A Regency Christmas Carol anthology

>> Monday, January 22, 2007

Yeah, I know, it's the middle of January, what am I doing readig a Christmas anthology now? Haven't I just finished OD'ing on Christmassy stuff. Well, what can I say, I'm weird!

The A Regency Christmas Carol anthology was one I bought on the strength of two of the authors: Mary Balogh and Carla Kelly usually do great short stories. As the title indicates, this one's built around a musical theme, and each of the stories features Christmas music in some way.

The Bond Street Carolers, by Mary Balogh was first in the anthology, so I didn't have to feel guilty for reading the Balogh first ;-)

A London street choir brings together a nobleman who dislikes Christmas with a pretty widow who can melt his icy heart.
The hero is an arrogant, icy-cold baron who is captivated by the heroine's son's voice when he hears him sing in a street choir. The heroine is a respectable widow, who is determined to resist him and his plans for her son.

I loved the hero's thawing. That was beautifully written and very poignant, especially his interactions with the heroine's daughter, who was surprisingly adorable. What wasn't so good was the romance. I just didn't see Heath falling in love with Fanny. With her daughter and son, yes, but with her, no way. Fortunately, the rest was good enough to make me rate this a B.

Next came The Earl's Nightingale, by Edith Layton. Layton is a newish author to me. I did read one of her full-length historicals, but though it was nice enough, I haven't been motivated to read anything else.

A lovely heroine pawns a music box, and begins an odyssey that takes her to a handsome earl's parlor... and into his heart
Like the Balogh, this was another story where the romance wasn't particularly convincing, and yet the whole thing was enjoyable anyway.

Eliza is an impoverished music teacher whose grandmother has just left her a music box, telling her that it will bring her happiness, and that as soon as it does, she should set it free. Christmas is coming, and Eliza desperately needs money (for the most romance novel heroine-like of reasons, don't worry. She wants to buy a good present for her brother, etc., etc.). So she pawns her music box, agreeing with the pawnshop owner that he will wait a week before he sells it from under her.

Of course, he doesn't. He sells it to a nobleman, who sends it as a gift to the woman he's been courting, who is angry that it isn't a ring and gets rid of it, giving it to a chambermaid, who.... you get the picture. The long and short of it is that when Eliza goes to retrieve it, well within the week agreed upon, it's not there anymore, and so she and the nobleman who first bought it (and who finds himself captivated by this young woman), embark on a mission to get it back.

As I said above, the romance was pretty meh. I never got too interested in neither the hero nor the heroine, and I disliked that a bland sort of "virtuousness" seemed to be her defining characteristic. However, I did like very much the music box's odyssey and the way it somehow managed to spread happiness into the hands of whoever found themselves their owner. A B-.

Elisabeth Fairchild was the only wholly new-to-me author in the anthology. Her The Mistletoe Kiss was the middle story.

The celebration of the Yuletide season helps a grieving governess to discover that Christmas can bring new hopes, new dreams, and perhaps even a new love.
This one just didn't succeed in engaging me in the story, and I actually had to skim to the end, because I got stuck mid-story and couldn't bring myself to read more than a couple of pages at a time. I thought it had potential, and I liked the idea of a more melancholy Christmas story, rather than the usual sappy, giddy happiness (the bell-ringing was very good in setting the tone and mood), but the characters never came alive at all -and neither did the story. A C-.

Carla Kelly's story came next, the delightfully titled Make a Joyful Noise.

In this joyful tale, a widower discovers an enchanting surprise in the Christmas choir: a mysterious Welsh lady.
The Marquess of Chard is a former soldier and now farmer who lives alone in Northumberland with his two children. His first marriage was an unhappy one, and he's very lonely. Until, that is, he meets his neighbours' widowed and pregnant daughter-in-law and tries to recruit her for the church choir.

This was my absolute favourite. The hero is one of Kelly's trademark kind, honourable men, and I thought he was to-die-for. We get the entire story narrated from his POV, and oh, how I loved being in his mind! Still, the only reason this wasn't an A was that the heroine remained a bit too much of a mystery at the end of the story. A B+.

Finally, Melody, by Anne Barbour. I've only read another short story by Barbour, and it was a bit blah, just ok.

An American finds himself in an English village, where a singer with the voice of an angel helps him find not only his tie with the past- but a future filled with love.
And that's exactly how I felt about this story about an American who's recently and unexpectedly come into a title, and who falls for the dowager countess' shy and scarred companion. Nothing at all offensive here, but it was pretty boring! Josh did have a spark of life in him, but heroine Melody was bland beyond description. A C.

No real clunkers, and three stories I'd actively recommend. My grade for the anthology as a whole is a B-.


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