Pandora's Box

Regency Christmas Courtship

Barbara Metzger, Edith Layton, Andrea Pickens and Gayle Buck
2005, Regency Romance
Signet, $6.99, 347 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451216814

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

Regency Christmas Courtship is Signet's annual Regency romance/holiday anthology. This year it features stories by five authors, four of whom - Nancy Butler, Edith Layton, Barbara Metzger, and Andrea Pickens (aka Andrea DaRif) - have gone on from trad Regencies to European Historicals. Gayle Buck provides the fifth entry in the anthology.

Linda:  Making a choice was a no-brainer this month, as I love the annual Signet Regency anthologies and even if it came out in October, Regency Christmas Courtship seemed like an appropriate choice. Fortunately it is still readily available and I enjoyed most of the stories in this one - with only one kind of ringing hollow to me.

Blythe:  I buy the Signet anthology every year, and though I don't always get to it, I'm always glad when I do. It's kind of like a comfort read to me. There's something about the words "Regency" and "Christmas" that just go so well together, and the short story/novella format is perfect. That said, I thought this was one of the weaker anthologies I've seen; usually I like them more than I liked this one. Let's discuss each story in turn first.

Regency Romance

Barbara Metzger's story Wooing the Wolf leads off the anthology with a delightfully humorous tale of two orphan girls, their paid companion aunt and the Lord who unknowingly takes them in. Wolf is a rake who isn't supposed to be home for Christmas, but when he shows up he finds Margaret and her nieces staying in his home over the holidays. When the young girls decide to foment a courtship so that they can live with their aunt, lots of unforeseen consequences emerge.

Blythe:  What did you think of Wooing the Wolf?

Linda:  I loved Metzger's story, I always buy anthologies that she is in. While I enjoy her Regencies and her new single titles I still think her great strength is in the short story format. Her sly sense of humor and twists and turns keep me amused. Metzger's The Christmas Carrolls is an annual read for me, it is actually a series of short stories linked together by an over-arching story and the ending always makes me cry. This one is well worth hunting up as well as one where the devil and St. Peter bargain for a profligate Lord's soul on the battlefield of the Napoleonic War in Spain. (Laurie I will look up the book on this when I get home on the 7th as I can't remember the Anthology's name but have it at home).

In WtW, Wolf and Margaret were both so likeable and the two little girls so Machiavellian that I truly enjoyed this story and was sorry to see it end. In a longer form the girls might have been annoying, but in the short format they were just amusing. Also, one has to accept the love-at-first-sight scenario in short stories as there just isn't time for the couple to take any time to get together. I know that you don't always buy the love-at-first sight plot, do you make an exception for short stories?

Blythe:  Actually, I can buy love at first sight plots as long as the couple does turn out to be well-suited and their attraction to each other deepens in a way that makes sense. I thought this was one of the stronger stories. I particularly liked the heroine, and her housing dilemma seemed realistic. she had two orphaned nieces arrive, and the family solicitor was on vacation, so she needed a fast solution, and ended up boarding them at a lord's house across the way - never dreaming he'd be home for Christmas.

Linda:  I loved the reason Wolf unexpectedly came home:after his latest rejected mistress raked her nails down his face! LOL, his acceptance of the girls was believable and helped Wolf to find his heart. Metzger like Marian Chesney often depicts children in other then angelic ways - which is both funny and believable. Few children are as angelic as some of the children in romance books are. This pair of orphans lands in the lap of luxury and not surprisingly want to stay there and do their best to pull off a romance with the handsome Lord and their beloved Aunt. I loved the little courtship instructions that started each chapter, especially the one about reconsidering your choice if they don't bathe!

Blythe:  I didn't really like those courtship instructions as much as you did...they struck me as kind of dorky. I do, however, agree with you about the girls. Somehow in short stories - and especially holiday short stories - plot devices that might otherwise irritate me seem okay. I was amazed one year to find myself charmed by a magical matchmaking magpie (say that three times fast) - something that would surely have provoked nothing but disgust in a longer book. These girls were similar; here, they were cute, but a short dose of them was plenty. more in a second...

