Sunday, December 19, 2010

What I've Read This Week

 What I've Read This Week . . .

Regency Christmas Wishes by Barbara Metzger, Emma Jensen, Sandra Heath, Edith Layton and Carla Kelly -- Regency Romance 

This volume of Regency Christmas-themed novellas includes "The Lucky Coin" by Barbara Metzger, "Following Yonder Star" by Emma Jensen, "The Merry Magpie" by Sandra Heath, "Best Wishes" by Edith Layton and" Let Nothing You Dismay" by Carla Kelly.

In "The Lucky Coin," Sir Adam Standish is down-on-his-luck through no fault of his own. He needs a loan or a miracle to help him save his beloved estate. After confiding his woes to a stranger on the stage, the stranger gives Adam a lucky coin. At first there's nothing very lucky about the coin, but then Adam meets his Christmas Angel, a beautiful young woman who inspires him to protect her from a villain. Then Adam finds that his lucky coin may help him save the estate after all but will it win him his true love? Barbara Metzger is one of my favorite authors in the genre and this story is no exception. It's light, fluffy and improbable but a good read. I especially enjoyed this story and consider it my favorite of the collection.

"Following Yonder Star" is slightly more serious. Eight years ago, Gareth Blackwell, the younger son of an Irish Earl, went off to sea and hasn't returned to Ireland since. Eight years ago, Alice was left with a broken heart when Gareth went away. Now she cares for his family home and looks after her spoiled younger sister, now the Countess of Kilcullen. Gareth returns, reluctantly, after his brother's death, to await the birth of his brother's child. Should the child prove to be a girl, then Gareth is the new Earl, a role which he does not relish. Gareth finds Alice older and less feisty than she was but still beautiful and loving. In helping Alice with her duties, he comes to care for her even more. Alice discovers that Gareth has grown into a solid, caring man and she is determined to show him the value of their home. I liked this story because it feels like a rewrite of Persuasion and a well-done one at that. Gareth and Alice are nicely rounded characters who seem mostly realistic. Alice is a bit saintly, like Anne Eliot, but not in an obnoxious way. The secondary characters are a bit stereotypical but provide the comic relief. If you like more substance in your romance stories and love Persuasion, this is the best pick for you.

"The Merry Magpie" is an even more serious story featuring an estranged married couple.  Sir Charles Neville married his childhood sweetheart while his friends were still busy sowing their wild oats. A slight feeling of jealously led to weakness which led to his taking a mistress. He thought he could hide his misdeed from his beloved wife, but her aunt's pet magpie uncovered the secret and Charles was banished from his wife's family home. Now, six years later, Charles has returned from India more mature and wiser and ready to make amends. He wonders whether he'll be welcome at Marchgrove Park and if his beloved Juliet will take him back. Juliet's scheming aunt and her tipsy magpie interfere sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. This is one of the weaker stories in the collection. I fail to understand Charles's excuse for cheating on his wife. I commend Juliet's actions because usually in Regency stories, the wife is supposed to accept her that her husband has strayed. However, Juliet's reaction is very modern and I'm not sure it's entirely accurate. I felt sorry for her and wished more of the story had been from her point of view. The magpie character is silly and doesn't add much to the plot other than the initial disaster. I neither loved nor hated this story. It just isn't my favorite.

"Best Wishes" is a similar story about a married couple experiencing their first discord. Pamela, Lady Rexford refuses to attend a Christmas house party at the home of her husband's former mistress.  Jonathan wants to introduce Pamela to more people from Society and what better way than to attend a house party, however, Pamela is jealous of her husband's past relationship and has heard a lot of gossip about the hostess and her guests. Pamela wishes to return home to her family for the holidays and resents that Jonathan accepted an invitation without considering her wishes or consulting her. Jonathan doesn't want to visit Pamela's family where he will be an outsider. Finally, the couple decides to compromise and spend half the week with the Fanshawes and half with Pamela's family. When the time comes, neither is as happy as they believe they should be and continuously quarrel and make up. The story is very repetitive and slow moving. I had a hard time getting through this one and consider it my least favorite.

"Let Nothing You Dismay," the final story in the collection, is very unique. Lord Trevor Chase is a London barrister who insists on staying in London for the holiday to take a deposition. His solicitor is loathe to leave Lord Trevor alone but has family to visit. Lord Trevor makes a desperate wish on a star for someone to save him and thus begins the story. The heroine, Miss Cecilia Ambrose was born to unknown parents in Egypt and raised by a family of missionary philanthropists. In England she feels out-of-place and mostly sticks to Miss Dupree's Select Academy for Young Ladies in Bath where she is a teacher. This Christmas, Cecilia has been asked to escort one of her pupils, Lady Lucinda Chase, back to her home. Cecilia wishes to have a chat with Lucy's mother about Lucy's depressed behavior since learning of her older sister's engagement. After that, Cecilia thinks she will return to Bath. However, a family emergency requires Cecilia to stay and help Lord Trevor to care for his nieces and nephews. Cecilia is in awe of Lord Trevor, the famous barrister who takes on sordid cases that make exciting news stories. Cecilia isn't shy about telling Lord Trevor what she thinks of him, and he finds her a refreshing and intriguing companion. A house fire forces the family to move to the Dower House, where it is hoped the children will stop squabbling and mend their ways. Something draws Cecilia and Lord Trevor to confide each others' deepest secrets to each other. Lord Trevor reveals how he came to be the black sheep of his family by representing underprivileged children and the mistake he made in his past that haunts him to this day. As Christmas moves closer, Lord Trevor withdraws from the family and the children elect Cecilia to help draw him out and keep him from his demons. This story is darker and more serious than any of the others but no less romantic. Carla Kelly always creates interesting heroines and Cecilia is no exception. The romance is believable and sweet but there is first the hurdle of past demons to battle and that plot is what really makes the story. The writing is excellent and thought the message is a bit corny, it's not as heavy handed as some other holiday stories in the genre. This is an absolute must-read for fans of more serious, mature romances. 

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