What would the holiday season be without a collection of short stories to enjoy? So pour yourself a cup of hot cocoa - or something stronger - curl up in your easy chair, and forget about all the baking you have to do. You'll probably find at least one good reason to park this anthology on your keeper shelf.
Regency Romance Little Miracles, by Barbara Metzger, is the first story in the book, and for me it was the best one. It tells the story of Evan Merriweather, young pastor of Saint Cecilia's in the Trees, and his (seemingly hopeless) love for Alice Prescott, daughter of the local squire. Her father has great social plans for her, and they definitely don't involve the penniless curate of a church that seems to have a curse on it. The parish is so poor that this may be Saint Cecilia's last Christmas, a fate which does not sit well with the two surviving members of the mouse clan that's occupied it for centuries. These little rodents know the secret of where the church's treasure is hidden, and they're running out of ideas for passing this knowledge on to Evan. The story is charming, funny - the mice are named for phrases from the Book of Common Prayer - and heartwarming. I'd recommend this story for the mice alone, but the romance is sweet, too. Grade: A-Regency Romance In Allison Lane's The Marriage Stakes, Damon, Lord Westlake, comes upon a pair of females stranded in a snowstorm - and one of them is in labor. Damon can't just abandon them at the remote farmhouse that offers them immediate shelter, so he brings them to his country seat. The only problem is that his house is packed to the gills with hopeful mamas and young misses, each girl eager to snare him in parson's mousetrap. For Damon must announce his betrothal this Christmas Eve, or bring down a curse of misfortune on his entire family. Down-to-earth Sophie Landess, whose widowed sister has just given birth, finds herself pressed into service as marital advisor to Damon - if only she could recommend herself! The plot's good, the writing is solid, but I couldn't quite warm up to Sophie: she was just a little too competent and reminded me of Mary Poppins, Practically Perfect in Every Way. Grade: B-Regency Romance Nancy Butler's The Gift of the Spoons tells the story of Christopher Herne, a widower who's so desperate to find a cure for his little boy's mysterious illness that he calls upon the services of Pippa Spoon. She's the last in a long line of female healers who are reputed to be witches. But the magic that Pippa brings into Christopher's house has as much to do with healing emotional wounds as it does with fixing physical ailments. This is the touching story of a man who has to learn how to open his heart to his son, as well as to the woman who challenges everything he's ever believed about life and love. Grade: BRegency Romance The Reckless Miss Ripley, by Diane Farr, concerns the meeting of Fred Bates, a down-on-his-luck young swell, and Claudia Ripley, a managing young woman who has to get somewhere in a hurry. Fred's returning home in disgrace, having frittered most of his assets away on an ill-advised love affair, when the indomitable Miss Ripley recruits him as her escort to Bath, where she hopes to persuade her childhood sweetheart not to marry another woman. The writing sparkles, the dialogue is marvelous, and the two main characters are a delight. Reading this, you'll understand why Ms. Farr is one of the bright new writers in Regencies. Grade: A-Regency Romance I loved the premise of Edith Layton's The Christmas Thief: Lt. Major Maxwell Evers sets out to steal a Christmas present for his young niece, but he's so inherently honest and decent that he just can't bring himself to do it. Having lost his fortune in rash speculation, Max has forced himself to release his betrothed, Lisabeth, from their engagement, and now, with the holiday almost upon him, he's finding himself running out of options. But honesty and decency have a way of being a bit more than their own rewards, especially at Christmas. I feel guilty, because I should have liked this story more than I did. Max was a bit of a prig, almost too comfortable in his martyrdom, and the resolution struck me as a little rushed, even for a short story. Grade: B-Not a single one of these stories was a major disappointment, and that's a real rarity in anthology. As a matter of fact, a couple of them were real treats for me. Give yourself the gift of reading this season and pick up A Regency Christmas Eve.
-- Nora Armstrong
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