The topic of this month is Holiday Themes
My Rating: 3.5-4-3-3.5-3-3-3-2 stars
In December we have to choose something related to Holiday. And as it’s December an obvious book was this Christmas anthology, as I did last year with another anthology written by the Word Wenches.
It was in my TBR pile because, as I have already written here, Joanna Bourne is one of my favourite authors. And I bought it because of her story, I read it and even published a review about it in September 2015, but then I didn’t keep on reading the rest of the book.
So I bought this Christmas anthology because of Joanna Bourne’s story, but I didn’t find the moment to read the rest of the tales until now. Anyway, these stories are written by great authors, and it shows.
They are the Word Wenches: Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Patricia Rice, Anne Gracie, Susan King, Cara Elliott, and Nicola Cornick. They have written several Christmas anthologies, short stories in which there’s a celebration of the season and very little sensuality – these are ‘Kiss Only’ novellas.
These women are very competent, even if the plots are not quite original. Their characters are adults. These are Regency times, when women tend to have not very interesting things to do, because, do you know? Beautiful people, balls and walks under the moonshine do not a novel make. Well, some authors do it, but they tend to bore me.
So these wenches have tried to find interesting ways for their heroines to be active, in order to solve the problems that make their happy ending difficult.
It starts with Mary Jo Putney’s She Stoops to Wenchdom (3.5 stars). A story of disguises. Lucinda ‘Lucy’ Richards, very virtuous daughter of a vicar, goes to a party and there she finds the man she has always loved: Captain Gregory Kenmore. But Greg has come back from the war quite broody so, although he likes this girl, he thinks he does not deserve someone so innocent and pure.
What can Lucy do? Stay put in the vicarage? Of course not!
She knows that the Captain opens himself with the jovial girls of the tavern so she puts on a wig, disguises herself as a barmaid, and there she goes one night, to see if he can make him talk to her, a supposed stranger. She will have more success than she expected.
Then we have the story written by the late Jo Beverley, Miss Brockhurst’s Christmas Campaign (4 stars). Three broken compromises are enough for Penelope ‘Pen’ Brockhurst to find out that she can only be happy with Cardross ‘Ross’ Skerries, her best friend. So she wants to conquer him these Christmas. But there’s a problem: it looks like he is courting a young woman, ideal, delicate and feminine.
So what can Pen do? Go home to cry? Of course not!
So she decides that a campaign is necessary, and her arms will be her intelligence her wicked tongue –showed in very witty dialogues with a little bit of malice- and the knowledge of all the Pagan sense of the Christmas rites, something that horrifies his intended’s very Christian family.
The best thing of this story is the humour in it. Apart from that, as the story is told from Pen’s point of view, what she thinks and feels, therefor, Ross remains a mystery.
The third one is Intrigue and Mistletoe, by Joanna Bourne (3 stars). A young woman called Elinor had a father that was a scholar in Greek and Latin. She is travelling in Christmas time. There’s a snowstorm and she goes to a full inn to take shelter. There she meets Jack, a very handsome and tall man she had a relationship with two years ago. As it is a Bourne’s story, this man works as a spy, of course! In the end it is Elinor the one who solves the problem of who the spy is and where is the secret message that Jack is looking for.
Then, Patricia Rice tells us another story of disguises with Wench in Wonderland (3.5 stars). Damaris is poor so she works as a companion for Lady Alice, who elopes with the man she loves. Damaris is the one who will have to explain things to the man Lady Alice’s father has chosen for his daughter. But there’s an accident, and she is confused with Lady Alice.
What can Damaris do? As she is a very sensible and pragmatic woman, she keeps the charade in order to Lady Alice to elope successfully but at the same time she organises Trevelyan’s manor. She is so good at this that widower Adam, Viscount Trevelyan, thinks she is so great that his brother has to keep her. But, what do you think is going to happen when he discovers that she is not his brother’s fiancée?
Nicola Cornick tells the story of a second chance with your best friend who has loved you for years. It’s called On a Wicked Winter’s Night (3 stars). Lydia Cole, a duke’s daughter, has got a child and is not married, so she went away to the Welsh coast. Her best friend wanted to marry her, but she said ‘no’ because she thinks that he did it for friendship but as a matter of fact he has loved her for years. Now Johnny, the new Baron of Newport finds her again and wants her in his life forever. A friends-to-lovers story with a little rushed end.
The adventure and the atmospheric quality of the style in this anthology is given in Cara Elliott’s story, Weathering the Storm (3 stars). It shows that sometimes, knowing how to steer a boat is more important than to waltz. American Sophie Thirkell has a mission –she has to arrive to London before Christmas time because she wants to reconcile her English family with her father. But she is stranded in Cornwall. The only boat is one that Bentley, Lord Beete, buys. He is a diplomat that needs to go to London to give same messages to the government.
Do you think that Sophie is going to start crying while this not very nice viscount? No!
She is not very good with the waltz but she knows her way in a boat, whereas Bentley doesn’t. So they go to the sea, and that’s the beginning of an adventure for both of them.
In The Mistletoe Bride (3 stars), Anne Gracie tells the story of a poor spinster whose future is the home of a very stingy uncle. What is she going to do? She sees the chance to marry Ronan James McAllister, a man who needs to be married in order to inherit. As he had an unhappy marriage before, he has decided to marry a woman who is going to die soon. But what he ignores is that, instead of an agonizing woman, he will meet a very healthy Marguerite Blackett-Smith. Again, here we have got a story with a little bit rushed end. It does not sound very believable that they profess eternal love two days after they meet for the first time.
And last and –in this case- least, Susan King and her A Wilder Wench (2 stars). This is the story that I liked less. What can the vicar’s niece do in order to free her brother form jail? She decides to become a highway-woman, and this twist of the plot is something very difficult to understand. How is this going to help her brother? I just don’t know. The thing is that Edward Armstrong, Lord Dunallan, the new viscount and sheriff of Stirlingshire, sees the crime and wants to stop this bandit. He is very surprised to discover that the culprit is the very beautiful and charming vicar’s niece. The plot made little sense to me and, apart from that, Scottish stories are not my thing and moreover I cannot feel sympathy towards people that goes against the law. So it was a bittersweet end to quite a competent anthology.
I have written about short stories before. That it’s a format that usually works well if the couple knew each other beforehand, with the topic second chance at love in full swing. Otherwise, two people meeting and falling in love in few days do not make a very believable end.
I still think the same, although, in this case, two stories of people meeting and falling in love in very few days is convincing and charming. I prefer the way that Elliott has done it in Weathering the Storm: it’s clear that they have fallen for each other and they will keep on exploring that attraction in the future.
This is the last TBR Challenge of this year. I say the same as last year, I’m sad that my English is not as good as it used to be. But anyway, I’m ready to keep on doing the TBR Challenge in 2018. Hope to see you next year.