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Wendy the Super Librarian‘s review of Snowflakes and Stetsons by Jillian Hart, Carol Finch & Cheryl St. John
Historical Western Romance anthology published by Harlequin Historical 20 Sep 11

There are certain universal truths when it comes to my romance reading: 1) I love category romance 2) I love westerns 3) I love Christmas-themed stories and 4) I love Harlequin Historical.  So naturally, the diabolical minds at Harlequin have taken it upon themselves to produce an annual Christmas-themed western anthology for the past several years.  I’m one of Pavlov’s dogs and somewhere in the bowels of the Harlequin offices someone is ringing a damn bell.

The Cowboy’s Christmas Miracle by Jillian Hart

Fresh out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit (naturally), Caleb McGraw is looking for the sweetheart he left behind, only to discover she’s passed away. When he learns she left behind a son, he knows that child is his. So he tracks down the tyke living with Caroline Dreyer, a widow still mourning the loss of her husband and child.  She adores Thomas, but can’t seem to reach the boy, who takes to starring out the window, waiting for something or someone.

Hart is what I call an “angst writer” and she really slathers it on with this story.  Both Caleb and Caroline are haunted by their pasts, and even young Thomas walks with a shadow following his every move.  What I like here is that we have a secret baby plot that actually seems quite plausible, and that none of these characters is prone to hysterics.  It’s a real emotional heart-tugger of a read, with a healthy dollop of holiday spirit on the side.

Grade: B

Christmas at Cahill Crossing by Carol Finch

Rosalie Greer owns a dress shop in Cahill Crossing and is on her way back to town with Christmas supplies when a blizzard stops her cold. She comes close to freezing to death when Lucas Burnett’s dog (named “Dog” – seriously) uncovers her in a snowdrift. Lucas is a Loner with a capital L, but can’t very well leave the delectable Rosa to die – so he carts her back to his ranch.

What follows is Rosa thawing out, challenging Lucas at every turn, and dragging him out into society by his nose. Finch tends to spoon on a healthy layer of humor in her stories, which doesn’t always work for me. For the most part, it does here. Some of the dialogue didn’t ring true to me (Lucas actually says “mixed heritage” in regards to his half-Comanche, half-Mexican blood – which sounded a little too “PC” to my ears for 1880s Texas), and the fact the couple likes to jump to conclusions about each other did get tiresome. However, it is a fairly enjoyable story, and it’s a nice taste of the upcoming Cahill Cowboys continuity series.

Grade: B-

A Magical Gift at Christmas by Cheryl St. John

U.S. Marshal Jonah Cavanaugh is on a train guarding a gold shipment when he spies a notorious outlaw on board. Suspecting danger is up ahead in the form of an outlaw gang, he unhooks the the mail car from the train, which is carrying the shipment. When he does that, he also unhooks a well-appointed Pullman car, carrying railroad heiress Meredith Abbott. However, that’s not his only concern. Stowing away in the mail car? Two young orphans heading to Denver to find their long-lost Daddy. Now Jonah has a woman and two children to keep safe, with a band of outlaws sure to be paying them a visit once they hold up the train and find the mail car missing.

What I enjoy about St. John’s stories is that her characters are always practical thinking people. They’re never prone to hysterics or overly dramatic. Meredith might be an heiress, but she’s level-headed, can handle a weapon, and doesn’t waste time senselessly bickering with our hero. The author also crams in a ton of story here and gives readers a nice action-adventure style plot that is a nice change of pace from the other two offerings. The only real missteps here are that one of the orphans (the little girl, naturally) speaks with a lisp (blessedly she doesn’t talk too much!), and I feel the ending is a bit rushed. But it’s still a solid offering, featuring a page-turning plot and interesting characters.

Grade: B

This is a solid, cozy anthology that delivers a warm, fuzzy Christmas vibe. It’s the kind of book that should be read Christmas Eve, with a mug of hot cocoa, by a crackling fire place, after the kids have gone to bed. For that matter, it’s the kind of anthology that can be kept and reread every year right around the holiday season. This one is as-advertised.

Wendy TSLOverall Grade: B


The Cowboy’s Christmas Miracle
by Jillian Hart

Wrongly imprisoned, Caleb McGraw is finally free—but the bitterness he holds still makes him feel trapped. Until he sees the beautiful Caroline holding a little boy with eyes just like his own. Discovering his long-lost son is just the start of Caleb’s Christmas miracles!

Christmas at Cahill Crossing
by Carol Finch

One Christmas night, outcast Lucas Burnett finds a silver-haired angel buried in the snow. But Rosalie Greer is no pale spirit—she’s a fiery, independent woman, as wild as the mustangs Lucas breeds. Can she be the one to finally thaw Lucas’s frozen heart?

A Magical Gift at Christmas by Cheryl St.John

Meredith has always dreamed of a grand life but, stranded on a train in heavy snowfall with two young stowaways, she unexpectedly finds she has everything she needs with just one strong man to protect her….

Read an excerpt (Hart story only)