hotel in its place!  However, if she gets the place spruced up in time for Christmas services, they’ll abandon the idea.  For help she turns to carpenter Owen Reardon – the brother of the man leading the charge to tear down the church.

This is a nice, inspirational story with a strong Christmas message that didn’t dissolve into preachiness.  Chloe is a determined young lady and Owen continues the fine tradition of wonderful St. John Beta heroes.  However, I couldn’t get past the lack of backstory.  Red Willow is a close-knit town, with many neighborly, god-fearing residents.  When Chloe puts out the call for help, a lot of people answer.  Which begs the questions – why was the church in such disrepair in the first place?  Why was it allowed to deteriorate?  What led the members of the congregation (still meeting, mind you, even without a preacher!) to move services to the schoolhouse?  Why?  It’s not having those answers that annoyed me and keeps me from getting behind this story wholeheartedly.

Grade: C

The Sheriff’s Housekeeper Bride
by Jenna Kernan

Eliza Flannery boards the train without a ticket because she’s wanted for a crime she didn’t commit.  When it’s discovered she has no ticket, she’s on the run again – but this time it’s straight into the arms of Trent Foerster.  Before you can say Big Misunderstanding, he’s thinking she’s the new housekeeper he’s hired and she’s happily going along with the charade if only to save her skin.  However, she’s really in the soup now.  Trent not only as a young daughter he’s raising on his own, he’s also a former Texas Ranger!  Oh, not to mention that Eliza can’t cook with a darn.

These types of plots tend to annoy in full-length novels, but are easier for me to swallow in short stories.  That said, Eliza still gets nailed (and not in a good way) for failing to spill the beans to Trent, even though she has oodles of time to do so.  Naturally he doesn’t take kindly to her deception since he was done wrong by his baby’s mama (well, of course, he was!).  Quibbles aside, though, Eliza’s backstory, coupled with Trent’s daughter (who plucked at my heart-strings, I’ll admit it!) and the sense of doom surrounding the Big Mis kept me eagerly flipping the pages.  I wasn’t wow’ed, but I was hooked.

Grade: B-

Wearing the Rancher’s Ring by Charlene Sands

Sands tends to be hit or miss for me, but this story mostly works.  Cooper Garnett is tracking the man who murdered his family when he’s robbed and shot in the back on widow Rachel Bodine’s land.  She nurses him back to health, and he kick-starts her libido.  But what will happen when she learns the man she’s falling for has vengeance in his heart?

This is the most emotional story in the bunch.  I love that both Cooper and Rachel loved their dead spouses, and I adore the fact that neither wallowed in guilt over their mutual attraction.  The conflict mostly revolves around Cooper’s plans and Rachel’s disapproval of them.  That said, with vengeance such a focal theme in the story, it’s disappointing that it’s largely wrapped up “off page.”  I’ll also admit that it did give me pause that Cooper’s wife and son had only been dead for six months.  However, this a good, solid story with good, solid western themes, which mostly worked for me.

Grade: B-

Anthologies can be tricky business, but this one largely works.  I wasn’t blown away by any of these entries, but they did succeed in giving me that warm, fuzzy holiday feeling dressed up with some western flavor.  If you’re looking for some heartwarming, and quick, holiday stories to squeeze in around the craziness of your reality?  This collection may fit the bill.

Wendy TSLOverall Grade: B-


Small town Christmas—Three big proposals!

Christmas in Red Willow by Cheryl St. John
Chloe Hanley must save the town church. But only if she can convince reclusive carpenter Owen Reardon to help repair the broken heart of the community and open his own up again— in time for Christmas!

The Sheriff’s Housekeeper Bride by Jenna Kernan
Running from her past and a crime she didn’t commit, Eliza Flannery bumps into her future—all rugged six-foot sheriff of him! Single father Trent Foerster mistakes her for his housekeeper, but there’s no mistaking his desire for a mistletoe kiss from this mysterious miss….

Wearing the Rancher’s Ring by Charlene Sands
Cooper Garnett is shot and left for dead near Double J Ranch when widow Rachel Bodine comes to his aid. Could his unexpected arrival be the best Christmas gift ever— a second-chance family for Rachel and her little son?

Read an excerpt (St. John story only)

Other books in this series: