Christmas Revels, by Mary Jo Putney

>> Thursday, May 15, 2003

I've just finished an Anthology which includes 5 short stories by Mary Jo Putney. The title is Christmas Revels, and it includes a new contemporary short story and the reissues of 4 historical stories. All of them are Christmas-themed stories. It might seem strange that I'm reading them at this time of the year, but remember that I'm in the southern hemisphere, so the weather's pretty cold right now!

Jenny Lyme and Greg Marino were minor characters in The Spiral Path, and we didn't see them interact with each other. In this novella, we discover that they had been lovers more than ten years earlier when working on a movie, but their lives had gone in separate directions. Now Jenny needs Greg's help to save her village's community centre, and so he flies to England to spend Christmas with her. The attraction between them is as strong as ever, and they are unable to stay out of each other's arms. This time, though, is it just another holiday fling, or can they make a future together?
This one was a B. On the plus side, I found the info about the mummers' play they were putting on absolutely fascinating, and the setting was charming. I also liked both characters, both realistic modern people with interesting careers, and both so heart-breakingly lonely! On the minus side, though, their romance felt rushed. I know, they were supposed to have half-fallen in love already all those years ago, so this wasn't supposed to be so quick, but, what can I say? I didn't completely buy it.

Major Jack Howard has returned from the wars because he has unexpectedly inherited an earldom. Unwilling to comply with his great-aunt the countess's dictates as to how an earl should dress and behave, especially since he knows very well that she resents the fact that he has inherited the title, he jumps on the first stagecoach out of London. En route to its destination, he gets drunk and is mistakenly left behind at a stop... where he is found by a young woman expecting her brother's friend Captain Jack Howard. Meg had high hopes that Captain Jack would fall in love with her sister Phoebe, but finds herself falling in love with Major Jack instead. The mistaken identity ensues since Jack is too drunk to realise that Meg has the wrong Jack Howard, and soon he is in the welcoming warmth of a loving family for the first time in his life.
A B- story, and another one that felt a bit rushed in the romance department. It was sweet, and the idea of Meg taking home the wrong guy was nice, but it ended up being just a slightly above-average story.

This is a sequel to The Rake. Ally's former fiancé, and the man who broke her heart and sent her running away from her family, was left lonely and devastated at the end of the book, for he really had loved Ally and he had to live not only with the knowledge that he had lost her through his own fault, but also the guilt of knowing that it was his careless words which had sent her fleeing from her home and into hiding. Miserable and unable to bear the joy of Christmas all around him, Lord Randolph travels to Italy. There, he meets Elizabeth Walker, an unfashionable woman old enough at thirty-something to be considered unmarriageable. Yet she interests him in a way that no-one else has ever before. Can these two lonely people overcome the differences between them to find a future together?
This one was my favourite of the bunch: an A. The timeline was just as short as in the previous stories, but somehow, here it was completely believable that these two would fall in love. I especially loved Randolph, and found him very endearing. He was so lonely... *sigh* Plus, the setting (Napoli) was wonderful.

Nicole, a French émigrée of good family working as a seamstress is falsely accused of theft by her employer. She is fired, without references, and all her money confiscated. As she contemplates the very few options open to her, she is mistaken for a prostitute by two gentlemen, who buy her as a present for their friend Sir Philip Selbourne. Can Nicole sell herself to survive? Would Philip want a barely-willing sacrifice in any case? What will Nicole do, alone and penniless at Christmas?
A C+. Nice, sweet story, but again, it felt much too short and the love story was very, very rushed. Even more than the other stories, actually. Even though it had the potential to be a terribly poignant story, it didn't succeed.

James, Lord Falconer, is very ugly. He knows, because his father always told him so, and an accident when he was a child made him even more so. Now that he is an adult and inherited his father's estates, he always wears a hooded cape so that no-one can see him. His neighbour is a gambler and in debt to James. When James hears that Gardsley is about to sell his beautiful daughter to a pox-ridden old man, he offers to take Ariel in cancellation of Gardsley's debt to him. But he cannot bear to allow a young woman as lovely as Ariel to see his ugly face, so he hides himself from her... until Ariel decides that she wants to get to know her husband. Can she get past his scars, mental as well as physical, to make this a marriage of love as well as expediency?
My second favourite here: a B+. This is obviously a Beauty and the Beast story, and it's a lovely one. You can really feel James' pain, and Ariel is nice, if too perfect. I especially enjoyed that she married him for her own sake, resisting her father's manipulations. Only bad thing was that the ending was a bit of an easy way out.

The average grade for these stories would be a B, but I'll give it a B+, simply because the stories were so consistent in terms of quality.

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