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REVIEW:  Christmas Wishes by Barbara Metzger

REVIEW: Christmas Wishes by Barbara Metzger

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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:  Running on Empty by Colette Ballard

REVIEW: Running on Empty by Colette Ballard

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Dear Ms. Ballard,

For the past few months, I’ve been dabbling in the older YA/new adult subgenres but I find myself looking for something a little different from what’s out there. I like tattooed bad boys as much as the next person but there is such a thing as too much. When I read the premise of your debut novel, the suspense aspects sounded right up my alley.

River Daniels is a girl from the poor side of town. But she’s dating the star quarterback darling of their high school. She should be glad, right? Everyone wants to be Cinderella.

Except her boyfriend is controlling, jealous, and violent. When he gets tired of River’s refusal to have sex, he tries to force the issue and River accidentally kills him in self-defense. Unfortuantely, her boyfriend is the son of a rich and powerful family and there were no witnesses. Knowing no one will believe her, she goes on the run. But there’s only so much one 17-year-old girl can do on her own.

While I admit I scrutinize the use of sexual assault in novels, its inclusion here didn’t bother me. Maybe it’s because of recent headlines like the Steubenville case, but the execution rang very true. It’s a sad fact of life that society generally blames the woman in situations like this. River didn’t mean to kill her boyfriend. She was just trying to fight him off. But because of her background and her boyfriend’s identity, none of that will matter. I can’t blame her for running. Who’s going to believe “trailer trash” over the son of a rich family?

I loved that River’s friends, Kat and Billie Jo, stuck by her side. That they, in fact, chose to run with her when she left town. Even when their relationships later become strained due to the stress of being on the run and in hiding, I thought it was well done. These are girls who may not have perfect families and backgrounds but they stick with each other through thick and thin. They are each other’s family, when their own families have checked out. Their friendships are multilayered — not always rosy and sometimes contentious, they always do their best to help each other when things get tough.

The romance with Justice was also well done, in my opinion. This isn’t just because I have a soft spot for the friends become more trope. Justice was River’s first love and she never really got over him. But she did her best to move on, though that unfortunately led her to Logan. She was ready to accept that they may only ever be friends for the rest of their lives. The River and Justice romance is a perfect example of friends to lovers: how they don’t want to mess up what they have and yet how they have a hard time struggling to see the other person with someone else.

While I enjoyed the story, there are some plot contrivances that fall apart upon further scrutiny. Of course the girls run into an old man with a heart of gold, willing to help the and overlook that one of them is plastered all over the news and accused of murder. Of course this man has connections that conveniently help them in their moment of need. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Charlie a lot, but it was too neat and pat.

The storyline involving River’s biological father at times seemed tacked on. In many ways, it was almost as if his presence was necessary for no other reason than to help River in the end. And that the only way to explain his presence in the book was because he was River’s dad. I simply wasn’t sold on this part.

Overall, though, I liked this book. The relationship between River and her female friends, and the romance between River and Justice, kept me reading even when certain aspects failed to hold up under further scrutiny. Dare I ask if a sequel featuring Kat is in the works? (I loved Kat.) B-

My regards,
Jia

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