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Barbara Metzger

REVIEW:  Christmas Wishes by Barbara Metzger

REVIEW: Christmas Wishes by Barbara Metzger

Christmas-Wishes-1

A crisis sends Juneclaire Beaumont on a difficult journey to London, forcing her one night to take shelter in a stable with the rakish Earl of St. Cloud. Though he behaves as a gentleman, the ton would never believe him to act the nobleman for a moment, let alone a whole night. When Juneclaire slips out of town, the earl sets out to prove them wrong, spending the twelve days of Christmas on an all-or-nothing ride to find her.

Dear Ms. Metzger,

“Christmas Wishes” is a book I initially read many years ago. I won’t say how many but it’s a lot. Anyway, I had wanted to go back and reread it before doing a review since I basically remembered the hero and heroine being stranded in a barn with a pig and not much else. Turns out there’s a lot more to the book though not all of it worked as well for me this time around.

Juneclaire might come of at first as the stereotypical martyrish Regency heroine except for the fact that she knows she’s being overworked by her ogre aunt and isn’t doing all this so that a younger sister can have a Season or younger brother get his education at Eton. No, she knows she’s alone in the world and in order to have a roof over her head and clothes on her back, she’s got to do the work of about 10 people and fend off her smarmy male cousins to boot. So she runs her aunt’s household, wears castoffs and hopes that one day she might have a home of her own.

What turns out to be the last straw isn’t the fact that her aunt is now looking to marry Juneclaire off to a widower or older roué. Instead it’s the fact that Aunt Marta wants Pansy – Juneclaire’s pet pig – to be the centerpiece at Christmas dinner. With an apple in her mouth. That does it and with little fanfare or planning, Juneclaire packs her few belongings, stuffs her pockets with food and sets off with Pansy for London with the hope that she can find an old housekeeper now working there and obtain a position. Little does JuneClaire know about traveling conditions on the roads to London.

Merritt Jordan, Earl of St. Cloud, knows a lot about traveling from London to his ancestral manse and right now, none of it is good. Since the place is usually packed to the gills with odious relations and his vaporish mother, Merry attempts to avoid it if at all possible but a holiday command performance has him on the road with his man when they’re robbed. With no blunt, a banged up curricle and winded horses, Merry is forced to leave his wounded man at an inn and set off alone for home.

A trail of abandoned belongings leads him to Pansy and Juneclaire who reluctantly agrees to his offer of a ride to the nearest village from which she can catch the post to London. Merry is astounded and enraged that Juneclaire’s relations seem more rackety and less caring about her than his own are about him and though it takes Juneclaire a little while, she eventually realizes that Merry isn’t mad at her but them.

Merry has made a career at avoiding matchmaking mommas and their debutante daughters but further events lead him to the conclusion that he must offer marriage to Juneclaire after they’re forced to spend a night in a barn. Pansy simply isn’t enough of a chaperon for the high sticklers of the day and Juneclaire is Quality and thus not to be messed with.

Despite having confessed her Christmas wish to Merry of having a place of her own where she’s accepted and can never be thrown out, Juneclaire decides that she and Merry would never suit – thank goodness it’s not because of any initial farradiddle about only marrying for love – because of the vast differences in their social positions. So leaving Pansy in his care, Juneclaire writes a note and heads off into the morning to London.

A frantic Merry soon sets off in hot pursuit with the pig in tow and a determination to find the woman he feels he’s finally fallen for. But there’s a lot more he’s going to have to go through before he can try and convince Juneclaire to give them a chance, get rid of his leeching relations (his Christmas wish) and see that an old romance has a second chance.

As I said, there was a lot that I didn’t remember at all about this book. Like the whole second half of it. I adored the first part which is your standard “just barely on the edge of total chaos” plot. Things move swiftly and I laughed out loud more times than I could count. Merry’s dilemma about how to properly care for and cart Pansy around are worth the entire read in and of itself.

I also love Merry’s firecracker grandmother who has the entire household running in fear of her. Her ancient retainers and her even more ancient horse add to the fun. Juneclaire manages to pick up a litter of kittens along the way – because the old Signet Trad Regencies just weren’t Christmas ones without kittens – which makes things even more chaotic.

Where my interest sort of began to drift was in all the goings on at the Priory once Merry and Juneclaire were back together. Ghosts of Christmas present and past, rackety relatives, scheming widows and Juneclaire’s skinflint aunt and groping cousins all end up together which lead to a lot of characters to suddenly keep track of. But what truly saddened me was the fact that Merry was showing signs of doubting Juneclaire. Yes, the events were bizarre but his lack of faith or willingness to believe what she was telling him about what was going on in his own house dampened my holiday spirit. He comes around in the end but the delay was enough to lower the final grade on this one to a B-.

