Janet Dailey, . . Zebra, $6.99 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-8217-7611-7

The theme of this book's two seasonal tales—unexpected true love as the ultimate Christmas gift—is timeless, but the stories themselves are dated. Advertised as "completely revised," the stories, which were originally penned in the 1970s, contain occasional references to software, but central anachronisms—such as plot developments and characters that are clearly pre-sexual revolution—remain. In "Darling Jenny," a love story between a traumatized urban career woman and a rancher, the heroine's highly coveted job in the "big city" (i.e., Minneapolis) turns out to be a secretarial position, and her trauma is a "brute" boyfriend whose date expectations, not surprisingly in 2003, include sex. "Strange Bedfellows," which centers on a woman's attempt to readjust to a powerful husband she'd thought dead in a jungle accident several years earlier, is little more than an old-style bodice ripper. Dailey's flair for creating vivid characters that tickle the heart and funny bone, so evidenced in last year's Scrooge Wore Spurs, rarely surfaces here. Instead, these works are littered with lackluster lines like, "She didn't want to... get any closer or his maleness would arouse that physical attraction she'd tried to stifle." The stories are not without charm, but they would have been more successful if straightforwardly presented as polished-up period pieces. (Oct.)