I do have to register one complaint. I think romance authors should declare a moratorium on the use of "Wolf" as a hero's name. I don't care if his last name is Wolfhaven, or if he has a pet wolf, or whatever. It's been done and overdone. I'd also like to put in a plug for a Metzger story that I liked even better - The Lucky Coin. You can find it in the 2003 Signet anthology, Regency Christmas Wishes.

Linda:  LOL, I always like Wolf but perhaps that is because I dated an extremely handsome man named Wolf (his name was actually Wolfgang!!) from Germany when I was in college. This Wolf wasn't quite the 'beast' that most Wolf characters are though.

Regency Romance

Edith Layton's The Dogstar has an adorable mystical puppy who foments a romance between a Lord and a governess as they work together to provide a lonely little boy a happy Christmas. Laura Lockwood is struggling on the edge of poverty after her employer goes on Holiday without her and doesn't pay her for the holiday season. But, she is quick to take her meager savings to spend on her old school friend's little boy who otherwise would be left alone at his school. Viscount Falconer is the boy's guardian and he also shows up to take the boy home with him. Their ensuing compromise and times spent together foment a romance that is nearly ruined when the Viscount mistakes Laura for a light skirt and offers to make her his mistress.

Linda:  I really liked it as well although the tone was far different from Metzger's. The premise involved a magical puppy who befriends a very lonely Lordling who has been abandoned at school by his promiscuous Mother after his father's death. I thought Alex was a very believable little boy and his adoption of the puppy and his refusal to give him up was believable to me. I loved Laura a governess whose employer gave her a "holiday" with no pay and also liked the lofty Viscount Falconer. This one was the only story in this anthology that brought a tear to my eye and gave me the requisite amount of "shmaltz" and sentiment that I love in a Christmas story and would probably loath the rest of the year.

Blythe:  I think the Layton story was my favorite of the lot. Again, the magical puppy would not go over well in a longer story, but here it was cute. He basically changes size and disposition as needed, and charms everyone. I liked both the hero and heroine here, and thought the story was sweet as well. The heroine is exactly the type of noble poor governess I like to see in a Regency, and I loved that she told the hero exactly where to to get off when he assumed that she would accept a less than honorable proposal. more coming...

Blythe:  I also liked that the hero didn't push his luck when he realized he had offended the heroine. I really, really dislike heroes who use their economic and class advantages to try to sweet talk the heroine into bed. That's nearly always a deal breaker for me.

Linda:  Yes, his regret and chagrin was palpable and I loved the puppy's solution to the dilemma. I thought The Dogstar was a quintessential Christmas story that plucked all the right cords and brought a smile to my face when I finished it.

Blythe:  It's fun to agree for a change. Layton's story was actually my favorite in the aforementioned 2003 Christmas anthology, but more on that later. <g>

Regency Romance

In Andrea Pickens Lost and Found a couple meets on the road to London after each has been ordered home to marry a stranger. Through the course of a rigorous winter road trip they fall in love and decide to defy their families to wed each other. Of course, a surprise will be awaiting them in London.

Blythe:  Andrea Pickens' contribution features a hero and heroine who both get stranded in a storm on the way to London. They've both been summoned by their relatives, who think they would be a great match. However, they have no idea that their traveling companion is the one they are supposed to meet. I thought this one was okay, but it didn't really grab me. I kind of like "stranded in a storm" plots, but somehow this fell a little flat.

Perhaps it was simply that the plot was too big for a short story format, because the characters seemed interesting enough, and I particularly liked the hero. There's a funny scene where he is really rude to the heroine before realizing that he needs to go beg her for a ride to London, and I enjoyed that, but the plot never quite got off the ground.

Linda:  Yes, this one was just so predictable that it fell flat with me too. I did find the couple likable, but it was sooooo obvious that they would be destined for each other that I just didn't find it satisfying at all. But, fortunately, I really liked the next story.

Nancy Butler's Christmas With Dora Davenport finds a writer who's pen name Dora has her writing Heloise-type articles extolling the virtues of homemaking and living in the country. In reality, Elnora Nesbitt hates the country and hasn't a clue about homemaking - she gets all her info from a beloved old servant. Trying to impress her suitor Lord Kittridge, who although stuffy is quite wealthy and would save her family from genteel poverty, Elnora decides to have a "typical English Christmas" at her country house. Arriving at her estate Elnora discovers that their former tenant has stripped the home and sold all of their possession. Her loving cousin August, sends his Welsh friend Gowan to help Elnora and the courtship that ensues is a great surprise to Elnora.