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Christmas Carrolls by Barbara Metzger

REVIEW: The Christmas Carrolls by Barbara Metzger

The Christmas Carrolls Barbara MetzgerDear Ms. Metzger,

When I was scanning my memory for good Christmas stories to recommend here, I remembered reading two of your other holiday theme books but this one didn’t ring bells for me. Turns out that’s because though I have an older OOP paper copy, I’d never read it. Time to rectify that!

“If Lord Carroll had one wish, it was to see his lovely daughters – Joia, Hollice, and Meredyth – happily wed. The problem was finding three suitable beaux.

However ’twas Christmas, a time for surprises. Joia found a notorious rake coming to her rescue. Holly could not believe who was suddenly vying for her affection. And Merry won the heart of a brave but broken soldier. Not the best matches, perhaps. But if the season was truly magical, the Christmas Carrolls would indeed receive tidings of comfort and joy.”

The book manages to combine an anthology with a single title since there are actually four stories here but they’re all about the same family and take place sequentially during a few short months. I admit that at first the heroines’ names seemed too cutesy but the titles for the separate sections helped make up for it. “Comfort and Joia,” ” Beaux of Holly,” The Silent Knight,” and “Adeste Infidelis” amused me enough to shrug off my initial eye rolling.

I was amazed that all four stories engaged me and left me feeling that they had full story arcs and were complete enough to satisfy me. Especially since the three daughters all wind up with men they hadn’t known before the stories began. It did help that little bits of the previous stories were continued in each of the subsequent ones. But I think it’s the last story that moved me the most and kept the book as a whole from being too sweet.

Lady Joia is the eldest Carroll daughter. She’s been officially out for two years but has yet to find a man with whom she can hope to have the kind of love she’s seen in her parent’s marriage. She knows exactly what her parents are up to in inviting Lord Creighton Comfort, heir to a Dukedom, to their house party and she’ll have none of his rake-y self. Comfort finds Joia beautiful but her independence and determination not to have him – the woman turns him down before he’s even not made a proposal! – are infuriating. But as the days go by, Comfort begins to see the strength, defensive moves, and discerning eye of lovely Joia while she is impressed with the way he manages to rid her of an unwanted suitor and himself of a grasping widow.

Second sister Holly is the practical one, the one who does as expected and can be counted on. Only Holly wants romance before she settles down and she doesn’t think she’ll get it from the childhood friend everyone expects her to marry. Evan is nice but his proposal, “So what do you say we get buckled, old girl,” isn’t one that leaves stars in Holly’s eyes. Marrying him will allow him to do what he really wants to do – join the army – but will leave Holly as little but a chatelaine and childbearing waiting to see if he survives the battlefields. The prospect doesn’t thrill her. But there’s a dark horse in the running, someone Holly thought she wouldn’t like, a person whom her parents and family are stunned to discover has won her heart but who, in the end, is as perfect for her as she is for him.

Madcap Merry is too young for marriage – or so her doting parents thought. Recently minted Sir Maxwell Grey faced down the Frenchies in Spain but shakes like a leaf at the thought of house parties … and young women at house parties. Luckily for him Merry talks a mile a minute and doesn’t make him stutter anything in return. Still though her family likes him and admires his determination to learn husbandry, they’d rather he practice it on his little estate than with Merry. Merry, and her dog Downsey, and an untimely nosy companion, however, move that timetable up much more quickly than anyone expected.

Lord and Lady Carroll have been devoted to each other for many years. Theirs is the example held up of a one that defies the odds of a ton marriage. But a one time slip from years ago now threatens to rip the fabric of their relationship apart. Lord Carroll’s heir presumptive is a wanker and the entire staff at Winterpark joins with him in his maneuverings to have a young boy declared the lost grandson of the Earl’s dead younger brother. Even his three daughters unite behind the effort but what of Lady Carroll? Can she face having her husband’s bastard be a daily reminder of his betrayal and her pain? At first she thinks not but ’tis the season and all discover that the human heart is big enough for miracles.

Though “The Christmas Carrolls” isn’t quite as LOL funny as “Father Christmas” or “Christmas Wishes” – and why isn’t that one available as an ebook yet? It’s darling. – it does have some rapier, dry zingers. It succeeds in firing off all the heroines with men of whom I, and the Earl and Countess, approve. And I can even buy into subverting the succession and halfway believe that they’ll pull it off. I’m glad to see that this, along with several of your other previously published trad regencies, are available as ebooks now for newcomers to discover you and us old timers to revisit old friends. B

~Jayne

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