Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What I've Read Recently Christmas edition

What I've Read Recently ... Christmas Edition . . .

A Regency Christmas (story collection) by Anita Mills, Patricia Rice, Mary Balough, Gayle Buck, Edith Layton -- Regency Romances

Old Acquaintances by Gail Buck is a retelling of Georgette Heyer's Lady of Quality. Miss Judith Graham is traveling from her sister's lively home to her own lonely house for Christmas when she comes upon a serious coach accident. She instantly mothers a young lady, obviously of quality, traveling all on her own.Young Cecily Brown is fleeing her stern guardian's choice of husband. Judith, knowing how the story will end if she doesn't interfere, she invites the girl home with her. When the other guests hear of the invitation, they assume it's an open invitation and soon Judith's home is filled with guests. The guests include Lord Baltor, the young man who caused the coaching accident, a mysterious silent man and a pair of  encroaching "mushrooms" of the most vulgar sort. One guest she doesn't plan on is Sir Peregrine Ashford, Cecily's guardian, and Judith's former fiance! Something went wrong between them years ago and pride has kept them apart. Will the magic of the holiday season and pair of young lovers help them overcome their stubbornness and find their way back to each other? This story is Georgette Heyer light. The new-money couple provide a lot of chuckles, and "Mr. John Smith" makes for a good mystery. The plot is predictable but well-written. There's lots of realistic dialogue and good chemistry between the hero and heroine without it being excessive. They're both proud and stubborn and don't communicate very well. There's lots and lots of dialogue which is both good and bad because it means people are communicating, but we're being told things instead of being shown them, which I didn't like. This is a decent enough story but I didn't feel like it was so very heartwarming. 

In The Duke's Progress by Edith Layton, the Duke of Austell is excited for Christmas. He's bored most of the rest of the year, but at Christmas, he gets to spoil his niece and nephew and treat the servants. His gifts this year meet with less enthusiastic reception and he feels there must be something missing from his life. That something is the magic captured in the scene of a snowglobe his childhood friend's grandfather gave him as a boy. If only he could find that sense of peace and happiness. He hopes to recapture some of the joys of his lost youth when he inherits guardianship of his late friend's son, Randall. He enjoys spending time with young Randall, but upon learning the boy had made plans with best friend Betsy and her older sister Molly back home. When the boy gives Cyril a gift from the heart, Cyril realizes that Christmas magic may be attainable after all and may even lead to true love. I wouldn't call this story a romance. The romance is tacked on at the end and the heroine is never properly introduced.Cyril is a great man and any woman would be proud to marry him if she could hold his interest. I'd like to see the middle of the story filled. There was lots of potential here for a good story but the length prevents it from developing. 

The Kissing Bough by Patricia Rice is another story about second chances. It's Christmas and Diana Carrington is determined to make Christmas merry for her family, despite the fact that they are in mourning for her Papa and her only brother has been on the Peninsula fighting Napoleon. Charles is supposed to be on his way home but no one has heard from him in ages. Diana worries about her brother and she also worries about her old friend and neighbor Jonathan Drummond. Jon and Diana were childhood playmates and sweethearts and Diana can not forgive him for running off to war without telling her he was leaving. When Charles finally returns bringing a wounded Jon, Diana fears the boy she once loved has turned into a proud and angry man. Jon has reason to be bitter. His father has disowned him and his true love is not wearing the ring he secretly left her. Has she chosen to forget him? Surely a woman such as she has many suitors. With some help from a pair of mischievous twins and Diana's casual conversation, Jon begins to piece together the clues to the mystery and begin to plan a way to show Diana how much he cares. Maybe Christmas is a time for miracles after all. This is my favorite story in the collection. I loved the description of country Christmas and domestic life in a minor gentry household. It reminds me a lot of a Louisa May Alcott story, especially since there's sort of a moral to a subplot. The romance between two well-drawn characters develops beautifully. I loved the secondary characters adding comic relief to the plot. This story is very sweet without being too saccharine and the author refrains from hitting her readers over the head with a message.

In A Gift of Fortune by Anita Mills, Susanah Byrnes, an impoverished widow is journeying home with her small daughter and aunt-in-law from seeing her husband's family who refuse to help her. She doesn't know what her future will bring and it certainly isn't a merry Christmas. To make matters worse, the carriage breaks down on an icy road. Justin Marshfield, Marquess of Lynesdale is also traveling that night with his disreputable younger cousin and comes to the aid of the travelers. He is charmed by the child, Katie Byrnes and is determined she shall have whatever will make her happy. Molly Hill, a fellow traveler, is also eager to share her money with those who have been kind to her. While holed up an an inn for Christmas, the travelers conspire to make a happy Christmas for the little girl and for her mother. This story is incredibly unrealistic but it's a good Christmas story full of good cheer and heartwarming moments. The romance plot is a bit lackluster and unconvincing. The characters are rather stereotypical: noble, self-sacrificing mother; prostitute with a heart of gold and the bored Marquess. If you are looking for a good, heartwarming Christmas story then this one is the one that fits the bill. 

The Star of Bethlehem features a married couple Estelle and Alan, Lord and Lady Lisle. They haven't been very close in their short marriage and spend more time fighting and making love than actually talking to each other. When Estelle loses the Star of Bethlehem, as she calls the diamond and sapphire engagement ring Allan gave her, she fears her marriage is over. Allan wonders whether his wife has been unfaithful and feels jealous and possessive. Her loss of the ring is the last straw. He suggests a trial separation after her family visits for the holidays. A surprise appearance by a chimney sweep's boy brings out the maternal instincts in Estelle. She is determined to rescue him from a difficult life while Allan suspects the boy may be more than he seems. The boy soon discovers he has the power to save the Countess's marriage but he's torn between helping his blood family and helping the family that has been kind to him. Is there a way for everyone to have a merry Christmas? I liked this story least of all. I hate stories about marriages of convenience or married couples who don't communicate and this one is not exception. I HATED how they made silent love all the time after fighting. Their lack of communication probably is realistic for the period but for the sake of a story, I prefer couples to speak what is in their hearts. Others may enjoy the story and the development of two wounded souls coming together.

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