Linda:  I was totally charmed by Nancy Butler's story. I loved Elnora and her creation of a nom de plume of the household country whiz Dora Davenport. I was also totally charmed by the Welshman Gowan - I was so glad Butler didn't give him one of those off-putting Welsh names i.e. Daffid.

Blythe:  I liked this story as well, and thought Butler used humor to good effect. It's pretty obvious that the man Elnora is trying to snare is a complete jerk who is totally wrong for her, and Gowan makes a much better match. He gamely helps her prepare the house for guests, and all the while they fight their attraction. It's classic romance stuff, to be sure, but it's fun.

Linda:  Yes, it was just perfect and I loved his Christmas gift of a hand-carved wooden spoon to Elnora - what a lovely Welsh tradition. It was obvious that Kittridge would turn out to be a jerk, but the love of her cousin August was obvious and his scheme to pair his old school friend and his cousin was manipulation of the most delightful sort.

Blythe:  Yes that was cute. And, I might add, much better than the manipulation in the next story! Can you say wallbanger?

Regency Romance

Gayle Buck's Christmas Cheer depicts a newly married couple who have trouble getting to know each other and expressing their feelings for one another. Lord Hallcroft realizes his new wife is homesick for her family at Christmas and comes up with a lovely surprise for her, but his secretiveness about their Christmas house party has his wife feeling lonely and put upon believing that her husband intends to break his promise to let her see her family in the new year.

Linda:  Yes, although the story started out so promising - I loved the idea of a romance between a newly married couple who obviously didn't know each other (which was typical of their era and class) when they wed. But, from a promising start this couple descends to not communicating and although his goals were worthy, Lord Hallcroft's manipulation just rang hollow with me. Plus, Lady Hallcroft's total lack of self worth did not ring true with me either.

Blythe:  I usually love these kinds of stories. There was a charming one in the 2003 anthology (Edith Layton's Best Wishes) about a just-married couple trying to figure out how to combine traditions and reconcile their different ways of doing things. I thought at first that this was going to be like that. But no! The hero sees that the heroine longs for her family, so he decides to invite them all for a house party. As a delightful surprise, he tells her they are having a house party, but refuses to reveal who the guests are. The "suspense" lasts forever, with the heroine getting more and more upset at the hero's machinations, and the hero going to greater and greater lengths to conceal his surprise. I couldn't decide who I disliked more. Was it the heroine, who should have guessed what was happening but was apparently too stupid, or the hero, who kept up with the pretense when his wife was visibly upset? The jury's still out.

Linda:  Yes, this was a real clinker but all in all the three stories I really liked made this anthology enjoyable and one I would recommend to others; with the caveat to skip the Buck. Others might like the Pickens better than we did, but it is hard to picture anyone loving the Buck story. LOL. What are we reading next month?

Blythe:  Even though I found some of the stories a little more on the mediocre side than in years past, I'd probably recommend it too, at least to the diehards. I wonder though, if this is the type of book that people are on the fence about. My guess would be that most people who read these get them every year...like we do. Although there is the occasional clunker story, I've alwyas found the Signet anthologies to be very enjoyable on the whole. If you really want to hunt for a good story, I highly recommend Carla Kelly's The Christmas Ornament, which was in the 1998 anthology. Although I've enjoyed many over the years, that's my favorite.

Blythe:  Next month we are reading Every Breath You Take, by Judith McNaught. McNaught's a slow writer, and it's been years since her last one, so I am looking forward to it.

Linda:  I have one of her books in my gigantic TBR pile, but she will still be a new-to-me author LOL. My tbr pile just seems to grow by leaps and bounds and I recently had to go through it asking myself if I was really going to read something or not. I had to do this as I ran out of shelf space in my three bookcases full of tbr books. It kills me to remove unread books from my tbr but sometimes one just has to face reality. LOL

Blythe:  You are kidding. You've never read McNaught? Quick, go read Paradise today. You can thank me later. <g>

Linda:  Ok, I will try to find it. I want to wish you and our reader's a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. See you in the new year - happy reading.

Blythe:  The same to you. Have a wonderful Christmas.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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