Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7756-4
Historical Romance, 2004
Set in the late nineteenth century, 4th of July Picnic tells the stories of people falling in love during the Independence Day celebrations in Peace, Missouri. This is a very short anthology and therefore, the stories won’t make too much of an impact, as they are like those small bite-sized chocolate chip cookies people buy to shut up their kids during the long journeys across the country during the holidays. The stories won’t change any reader’s life but I really like Cheryl Bolen’s story.
But first, Pat Pritchard’s Peace of Mind. The town gears up for the celebrations but the editors of the two newspapers in town don’t agree on how or why the celebrations should be carried out. Malachi Jones of The Post and Maggie Jones of The Gazette. They will soon realize that they like each other more than they first realized when he won her picnic basket in the auction, but gosh, these two are annoying, especially when they are squabbling over ridiculous matters. Still, if they think that a quick moment of psychoanalyzing is all they need to put aside their childishness and find love, good luck to them. The agony aunts need some way to stay in business after all.
Cheryl Bolen’s Four-leaf Clover is too adorable for words. The mayor, Norman Sterling, has always been in love with Mildred Gresham for six years and counting but all sorts of circumstances prevent him from ever telling her how he feels about him. Mildred loves him too but she never says a word because he never does. This 4th of July, Norman is finally free to court Mildred but even when they are both finally free to get the fireworks going, things are never easy in love. Misunderstandings galore usually make this kind of stories painful but Norman is a too-cute hero whose unabashed, open adoration of Mildred is oh-so-romantic. How can I resist a man who tells the woman he loves, “As my wife, you will be cherished” and that’s even after a few clumsy, nervous stammerings because he was still the shy kid inside despite his tough-rich-guy exterior? Mildred is a more stereotypical nitwit character but I’m sure these idiot heroines are not going away anytime soon so I may as well suffer her presence.
Tracy Cozzen has Al Hannigan coming to town in The Miracle Elixir to sell his fake medicinal cure-all elixir. When crippled too-innocent-must-die Katie Blackwood buys one when she can barely afford it, Al’s conscience – among other things – is stoked. Yay, just what I need: another idiot being taken advantage of by a man only to turn the table by virtue of her waifish innocence! Treacly too-sweet for its own good, this story is more like a perverse placebo that doesn’t do anything for me.
There are good anthologies, there are bad ones, and 4th of July Picnic is somewhere in between good and bad. There aren’t any particularly great or too awful stories here. In other works, there aren’t any fireworks in here.