>> Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Beloved romance writer Carla Kelly shares a treasured collection of wonderfully written stories of dashing war heroes and the sassy heroines who can't help falling for them. From daring sea captains to genteel lords, there's a little something for every heart's fancy. Readers everywhere will adore these four regency romances—-now available together for the first time in one must-have book!
This anthology contains two stories I’d already read (Make A Joyful Noise and The Three Kings), but a) I read them many years ago, b) I've no idea where the physical books have gone, and c) the e-version of the anthology was about 2 pounds, so I didn’t mind. Well, I didn’t mind until I finished the book and realised I’d liked the two stories I’d already read and disliked the two I hadn’t!
The first story is The Christmas Ornament, originally published in A Regency Christmas.
James and Olivia have known each other for years, but after Olivia’s brother, who was James’ best friend, died in the war, the families have grown apart. Olivia is now about to come out in society, and her loving father is worried about her. She’s an intelligent, studious girl, and he fears she won’t take (or worse, that she’ll end up with a man who’ll want to quash her intellect). Who better than James, who’s an Oxford don by now, to give her the life she deserves?
James is actually quite taken by the idea, and determines to go back to the old home over Christmas and court Olivia. But his shyness, combined with his intellectual arrogance, makes it harder than expected.
James was sweet, but the story lacked tension. I didn’t really feel he loved Olivia. He just seemed to like the idea of a wife, and the idea of Olivia (by the time the story started he hadn’t seen Olivia since she was really young). To be honest, I found the thing pretty boring.
MY GRADE: A C.
Then came Make a Joyful Noise (originally in Regency Christmas Carol), one of the ones I'd already read (original review).
Peter, the Marquess of Chard (he gets called Chard, mainly, and all I could think of was green leafy vegetables) is a widower and a farmer, raising his children peacefully in his Northumbria estate. He’s lonely, but he had a pretty bad marriage, so he’s a bit wary of women. Until Rosie comes to live with his neighbours. Rosie is the daughter of a Welsh colour sergeant (not quite sure what that means, really, but it sounds pretty cool), whom one of the sons of the house married while soldiering in Portugal. He was a bit of a blockhead and died only a few days later. Her new in-laws are making Rosie's life hell, and under the excuse of recruiting her for the local church choir, Chard tries to help her.
This is a cute story. Chard is an honourable, decent man, and I felt his loneliness. The romance is nice, although we don’t really get to know Rosie that well, because the story is all told from Chard’s point of view. I liked what I saw of her, though. She’s not a pushover, which is hard to pull off when she’s in a situation where her in-laws have all the power and are being jackasses. She doesn’t just roll over, but there’s really not much she can do. The one thing I didn’t like in the romance and characterisation was the demonisation of the first wife. That was pretty mild, actually, but Kelly seems to do it much too often, and I’ve become violently allergic to it.
I quite liked the choir element. See, there’s this supposedly benign choir competition between neighbouring parishes that is actually really cutthroat, and Chard “cheats” by getting a load of Welsh workers on his estate just so he can induct them into the choir (that felt dangerously close to stereotype, but hey, I’ll be charitable and give this a pass). I wish I’d been able to hear what they sounded like!
MY GRADE: This was a B.
After that came An Object of Charity, first published in A Regency Christmas Present.
Captain Michael Lynch has had to come home from the blockade after an accident that took the life of his first mate, who was also a good friend, and damaged his ship. As soon as he's back on land he meets the Purslows, niece and nephew of that first mate, who are there to meet him after their own father died and they were left broke. The news that their uncle is dead is a huge blow, as they are completely penniless and were counting on his help. Michael feels he can’t leave them on their own with no money, so he takes them home to his mother for Christmas, even though he hasn’t been there for over 20 years, since he was thrown out.
I did not get on with this story at all. The romance was a bust, because I saw absolutely no chemistry between Michael and Sally Purslow, and the family drama was overly dramatic. I did not believe any of it for a minute, not the original fight between Michael and his brother, not the interactions between them in the present-day scenes. I was tempted to skim.
MY GRADE: This one was a D.
The book ends with The Three Kings, from the A Regency Christmas II anthology, the other story I'd already read (original review).
Lady Sarah Comstock came to Spain with her scholar brother, who was seeking access to some really important papers and travelled in the wake of the British army to get to them. In Salamanca, however, disaster strikes, and Sarah is left alone in a French-controlled town after her brother gets killed. She manages to get to relative safety with one of the straggling groups of the retreating army, and Colonel Luis Sotomayor agrees to escort her to safety, with the French army hot in pursuit.
I liked this all right, although the romance didn’t particularly work for me (it wasn’t bad, I just wasn’t invested in it). I liked the less saccharine tone. I liked that we got to see the effects of war on Spain and regular Spanish people -so often it’s only a background for British aristocrats’ adventures. I liked the characters individually (although in this one, it was all narrated from the heroine’s point of view). In short, it was good, but not great.
MY GRADE: A B-.
So, not a huge success, I'm afraid, with even the stories I'd already read and liked were only ok.
MY OVERALL GRADE: A C.