I may just be a convert to Christmas-themed anthologies. Many love them, but I have always avoided them like the plague, assuming them to be filled with miracles, “God Bless Us Everyone” treacle, and assorted schmaltz. No doubt it is because my heart is “three sizes too small.” However, after plowing through two anthologies in a weekend, I’m ready for more. Fun! These three tales (by new-to-me authors) all feature characters stranded for the holidays, unexpectedly finding love.
A Holiday Gamble by Jane Feather
While journeying back to his family seat in Northumbria, the new Viscount Allenton, Ned, is hampered by snow and thieves. He is forced to take refuge with a nearby landowner, Roger Selby. He quickly discerns that nothing is what it seems: not his jolly host Selby, not innocent revelers and revelry, and not Selby’s beautiful, diffident ward, Georgiana.
This was a very interesting story. The setting and characters were vivid and a bit unusual. Feather does a great job of portraying the vulgarity and underlying menace of Selby and company. Ned was good beta hero: handsome, but unassuming, and a sharp, intelligent and crafty fellow underneath. He was a great foil for Georgiana, who is quite crafty herself, and has been surrounded by brutish louts. They made a good pair, though I found the leap from interest to true love to be a bit sudden. The story kept my interest and kept me guessing just enough as to what Georgiana and Roger Selby were about.
Jane Feather leads an unwitting Yuletide traveler down a twisting path….
Edward Vasey, Viscount Allenton, is journeying precariously through a snowstorm when his coach is overtaken by high-waymen! Robbed of his money, Ned takes refuge at Selby Hall, where a spirited beauty with a shocking secret may steal something more — his heart.
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When Sparks Fly by Sabrina Jeffries
Heiress Elinor Bancroft, her aunt and young cousins get into a carriage accident on their journey. An overbearing, rough fellow, covered in soot, comes to their aid. He turns out to be Martin Thorncliff, “The Black Baron”, and Ellie and her family end up at his estate, where they must remain through the holidays, while the aunt recovers from a broken leg. Ellie is irritated and intrigued by the abrasive Thorncliff. Why is he so grumpy? Why does he hate Christmas? And why is he called “The Black Baron?”
This story was lighter in tone than the first, and featured some familiar elements. Ellie is the spirited, smart wallflower type, unable to interest any man but fortune hunters. Thorncliff is a tormented guy, suspected of nefarious deeds, but a big old teddy bear underneath. But it didn’t feel tired and clichéd, just fun. I didn’t even mind the passel of children running about, as they moved the story along and weren’t too cutesy. (There’s a funny nod to “God Bless Us Every One” too). A cute read with a nice romance.
Sabrina Jeffries unlocks the heart of an embittered lord….
When a coach accident strands heiress Elinor Bancroft at the home of the notorious Black Baron, she discovers the Christmas Day heartache that darkened his soul years ago — and her generous heart brings a festive air to his home and reawakens his spirit to love.
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Snowy Night With a Highlander by Julia London
Lady Fiona Haines is forced to return to Scotland to search for her brother, who has been accused of adultery with the Princess of Wales. Worse, she must call upon the odious Duncan Buchanan to help her get to her family home in the Highlands. But Duncan has changed a great deal in the intervening years, emotionally and physically. Could he now be a man Fiona could love?
Och, if that Scottish dialect doesna get on m’ nerves a bit. It gets to be a bit much when every character talks like that, but after awhile my distraction started to fade. I like road romances and this one kept my interest. The hero and heroine were a bit one-note: Duncan was so angst-ridden and Fiona was so perky, with all her little stories. Duncan’s transformation at the end was a bit speedy. One second he’s hiding in the shadows, the next he’s throwing a huge party. An okay read.
Julia London sends a debutante into the wintry Scottish wilds….
Searching for her rakehell brother, an earl lying low in the wake of a scandalous affair, Fiona Haines is led by a rugged Highlander who obscures his scarred face. As they journey on, Fiona draws closer to her brave, enigmatic protector — but will fury or passion ignite when he reveals his identity?
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A solid B all the way. While none of the stories blew me away, all three were entertaining and featured solid romances and good characterization. Worth a look by Christmas and historical fans.
Overall Grade: B
Warm up on a winter’s night with three passionate love stories from three shining New York Times bestselling authors!