Friday, December 10, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Regency Christmas Courtship by Barbara Metzger, Edith Layton, Andrea Pickens, Nancy Butler and Gayle Buck -- Regency Romance Christmas novellas

This Christmas collection contains five Regency-set Christmas stories. The strongest stories are the first three "Wooing the Wolf", "The Dogstar" and "Lost and Found." In the first, Margaret Todd, a lady's companion, takes in her two orphaned nieces for the holidays. Not having anywhere else to go, they move in next door to Wolfram House as the owner is not in residence. The servants of Wolfram House enjoy the Christmas spirit with the two little girls much more than John, Viscount Wolfram is enjoying his holidays. Having grown bored with his latest mistress, Wolf tries to end the relationship, but the lady reacts violently and Wolf's face and pride are wounded. Arriving home with his tail between his legs, Wolf discovers the holiday cheer happening in his home and roars. Capable Margaret handles the situation well and John can't help but be charmed by her beauty and sensible nature so he allows her and her wards to stay on. Young Katherine and Alexandra love their new home and wish to stay there with their beloved aunt forever, so borrowing a pamphlet on courtship from Wolf's desk, they set to work trying to woo the Viscount for their aunt. In doing so, the girls create chaos and wreak havoc on Wolf's orderly life. By Christmas, he's at his wit's end and all hope of a marriage seems lost, but the girls have one last scheme in mind and Wolf finds himself charmed beyond his wildest imaginings.

In Dogstar, a lonely little boy travels to London for the holidays and picks up a stray dog along the way. Upon arriving in London, he's met with two adults who wish him to spend the holidays: his mother's old school friend Miss Laura Lockwood and his late father's friend Viscount Falconer. The imperious Viscount doesn't want Alex's dog and clashes with Laura about where Alex should spend his holidays. Laura's kindness wins out and Alex heads home with her to her lodgings. Alex doesn't care that Laura is very poor, he's happy to have a place to belong and his dog by his side. Sebastian, Viscount Falconer unbends a bit and agrees to spend time with Alex and Miss Lockwood sightseeing. The dog Pompey tags along and it becomes apparent that this is no ordinary dog when he charms everyone he meets, including the beats at the menagerie. Sebastian enjoys the time spent with Laura and Alex and is reluctant to let them go, however, he gets the wrong impression about Laura's background and offers her an indecent proposal, which she promptly refuses. It seems like Alex is about to return to his lonely life but Pompey does his best to provide Alex with the merriest Christmas ever. Both stories feature strong, independent heroines who are realistic and easy to relate to. The heroes are both rather snobby and rude but have kind hearts underneath. The children are cute without being obnoxious and both stories are heartwarming.

In "Lost and Found," Lord Nicholas Moreton's father demands his presence in London for Christmas where Nicholas will pay court to an influential foreign count's niece. Seething with resentment, Nicholas heads to Town in the midst of a snowstorm. He's forced to spend the night at an obscure country inn and rest his lame horse. Lady Anna Federova is also staying at the inn on her way to London to answer a summons from her uncle who wishes her to marry the Englishman he's chosen for her. The high-spirited Anna doesn't wish to marry a man she doesn't know or love though she has little choice in the matter. When she encounters Nicholas, she sees another arrogant man like her uncle and tries to knock the young man down off his high horse.
When his horse does not recover in time, Nicholas is forced to accept a ride from Anna. As the snow picks up, the journey becomes more dangerous and Nicholas and Anna have to work together to save themselves. During their journey, Anna gets to see the real Nicholas and realizes he is a kind, sensitive young man and Nicholas learns how to lighten up through Anna's teasing. However, the two are promised to others and dread their return to London. They must hope for a Christmas miracle to save them from their fates. Ignoring the obvious plot, the story is really good. I liked that the characters get to know one another well and that Nicholas is not a typical indolent alpha male hero. The story gets rather corny towards the end which took away some of my enjoyment.

The last two stories are too short to be completely believable or interesting. In "Christmas With Dora Davenport," the impoverished Elnora Nesbitt has been writing firebrand, radical articles to support herself, her mother and her aunt. However, Elnora's radical articles are not as popular as her domestic column she wrote previously. Elnora's wealthy suitor's mother is a great fan of Elnora's "Dora Davenport" articles and is dying to spend the holidays at Elnora's country home. The problem is that Elnora is not very domestic and their home has recently been vacated by a scoundrel of a tenant who left the home in shambles. Encouraged by her cousin August, Elnora and her family head back to the country to try to salvage their estate and win over Elnora's suitor. August promises to send help and come as soon as his visitor is well and able to travel. Help arrives in the guide of a Welsh sailor and friend of August's. Lieutenant Gowan Merthyr is kind, considerate, encouraging and makes Elnora's heart beat faster. He is, however, not a wealthy man. Elnora has a dilemma: whether to sacrifice her happiness in order to save her family or give in to her heart. That is, is the gentleman is willing... The results are predictable and because of the length of the story, not very believable. It would have been a better full-length novel with space to fully develop the characters and have them get to know one another better.

The final story in the collection, "Christmas Cheer," is about a young bride, Lady Hallcroft, who worries her husband doesn't love her and misses her large, loving family. When her husband asks her to plan a lavish holiday house party, she agrees, though is nervous because it's her first time acting as hostess and her husband will not even tell her who his guests are. Lady Hallcroft grows angry. She little suspects her husband has a pleasant surprise in store for her and seethes with resentment until she meets her husband's old tartar of an aunt and discovers what the Christmas season is really about. I hate stories about newlyweds and I hate misunderstanding plots. The surprise was so obvious that I couldn't stand that Lady Hallcroft did not figure it out. This story was the weakest in an another wise very good collection of holiday stories.

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