Friday, July 5, 2013

What I Read Last Week

What I Read Last Week . .

The Diabolical Baron by Mary Jo Putney -- Regency Romance

Caroline Hanscombe hates the London Season. She has made all attempts to turn the gentlemen away, much to her stepmother's dismay. Her only place of refuge is with her widowed Aunt Jessica who allows Caroline to be herself. Jason Kinkaid, Lord Radford has finally decided to take a wife since he lost the only woman he could ever love long ago. He sees marriage as a business arrangement and any well-bred lady will do. After a few drinks with a friend, he makes a list and pulls Caroline's name out of a hat. When Caroline's sister makes a love match, Caroline's parents inform her that it's up to her to make a brilliant match with Lord Radford. Caroline feels forced into accepting Jason's proposal for the sake of her family. As hard as Jason tries, his fiance can barely speak to him or even manage to look at him. In an effort to get to know her better, he invites Caroline and her aunt to his estate. When Jason discovers Caroline's aunt is the love of his life, he feels honor bound to marry Caroline yet he can't stop thinking about kissing Jessica. What a dilemma! Richard Dalton, recently returned from the wars, is shocked to discover that should he accept it, he is the next Earl of Walgrave. Richard isn't sure he wants the duties and responsibilities that come with the title. After a nomadic life, he wants to settle down on a small estate and live life as a country squire. If he doesn't accept, his rake of a cousin will inherit and sell the estate. Believing that Walgrave is uninhabited, Caroline is given permission to use the music room where she loses herself in playing and composing. When she meets Richard, he is kind, gentle and shares her love of music. He supports her unladylike dream of composing music and encourages her to follow her dreams. In short, Richard is nothing like the curt, sardonic, almost elderly (he's 35 to her 22) Baron. She still feels she must marry the Baron to save her family. Richard loves Caroline and he thought he loved him back, he wouldn't hesitate to risk the Baron's wrath and offer for Caroline instead. Will any of these characters end up with their true loves? The answer is obvious but getting there takes a long long time. This story is really slow and nothing happens. There's no relationship between any of the characters. I'm not sure why Caroline fears Jason so much. Her relationship with Richard is developed slowly and sweetly and I can see why a shy girl would be drawn to him but there's no real romance there. Jason's interest in Jessica has potential. I could see at once what drove them apart in their younger days (haven't they read Pride and Prejudice?) and what had to happen to fix things, yet nothing really did happen. There's no real romance in this novel - not even much kissing. There are a few villains who are stereotypes of Regency men. They don't really add anything to the story, but merely pad out the plot too much and complicate matters.There are quite a few typos in the Kindle edition which drove me crazy. Overall, this story is entirely unmemorable and I would not recommend it.

Christmas Mischief by Mary Jo Putney -- Regency Short Stories

These three novellas were original published in previous collections. 

In The Christmas Cuckoo, Major Jack Howard arrives in England at Christmastime after selling his commission tired and hungry. He's annoyed at the commands from his great-aunt and refuses to bow to her wishes. In a fit of pique, he gets on a stage headed for Bristol. Cold, exhausted and drunk, Jack never makes it to Bristol. After falling asleep in Chippingham, he's met at the station by a lovely young woman who wants him to come home with her. Mistaking her for a tart, he kisses her and is pleased at her reaction before realizing what he has done. Determined to forget about it, he follows the young lady home. Meg Lambert was looking forward to having her family all together for Christmas, but when her brother got waylaid in Spain, he sent along his best friend Captain Jack Howard, instead. Meg is delighted to welcome her brother's best friend into her home and hopes he'll make a match of it with her younger sister Phoebe. While Phoebe doesn't seem interested, Meg can't help but admire the big, kind man. He's sympathetic to the troubles a local aristocrat had caused her family and his kisses under the mistletoe make Meg burn. Jack quickly falls in love with Meg but he knows he's not the man she thinks he is. How can he ever bring himself to tell her news that will surely hurt her and drive him from the most welcoming home he's ever known? This story is so impossible to believe. I highly doubt an unmarried woman would welcome a stranger into her home where there were no men present even if she thinks he's her brother's best friend. Even so, this is a sweet holiday story that will warm your heart. Jack's backstory is revealed slowly. His background doesn't come as huge surprise to the reader, but the reader learns the truth the same time Meg does. There's enough suspense in the story to keep me interested and the romance is sweet. Because of the short length of the story, the romance develops quickly and improbably but I liked it. There are a lot of good period details about Christmas customs that I also enjoyed. Meg is an appealing heroine because she's older and strong and keeps her family together through tough times. Jack is a bit of an enigma. No doubt he appears in a novel and his story is more fully explained. In this story though he's a bit rough around the edges and proud, he's also kind and caring and in need of someone to love him. I liked this story best of the two I read.

Sunshine for Christmas appeared in Regency Christmas II and is reviewed in my post for that anthology. It was the best story of the three in this volume. I especially loved the descriptions of Naples, the nearest big city to where my beloved recently deceased Nonnie spent her early years.

The Christmas Tart is about a down on her luck French seamstress who is accused of stealing a valuable ring from her employer. When Nicole is turned out on the streets without her savings, the kind lady's maid takes pity on Nicole and gives her a garish old cloak the lady of the house discarded and a bit of money. Nicole wanders through the London streets tired, cold and hungry. She's unable to find work without references and her only friend is a stray cat. Sir Philip Selbourne has been working hard for the last six months since his honored father's death. He's come to London on business and his friends decide to give him a Christmas present in the form of a woman in his bed. They approach Nicole who weighs the advantages of giving up her virtue as opposed to starving to death, and decides to accept the generous offer of payment. Philip isn't in the mood for seducing an innocent but kindly takes Nicole under his wing. A snowstorm and a delightful interlude at a peasant's cottage bring these two closer together. If only Nicole could believe he really loves her for herself and not as a stray animal he's determined to help. This story is the weakest of the three. It's slow to start and not much happens. Nicole is in a tough position and I do not envy her in the beginning. The romance develops both slowly in terms of plot development but quickly in terms of the amount of time the characters spend together. It's a sweet romance though with only a kiss at the end and very little sensuality in between. I can see why Nicole loves Philip but I don't know what he sees in her. The interlude in the peasant's cottage is the most delightful part of the story and I wish there had a been a bit more of it. There is a great description of period Christmas decorations that I enjoyed. The Kindle edition had a few typos but not too many. If you want a good escape story or a heartwarming Christmas story, then this one isn't bad.

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