A Historical Christmas Present

Lisa Kleypas, Lynsay Sands and Leigh Greenwood
October 2008, Historical Romance
LoveSpell, $4.99, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 050552788X

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Varies

Occasionally, I can’t concentrate on a full-length romance novel, and that’s when I grab an anthology. In addition, they are a great place for testing unknown authors and have introduced me to several authors whose works I now collect. Autumn always brings an flood of anthologies with a Christmas theme, and the first that caught my attention this year was A Historical Christmas Present. It was only after I had read the book that I realized all these stories had been printed before, albeit in different volumes: I Will in Wish List (2001, and reviewed here at AAR by Colleen), Three French Hens in Five Gold Rings (1999), and Father Christmas in The First Noel (1995). As I had not read any of these previously, it did not cause me problems but consider yourselves warned. Quite by accident, I started the collection with the middle story, which proved disappointing, and then worked my way on to the last, which was very nice, to the first, which was fabulous.

European Historical Romance (1830s England)
Sensuality: Warm

I Will by Lisa Kleypas, won the 2002 RITA for best Romantic Novella, and is a sequel to her full-length novel Because You’re Mine. Andrew, Viscount Drake, first appeared there as the hero’s drunkard, libertine half-brother. Now he’s in a fix, because his father, the earl, has disinherited him so that he will only get the entailed estates, but not the fortune necessary for their upkeep. To convince his father that he has changed his wicked ways, he half bribes, half blackmails the very straight-laced Miss Caroline Hargreaves, sister to one of his drinking buddies, into agreeing to a fake courtship. This set-up may sound distasteful, but it works due to Andrew’s character. He only became a rake to punish his cold-hearted father, and secretly envies Caroline her honesty and serenity. And he is no fake rake either – some of his past misdeeds return to haunt him, and they are grim indeed. So he is in fact ready to be reformed, and deeply attracted to Caroline from the first. Caroline quickly finds herself intrigued with Andrew’s transformation, and is strong enough to face both her own emotions and his past. The plot takes several unexpected twists, and I found the novella both profoundly moving and very funny. One scene may include a hot button issue for some readers, but worked for me. Take Lisa Kleypas’s fluid, evocative prose, and what you have is a keeper.

Grade: A

Medieval Romance (Middle Ages Scotland)
Sensuality: Warm

Three French Hens by Lynsay Sands is the ultimate wallpaper medieval. The characters move around in a vaguely medieval context, not much burdened by details of what life was really like then, and the most prominent stylistic evidence that we are in the Middle Ages comes from characters saying “aye” and “nay” a lot – wait, isn’t that standard Scottish romance?

Brinna has worked as a scullery maid at an Earl’s castle for the last ten years, resisting all advancement because only by scrubbing pots can she cover up for her aged foster-mother not being able to work so much any longer. However she is finally forced out of the kitchen because a newly-arrived guest, Lady Joan, comes without a maid and needs Brinna to serve her. When Brinna enters Joan’s room, they discover an amazing likeness between the two of them. Joan has been ordered to the castle by her father to meet her future husband, Royce of Thurleah. She resents this arranged marriage and bribes Brinna into taking her place during the Christmas festivities and Royce’s wooing. There is not much to like in this novella. It is supposed to be humorous, but the whole text is too uneven for the humor to work. Brinna comes across as, in jumps, a doormat, a giggly Eliza Higgins and a spunky girl, but without any visible development. The anachronisms are hair-raising or silly; my favorite example of the weird mixture of modern and “medieval” elements is Royce asking Brinna, “Would you care for a beverage while we wait?” The one highlight here is Royce, who is blond and has a sense of humor, but ultimately he is too little fleshed-out to salvage the story.

Grade: D-

Frontier/Western Hist Romance (1800s( post Civil War) Arizona)
Sensuality: Kisses

Father Christmas by Leigh Greenwood is set in Arizona sometime in the second half of the 19th century. Joe Ryan is an outlaw on the run; framed by his former partner Pete Wilson and sent to prison, he escaped after hearing of the latter’s death and now arrives at Pete’s farm to find evidence of his innocence. He does not expect Pete’s widow both to be highly pregnant and to touch his heart in a peculiar way. Because he needs time to search the farm and Mary Wilson needs assistance, he stays on for a few days and gets to know both Pete’s shy daughter and life on the farm. This is a heart-warming, very quiet story. Nothing much happens, instead a lot of space is devoted to the characters’s encounters with each other and their slowly developing emotions. I really liked Mary and Joe, whose characters were nicely developed, but some minor characters felt unnecessarily flat. Still, this is a lovely read.

Grade: B+

With books containing reissues, I often ask myself: Why? Why reissue this, when there are so many better romances out-of-print? In the case of A Historical Christmas Present, I only had to ask myself this question once. If you don’t own the stories in their original editions, the two better stories make it an anthology well worth buying, especially at this fairly low price. The Christmas season can begin!

-- Rike Horstmann

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