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REVIEW: The Birthday Present by Alison Richardson

Dear Ms. Richardson,

400000000000000178341_s4I had a blast reading The Birthday Present, the third and final story in your Countess Trilogy. To readers who have not read the earlier stories, but would like to read this one, I have to suggest reading this series in order.

Like The Countess’s Client and An Impolite Seduction, The Birthday Present is a Harlequin Spice Brief set in the late eighteenth century and narrated by its heroine, Anna, Countess von Esslin, who details her sexual adventures and her encounters with the Scottish scientist James McKirnan. James is a thorn in Anna’s side, but he makes her hot as well as bothered.

It’s been fourteen years since James and Anna first met in a Paris brothel and eleven years since their encounter in Derbyshire. Both are now living in Munich, since it is where Anna prefers to live and since she had, in retaliation for James’s actions in the earlier stories, spread rumors about him that made it difficult for him to live anywhere else.

Anna’s thirty-fourth birthday has arrived, and although she is the hostess of a popular salon, she feels dissatisfied. As she explains:

Most of the regular visitors to my salon were either distinguished old men or energetic young artists and scholars. The former held no interest for me for reasons that should be obvious, and the latter, if more appealing in physical form, proved equally unsatisfying when consumed as a regular diet. The new, romantic generation was far too high-strung and sensitive for my tastes–young men bored me, though they clustered around me like gnats and, after a few years in Munich, the thought of spreading my thighs for yet another adoring and submissive young poet was enough to make me cry with frustration.

Anna’s celibacy has lasted for two years, and she is therefore morose when she is invited to King Maximillian Joseph’s first court ball. Her birthday falls on this same night. At the ball, James McKirnan insists on a dance with her, and since he has some influence with the royals despite his common birth, Anna cannot afford to snub him in public.

Therefore, Anna dances and spars with her enemy. The banter between the two is delicious:

“Will I ever get anything but frowns from you, Countess?” James had just asked me in his usual light, mocking manner. He was leading me through the first steps of a complicated rondeau.

I told him coldly that if he ever did anything to earn a smile from me, I would certainly not withhold it.

Before James can reply, the dance is interrupted by Anna’s cousin Robert, who wants to present her with a birthday gift elsewhere in the palace. Robert claims his present is what Anna wants most in the world. He leads her to a closed door in the Palace’s east wing, and insists on blindfolding her, saying that he cannot give her this gift if she refuses to wear the blindfold.

Anna’s curiosity gets the better of her and she agrees to Robert’s condition. Inside the room, she encounters a nude, well-muscled and aroused man who gives her the vigorous, satisfying sex she has been craving. But one encounter is not enough for Anna, and she asks Robert to set up another.

Will Anna uncover her secret lover’s identity? Will the man satisfy her again? And how will Anna’s contest of wills with the Scotsman who is the bane of her existence resolve itself?

Like An Impolite Seduction, The Birthday Present is both sexy and hilarious. I think the plot here was the cleverest of this trilogy yet, but I won’t give it away. The lovemaking is very erotic, but this is also the most romantic of the three stories IMO.

In my review of The Countess’s Client I said that the jury was still out on James, but between the second story and this one, he has won me over.

One of the most satisfying things in this story was the way Anna and James remained true to themselves yet had matured and softened a little with the passage of time. I liked that both remained two strong-willed people; that Anna’s snobbery did not disappear overnight and that her sexual appetite is here to stay. She is only a bit less entrenched in her views at the end of the trilogy than she was in the beginning, but that bit is enough for me to believe in the happy ending.

And speaking of the ending, although it was not a traditional HEA, I thought it was perfect for these characters. It made me hoot with laughter, and spread a silly grin across my face, too. A- for The Birthday Present.



This book can be purchased in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.


  1. Trish
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 16:08:55

    This trilogy of stories sounds so delicious! I wish that Harlequin would publish them in print as a three story anthology. I don’t have an ereader – yet!

  2. Janine
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 16:20:03

    They are delicious! I agree, Trish, it would be great if Harlequin would publish these in print as a three story anthology, although it would make a short book even so. If you have a laptop, they might be worth reading on it, or else you could print them out.

    I wish this author had a website, too. If she does, I haven’t found it, and I would love to know what other stories she has in the works.

  3. Kaetrin
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 20:39:41

    These sound great Janine – I’m so enthused by your reviews. I will definitely be picking these up!

  4. Janine
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 22:02:43

    @Kaetrin: I hope you like them! Please feel welcome to post your thoughts. I would love to hear from more people who have read these stories.

  5. Sarah
    Nov 25, 2009 @ 23:02:01

    I went ahead and read them on my laptop, and I basically agree with all your reviews. This was a perfect example of the ending fitting the couple – a sugary-sweet-rainbow-unicorn ending would have been so out of place.

    I love too that she did allow the characters to age, this happened over such a long time period – and they had interactions we didn’t see, which is always important is such short stories. Good recommendation/review – if I hadn’t read your reviews in quick succession, I would never have given this a second look…

    Oh, and I agree about in this book I liked James more, although he always seemed too manipulative for my taste, at least in this one she manipulates back!

  6. Janine
    Nov 26, 2009 @ 01:45:55

    @Sarah: So glad you enjoyed these too, Sarah. It is really good to know that someone else is reading them because Richardson is a little known author (at least as far as I know) and I think she deserves more attention from readers.

    Yes, the ending was perfect, and I think aging the characters was necessary to bringing it about. I actually saw Anna’s behavior as either manipulative or deceptive in all three of the stories so I felt she really met her match in James.

  7. Bianca
    Nov 26, 2009 @ 22:24:04

    Very nice! Really been loving your reviews; these seem like very interesting, very different short romances than what I’d expect the Harlequin norm to be. And a historical not set in the Regency period! It’s just what I’ve been looking for; thanks for bringing these books to our attention! :)

  8. Janine
    Nov 27, 2009 @ 02:45:59

    You’re welcome! I was grateful to have them brought to my attention myself so I wanted to pass the word of mouth forward. I hope you have as good a time reading these short novellas as I did, Bianca. Let me know what you think of them if you would like to.

  9. Sarah
    Nov 29, 2009 @ 18:01:15

    Yeah, you’re right. I read all three one after another and then immediately posted here, so I’m going to go with the “I didn’t think that much” excuse!

    Thinking more about it, I like that they both manipulate the hell out of the other one. Although I must say his manipulation in the second book infuriated me. But she got him back!

    Bianca, they are VERY different from what I expected from Harlequin. Especially in a historical.

    I’m definitely going to check out more of the Spice Briefs in the future!

  10. Janine
    Nov 29, 2009 @ 21:53:36


    Thinking more about it, I like that they both manipulate the hell out of the other one.

    Me too. Maybe if I was used to seeing it more often it would have been less of a thrill but I enjoy flawed characters so coming across a story where both were flawed (as opposed to one redeeming the other) and well matched was really great.

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