Jane Feather, Sabrina Jeffries and Julia London
November 2008, European Historical Romance
Pocket Star, $7.99, 416 pages, Amazon ASIN 1416578226
For some reason, stores putting up Christmas decorations months too early annoys me. However, the Christmas romance anthologies can't come fast enough. When I got Snowy Night With a Stranger, I happily sank myself into a very strong collection of stories. One of my auto-buy authors delivered a strong entry while I discovered another author to glom. Not bad for my first holiday book of the year.
European Historical Romance (Regency England) Sensuality: Warm
A Holiday Gamble by Jane Feather gets things off to a fine start with an unusual tale that takes some time-honored Regency plot elements and spins them just enough to make them feel fresh. On his way home for Christmas, Viscount (Ned) Allenton drives into a heavy winter storm and finds himself waylaid by a highwayman. After the attack, he seeks refuge at a nearby home, which turns out to be the country home of a neighboring lord. Though Lord Selby welcomes Allenton warmly enough, things at his home simply do not feel right.
After meeting Lord Selby and his unusually rough group of friends, Ned finds himself taken somewhat off balance. Many novels feature an innocent heroine thrown into rough company, but seeing a hero in such a situation gives it a fresh spin. Ned's mysterious rescuer adds much to the situation, though it would be spoiling things to say much more other than to repeat Ned's apt observation that she "was by no means the sum of the parts she showed to the world." Though a touch of unevenness in the pacing keeps this little tale from perfection, it still made me smile.
Grade: B+European Historical Romance Sensuality: Warm
When Sparks Fly, Sabrina Jeffries' offering, offers a nice homage to Charles Dickens, while also maintaining the slightly gothic, menacing mood found in the preceding tale. However, one of the great features of this story comes from seeing light, in the form of the heroine and her party, dispelling some of the darkness that has long haunted the hero. As the story opens, a carriage accident has caused Elinor Bancroft, her aunt, nieces and nephews to seek refuge at a nearby home belonging to the mysterious Lord Thorncliff.
Thorncliff has retired from Society and lives a very secluded life, in some ways a penance for the tragedy that he has allowed to separate him from the world. When Elinor and her family come in, bringing Christmas celebrations and joy with them, it changes his life. The change that he brings to Elinor builds a little more slowly,but is no less touching. The chapters feature snippets from letters exchanged from characters who do not feature in the story and which can be a little distracting,but the story is still a very enjoyable one.
After two strong entries, the anthology closes with Snowy Night with a Highlander, a rather ordinary Christmas story from Julia London. While not an unpleasant read, I never could get invested in this story to the same degree that I did with the other two. In this tale, Lady Fiona Haines has been cautioned to go into the Highlands to help her scandalous brother evade capture. As it turns out, Fiona's escort for the journey will be a mysterious man provided by Duncan, the Laird of Blackwood, and a man whom Fiona does not like or trust.
Along the way, Fiona and her mysterious Highlander find a certain chemistry heating up between them. However, the story is marred by a lack of real character development and a somewhat rushed plot. While reading this story, the reader cannot help but think that the author tried to cram too much plot into the space allotted. The effect is not terrible, but the story never fully catches hold either.
With two very strong entries, Snowy Night with a Stranger is well worth its price. Sinking into a little dose of Christmas spirit makes for a pleasant escape from the slightly tropical autumn we've been having, and I'm very glad to have discovered this one.
-- Lynn Spencer
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