Yummy - another Christmas Regency anthology! Well, yes, but it wasn't perfect. However, because of the Balogh and Cornick contributions, it rates five stars.
Let's start with Julia Justiss. Her contribution "The Three Gifts" had great potential. It's the story of a deathbed marriage of convenience but the groom, a badly wounded officer in the Peninsular War campaign, does not die. Instead, he survives and he and his bride must decide whether or not to seek an annulment. Viscount Hampden and Edwina Denby (a widow) seem a somewhat mismatched pair but they fall in love despite their circumstances. What let this story down, I think, was that the author failed to give her characters any real spark of attraction to the reader. I just could not care one way or the other about them. Somehow the plot seemed too contrived and unfortunately, for me at any rate, the whole thing fizzled out. I found my interest waning well before the conclusion. Sadly, I am beginning to think that this author and I are never going to hit it off together.
I haven't read anything by Nicola Cornick before so I approached "The Season for Suitors" with an open mind. I was dazzled. I fell completely in love with Sebastian, Duke of Fleet - crash, bang, whallop!! Clara Davenport met Fleet some years ago and was spurned by him as too young. He is a rake and wastrel - well on the surface he is at any rate! She seeks him out to ask for advice on how to cope with the unwanted attention she is getting from the ton's fortune hunters. He is attracted to her; indeed, he has been all along. What sets this story off was that Fleet is a tortured hero. There was an incident in his youth that has caused him great and continuing grief and, to hide from the grief and hide it from others, he behaves against his true character. I defy anyone not to love this man. He is charming, intelligent, loving and kind and despite his flaws he is, as they say, to die for.
Mary Balogh is a personal long-time favourite writer. I read "A Handful of Gold" in a previous anthology but was delighted to read it again. It is a beautifully told story of a young woman, Verity Ewing, who must earn a living and who is mistaken by Julian, Viscount Folingsby as a lightskirt. He invites her (promising to pay her enough money to ensure the well-being of her family) to spend Christmas at a friend's hunting box along with the host and his mistress. However, gradually, both realise neither are what they seem. A stranded clergyman and his family arrive and almost instantly the planned holiday in bed turns into a true family Christmas and everyone involved sees that the meaning and values of Christmas directly concern them. This is a story of much emotion and introspection and the two lovers become man and wife in a marriage guaranteed to bring them both deep and abiding happiness. This is the sort of Christmas story I am always hoping to find in the Regency Christmas anthologies.
So, hooray for Cornick - I shall have to pursue her back list. Julia Justiss has disappointed me but Mary Balogh, together with Nicola Cornick, make this anthology rate five stars.