As with the liquid variety of spirits, some being more potent than others, this book will leave the reader in varying degress of tipsiness, depending on the most recently-read story.
Five highly-acclaimed Regency authors are represented here, with their stories featured in alphabetical order by the authors last name, with that of Nancy Butler taking pride of place as first and best in this edition-in this reader's opinion. Other contributors are Emma Jensen, Edith Layton, Barbara Metzger and Andrea Pickens.
THE MERRY WANDERER from Nancy Butler is fantasy at its very best for the season of wishes and dreams. Robin Goodfellow is not exactly what he appears to be when he presents himself at Arden House, the home of Julia, Lady of Islay. Nearing the end of her year of mourning, Julia is now facing the possible loss of her home and her younger brother, when the charming stranger intrudes into her very life. He does seem to be a bit strange, but then, so was her father. And so, yet, is her cousin, who is the threat to her happiness. After a bit of determination, and some help from friendly spirits, Robin finds himself forced to choose between his former legendary life-style, and a new, more mortal one. With help from Julia-and her younger brother, Harry-he makes the right, the only choice possible, bringing a Merry Yuletide to all.
'Tis no secret that Emma Jensen has a huge soft spot for Ireland, and she exploits this for all it's worth in the delightful tale extolling THE WEXFORD CAROL. Hollymore, the ancient and exceedingly dilapidated home of Elizabeth Fitzhollis is also in jeopardy. This time, however, it's more easily understood. Hollymore is falling apart around her very ears, and has been sold by the new heir to a Duke from Wales, who plans to tear it down and build a hunting estate. The Duke sends his cousin, a Captain Jones, to survey and inspect. Or so Elizabeth is told by her ancient solicitor. Turns out the gentleman is really Captain Lord Rhys Edward-Jones, and he's no more impervious to the ghosts of Hollymore than is Elizabeth.
Edith Layton's story-telling with its wicked sense of humor and wordplay propelled her to the top of my list of favorites, and has kept her very near the top for all these many years. HIGH SPIRITS is a different sort of story; heart-warming, to be sure, because it does, after all, have a happy ending. Layton of whatever vintage is excellent, and many readers will find a extra message in this tale of young Arabella, her silver flask and the tall, dark and handsome Rupert.
THE CHRISTMAS CURSE by Barbara Metzger is a romp, plain and simple. Well, not so plain and not so simple, really. It is the strangest mixture of bawdy and sweet. And the spirits? Not your ordinary selection, to be sure, as Sir Olnic and his Lady Edryth are the very restless, unhappy 'spirited' inhabitants of Worth Keep, doomed to wander the halls endlessly, until the curse muttered by the Lady be lifted. This is not an easy trick, either, and so far, it's been some four to five hundred years of struggle. Sir Olnic merely asked his lady for a favor when entering a joust one Christmas Day, but she was unhappy with him, and uttered the fateful words that began 'if you lose this ring...' As of course he did, having lost his life-as did his opponent-and his finger, and the ring. It must be reinstated on the finger of the heir's true love, during the twelve days of Christmas or they'll continue to be restless. The current heir, Oliver Nicholson, Baron Worth, is another battle-scarred veteran, convinced he'll never marry, until he meets the lovely widow, Amelia Merriot and her little dog, Sir Digby. In almost any book by Metzger, it's the dog who saves the day, and this one is no exception.
In A GATHERING OF GIFTS by Andrea Pickens, Lady Emma Pierson, daughter of the Duke of Telford, is by way of becoming a very spoiled and head-strong young woman. Her cousin, Charles, Viscount Lawrence, is very vexed with her, and to spite him, she rides off in the opposite direction and promptly takes a frightful spill on the icy field. Her new neighbor, Noel Trumbull, insists she be taken to his nearby home, Hawthorne House, for recuperation. His widowed sister Anna and her small son Toby are about to arrive for a visit, and he insists that they not be inconvenienced by the thoughtless young lady and her friends. To the surprise of everyone, both Emma and Charles find much common ground, and help each other heal their wounds, in time to celebrate the most wonderful Holiday on the calendar.
All in all, this volume is a grand continuation of this long-running series of Christmas anthologies, one you'll remember with fondness for many years to come.